If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever. Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Marathoning Me...ME?!

I have a confession.
I'm having a love affair.
With running.

I've blogged before that when I hear love songs, I don't always think of Chris (I do sometimes!! ;)), I often think of my children. Well, on this marathon journey, I realized music was a central piece to my relationship with running. Running is like a living, breathing, thing for me. Something I need and crave. Something that has made me laugh, cry, worry, caused me pain, joy and so much more that I cannot put into words.

My other love.

Music carried me for 26.2 miles. 4 hours and 17 minutes. Some songs would make me think of the friend or family member who suggested it. Other songs would make me smile because they are silly pop songs that mean nothing other than a happy beat. Music is part of the energy that allows me to run for hours. It carried me past Pier 39: the spot Chris and I got engaged, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Golden Gate Park, up and down the streets of Haight Ashbury, past smiling faces, serious policemen, while passing tired runners and being passed by runners older, younger, bigger and smaller than myself, over rolling hills and hills that felt and looked more like walls.

Miles 1-5
The San Francisco Marathon started a few miles down from Pier 39 on the Embarcadero at 5:30 AM on July 31st. I am not by any means an elite runner, so my wave started closer to 6:15. As my wave of thousands of runners headed across the start line, I felt strong and engergetic. I felt alive. I knew that the months I had spent preparing for this moment were worth it. I was ready.

I ran the first few miles faster than I originally planned. Don't be stupid, I kept telling myself. Starting out too fast could mean the difference between finishing or giving up. So I imagined the invisible string attached to my back that pulls me back when I get a little overzealous...it couldn't slow me down to the planned 10 minute mile but it slowed me down enough to run the race smart. Suddenly I was passing Pier 39 and in front of the giant Ghiradelli sign. Chocoloate to my left and the beautiful ocean, Alcatraz and boaters shouting RUNNNNNNNNNN Runners!!! to my right. It was the perfect time for my favorite song to come on, Dog Days Are Over, and it did.

Happiness, hit her like a train on a track
Coming towards her, stuck still no turning back

Run fast for your mother run fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind
You can't carry it with you if you want to survive

I smiled big. Tears poked my eyes. I clapped my hands to the beat. Oh yes, happiness most definitely hit me.

Miles 6-12
As I started across the Golden Gate Bridge, Have a Little Faith in Me, came on my playlist. Whenever I hear this song I don't think of the "me" as myself, but as that living-breathing thing called Running.

When the road gets dark
and you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark
and have a little faith in me

And when the tears you cry
Are all you can believe
Just give these loving arms a try, baby
And have a little faith in me

And so I did. I had faith in running. I knew that no matter what my overall time was, I would be finishing this marathon.

Miles 13-18
Thousands and thousands of us were running. We went through Golden Gate Park and I was feeling GOOD. I felt a twinge of self-doubt as I watched the first group of half-marathoners heading towards their finish line and I was detoured to the right, picking up the second group of half-marathoners, that were just starting their race. They had happy faces, big smiles and fresh legs. How I felt and looked about 2 hours ago. To say I was envious was an understatement. But then U2 joined me:

It's a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away

You're on the road
But you've got no destination
You're in the mud
In the maze of her imagination

You love this town
Even if that doesn't ring true
You've been all over
And it's been all over you
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day

I stopped feeling sorry for myself and reminded myself, I chose to do this race. Me. I wasn't forced to do it. I don't have to run. I get to run 26.2 miles today. And in that moment my smile came back. I picked up my pace and decided I was going to embrace the next 13.1 miles.

Miles 19-22
The next miles ticked off. One.mile.at.a.time.I started through Haight Ashbury and it was so appropriate that He Reigns came on at that time. Children were lined up on the street with their parents. Bright smiles on their faces with tiny hands stuck out for a hi-five (I happily dished those out! and soaked up their positive energy) while cheering for friends, family and strangers.

When all God's children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
All God's people singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

I couldn't help but feel God smiling down on me in that moment. He must look at His children who are running, for whatever their own personal reasons are, and feel happy. A race is all about goodness. It's all about people using their bodies in a healthy way.

Suddenly I realized there was a reason I should have stuck to the original plan. It hit me. Hard. Sheer exhaustion. At mile 22 my right leg nearly gave out and I had to catch myself from falling completely to the ground. A muscle cramp had hit me in both my right quad and right calf almost simultaneously. I had never had that happen before, so I wasn't exactly sure what to do. In past races, I've seen marathoners suddenly fall to the ground, grabbing their leg while writhing in pain. Dear God, please don't let me fall, I prayed. My mind was telling me to walk. My heart was telling me to keep running through the pain. My heart won that battle but I wasn't too exhausted to notice the irony of the lyrics to Little Lion Man playing mockingly in my ears:

But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
Didn't I, my dear?

Had I effed up? Did I run the race too fast? Was my body going to hold out for the last 4 miles?! I didn't know the answers to those questions, so I stopped thinking and just ran. And ran. Suddenly, I saw Chris. It was about mile 24. I smiled and shouted and waved I'm here!!!! Chris jumped over the railing and that's when whatever ounce of mental strength I was holding onto dissolved into nothingness. I could be weak. My man was here. Chris, I can't do it anymore. I can't. Those words I whispered to him, not wanting to discourage any runners around me with my own pain. My own shame. You're almost there. Let's go. And that was all he said. So we ran. I only had two miles to go and yet it felt like those two miles were 200 miles. At one point, I looked over and saw my reflection in a storefront window: I was hunched over and my run was more like the shuffle of an old lady. But I was moving.

Chris pointed up ahead and showed me the finish line was less than half a mile away. I always end my runs with a sprint, and I wasn't going to change anything just because I had been running over 26 miles. So I kicked it up a notch. The course changed into two lanes and signs pointed halfers to the left and full marathoners to the right. I held my head a little higher, pushed my shoulders back and sprinted to the right. Perfect timing for The Good Life to come on:

Oh this has gotta be the good life
This has gotta be the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, got this feeling that you can't fight
Like this city is on fire tonight
This could really be a good life
A good, good life

Damn. It is a good life.

You can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Stephen King

Sometimes I can't believe I did it. But I never would have, if I didn't take that first step.


  1. I'm all teary-eyed. So proud of you!!!

  2. great job Nicole! and your writing made me feel like I was running right along with you!

  3. How beautiful! So proud of you!

  4. LOVE it! thanks for sharing the whole story. i'm so amazed and impressed! one of my favorite quotes is "a year from now, you'll wish you'd started today". that's totally how i feel about my running! started back in april...it's been 4 months now, and i'm amazed at what i can do already. so cool. congrats on accomplishing something so huge! :)

  5. I got teary eyed too! I'm so happy for you that you got to feel that feeling of such a huge accomplishment! You are an inspiration! :)