Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Of Angels and Accomplishment: The Marathon Post

October 2nd, Friday night, I was pretty wired. I worked very hard to calm myself (oxymoron) and kept telling myself, "This will be worth it....this will be worth it...." I kept quietly chanting to myself, "To see if I say I did." Refreshing my motivation and reminding myself that I was prepared as possible.

I didn't expect to get much sleep, especially because I was looking forward to my sister's arrival, but I surprised myself by sleeping from 11:30p.m. to ONE MINUTE (!) before my alarm was supposed to go off--4:19a.m.
I woke up with that horrible squirmy feeling in my stomach, but also felt a little thrill of excitement as I put on my running clothes, pulled my hair into a ponytail, and took deep breaths.

Phill just kept smiling at me, totally happy and calm--as he always does in situations where he knows I will end up happy, no matter how nervou
s I begin. :) In the car I ate a banana, some Myoplex (BLEH....), and a lot of Gatorade. There was so many cars on the road, which I found somewhat comforting--so many people doing the same thing that morning.

When Phill dropped me off at the park (where all the buses waited for us to board and be driven to the start line), and I stepped out into the October morning, I was immediately shivering from cold and nerves. I needed safety pins to pin my bib number onto my shirt (accidentally threw away the ones provided), and felt much more worried about it than I needed to be. Somehow (it was no coincidence), I bumped into another lady who also needed to find some safety pins, and we stuck
together in our mini-predicament. She told me that this was her second marathon, that she had two kids, and that she would be happy to stick by me 'til the start.

Dear Ellie,

You were an angel. I'm glad I didn't slow you down, and I'm so glad you were there that morning. Because of your calming presence, I was able to relax my shivering-nervous muscles
and thrill at the start of the race. A thousand times: thank you.

At the start line were bonfires, which was heavenly--it was 39 degrees. The cold penetrated my thin shirt and my anticipation made me shiver uncontrollably until I finally found a good spot next to one of the fires. People of all shapes and sorts sat around, lit up beautifully by the glow of the flames. People talked and laughed, ate, slept, stretched, listened to music. There was a general spirit of friendship and helpfulness. In spite of my little anxieties, I felt very safe and sure.

The start of the race was a sea of moving people, as far as my eyes could see. The air seemed electric--my limbs were frozen by cold, but
I was on fire; I had finally started! Finally, finally, finally! was all I could think.

That first mile flew was unreal how fast it went. And the next, and the next, and really, the first 6 miles were surreal. I was thankful that my legs didn't un-freeze until mile 9, when there happened to be an aid station being manned by several people in my ward. (The great Eagle project of one of the young men we love.) I
almost cried with joy and said, "People I know!" Note: You readers will be proud to hear that I drank two cups of water or one cup water/one cup Gatorade at every aid station. I was masterfully hydrated.

I have to say that the volunteers are so wonderful. They make the experience even more enjoyable (yes, running 26.2 miles is enjoyable....on many levels....) and they were nothing short of encouraging and kind.

As I ran, the pesky flu (or whatever it is) that had plagued me the two weeks before showed no mercy. I coughed and coughed for the first 20 miles, until I really didn't have enough breat
h to cough anymore. You can imagine that my lower abs were quite sore.

For three miles--mile 11 to mile 14, I'd guess--I talked to an old man who said this was his twelfth marathon. He said he didn't start 'til his late forties, and that when he first started, it was with a pair of deck shoes. "Then I bought some new shoes and thought, 'This is like running on a cloud!' If I could do a marathon in deck shoes, I can do lots more in these shoes!"

Dear Mike,

You were personable and funny and sweet and strengthening. I liked your stories. You amaze me.

At mile 17, my enthusiasm began to be a little slow in coming. I could
feel that my body was tired, and I felt a little overwhelmed at the prospect of 9 more miles. But I was still excited, still happy, and still very much mentally in the game. My right calf was cramping a bit, and the balls of my feet were sore, but I knew I could keep going for quite some time, provided I distracted myself well enough.

Distraction arrived in the form of Cathy from Payson, a mother of seven and grandmother to (?), who was doing this marathon for the third time. She was walking, she was tired, and she looked somewhat despondent. I decided to talk to her because she looked like she needed some co
mpany as badly as I did.

We talked for five miles. 17 to 22. She told me about her struggles with a couple of her children, and her pride in the good choices that they were now making. She shared events from her life that closed the gap in our ages. We quickly bonded over those long five miles, and we kept each other going.

Dear Cathy,
You are a wonderful woman. I am so happy to have made your acquaintance, especially in the setting of the St. George Marathon. You distracted me and made it easier for me to keep going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Arrive mile 22. We were just about to town, and I parted ways with Cathy to use up a little of the second wind I had. (Second wind....more like fifth, really.) At about mile 23, I was o
vercome by the enormity of what I was doing, what I had left to do, and by the pain. I simply sobbed while I ran. (It sounded really hilarious....a little like a barking seal, but a barking seal that's sort of under some anesthesia.) Every part of my legs, arms, abs, and upper back was sore, cramping, or burning. My lower lip began to tremble, a funny little thing that seems to happen to me after mile 17 or so.

Enter Melanie.

"Hi, sweetie! What's your na

"Okay. Rachel, we can do this. I know you're tired. But we can do this, okay?"


"We're going to do this!"




And she hands me a fresh bottle of water from her husband's water belt--he was walking alongside her, simply there to help her. It was her third marathon. Her dad biked next to us, relaxed and chatty, a cheerful distraction. Two very tired girls ran alongside us, and soon she recruited their motivation, too.

"What's your name, honey? We'll get through this."

Melanie, you were yet another earthly angel on that run. You make me want to run it again, just so that I can help people who are doing it for the first time. Thank you. Thank you.

She asked me questions, questions that helped her get a sense of what would motivate me most, and questions that took my mind off my pain. I told her that my husband was in the Army, wai
ting in uniform with other uniformed Army men at the finish line, and that I was very ready for him to catch me. Quietly I realized that for the last half of the marathon, I really had been running to Phill.

Melanie's father listened to us with a quiet smile, and then rode off slowly towards the finish line, which by this time was about 2 miles away.

Then, at mile 25, my weary eyes caught sight of her old dad on his bike, riding towards me, with a uniformed man jogging behind. A uniformed man with his arms in the air and a gigantic grin on his face.

I fell to pieces. I sobbed "Phill! Oh my goodness!" over and over, and he was quickly at my side, saying, "You're almost there, sweetheart! Only a little more! You're doing so great. I'm so proud of you." And I continued to cry the weirdest-sounding cry of my life. (I recall crying, "But it's so uuuggglllyyy...."--I was referring to most everything in general; my form, my crying, the way my body felt.) I tried to walk instead of run--thinking that a rest was good--but my legs just gave out beneath me. Lucky Phill was there to catch me and tell me that I needed to keep running, or my legs would cramp--because they were so used to this motion. He whispered sweet nothings to me all the way to the last turn, then did something that I will never forget and for which I will never stop feeling utmost love and gratitude.

"Okay, love. I'm going to go wait at the finish line. You've got this."

And he sprinted to the finish line to let me, his wife, finish the marathon with every bit of personal victory intact. No one next to me, holding my hand or pulling me along. Just me, just my finish.

Phill....I love you. Deeply.

I was surprised that there were still people there to cheer, besides my sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and kindred spirit Jenn--but there were enough people that the cheering filled my ears and seemed to elevate me to another plane altogether. I was floating....floating and sobbing and smiling and laughing. Phill stood with his arms open wide and I jumped (well, at that point it was a pretty weak jump...) into his arms and finally, finally let my muscles stop moving.
(Oddly hard to do.)

My clock time said 7:06:00. My official (chip) time was 6:58:21. I have felt somewhat sheepish and self-critical for the last several days over how long it took me to finish--but I'm telling you....I feel very proud of myself now (finally, almost a week later)!

I ran for almost seven hours! I finished! I did exactly what I set out to do! I trained for months, waking up early, which we know is something I hate and always struggle with....I worked my training around schedules: my own, my children, Phill's. I have come to the realizat
ion that the marathon was really the reward for what was as big an accomplishment--the preparation.

I keep whispering to myself the words that were on my medal, reminding myself that I have the strength to do something difficult, complete with preparation and follow-through.

Finisher. I am a Finisher.

To see if I can--
I can--to say I did--I did.
photo-credit: Eric Hanson
thank you for coming! Thank you for supporting me, and thank you for making it easy for Abby to help me out. Thank you for taking the photos. I am so happy to have a record of this great event! Also, thank you for walking me to the bathroom six times on Saturday when my legs were like lead.
Abby, thank you for coming. Thank you for listening to me talk down my nerves on the phone several times before the actual marathon. Thank you for driving in the night with your husband and babies to simply be with my family. Thank you for the meals you made, the pampering you gave me, and the love and attention you showed my babies. Jenn, thank you for coming. Thank you for taking care of my babies while I ran. Thank you for crying when I was done and had no tears left myself. Thank you for helping me get comfortable afterwards. Thank you for keeping my sister, brother-in-law, and husband company and entertaining my children and nieces for seven hours Saturday morning.

To my other family, friends, blog-readers: Thank you for every supportive comment, every kind gesture, every prayer, every thought sent my way. I am forever grateful for your support and encouragement. You make it fun. You lift me up.


camilla said...

that blog was so awesome and so sweet and so wonderful in so many ways! it totally made me cry, holding back ugly cries. I'm so proud of you! I love love love your pictures and I wish so bad that I could've been there to cheer you on! Maybe someday we can run together. I'm so proud of you.

Anna said...

I'm crying!! What a marvelous experience. Honestly, now I'm not sure if I'm more motivated or more intimidated to try a marathon in the next 3 years. Thanks for sharing this very personal experience with us Rae.

Abby Hanson said...

And you didn't like the pictures of yourself. These are BEAUTIFUL.

Another thing I noticed about your awesome husband is that before he sprinted off to the finish line, he moved off to the side by the fence and waited to make sure you were moving on your own and good to go. Only then did he sprint to the finish line to wait for you with open arms and that huge smile! :D What a good, good, man you have. ('what a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man, yes he is!')

I hope you run at least one more marathon some day so that you can be angel in human form to first-timers, just as those wonderful people did for you this time. Who knows? Maybe you'll help ME!

I love you Rae and you inspire me!! I think you should find a music piece you love now and channel that same passion and drive into preparing to play something you love at a performance level??? :D I need your cello. I don't know why, but cello speaks to me on a level completely separate from piano. I PLAY piano but I rarely listen. I rarely listen to just piano. I LOVE Eroica Trio. I LOVE Yo-Yo Ma. I want to hear you play!! Any inhibitions you feel about picking up your bow again -- just remember -- "I'm a finisher!" -- "I ran a MARATHON" -- "I trained for FOUR months and GOT UP EARLY and sweat and cried and doubted and grew and learned and I DID IT"!!!

You are awesome. Truly, truly awesome my beautiful Rae.

MAG of Marie Photographie said...

Completely amazing post, possibly my all-time favorite from you. I just had to sit for a few minutes after reading it. Every last word was meaningful and genuine. You're one of the most likable, sincere, inspiring people I know.

And I adore the relationship you and Phill have. You two are so good for each other. :)

My Family said...

Somehow I knew I would cry reading this! Ok Rachel I want you to repeat after me "I ran a marathon, I FINISHED a marathon, I ran 26.2 miles in one afternoon, I didn't stop, I didn't quit, I acheived my goal, I finished MY race".
Your race time is only there for one purpose, and it's purpose is a starting point for you, it's your first race, your first "time", everything else will be compared to this one "time". That's all it is used for. You will run another marathon (I know you will) and you will say "yes I took __ min. off my time", that's how it works :).
You are amazing and I am so proud of you, no one will EVER be able to take this away from you, you ran AND finished a marathon!!!!! AMAZING!!!!

leslie the licorice stick lady said...

You did it! You set, pursued and met a HUGE goal. You proved you old teacher wrong! What an inspiring thing. Phil is such a support to you. You are both amazing people.
Congrats for a great job well done!

Bridget said...

Just like the others who've read this, I too cried. It's an unexplainable feeling when you cross that finish line and every emotional feeling totally succumbs you. I can't compare it to childbirth, but some say it's actually harder. What do you think? I just want you to know that I'm SO proud of you and for what you've done! Maybe someday we can do our second marathon together! I think you've been bitten by the running bug and you're going to keep this up! Speaking of which, I need to lace up my running shoes and get my butt out the door!

Heidi said...

I cried, too. First, at the beautiful way you are able to share such emotion through your words. Second, because you ARE that inspiring angel and your words bring comfort and peace to others in so many ways, though I imagine you would be a fantastic support to anyone running a marathon. Or giving birth, because the parallels struck me again. (You would be a fantastic doula, too, you were my online doula.) And third, because what a sweet love story... that's what struck me most, that precious relationship with your partner & best friend & biggest fan. Though we're all your fans, too. :) And for your sweet family & friends coming to cheer you on... I love the photos.

It doesn't matter how long we take to run the race, that's true, it just matters that we give it our all and keep moving forward.

You are amazing.

Christine & Brian said...

Such a beautiful post Rae! You really are inspiring and I'm so blown away by your drive. Congrats on this HUGE accomplishment!

Kate said...

WOW!!! What an experience. I loved this post, did I say I loved this post. A dream I have had but probably won't be fulfilled but I have enjoyed it through your eyes. Congrats, you are a finisher and a winner.

Kelly said...

I know I just commented on FB, but I had to say (again) how impressed I am of you. Months and months of mind over body, and you DID IT!
I knew that your post would be great! I have been waiting, and checking at least once a day for this post.
And I'm sure that you left out a ton of other little stories (because races are made up many stories)--but I loved these angels you wrote about. Now I get why you would do that again.
So proud of you. A little bit jealous, but mostly (hugely) proud!

Cynthia said...

What a great experience you have just had. I (Cynthia's husband) plan to run the 2010 Marathon. If your planning on running again, I would love some pointers, and even start off with you, but this is so awesome. I loved every minute of the story, and no better way to finish than how you did. My hat goes off to you, and anyone else in the race as well.

Waynsh said...

Dear Rachel.
You make me cry. I am impressed beyond words. What a great inspiration.

carajean said...

First, it was the wedding episode of the office, and now this...I have been teary eyed all night! Rae, it's like you gave birth again! What an amazing thing for you to have done. I can imagine how empowered you feel! And the pictures at the end, that's what made me cry the most. Phil is such a good man, and I love your face so much. I wish I could have been there.

Love you.

Kristy said...

You are an inspiration...and can I just say you look spectacular! I can't believe you'd just run a marathon in those pictures. Loved the post...makes me feel like a wimp :) You are amazing!

midRae said...

I'm crying along with everyone else. Rae, you are amazing, as I am sure you have been told so many times. You give me some much needed inspiration. Thank you for being so awesome.

Jenn said...

Oh my darling friend. I cried again, mostly when you talked about Phill and what you felt when you finished. I am so proud of you. You really can do anything. You inspire me.

Qait said...

Maybe everyone's already said what I would say, but...
*I love you.
*I cried.
*You inspired me.

I have been waiting for this post.
Wish I could have been with you, really.
You're such a blessing.

Andrea said...

What a HUGE accomplishment! Way to go!

The Leishman's said...

Rae.. Your post invigorated me, and filled me with the upmost love, admiration, and respect for you(things I already had for you, but they grew)! Your stories are always so tender! Someday.. I'll have you write a book about my life;) I love you sweety.. Thanks for your post.. Thanks for being an example, and being a extraordinary friend! Hey- I can't forget about Phil... He's an example to men everywhere! I love him because everything you say about him is true..

Lara said...

I read this the other night after you posted, and was bawling. I couldn't think of what to say, so I said nothing. Anyway, I haven't been able to stop thinking of your experience and just how much you have inspired me. I am so proud of you for accomplishing this goal. While I will probably never run a marathon and live to tell about it (exercise induced asthma...I'd never survive!), you have motivated me to conquer other weaknesses of mine and just plod forward. Thank you Thank you Thank you!