I’ve tried to explain to a lot of non-runners why I love running big races. I talk about the electricity in the air at the starting line, the amazing view of the ocean of bobbing heads as we trot up the bridges. Cheering fans who got up at 6AM to support the runners and the joy of seeing a finish line when you’ve run as far as you possibly can that day.
Today a spectator summed up why I love it so much.
I wear a pink ribbon shirt that says “Survivor” in big black letters, because I earned it. And there was a guy about halfway through who yelled out to me, “You go, survivor. You’re exactly where you need to be!”
And he’s right. That’s the reason I love it so much.
When I line up in my corral with 30,000 other runners and they play the national anthem, and we shuffle toward the starting run and start picking up speed, when I hit an easy stride and know I’ve trained enough and I’m not injured, when the music is playing and the road is lined with cheering fans, that’s when I realize why I do it.
Because at that moment, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
There’s a perfect feeling of rightness in time and place.
That amazing feeling usually lasts at least six miles, until the bottom of Gilbert Hill.
In the past eight years I’ve run four full marathons, four halves, and the first leg of the relay three times (including the year I got drafted onto the relay team for my husband’s office, when the race took place five weeks after my double mastectomy and nine weeks after the end of chemo…slow, but I made the handoff). I only ever didn’t finish once, the Walt Disney World Marathon 2012, which I attempted to run five days after my third round of chemo and got eleven miles in before I bailed at a medical tent…but that’s another story.
In all those races I’ve developed a strategy which is this: start out way too fast, hit the wall about 2/3 in, and plod the rest of the way like an extra on The Walking Dead (I wouldn’t even need horror makeup…a mile from the end of the race and you’d totally believe I’d been dead for a couple of weeks as I shuffle along trailed by a swarm of bees who are very interested in the Gatorade I’ve dumped down my chest because I suck at drinking and running at the same time).
You won’t find this strategy in any running magazines. It’s just something I’ve perfected over a lot of early morning mileage.
So here are a few things I thought about during the run.
Best spectator’s sign: A picture of Dory from Finding Nemo that said, “I will never run another…hey, is that a race?”
Best meteorological moment: Full rainbow over the Covington/Newport bridge. Bonus points that “You Can’t Stop The Beat” was playing on my iPod at that very moment.
Best uh-oh moment: High fiving the line of old people parked in their wheelchairs outside the senior apartment building in Covington, and later thinking about how many other people I’d high fived before them and how sweaty and sticky I was by then and how I probably just shared about a billion germs with the barely-still-alive oldies. Hope somebody sanitized them before they went inside.
Best water stop guy: The maybe nineteen-year-old kid handing out water at Eden Park yelling “Do you feel the Bern?” No matter your politics, it makes me smile to see young people interested in government for the first time.
By the time I finished the race I was soaked with sweat, my face and hands slimy from Gatorade spills, orange slices, and Swedish Fish (marathon running is like Jungle Jim’s International Market on a Saturday…you can literally eat your way through), sunburnt on one side of my face, and smelling like the nocturnal house at the zoo.
But I was exactly where I was supposed to be.