The heat of the summer continues to take its toll on those of us who committed to run our first marathons. If the truth be told, running a full marathon was not my plan when I registered for the Philadelphia Marathon. Yes, I clicked on the button but it was mostly because I got swept away by seeing others’ posts and there was that lump that was found just a few weeks before, that lump that’s gotten so much of my writing attention.
When I clicked the FM button, I thought about the the story of a kid who accidentally ran the full marathon instead of the half. In 2015, when I shared the story of that kid, I proclaimed that I would never, accidentally or intentionally, want to run a full marathon. Despite that click, my plan was to stop at the half if I could not, because I did not think I had it in me to, run the full. Until, of course, the race organizers, decided to split the days between the half and the full. So the option to “stop” halfway, or half marathon, was lost to me.
Training commenced within the Facebook group where we all shared our aspirations. Within weeks of from the start, the posts appeared about the struggles we were experiencing: running long miles, losing non-running friends, aching muscles, injuring bodies, doubting ourselves.
The replies: “Trust your training”. Always the same: “Trust the training; it’s a process”. Ten miles, three miles, five miles, thirteen miles, three miles, three miles, fifteen miles. Weeknights. Mornings. Weekends. Rain. Humidity. Darkness. Light. Long Runs. Short Runs. Runwalks. Trust the training. Trust the process. “You will get to the finish line.”
A blustery morning in November, as ready as we would ever be, I showed up with the group to the starting line. As was par for the course with me, I run alone because running is the time that I process my life. I pick up the pace to push myself so that the thoughts can arise and then slow down so that I can make sense of them. This method worked for the last year to carry me through so much. I welcome the smiles and the tears when that’s what my life circumstances demand. Thus far, I fulfill the promise to myself that running is a tool for living life not for running away from it. I learned to run with myself and whatever life dealt to me.
Keeping a steady pace along Columbus Boulevard, through Old and University City, up to Manayunk and back, seeing friends cheering and running, I crossed the finish line in just under five hours. When I think back on that day, I don’t know if I’m more amazed that I ran 26.2 miles or that I ran for close to five hours. Either way, I made it. I accomplished a goal I hadn’t even really ever thought that I wanted to, or could, fulfill. I trained, I went through the process.
Here’s the thing about reaching the finish line, though, after all of that training. It taught me that just as running a marathon is a process so too is all of life. Turning dreams into realities or just getting through the messy, difficult periods of life is a process which requires stepping up to the starting line, putting one foot in front of the other and going on.
Fear will be felt but I have to do it anyway. As a high school English teacher, I sometimes feel fearful about the lessons I want to present much like the intimidation I felt when I committed to trying to run a marathon. I feel timid and insecure about whether my selection of material and delivery will be meaningful to students. Yet, I never know if it will work until I give it a try. Sometimes, it is meaningful and I deliver a successful lesson. At other times, though, the material gets jumbled. I get confused, I confuse the students. I revisit, I try to clarify. It’s a process, the point is I have to commit even if it has the potential to get messy. Because, the potential to get messy is equal to the potential to succeed or cross that finish line.
Transitions are processes for which I need patience. Throughout the time of training, circumstances arose that caused one social circle to evaporate while another emerged. Much like training, putting one foot in front of the other and trusting run by run I would get to the finish line so too did I have to trust that life has a process to it too. Transitions are painful, training is hard. But when I crossed that finish line, I crossed a threshold that allowed me to feel a little more confident in myself. A new person within me was growing, she needed to establish new goals, reach higher outside of and deeper within herself.
Establishing and achieving goals changes the ways in which I interact with the world. Not only did crossing the finish line of a marathon happen but I also took my writing public. This latter goal, or dream I should write, goes back as far as I remember. When that first acceptance letter arrived in my inbox, I cried. A dream realized. When I get within a mile or two of any finish line, four miles or higher, my eyes fill with tears. Words cannot capture the emotions I experience when I get there. But when they, the emotions, settle down, I have to accept that I am no longer a person who wants something but someone who did that thing. I now talk from experience, I use the language of the other side. That changed how I interact with people around me because I know my fair share of failures too. I have quit races, I have received rejection letters. The thing is, though, I never gave up and eventually I got where I wanted to go.