I’ve been training for a half marathon for quite a while now and last weekend was when all of my training was put to the test. In case you’re not sure, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. Yes, you read that correctly. Why would anyone on earth want to run that far when you can easily get in your car and drive it with no pain and minimal effort? My response? I have no idea. It seemed like such a fun idea at the time, but reality has proven to be much harsher than my pipe dream of becoming a marathon champion.
There is a back story to why I wanted to run this particular half; this wasn’t my first time.
The first time I ran it I had just been told my mother had cancer and I was devastated. The idea in running it a second time was to go back on the five year anniversary of the first run and sort of recreate the memory. I wanted to look back on this event and not feel overwhelming sadness.
I trained, well I tried to train. It seemed one thing after another kept me from being able to really put my heart into it. First it was hip pain. When that cleared up it was foot pain, and when that went away it was shin splints. It seemed there was always an obstacle to overcome. But, I had decided I was going to do this race to the best of my ability; so I pushed through.
It wasn’t pretty.
When I look back now, I realize I probably wasn’t prepared enough, but I figured sheer determination would get me through; it always had before. I don’t think I was factoring in the extra years of wear and tear on my body, my mind sometimes forgets how old these old bones are.
Or as my daddy says, “My mind writes checks my body can’t cash.”
This race was especially fun, as is everything at Disney. It was the Princess Half Marathon and I’d say sixty five percent of the twenty five thousand people who ran the race were dressed up in some form or another; Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Pocahontas, folks in giant bear costumes, and of course, plenty of pink tutus and sparkles.
My absolute favorite.
It was 2:30am when we got up to catch a 3:30am bus to our race site. Butterflies the size of crows filled my stomach as I waited at the start line for our coral to be set free onto the course for which we’d trained. It was in this time of waiting I encountered some people called “pacers.” I’d never run with “pacers” before and the idea intrigued me. They were setting their sights on an ambitious timed goal and in that moment of heightened emotions and uncontrolled adrenaline and obvious hysteria I thought to myself, “I can do that, I can keep up with these pacers and have an awesome race.”
Except, I couldn’t. (My mind was writing a check…)
The time finally arrived and fireworks exploded as our group went flying into the darkness to run like our lives depended on it for thirteen miles. I set my mind on keeping up with the “pacers” and away we went. First mile, I was hanging on. The pace was faster than I was used to, but I could do this, I shouted to my inner self, “I CAN DO THIS.”
But, I couldn’t. (…my body couldn’t cash.)
Second mile, then the third and I’m feeling the fatigue, but I was still determined, or maybe, crazy; I’ll let you decide.
Right before the sixth mile I knew it was hopeless. The pacers were barely in sight and I began to notice some mounting pain in my left shin. I remember passing through Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom thankful I could still run, the 10k mark was just beyond the castle and once I crossed into the seventh mile I began to retreat. The pacers flew on without me, finishing right on time I’m sure. I ran slower and slower until mile eight or so when I had to walk.
It wasn’t a speedy walk, no, I was walking with a limp.
My shin was completely ruined, or at least it felt that way, and all I could do was stretch, then walk, then stretch, then walk. There was the occasional water station and I stopped once at the medical tent, but only for some bio freeze; then I hit the road again.
I just kept walking, with a limp.
Mile nine, then mile ten and I hurt so much that I wanted to quit.
But, I didn’t.
I just kept walking with a limp.
The last mile of the race was the most painful, not just because of my leg, but because at this point folks were lining the streets yelling and cheering in the weary runners. I limped by them, so sad that I hadn’t been able to run my race.
It struck me pretty hard at this point how different things might have been if I’d just run the race I’d trained for, the one I’d planned. This could’ve all gone so differently if I hadn’t gotten smitten with the crowd and followed them so gullibly and readily. I was living in regret and I hadn’t even gotten to the end of the course.
Once I crossed the finish line, I cried. I just cried. Volunteers were passing out wet towels and soaked sponges, it was so hot. But, I just walked by them all, tears streaming down my red cheeks. The one bright spot was getting the medal put around my neck. I’ll never forget what that felt like. I was so tired, my leg was throbbing, my clothes were soaked with sweat; all I wanted was to sit down and cry some more, but then a nice lady put a medal around my neck and relief washed over me.
I had done it!
I limped over to the food station and found my friend. We exchanged congratulations and proceeded to sit on the hot pavement to catch our breath. It wasn’t long until I found the water station and we boarded a bus back to where we’d started at 3:30am.
It was over.
All the long months of training ended with a medal and a limp.
You know, I am so thankful there are no rules against walking in a race. Oh it feels good to run when you’ve trained to do that, but sometimes things don’t go as planned and we do whatever’s necessary to make it.
Life is a lot like that.
I find myself “running” along in this race of life when suddenly I’m hit with tragedy or loss and, just like my shin, I find I’m slowed by the pain. I want to keep pushing through the hurt, but it’s so hard, it takes everything in me to keep moving forward. I want to quit. But, instead of quitting, I decide to work through the problem; I apologize to the person or I work through the grief.
It hurts and I cry.
But I keep on “walking.”
And when the difficulty is through, when I’ve made it through to the other side of the hardship, when I’ve “crossed the finish line” of a difficult journey, I find that I’m walking with a limp.
My limp reminds me what I’ve been through.
And that I made it.
I’m a survivor.
And even though my pace may not always be what I’d like, I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be pretty, I just have to keep moving forward, one step at a time.
I’m not sure when or if I’ll run another half marathon, I know I will never forget this one, at least not for a while; “Why?” you ask?
Because I’m still walking with a limp.