There comes a point in every race, particularly the marathon, when the runner questions their ability to continue. A few more miles down the course, they question their desire. And, if you’re anything like me, at some point you stop counting the miles altogether and start focusing on points; in this case, the water stops. Inevitably, in every race, there is a water stop between miles 22-23. That particular water stop is like a cold drink of water in a proverbial hell of running; a merciful oasis set up to help you find your way through. It is usually at this point in the race where my own water bottle is empty and the welcoming arms and kind faces of the volunteers invite me in as they fill my bottle and hand me a cup. Not usually a moment for conversation, but a silent communication of understanding and support is imparted in their smiles and brief words of encouragement, as I hobble through in an attempt to keep moving forward. I am not the only one. I have looked around with tired eyes and seen many other runners doing the same; sipping the cool water from those cups, letting it refresh them as they summon the mental strength they need to continue on. Collectively, we take a deep breath, we let it out, and quicken the pace once more in search of that ever elusive, yet glorious, “second wind” that carries us “home”, ticking away the miles with a pace ever so slightly faster than the miles before.
Sometimes the same concepts that get you through the tough workouts and races are the same thoughts that get you through this thing called “LIFE”.
Recently, I was offered a complimentary bib into the 2018 Boston Marathon. My profession as a fulltime Paramedic, the recent loss of my parents, and the subsequent emotional and legal struggles we have been facing as a result, apparently pulled at the heartstrings of others like me and it was proposed, out of the goodness of their hearts, for me to run alongside them and their charity group. I respectfully declined. I told only a handful of people I know about this offer and, regretfully, wish I had just kept it to myself. Most of them understood; my coach, close friends, and the few who have run Boston themselves. But there was one whose words were not so kind and whose mind was not open for understanding. “You should have taken it!” He said, “It might be the only real chance you get. Nine minute miles will never get you to Boston.”. My heart sank because a part of me believed he was right. My response though? I am well aware of that fact; but if I never make it, then so be it. I’d rather spend my whole life trying and failing than to take the honor of running this race without having done the work to honestly earn my place there. Gary Robbins, ultrarunner and 3x Barkley Marathons participant, said it perfectly in his own blog, as pictured here in my favorite clip:
Boston is meant to be earned; and I have not yet even come close to achieving this. The charity bib offered to me, although a beautiful gesture, was “a pity bib”. It was offered to console my aching heart and to motivate me to continue running and pursuing my dream of Boston by showing me the reality of the event as it unfolds in real time on April 16, 2018. It’s not how I want to experience this epic race though and I do not feel that my recent life experiences makes me deserving of such an honor. Losing my parents didn’t make me “brave” and wearing my heart on my sleeve by talking, blogging, and posting about it doesn’t make me “courageous”. It’s simply an outlet for me to push the weight of it all off my chest so that I can breathe and go about my days being functional again. It gives me a sense of control over myself and my emotions again. I choose to let it out in hopes that “letting it go” will bring me comfort and that someone out there reading it might realize that they are not alone in the things that they are dealing with as well.
So this is where I am at right now, much like that water stop at mile 22.5, catching my breath and finding the strength I need to continue on. I have a half marathon next weekend that I am not currently prepared to run well or officially “race”. (Which is actually ok since Shep talked me into signing up for it only as a long training run; a way to keep us accountable and motivated to train in these dark days of lingering winter.) But the Pittsburgh Half Marathon is now just 5 weeks away and, despite the roller coaster of emotions, appointments, and court dates that have become my life, I do wish to run our hometown race well. I can’t promise myself a course PR right now but I can promise myself a strong attempt and, as a result, a race day performance that I will be proud of.
My next full marathon is not scheduled until fall of this year, explained in my previous blog posts, over the one year anniversary of my parents deaths; an emotional blow that I was initially not certain I could handle. I considered not running it. This will only set me up for an emotional breakdown on that day though, so this is not the answer nor the solution. Recently, I met up with my Aunt (my mother’s sister and one of her closest friends) at a coffee shop nearby. I had some pictures and belongings from my mom that I thought she might like to have. We talked for several hours, trying to make sense of things and, each of us, searching for closure regarding issues that have been left unresolved since her death. I told my Aunt about my running and about Boston. I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure that she could/would understand, but I ventured to tell her how I had originally hoped this race in the fall would have been my first opportunity to Boston Qualify but how the date was released and my heart just sank. I was unable to read her thoughts by the look on her face. She was looking at me intently and when I paused to wipe the tears from my eyes she said, “Well…you and I both know your mother, and if this is what’s holding you back, you know she wouldn’t want that. She’d tell you to let it go and be happy. Go run that race. And go run Boston too.”
I will never forget that.
As time has gone by, I have secured my lodging reservations, scoped out the course map, and concluded that this is the perfect location and race setup for what I will be in need of that weekend. To get away from home, away from work and the duties of life, to surround myself with friends and nature, perhaps a campfire or two, and a good strong long run; 26.2 miles long to be exact. I already feel the glimmers of competitive hope emerging in me again; thinking, planning, and preparing for a full summer of strong training so that when we arrive at the start line that morning, we will have the option and the ability to unleash my untapped potential on that course and bring home a new marathon PR. I can not confidently say that I will be prepared to BQ that weekend; I still have much further to go. But I am prepared to let go of what holds me back and run my race in a way that would make my mom proud.
So, once again, this is where I am. And in moving forward from this place, I hope to find my own “second wind”; the inner strength needed to continue on and finish this…except that, in my case, I’m nowhere near the finish line yet. In reality, I have only just begun. And so continues my “year of completion”: completing the miles, completing the workouts, completing the races; because sometimes completing the most immediate goal you set before yourself is the only thing that matters and is just what you need to keep moving forward towards your dream.
**Letter from my mom, Alana Dale Hudson, many years ago as I started out in life on my own.**