I’ve have a bit of time to reflect upon my Eugene experience, and each time I collect my thoughts, the fact that I set a personal record that day is never the first thing to pop into my head. I’m grateful for my health, for a strong training cycle, that I’m injury-free and had the opportunity to fly across the country and run a top-notch race in such a running mecca. But none of these facts outweigh the two biggest things that I will take with me from this experience: relationships and the power of a moment.
Once I boarded my layover plane in Chicago, I scored a sweet seat: aisle, 8th row from the front, next to two women about my age. SOOOOO clutch. When one flies Southwest you aren’t assigned a specific seat, just a boarding position, so it ends up being kind of a nightmare if you are one of the last to step onto the plane. The final three individuals to join the jam-packed plane were a young couple and their baby. The only two available seats were the seat directly behind me and one way in the very back of the plane. This poor couple missed their opportunity to board the plane first, which is an accommodation made for those with little ones. As I was witnessing the last minute decision of which parent would take which seat, without a thought I stood up and offered my seat and said I would go to the vacancy in the rear of the plane so the couple could be next to one another. It was the least I could do. When I walked back to my new seat, I gave up my perfect position in exchange for one between two men much larger than myself and at least 30 years my senior. Awesome, I just took a deep breath, smiled at my new friends and squeezed in. Judging these books by their cover, I never in my wildest dreams believed I would end up sitting next to a husband of a marathoner. Shame on me. The entire plane ride from Chicago to Eugene was spent with me listening to this husband boast of his wife and her passion for our sport, her goals like wanting to run a marathon in all 50 states. This man loved that woman, the way he looked over to her (she was across the aisle), how he mentioned they were about to celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary, I couldn’t help but become invested in this couple, without even knowing their names, or even speaking to this woman. As the plane completed its final descent, my new friend leaned over to his wife and whispered that I too was heading out to Eugene to run the marathon. She turned to me which a huge smile and starting asking about me and my goals. I couldn’t help but catch my breath when I first locked eyes with her. There was something so bizarrely familiar about her. The more we chatted the more I realized, this could be me. Aside from obvious similarities, the short, dark hair, the thick, plastic-rimmed glasses, and the Boston Marathon jacket…This was a sister in sport, a reflection of my future. This is who I daydream of being when I am sixty-five. Just think if I didn’t take the opportunity to give up my seat, what I would have missed out on.
From the moment I stepped off the plane I was thrown into a constant whirlwind of embraces, laughter and sheer giddiness. So many times I had to pinch myself to be convinced that yes; this indeed was my real life. Well, at least for a long weekend.
The days and hours leading up to race morning spent in the living room of our rented habitat felt eerily similar to my co-ed days. Sharing our hopes and dreams as well as heartache and elation we’ve endured in our lives was one of my favorite things about the trip. The idea that we were all brought to be with each other on the very same weekend for a reason was never lost on me.
Being reminded of the amazingness that can come from taking a leap of faith was a recurring theme of the weekend. When I submitted my HTC application, I never dreamed of the friendships and bonds that would come out of that once in a lifetime experience, one that certainly changed my life. To my Nuun family, I can never thank you enough.
Getting in line for the restroom at Ninkasi at the same time as Kelli and discussing our past running attempts, afforded me the opportunity to cheer on someone else. I am living proof that the marathon is equal parts beauty and beast. She can rear her ugly head sometimes and crush our hopes and dreams, but never giving up, that takes resilience, perseverance and faith, that one day all the little heartaches and detours will add up to that one big moment in time where you will have the race you always dreamed of. It is truly worth all the blood, sweat, tears, vomit and portapot stops. Moments. So fleeting. So much potential.
Elation far outweighed any sorrow that hung in the Eugene air, but there were definite moments spent encouraging, consoling and lifting up friends whose hearts were broken from running just like mine has been many, many times before. The light of realization shone brightly for me in these specific circumstances, providing a purpose for my previous missed goals and injuries suffered. Ladies, I meant it every single time I said ‘I’ve been there’. Promise me to never give-up on those dreams, you will break down whatever walls are standing in your way, it’s possible. Trust me.
Merle Haggard on the juke box, margarita in my hand, huddled up with my kind of people, breaking bread, sharing our lives post race was the best way I could imagine spending my last night in Eugene. The PR’s will become outdated, the race medal will tarnish, but the bonds of friendship – both new and not as new, that’s what I hope to never forget. That’s what I will cling to on my bad days, that reminder of how fortunate I am to have a support system outside of my inner circle. I have met and clicked with some of the most amazingly strong, brilliant, driven, generous and thoughtful humans through this shared sport.
And that my friends, is what the magic of Eugene is all about.