About 15 minutes after I crossed the finish line, my proud husband asked me if I’d consider running another marathon.
“Ask me in 6 months,” I wearily replied.
If you would have asked again that night, as I lay in bed, feet throbbing against the sheets, and every single muscle in my body aching as I tried to get comfortable, I would have answered with a resounding “No!”
Five days after the fact, I’ve changed my mind. I’m pretty positive I’d run another one again. I can’t say it was a life-changing event, because when I did a triathlon a few years ago, and lived to step out of the water after the swim, I knew I could do anything. That was the life-altering moment. But whenever I step out of my comfort zone, or stretch myself with something new, I get that queasy first-day-of-school-new-kid-on-the-block kind of feeling. As a kid who moved frequently, I had that feeling a lot , so it’s not a new sensation to me. Going into the marathon with injuries, and not ever feeling as if I got in any great training runs (in the frigid weather, they were all just completely grueling to me), I was fully prepared to “hit the wall.” To feel as if – with every fiber of my being – I wanted to quit. To feel as if, at mile 21, my body would give out and I couldn’t go another step. Like labor and delivery, you hear so many stories ahead of time and steel yourself for the worst. With that talisman of fear before me, I psyched myself out ahead of time that I would come to that wall and have to find a way over, around, or through it.
But I didn’t meet that wall. In retrospect, there are several reasons why, but I’ll tell you what I think the main one was: Even though this was a personal challenge in a positive sense for me, when I was out there somewhere after mile 13, it stopped being even remotely about me. Am I proud I completed a 26.2 mile race? Absolutely. Approximately 1 – 2% of the global population will undertake to run a marathon. Do I feel a sense of achievement being one of the few? Without a doubt.
While I wasn’t running with anyone in particular at the 13.1 mile mark, someone near me shouted, “We just ran a 1/2 marathon! Let’s do another one!” I felt shear joy at that point that I’d come that far. But somewhere between the 13.1 marker and mile 14, there was an older woman sitting in a lawn chair set out on her driveway. Like so many residents of Jacksonville, she was dressed to the hilt in pink, because after all, this was the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer. Her lawn was decorated with the pink “26.2 with Donna” flags. She had long, skinny, pink balloons in her hands that she clapped together.
And as I ran by her, she shouted, “Thank you for running for my daughter!”
By that, I could only assume that her daughter had, or was facing breast cancer.
Whatever wall in front of me just fell…. I wasn’t just running for me. I was running for her daughter. I was running for all of you.