After running 13.1 miles in October 2009, I was feeling quite ‘all that’ about myself. I got magnets for my car and office to promote my big accomplishment, content to rest on that laurel for a very long time. After all, who in their right mind would train for 26.2 when 13.1 was hard enough?
Perusing a spring 2010 issue of Runners World magazine, I saw that Newport, RI hosted a fall marathon voted by them as one of the Top Scenic Routes in the country. When the aforementioned Mary – aka, Because Mary Says So – asked if I was on-board for the local half-marathon again, I told her that I was considering Newport for its scenic attributes. What’s more, the route followed the coastline to where Mark’s ashes were laid to rest, so it just seemed right for me to challenge myself there. Mary quickly agreed to join me, but then countered with “Let’s run the full marathon this time.”
Of course, my reaction was what everyone says: “I can’t run 26 miles!” She countered again with “You said that about running 13 and you did it, so…”
Into the summer, we worked our training plan, increasing miles incrementally; the weekend long run became ‘longer run’ as we moved towards a final training goal of 20 miles. I met Mary at her house at the end of September, joining up at her second 10 miles. It was an early fall day and much warmer than planned, so when I went into the second 10 with a friend of hers I was feeling the heat & humidity and those extra miles. Fortunately, I was running in completely uncharted territory, so the changing scenery sliding into fall colors provided free entertainment. So did running past a mid-security NYS correctional facility…20 miles done.
It was all over except the wait and the maintenance work. Keep mileage up. Eat well. Rest. No extra sugar. Get mentally fit. I remembered some thoughts Mark wrote during his advancing illness, where he compared training for a race to training for his life:
“My journey is reminding me of the marathons I have run. Marathons are extremely challenging races, physically and mentally. No matter how hard one prepares, there are times during the race that one’s pace falters, the mind loses focus, and one feels horrible. But you keep pushing through and the negative effects pass. Right now, my pace is faltering and my mind has lost focus in the past week …I will keep pushing through, though. Bottom line, just as I successfully completed three marathons, I have confidence that I will successfully complete this journey. The stakes may be higher and the journey may be longer, but I will finish.”
I shared this with Mary and posted it on the race’s Facebook page. To say that people weren’t moved is an understatement. I printed these words of strength & power, carefully folding the paper so it would fit in the zip-pouch in the back of my running pants. Just knowing they were there gave me a little boost.
Race day: October 17th, 2010.
We left the hotel up in Providence in the dark, and headed to the race shuttle area in Newport. I’d crossed the bridge into this familiar place with Mark and the kids many times, but never had it looked as beautiful as in the approaching dawn breaking over the Atlantic, reflecting back on the bridge lights. The tug of many emotions pulled at me, from anticipation of the event to the strong connection to him. Could I even do this? Would I lose focus and hit the wall?
Gathering at the start with runners and well-wishers, the reality of what was ahead weighed upon me. With ‘Push Thru’ marked down my shins, I stood in a crowd of a few thousand runners as the announcements were made. When the National Anthem came on, tears poured forth. I suppose it was the pent-up emotion of what was ahead of me, and what had been behind me for three years without Mark by my side.
Five hours and 14 minutes later, I crossed the finish line.
During that time, I faced coming up on ‘Mark’s place’ around mile 7. I pulled off my special shirt for him and threw it towards the water, and pushed on. I crossed the 13-mile mark where the half-marathon ended, and pushed on again. At mile 16, I felt fatigue, hunger and some lower-intestinal issues…and yet I pushed. Friends met me at mile 18 as runner support, staying by my side the remainder. When I passed the mile marker for #20, I knew that pushing on from there would test me like no other long run had ever done.
When I got to 3.1 miles left to run, I said to my running buddy, “This is going to be the hardest 5k race I will ever run.” She replied, “You already ran a bunch of them today, so just think of it as one more.” Thus encouraged, I pushed on again marking each mile sign with a hand-slap as I ticked them off. Words don’t do justice to the feeling of crossing a marathon finish line: euphoria mixed with fatigue, pride mixed with pain, but most of all exhilaration.
I pushed thru. He would be proud of me. I am proud of me.
Within the hour, Mary and I sat beachfront, facing the Atlantic in post-marathon glow. Only 2% of the entire U.S. population will ever attempt a marathon, so we were now bona fide statistics. [It beats being a cancer statistic like her and a widow statistic like me any day!] This beach was a very familiar spot in my past life, where the kids once played in the surf as our blended family bonded. The coastline is beautiful, and you can see the Cliff Walk mansions nearby. Starting there six hours ago stirred a lot of emotion in me, as did sitting there in the warming sun enumerating our race injuries. Mostly, it was laughter thru tears, which is an emotion that Mark and I knew very well together.
I looked towards the water, and said “I can’t believe I’m sitting here and this is my life now…but it’s a good life.”