I went into the Philadelphia Marathon curious.
I wanted to know if I would still love the pursuit. I wanted to know if I would still cry at the starting line when the National Anthem was sung. I wanted to know if I would find the random stranger who I’d never forget. I wanted to know if…. if I could still handle mile 20. I wanted to know if I even remembered what mile 20 felt like, and whether I would say …. screw it… or I LOVE THIS.
I found the answers to all of those questions. Everything went just fine. Smoothly in fact. I loved every single moment of those 26.2 miles. I loved how all of it felt. Dare I say that it felt short? After so many marathons that came after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112, running a stand-alone marathon felt so incredibly good, doable, and yet amazing all in the same breath.
I loved the pursuit of this goal. After spending so many years training 15-20 hours a week, running 40 miles a week with a little swim and bike felt…. again….. doable.
At the beginning of the race, when they played our national anthem, I cried. There I stood with 30,000 runners, feeling so privileged, so happy, so excited, so PROUD to be standing where I was standing. A man put his arm around me and I leaned into him (finding my random stranger right away). When it was done we hugged and wished one another the best of luck.
I loved the course. We ran through the downtown streets of Philadelphia for the first half of the race and I was never alone in terms of runners, and in terms of crowds. The cheers, the music, the atmosphere was exhilarating, deafening, beautiful.
I wanted to grab a random spectator and shake them and cry out “Do you know how excited I am to BE HERE???? I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS AGAIN.” and I would bet my last dollar that the random spectator would be JUST as excited as I was.
The second half of the course turned onto a parkway and towards a town whose name I can’t remember but whose spirit I will never forget. Mile 20 was the furthest point of the course and this section allowed you to see the runners already on their way back. I was fortunate enough to see the overall female hauling her way home. I was extra fortunate enough to find friends and give them a shout, and the same happened for me.
At mile 18 I felt it. That feeling. The marathon feeling. That ache deep in your legs that isn’t muscle pain, it’s just a grind that oscillates between feeling like your legs will give out on you but at the same time the feeling of strength beyond words. This was the biggest reason I was here. Right now. Right here.
Would I face it with irritation? Anger? Dread like I used to feel?
When I realized that feeling was happening I felt …. pure happiness. To get HERE, to feel THIS, means I had to get to a certain place in my training, and more importantly in my mind. If mile 18 was a hug I would have wrapped my arms around it and held it tight and said “I am so glad to see you old friend.”
That feeling, that pain, that’s what I freaking live for. You straddle the line between giving up and rising up. It’s the place where you realize you are going to make it but you have to get through 8 more miles. This is the place that allows you to stand toe to toe with yourself, and you learn what you are truly made of.
I felt amazing. Absolutely amazing.
At mile 20 I was in the thick of the party, wall to wall people just partying, and us running through it. Captain America handed me a beer and I took it! Luckily for me, I remembered that I don’t even drink, and a beer at mile 20 was probably a bad idea, so I tossed it!
When I rounded that cone at mile 20, just a 10K stood between myself and a line across the road. I stayed positive, I walked a little, but the miles came easier than I expected and my mind stayed ridiculously positive.
When I came to that finish line it was bigger and louder than I expected. Curt and Luc stood 50 yards from that finish line and I got a little emotional as I high fived them.
The rest of that finish line was slow motion. I felt like I was stuck in a moment and through the past week I keep reliving it. It was amazing. Totally amazing. And I ran one minute faster than I thought I would!
Five days later I remain on the marathon high. I have been resting and thinking ahead as I fill out questionairres for this next adventure and trying to answer the question: what is your goal?
My goal for this Ironman doesn’t yet have a time or a placing. I don’t know that it ever will. I want to race Ironman Lake Placid to the best of my ability. I have been away long enough to not even know what that looks like.
But I am hungry for the pursuit. I am hungry for the easy days and I am hungrier for the harder days. The long ones that no one sees, that I choose to execute, where we go into that dark place. I love that dark place like I love mile 18 of the marathon. It teaches me about so many things. It’s a place where I find clarity and I find strength.
It’s a place I have not wanted to visit in several years, and now I can’t wait to find.
I am so glad that I took the step back from all of this. As I have said it was nerve wracking. I knew it might not come back. I knew that if it was meant to be, that it would. I am not interested in chasing the past, I am interested in creating the future. This time, with a level of health I have not had in years.
This time…. I am curious. On this mile 18….. what will I do?