It is early Sunday morning, and I am snuggled into a blanket on my couch reflecting on and basking in the victories of yesterday. To be sure, milestones were achieved during yesterday’s race.
When Timing & Weather Smile Upon You…
First of all, I am amazed by how beautifully everything came together. Despite travel, traffic, and large crowds, the logistics came together seamlessly. For the most part, everything went according to plan, and the day went off without a hitch. I made it downtown and found parking on time. My team managed to find each other in a sea of 30,000 plus people, and we were able to start the race together. After the race, we found each other again, walked back to our cars, and made it out of town with no delays from race-day road closures. Even with stops, I arrived back in town in time to pick up the dog from his overnight stay with the vet, where he also enjoyed a bath and much needed nail trim. I continue to marvel at how well all the details played out.
Then, the weather also held out for us. The morning of the race was predicted to be not only cold, but very wet. I don’t know if I can emphasize enough how much I despise cold rain. Being cold is bad enough, but I can handle that. Cold and wet is a different story, and I mostly melt into a puddle of whiney misery. In preparation, I requested prayers for no rain, secured both a poncho and a rain jacket, and attempted to shore up my mental attitude to be determined enough not to give into defeat should the rain come. You can imagine my delight when the morning of the race came, and the rain was no longer an issue for those of us running at 7 a.m. The poor half and full marathoners didn’t get that lucky, and I felt deeply for them. They are my heros, because that has got to be some misery- running for 5-6 hours in cold rain. I simply refuse to think about it!
The Race Begins….
The actual race was amazing. To say that St. Jude puts on a top-notch event is a vast understatement. The start was exciting. I mean, the crowd lining the street was huge and just as excited as the runners were. The buildings towering overhead were beautiful and ornate. For the first mile, I literally just took in the architecture and told my teammate that I was going to “just enjoy being home for little bit”.
At the corner of mile 1, I saw the sign for my high school. It occurred to me then that I should be on the look out for people I know cheering on the sidelines. Coming up on mile 2, I heard a familiar voice cheering and saw my high school track and cross country coaches. I snagged quick hugs and kept going, happy to connect with sweet, sweet people even briefly during the race.
Shortly after that, the course turned into the St. Jude campus, and let’s talk about being knocked over with emotion. The streets were packed with people cheering loudly, some holding signs of their children who have passed away from cancer. Some would cheer for the runners by name if the name could be seen on the runner’s bib. It was loud, exciting, and packed with emotion. I couldn’t hold back a few tears during this part of the course, and the tears come again as I think about it now.
The 5k and 10K course split shortly after passing through the campus, and I remember thinking that I was about to successfully run an entire 5k for the first time. Emotion and the temptation to think too far ahead threatened to overwhelm me, and I once again set my sights on simply enjoying the scenery and the architecture. Before I knew it, I was successfully through the 5k mark and halfway to the goal.
Through mile 3 and mile 4, I focused on maintaining my pace. There were a few hills to climb as we ran over overpasses, and I was extremely grateful in those moments that I had done some of my training on the hills of my parent’s neighborhood. In fact, when the dread of the hill started to creep into my thinking, I made myself mentally recall the hills on which I had trained and made myself believe in the fact that I was fully prepared for this. I ran the training miles on those hills, so I could run the race miles on these hills. It felt like such an accomplishment not to break stride and maintain my pace through every hill, especially when so many others around me were choosing to walk the hills. And let me tell you, I was so very tempted to join them, but I was even more determined to run every step of this race.
When I passed the mile 4 marker, it really sunk in that I was really going to do this. I really could run this entire race, even if I did it at a turtle’s pace. The excitement of this realization made me want to take off and get it done, but my legs were beginning to protest, and even though it was 43 degrees outside, I was getting hot. I rolled up my sleeves and recommitted to maintaining my pace so I could achieve this goal.
A real mental battle started happening at this point. I thought back to the 5k that I attempted in May after training with a group of women runners. I thought about how defeated I felt at that time, and all the things I was struggling with then. Somewhere between mile 4 and mile 5, I was overwhelmed by the realization of how far I had come in the last 7 months. I signed up for that spring running group and 5k, because I knew that my mental game needed work and that I was defeating myself in my own head. When it was all said and done with the spring run, I felt really disappointed in myself for still being unable to reach my goal.
Then, my thoughts turned to my daughter and all the struggle and all the progress she has made and we have made together over the last couple of years. I couldn’t help but to just break into prayer, thanking God that He had been working on me all this time when I couldn’t even see it. Thanking Him for bringing me here today and allowing me to see how far He has brought us and giving me a glimpse of what we can hope for in the future.
With that emotion released, I refocused on just keeping my legs turning to make it to the mile 5 sign. I remember at one point, just focusing on a beautiful church in front of me, taking in every nuance of the artistry and coasting through the mile marker.
At this point, the course led back into the heart of downtown, with larger crowds lining the streets. The excitement was palpable, and the mile 6 marker was in sight. I maintained my pace, even as the excitement and emotion was threatening to shut my muscles down entirely! At one point, I caught myself holding my breath to keep tears back, which is a really bad idea when you are running. Breathing is important!
Once I passed the mile 6 marker, it took everything in me not to come undone with emotion and finish the last 0.2 miles. I let myself run faster, and when I hit the chute, I picked it up significantly. Two uncontrollable sobs managed to escape as I ran hard, and then I hit the finish line. I had done it. I ran every step of 6.2 miles. I not only ran it, I ran it consistently. I can’t remember the last time I did anything consistently and to completion. I ran at my pace; I ran my race. I did not get distracted, overwhelmed, or overpowered by emotion. I stayed focused, I trusted what I knew about myself, I believed in what I could do, and that is the true victory. That is what I am still celebrating still this morning.
After the Race…
In a daze, I accepted the blanket I was handed and wrapped up the best I could. My body was definitely feeling the effects of the run, and I was beginning to feel cold. Then, I collected my medal and put it around my neck. I walked further into the field and took a moment to look around. I didn’t see my team, who had finished about 10 minutes ahead of me. I continued to move through the line, stopping to snap my picture with girl Elvis.
Somehow I managed to hoist my leg high enough to climb the steep stairs to the food and beverage area. I had just barely reached the top step when a bag of food, a carton of hydrogenated water, and fistfuls of fruit were thrust upon me. I literally couldn’t juggle all the items and had to stop to put everything in the bag and re-wrap myself in the blanket.
I continued to move through the crowd in search of my team, when my phone rang. It was my daughter on FaceTime, and my family was calling to congratulate me. We did the best we could to communicate through the din of thousands of people while I did my best to hold the phone, the blanket, and the overflowing bag of food and drink. It was great to receive that call just as I finished. That is one of the great things about technology- my family had been tracking my progress through the runner tracking app and knew exactly when I finished.
I found my team, and they all said hello to May Lee via FaceTime, then we hung up. The team and I collected more food and bottles of water and PowerAde, then we made our way out of AutoZone Park. We found someone who would take a picture of our team, then we talked about doing it again next year and said our good-byes.
The Life Lessons…
As I sit here this morning, I recognize so many lessons I’m learning and how much progress I have made in the various things I struggle with daily. One of the biggest lessons I’m learning through running is to plan ahead just enough to inform the present, and then stay in the present- doing the work until the work is done.
Also, the lessons in incremental change really hit home. A long series of mental, emotional, and physical baby steps had to be achieved before I could accomplish yesterday’s goal. Not to mention, the enormous challenge of being able to overcome a great deal of “I really don’t want to do this” and then doing it anyway.
As for what’s next, I’m really not sure. I know that I can’t stop running now, because the lessons in self-discipline and mental strength and endurance are not yet fully accomplished. What is clear is that I have a great deal to learn about properly participating in the sport. The most obvious area of needed improvement is nutrition. An enormous amount of work needs to be done there.
Finally, I’m going to spend the next few days recovering, processing, and planning as the next steps become clear. I am really grateful for all of the support I have received by way of encouragement as I have trained and donations toward my fundraising goal for St. Jude. Accountability and support are crucial aspects of reaching any goal, and I appreciate everyone who showed up for me in that way.
I have a feeling that this medal is always going to have a special place in my heart. When I see it in the future, I hope that it will always remind me of the milestones achieved on December 3, 2016.