Monday, October 26, 2009

Getting Me There

A couple of days ago I sent out a special message thanking many of the people who have helped me in my marathon journey. And life journey.

I'm counting the days to the Finish Line now, and I felt it only appropriate to recognize the people who have helped me get here. The ones who will help me get there.

Some of the people were surprised that they were on the list, based on the feedback I've gotten. Their words have been touching and supportive, just re-affirming why they were on the list to begin with. I think many people didn't realize how much their support - no matter how seemingly small and insignificant - helped me keep going.

I even surprised myself with the number of people who ended up on the list - and how I could have easily added another dozen or so. A couple of short years ago, when I had a hard time letting anyone help me, that wouldn't have been the case. Today, I realize that you can't do things alone and it's okay to let friends and loved ones know you need them.

On Sunday, as I finished up my 8-miler - the last long run before the big day - I realized I left out an important group of people: my teammates.

Many of my teammates have become friends and stick out in my mind when I think about my marathon training. I singled out many of them of my list. But I realized Sunday it's not just the individual friends that have helped me. It's the entire Team In Training family.

I mentally penciled in a run with the team on Sunday while planning my weekend, partly because I thought it would be a fitting way to wrap up my marathon training and partly because I sensed I was going to have a personally tough day. I wanted to surround myself with those same positive people who supported me for the past couple of years.

I say "same people" but in reality they're not always the same. The faces change from week to week - you never know who will make it to the run - and some of them I struggle to even learn their names.

One thing that never changes? The warmth, camaraderie and support you feel as we gather in the familiar school parking lot. It was no different on Sunday. Chilly, we huddled in small groups, laughing and catching up with those we hadn't seen in a while. (For a change, I was included in that category, as I've missed many practices in favor of training on the marathon course.)

As the level of chit-chat escalated, Coach Jack tried to get us back on track. After all, we are there to run. Sometimes we forget that. He gathered us into a circle where he normally leads off the morning with some tips, a few words of wisdom and a variety of stretches.

As usual, we went around the circle making sure everyone knows how far they were running, where the turn-around points were and to check in on any nagging issues we might be having. (He should probably clarify that he's talking about running-related nagging injuries - I think there isn't anyone at the TnT circle that isn't or hasn't been dealing with some "nagging issue" in life.)

Yesterday, Coach Jack took a moment to recognize the accomplishments of three teammates - Brianna, Jo-Ann and Maura - who last week ran the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. I was pleased to see them return to practice to quickly, not only because it shows you can survive a marathon and get back on your feet, but also because it shows the significance of the team.

They wanted to celebrate with us, to encourage us to keep going and, for better or worse, to share their stories. Tell us what it's really like out there.

As we completed our final stretches Coach Jack announced to the group that I was in the final week before my first marathon - words that elicited a round of applause, some cheers and a few pats on the back. The support, from some people who are literally strangers, still gives me goosebumps.

We all headed out in the same direction, predictably sectioning off with those who run our pace. I noted what a natural process this is - not a word is spoken and no plans are made. We just somehow fall into place. And I noticed that it doesn't matter who you run with - like I said, the faces change from week to week - there's usually someone to run beside you and help those miles pass faster than they would alone.

Yesterday that person ended up being Brianna, a tell-it-like-it-is girl whom I'd run with several times over the summer. Fresh off her marathon finish last week and wearing the race shirt she'd earned, she was eager to share her experience.

Brianna doesn't sugar-coat anything. The funny thing is, to look at her, you'd never expect her to say some of the things she does. She's a pretty, petite girl, usually decked out in head-to-toe pink. But the words that come flying out of her mouth - especially on the hottest of days or up a challenging hill - rival a truck driver's vocabulary.

I suspected I'd be in for a treat. I'd hear exactly what a first marathon was like... like it or not.

It's hard. No surprise, right? Not just hard. The hardest thing you'll ever do, she said. And it's not hard like training-hard. It's a whole different kind of hard.

Yep, just what I was expecting.

She told me how her attitude got progressively worse, how some of the miles were lonely, how she wanted to rip the headphones from her ears in the final miles. She told me about things that were motivators during training (like rewarding herself with a Snickers at the end of an 18-miler) didn't mean anything at the end of the marathon. (Hopefully her confused boyfriend, who met her at the finish with a Snickers, understood the change.)

She told me how, really, you just want to sit down. She admitted to having thoughts of sitting down in the middle of the course. Even laying down at some points.

But she told me it's the best feeling in the world to cross the Finish Line. You're in pain and just want it to be over with, but you can truly say you've done something that most people don't even think about doing. You've proven that you have the "mental and physical fortitude," as Brianna put it, that most people can only hope for.

I listened intently, nodding or asking the occasional question. I soaked up her advice like a sponge - like me, she was a first-timer, had a similar training experience and runs a pretty similar pace.

When we reached the Mobil water stop, I thanked her and congratulated her again. She wished me luck and she took a right to go back to the school. I still had a few miles to go, so I took a left. I put in my earphones, cranked a song and picked up the pace. This was it, I thought to myself, the last miles of marathon training.

I took advantage of my last three miles to enjoy the moment running by myself, to think back on the early months of TnT when I ran those same roads. Again, I took time to reflect on those who have helped me along the way.

Marathon training, for me anyway, isn't a solitary process. I really don't think i would have made it this far without the support of friends and loved ones. They truly gave me the courage to start.

There are a lot of parallels and overlap in the my marathon journey and my life journey. The difference is on Sunday I get a break from marathon training. The life journey continues - a journey I look forward to experiencing, step by step.


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