At this exact moment, 530am HST/1130am EST, ten years ago today, I ran my first race ever–the Kona marathon on the Big Island of Hawaii. I’d never really run any distance prior to training for this event. Not more than a mile or so with my dog, anyway. 😉 The short story of why I chose to train and run the marathon is this: I was looking to do something significant for my birthday and I was too indecisive about getting a tattoo to mark the occasion.
About six-weeks later, I heard someone on the radio talking about joining a group of folks who were training for a marathon while raising funds for a good cause. (Ten years ago, there weren’t as many charitable organizations training for races as there are today.) They mentioned an information session that was coming up. I attended. And while this was a huge undertaking, training for the rigors of a 26.2 mile event that would test my mettle with every step, when I met the group from Boston that was going to run it, a little voice inside of me was screaming, “I’m in!!” I signed up on the spot. There was no logic involved. It was heart. It was intuition telling me that this was it. This was the significant thing with which to mark my birthday.
I learned a lot about myself over the ~4 months between sign-up day and the race. Especially since I chose not to attend the group runs due to my schedule at the time and trained exclusively, 100%, alone. I had a training plan and a coach who was available to answer my questions, but as far as the motivation that comes from being amongst a group, well, I had to dig deep and find that in myself.
No one else was there when I hit the wall… When my body ached and rain pelted my face… “I am a machine… My body was built for this…” was my mantra. And I repeated it that day. With each. And every. Painful. Step. I remember so clearly getting home, feeling defeated by the achiness in my muscles and dialing up my coach. *voicemail* I took a hot bath. He called back and asked me just a few questions about my run, an 11-miler that day–the longest one so far. What seemed to be a monumental physical fail to me was brushed off with cool nonchalance as he said, “you have to drink more water.” And as simple as a parent kissing a boo-boo, I was relieved.
I continued with my training, listening to a mix of music and a motivational speaker as my mileage grew. By the time we got to Kona, I was ready. The night before, Coach John’s words of wisdom would again be called upon. Many questions were asked by the team, each answered with short, to-the-point replies that seemed to be his signature. My favorite was, “Coach, how do we know what to wear tomorrow? Do we wear long sleeves? Shorts?” We hung on his words as he said in his deadpan style, “Step out on your lanai when you wake up. If it’s cool, wear long sleeves. If it’s hot, don’t.” Brilliant, right?
The race was very warm. Hot, in fact. It was Kona in June, after all, and we were surrounded by black lava fields while running the Queen K Highway. I’m glad I didn’t hear until after the fact that the heat index reached a high of 115*. I started out a little nervous but mostly excited because I knew that I made all necessary course-corrections while preparing–I was well-trained and ready. I had my music and my favorite motivational talk with me–a mountaineer named Jamie Clarke telling his story about climbing Mt. Everest. Timing being everything, as I rounded the bend and headed toward downtown Kona, I saw Coach John and our fearless leader, Zach. They ran along with me for a few yards asking, “How do you feel? Doing okay? Feel like throwing up?” I felt good. Tired, but good. No nausea. Just a little hot. As they stepped to the side to greet the next runner on our team, I hit the highest mileage I’d ever run, and Jamie Clarke reached the summit. I just got a little emotional typing and (sort of) reliving that moment! I was ready to finish strong when I saw one of the girls on my team struggling. She and her husband decided not to stick together, opting to run for their own individual times, and she was sick. Her belief in herself was waning. She kept repeating, “I’m gonna throw up. I’m gonna die. I’m gonna throw up…” Quite different from my mantra! Since I wasn’t concerned about my finishing time–only that I finish strong–I walked with her as we both poured ice water over our heads and made our way to the end of the race. When the gauntlet was in site, we poured it on one last time and hit the finish line together.
This is in no way meant to be a “glory days” post. I’ve run a marathon and/or half marathon every year since then with little 5Ks peppered in between. But as I was on the road yesterday with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing in New England, it made me think about this event in my life, that happened to be almost exactly ten years ago at that moment. Yeah, it was hot yesterday as temperatures flirted with the upper-90s. I laughed to myself as I thought, “Did I really run a marathon in this heat?! What a wimp I’ve become!” But it was a good reminder for me and when it got tough, all I had to do was dig deep and keep going.
It’s all any of us has to do. You have all the magic and strength that you need right there inside of you.
Dig deep, friends.