It happens now and then. It’s rare. It’s one of those days when the sun is shining just for you. The Glory Day. Last Sunday was a Glory Day.
How could it not be?
In early November, a fellow runner who I knew slightly (but liked greatly) invited me to run a marathon with her. My initial reaction was that running 26.2 miles in a single effort was nothing short of nuts. That distance was about my weekly total. Yet, it was something that I had always considered. (Like getting my nose pierced… I’m just making all kinds of nutty decisions these days.)
The fact that the fellow runner, Gail, has become a dear friend is testament enough that even the training process was amazing. And while it is hard to gloss over 11 weeks of intense marathon training, it’s more fun to jump right to the Glory Day and the race report.
Early Saturday morning, Gail and I hopped in the Subie and headed south five hours from Atlanta to Tallahassee. During that drive, Gail established herself not only as one of the most intentional runners I’ve ever met, but also one of the most encouraging.
Sunday dawned perfect. Before I left, my husband asked me how I was feeling about this first marathon, and my reply was that I was having a difficult time finding any anxiety about it. What a relief to wake early Sunday to realize that not only had I actually slept on Saturday night, but that I was still calm and very much looking forward to a long run with friends.
Mind you, that run was spelled “m-a-r-a-t-h-o-n” and I had goals. “Everyone” had said that the goal for your first marathon should be twofold – 1) finish, 2) try not to hit the wall so hard that you are left with bruises. My goals were:
- don’t hit the wall (or if I did, hit it at mile 26.5 and not before)
- get in by 3:40, which would allow me to decide it I wanted to try to run the Boston Marathon in 2014 (the year I turn 40!)
- actually try to put my pace runs to the test and come in under 3:40
First order of business on Sunday at the start line was to hug my parents who drove almost five hours to cheer me on, then to circle up in prayer to give this Sunday run to God. I knew that whether I would run in joy or pain (or, most likely, both), I would be turning to Him.
As I walked to the corral, my phone (in my pocket for podcasts if needed) buzzed and I got the best surprise.
My husband and kids were in church about the time I was getting into the thick of the run. When the minister asked if anyone had a prayer requests, they stood and asked the congregation to send prayers for strength my way. The minister apparently then incorporated the idea of marathon as the Path to faith into his sermon. I’ve also since discovered that my preschoolers said a prayer in their worship service (I coordinate worship for a few hundred kiddos, aged two to five). That the sun shone on the path, that the live oaks were glorious, and that rather than a wall, I found a new friend are all proof that those prayers had huge power.
Until about mile five, I ran with Gale and Rodney, two Atlanta runner pals. We were smart and cautious, maintaining about an 8:15 p/mi pace. That was all the time it took to feel confident and ready to open up and run my own comfort pace. About a mile into my happy pace, it was apparent that a sweet girl (who I’d met earlier in the morning) was at my shoulder and I might have company for the many miles to come.
Sweet Kate and I were side by side until mile 25.5. Every mile we clocked was almost exactly a 7:53 split. It was mechanical, magical. She was a gift and someone I hope to have the chance to run with again. That photo could have been taken anywhere during the 20 miles we were together – every one was sunny and happy.
A big part of what made those miles go by so smoothly and wonderfully was the recurring presence of my parents, who drove the route and popped up to cheer, snap photos and (though I think they would probably not admit to it) make sure I was still upright and moving forward.
At mile 25.5, we were approaching campus and I needed to take a moment before the big finish. Kate ran ahead toward her 3:35 BQ goal (she’s a youngster) and I plugged in my music, dug deep and found a last bit of strength and speed. I wanted to finish in glorious fashion, not tired and relieved. So music on and heart pounding, I roared into campus at close to a 7:00 p/mi pace, smile on my face. Then I rounded onto the track and realized that there was no way that I could have finished in anything but glorious fashion.
Hitting that track was nothing short of spectacular. It was bright, soft and filled with cheering people (most importantly my parents). I heard them call my name, and picked up speed.
And then I saw the finish clock. It didn’t say 3:40.
If I’d had any fluids left in me, I would have been in tears before I even it the mat. (Alas, no tears came, but my heart was overflowing as I ran into a celebration hug with my parents.) I finished in 3:31, qualifying for Boston by almost nine minutes.
The experience was enough. It was a glory day. But then this.I had hit every single goal I set, and then some. I had a negative split by almost a minute and I finished feeling great. Talk about icing on the cake. There is no way on earth that I could have done that on my own. It was the support of my family, the prayers of friends and congregation and the encouragement of my more experienced runner friends that got me to this point.
Never again will there be such a day. I was my most blessed, most accomplished self. And to add to the fun, Gale and Kate both hit their goals and took home awards as well. It was a great day.
But even that wasn’t all. I drove five hours home to a supportive, excited husband and kids (and a really good beer), and lots of notes of congratulations from many who don’t need to care or take the time to congratulate, but who have done so anyway. My people are awesome. And I even got a huge honor from my girls at Oiselle:
This marathon experience has been filled with learnings:
- You don’t do a marathon on your own – your people are a part of it
- You can set big goals and dig deep enough to make them happen
- If your legs are tired, adjust your gait for a moment (thanks, Francis!)
- A good athletic masseuse is worth her weight in gold (thanks, Janice!)
- Running with faith is way better than trying to do it alone
- A marathon – like any big thing you’ll do – is best handled one mile at a time
In the last week, life has been busied by good and bad – my sweet husband’s 40th birthday, a visit from the fabulous in-laws (for said birthday), a sick kiddo, a to-do list almost paralyzing in its content… and almost no running. (Some would call it ‘rest’…I’m skeptical.) This week will surely bring more busy-ness, but I’ll meet it with shoes laced.
*A special thanks to my parents (for coming, cheering, photographing!), my husband and kids (for putting up with my training schedule), Gale (for the Tally invite), Helen (for the initial ‘hey, you could run that far’), Jill and Adrienne (who made me try harder), Kate (for being at my shoulder) and Kimberley (who remains my BRF, no matter what, just for having been the first to get me to race all those years ago) and my pals at Oiselle for making me believe that I can go fast and take chances.
Because I can. (Oh, and so can you.)