More Than a Race

by Mary Smith

I am a runner. It seems so strange to write that because, for most of my life I was a non-athlete. I’ve never been on a sports team. The only competing I did in school was in music. Running, was not on my mind.

Then something changed. On the week of my 44th birthday, I decided to run. I had already been walking daily for several months as part of a weight loss effort. One day during my walk, I chose to run. It wasn’t pretty. I barely got 100 feet before my lungs were burning and my legs were shaking. I kept at it though, and over the months that followed, I got stronger. Later that year, I ran my first races ever, in the 5K,15K and half marathon distances.

The next year, I ran several more races, building toward my first marathon: The Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa. I was such a novice. I didn’t know better than to keep progressing to longer race distances. On paper, it made perfect sense to run a marathon next. I didn’t realize my own limited understanding of how challenging it would be to train to run the full 26.2 mile marathon. I just kept running. Every week, the mileage was greater than the week before.

The first time I hit an 18 mile training run, I finished in tears. I wasn’t in pain. There was simply something emotionally overwhelming about completing that distance. It was also sobering to realize that I would have to run still another 8.2 miles on race day.

The final days leading up to race day were a blur of anxiety and excitement. Weather reports, pre-race menus, sleep requirements, and gear checks monopolized thoughts and conversations. The night before the event, temperatures dropped into the 20s and the skies threatened rain. We tried not to think about how much harder the race would be in such weather.

maryOn marathon morning, it was 27º. My husband and I stayed inside the Hyatt lobby for as long as we could before making our way to the start corrals. At that point, I gulped down a tube of GU nutrition, snapped a few selfies and then waited for the gun.

Suddenly, we were off. Sixteen weeks of intentional, focused training was about to be tested. I am not a fast runner, and the freezing temperatures complicated my already slow pace. Even so, it was an amazing day. I was determined not to let anything keep me from absorbing the joy of that day. I wanted to be all there and not miss anything.

Running long distances takes a certain kind of focus. It doesn’t come easily. It takes work. The brain is very good at telling you, ‘it’s not normal to run this much in one day’. The body has to move past those cues to complete the miles. For me, there is much bargaining that occurs between body and brain.

At the halfway mark the temperature dropped again. I had to force myself to just keep moving forward. This was one of the toughest tests of my physical stamina, and I was determined to finish what I started.

My feelings on finishing that race were not what I expected. The freezing weather demanded a heightened sense of focus on my basic physical needs: Stay warm. Find food. Don’t sit down. It wasn’t until I met up with my family that the significance of the day and the reality of the distance began to settle in. I was a marathoner. Nothing could ever change that.

Some thought my running a marathon was a one-time, bucket list agenda item. It wasn’t. I simply decided to give myself a challenge and work to complete it. During training, I was frequently discouraged. Mine journey was no overnight success story. Eventually, I realized the only way to accomplish this goal was by consistent work over time. At my age, positive physical changes come slowly. Even still, I keep running. I am a daily witness to the truth that people do change. I changed. I chose to change.

Why do I run? At first, I just wanted to lose weight. Then, I hoped to also gain fitness. What I didn’t expect, was to find a community in the process. Every time I lace up my shoes and hit the trails I join with members of a society. I don’t know the names of many runners that I see each day, but I am grateful to be one of their number. There is a bond among runners. We know the encouragement that can be expressed by a simple nod. Finding community isn’t what got me started running, but it is part of what keeps me out there. I’m part of something larger now.

In just a few days, I’ll run the Route 66 Marathon again. It will be my third time in this event and my fifth marathon. It will be difficult. It will be exhilarating. I’ll be making memories. I’ll be running among friends.

Mary is a wife, mother of four, and a homeschool tutor.  She enjoys experiencing life with her family, cycling, running, and cooking simple, seasonal meals.  She recently became the Fitness Coordinator for the Youth and Family Complex at First Methodist. She also infrequently posts writing at www.bikerunbook.blogspot.com . Follow on Instagram @marysgold 

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