Race morning started with a 3:00am wake-up call. I emerged from my fluffy hotel bed feeling well-rested and alive. I smiled, feeling blessed to be given another day to celebrate life the best way I know how, on my own two feet.
I conducted my regular pre-race ritual and then piled into the CR-V with Mommaberries. There were only shitty songs on the radio that did nothing to pump me up. I smiled because I didn’t care, I was with my favorite person in the world about to be dropped off at a marathon starting line, what else did I need in life?
There were only 40 porta johns at the start of the race. I shrugged my shoulders and got in a long line that allowed me to get to the start time right as the National Anthem began to play. I didn’t stress out. I smiled because I was about to run my 11th marathon.
The race started 16 minutes late. I just chuckled and thought that if the lack of porta johns and a late start were the worst of what I had to face today, it was going to be a fantastic day. I smiled because this was out of my control and the sun was rising and shedding light on another day of this beautiful life.
I had to stop twice for restroom breaks during the race that took at least a minute each to conduct. It didn’t phase me, I did my business and got right back into my stride after I exited the restrooms. When nature calls, you answer. I smiled because adding two minutes to my finish time is a helluva lot better than dropping a deuce in my shorts.
I ate orange slices and candy handed out by amazing spectators. Let kids with supersoakers spray me down. Ran through people’s sprinklers and garden hoses. High-fived all those offering. Fist-pumped and waved to those who cheered for me by name. Shouted out sentiments of gratitude to everyone who offered me words of encouragement. Thanked each of the police officers directing traffic. I shared my appreciation for a ton of the awesome volunteers spending their Sunday ensuring we runners had a safe course to traverse. I acknowledged every person who offered me cups of water and Gatorade. I smiled each and EVERY mile. I ran this race with my heart and it filled my soul with grace, hope and love. I love to run. There are no words to describe how. much. I LOVE to run.
I did something I had never done before in a race of any distance…I didn’t wear a watch. I didn’t care what my finish time was. This race was all about the experience and what the time on the race clock read had zero bearing on my attitude that day.
I have never raced well in the heat. My definition of race day heat? Anything above 50 degrees. There are some people who say we had perfect weather – well if my morning was spent sippin’ a latte and reading a book outdoors, yeah, it would have been perfect weather. But I am a heavy sweater, an extremely salty sweater. My entire back was drenched in sweat by mile 1. So no, it was not perfect weather for me. I am beyond grateful that the sun hid behind the clouds, though I would have much rather preferred race conditions in the 40 degree range, and maybe with a side order of snow flurries. Yes, I’m serious. Despite the less than ideal temperature, I smiled because I am a much stronger runner than each and every version of my previous marathoner self.
I ran with people for a few miles. Chatted to some. Silently plodded along matching strides with others. I thought about what a beautiful gift it is to be out on the open roads sharing this day, this race with so many like-minded individuals, pushing ourselves and tackling what I truly believe is the toughest, hilliest course I’ve ever faced.
There were miles where I entered a meditative state. It was if I was floating on a cloud. I was lost in thought. Some thoughts I remember vividly, others not so much. My dad was there in many of my memories, what I think were childhood memories. But to be honest, I’m not completely sure if they are indeed actual memories, or just stories that I have heard over and over again, and I can’t decipher if I was truly there or not.
During the miles of solitude I thought about why I run marathons. I signed up for my first marathon while in college. I quit my cross country team that year because I didn’t feel like I could be dedicated to my team when my father was fighting the battle of his life in another state, 4+ hours away. I couldn’t commit to weekly races when I may have to head home at the drop of a dime to help out my mom during one of my dad’s rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. I decided to challenge myself that year in a way I never had before. I trained for and ran my first marathon to help me deal with the emotions involved in watching my father slowly lose his battle with one of the most horrific diseases to ever exist. Running that year became so much more than PR’s and team championships. It evolved into my coping mechanism, my therapy. That year I realized I wasn’t in it for the hardware, I was and always will be a soul runner. I run because it is the best way I know how to celebrate life, to show gratitude for all the positives in my life, and the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has helped me grieve and find strength and value in hardships I have faced these past twenty-nine years.
With about 1.5 miles left in the race, something extraordinary happened. I felt a tightening in my chest, a lump form in my throat, heat around my eyes and ultimately tears rolling down my salt encrusted cheeks. For a short moment I cried to myself. Not because I was in pain, or that I wanted the race to be over or even out of sadness. This moment was the climax of my race. I had a fantastic day spent running while clinging to my father’s memory. I shed tears as I was overcome with emotion from all that ran through my mind in those few hours out pounding the pavement. I cried while running this race on Father’s Day, one day before what would have been my own father’s 65th birthday as a celebration, a testament to he who taught me so much during our short time on this earth together. I cried because I just missed him so much. It has been well over seven years since we had a face-to-face conversation with one another, I remember that last conversation like it happened only yesterday. I cried because I knew he was with me, as he is every day, on every single one of my runs.
The tears subsided as quickly as they appeared and before I knew it I was well into my final mile of the race. When I was notified that there was about a half mile left in the race, I wiped the tears from my cheeks and I looked up to the sky and smiled, and as that smile spread across my face, I began to feel raindrops shower upon me. It felt as if my dad was sending me some of his very own tears from heaven. I gave one final push, savoring every drop of rain, every foot fall and eventually crossed that finish line. I immediately found my mom, gave her a high-five and then a hug and felt more at peace than I have in a very long time. Afterall, I had my two greatest fans with me in that stadium, my mom hugging me back, and my dad in my heart.