Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trail of Tears & Victory

“The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
John Bingham

It's been a long run and climb to the finish line. I don't know at what point in my life I conceived the idea that I, not-the-athlete-but-the-very-big-boned-thick-girl, could ever run a half marathon. For most of my life running a mile in gym class was considered pure punishment and I never ran it. I started running in college, lost some weight and was side swiped by a car on my neighborhood run. I stopped running and let my accident be my excuse to not work out or run for a while. Of course I also gave myself a pass for life's buffet of food and alcohol. Finally, a few years after college I decided I need to upgrade from a couch potato to an active gym user. And we know what happened at this point...simple math...too much food + too little exercise = FAT.

I'd watch runners in pure envy and curiosity. Their stride seemed as if they were running with the wind - almost pure effortless. I would try every now and then and couldn't understand why I wasn't running with the wind. I wanted to run with the wind and look light as a feather. My curiosity peaked and I would read up on how to run and try to jog on the treadmill. I always felt like an instant failure and everyone was watching me. Embarrassed I wouldn't feel comfortable attempting running until I was at a lower weight. Not to mention one day I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the treadmill and it looked like my boobs were separate from my body...gravity was NOT in my favor. I was always in pain and knew I need to lose weight in order to run like a runner.

I had the bright idea back in 2003 I could run a 5k. I enlisted my friend Anita to run with me in December at the gym. At this point my stamina increased and I would jog a few minutes and then walk so somehow I thought I could just go and do it. Needless to say my plight ended in pain and sheer embarrassment. I barely finished after a hour and half of heavy breathing, leg & stomach cramps and dizziness. I was devastated. I told myself I'd never be an accomplished runner. I might be able one day be able to go and jog here and there but never would call myself a runner.

It wasn't until almost 70 pounds lost that I was able to start a decent regiment. I was no longer a couch potato but a gym rat. It all started with my first pair of Brooks four years ago and 7 pairs or so later I'm about to jump into a new pair. The last few years I finally started running miles all the way through but I would go through a love and hate relationship with running. Usually the hate stages would outlast the love stages and by the time I start running again I would have do a bit of retraining.

I'm not going to bore anyone with the details of training for races. I never really had a plan or training guide to follow. I would just try to run. I'd run outside and see if I could run 30 minutes or so. I'd test myself on the treadmill. I just wanted to run 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles, etc. I found myself in a zone and it was definitely an escape. Finally, a FREE escape. Sometimes I was running because I felt I had to, sometimes I was running away from my problems, sometimes to get in a better mood and sometimes because my body said so.

I finally decided after much encouragement over the past year from my instructor at Lifetime Kate, avid marathoner, that I should run the Half Marathon in Columbus. There's a four letter word that is quite disabling and destructive: FEAR. I decided last year that 2010 I was going to run the Columbus Half Marathon in May and that's that. I didn't run 2009 half marathon because of fear & fat. Maybe I was ready and maybe I would have had to walk but who knows because I talked myself out of it.

New Years, of course, brings new resolutions and I started off with some new pounds gained and felt determined to try to loose as much as possible. I up'ed my workouts at the gym, sometimes to 3-4 hours a day. The gym became my second home and I made myself comfortable. Armed with a running book and newly gifted Brooks from my aunt I put my body and mind to the test. I ran and ran and ran and ran at the gym. Set goals and found myself accomplishing them. From 20 miles a week to 30 to oh crap I wanna see what 50 feels like! It felt good. Running was my therapy. Running was my time where I could shut the world out. No one could stop me or tell me I'm running too fast or too slow or criticize my stride. No one could even tell me I needed to stop. I always liked exploring trails so it's adventure to find them and run them.

I prepared for my test run and set out to run 11 miles straight about 2 weeks before the half marathon. It was one of the best runs in my life. I got to about mile 5.5 and the trail stopped and I just didn't know what to do. Sounds kinda stupid right? Hello? Turn around and keep running but I wanted to keep running straight ahead. Confused, I thought I had more to go but it was the end and all I could was turn around. I started thinking about how there's so much in life I don't have and haven't succeeded. Rejection and rejection and more rejection has created so much inner frustration and I just don't know what to do with it. I must have cried for about a mile. I felt like I could just release and leave some of it behind. My friend Nellie in advance agreed to help me finish out the last 3 miles so I met up with her and it was nice to have someone help me finish.

After self reassurance from my test run I decided I could run the half and I registered. That's it and there is no turning back. The night before I laid out everything like a kid before the first day of school and nervous like one, too. It didn't occur to me the magnitude of this life test until I was lined up at the start and it felt like the air had been sucked out off standing next to 8,000 people. I was uncomfortable and starting to freak out. I didn't have anyone to run with, no one to cheer me on and all of a sudden I just felt alone and scared. I didn't know what to do? Part of me wanted to kick my own ass for getting myself into this and I didn't know how to get out? Could I just leave? What to do? ARRRRGHHHH

What did I do? Well, out of thousands I recognized one person. I turned to my left and there was my pilates instructor Julie at the gym and instantly I felt reassured and calm! Next thing I knew I was running. I had my rhythm of my stride, my breaths were all in sync and I was running my first half marathon and then it started to rain. People I didn't know were cheering everyone on in the rain. There were DJ's set up with music. Volunteers were graciously handing out water. The scenery was soothing and the rain was cleansing. Then my back started hurting at mile two and I told myself absolutely not we can't do this because I got a long haul and I'm going to need you to get it together. Yes, I was a bit upset at myself for not loosing the extra weight I needed to but told my body please I need you now and will reward you later!

I ran to Ani, Dave, Sarah, U2, John Legend, Amy Whinehouse, Pitbull, Lil Wayne but it was mile 10 I needed help from my soul sisters Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Aretha & Mary. I was my own coach and thought of all the times I couldn't run a mile. I knew if Oprah could do this and full marathon there is no reason why I cannot either. Money, status, job title, race do not matter on the trail to victory. I don't need to prove anything to anyone but myself.

"There are clubs you can't belong to, neighborhoods you can't live in, schools you can't get into, but the roads are always open." - Nike

At mile 11 it started to pour and I watched people being carried out. Static echoed in my headphones from the rain and I said nooo I need Mary and "No more Drama" right about now please and it played on. Mile 12 I turned to Eminem. The path narrowed and I picked up my pace. I was in the home stretch. I was confident passing the the 2:30 pacer. One of the few songs to take me to the next level on my runs, stairmaster, bike, whatever has always been "Lose yourself" and I knew one day it would be my victory song. My palms were sweaty, my knees weak but I ran. Feet fail me not 'cause maybe the only opportunity that I got and I'm seizing it. There's no looking back. I realized all this was all mine. I was running to the finish but it was only the beginning. No one could stop me. This is my success and no one could take it away.

2 hours and 25 minutes later I ran my first half marathon and went back and cheered others on. I finally tasted success.

"I have met my hero, and he is me." - George Sheehan

p.s. I just wanted to tell myself that I love you and I'm soo proud of you. Keep it up. There's something called a full marathon. Think about it.