Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Threads That Weave Through a Life

"The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy...It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed." ~ Jacqueline Gareau
It's Saturday morning, 3 a.m. I'm up. It's dark and snowing in Colorado as I get into the car and race my way to the airport for my 6 a.m. flight to Chicago. There are two reasons for this trip: 1) To spend the day with a very special friend, and 2) To pace/run with another very special friend in her first marathon. I am feeling excited, jittery, apprehensive, anxious and confident all at the same time. I'm a bit of a wreck, and enjoying the intensity of that sensation. I like intense emotion, it's just the way I am. It makes me a little crazy, but it's also when I feel most alive and satisfied with my life. It's a bit like falling in love - You can't possibly live forever in that state, but it feels good while it's happening.

My plane lands and I make my way to the CTA train into Chicago. I'm meeting one of my dearest friends, Carolina, who I haven't seen in 20 years, but with whom I feel forever bonded. She and I are two peas in a pod. The world feels like a better place just knowing that she's in it. In college she and I went for epically long runs and then returned to our dorm tired and sweaty and smoked cigarettes. She and I challenged one another to run every morning and end each run with a jump into Cayuga Lake. Our theory was if we kept doing it every morning we would get used to it and could do it clear through the winter. We made it into late October, which is bloody cold in Upstate New York. She and I have weathered many ups and downs. We've hated each other and loved each other, and even when we hated each other we still loved each other...

We find each other beneath the elevated trains as a cold wind whips through the canyons of skyscrapers. We hug. We spend the rest of the day talking and walking around downtown as she shows me the sights. We go to the Art Institute. We walk. We talk. We sit and talk and drink way too much coffee. We walk and talk some more. We have lunch. We walk some more. We take pictures of each other together in the reflection of the "Bean" (Cloud Gate)...

 ...We walk some more. We talk and we walk all day. Then we say our goodbyes at Union Station, and I make my way alone, feeling a little teary, to the hotel about a mile away. It suddenly dawns on me that I've probably walked too much. But I don't really care.

I find Sandra and her husband at their hotel and I collapse, just a bit, onto the bed. No, no. Really. I'm fine. Just a little tired. I'm good! The prospect of running with someone, for them not for me, is just beginning to hit me. God, I hope I don't bonk on her. That would be awkward. I hope I can actually do this. Self doubt creeps in from time to time, but I do my best to stuff it.

We wake-up the next morning before the alarm sounds. We make coffee, eat a bit, hem-and-haw over what to wear, and then head off to the starting area. It's pretty stinking cold at this point. Perfect running conditions, but not so perfect for waiting around.

Now, I have this strange aversion to standing around in a corral waiting for the start where I usually just fixate on how I have to pee again. I usually wait until the very last possible minute to hit the porto-potties, and then book-it to the start. I've discovered that this approach makes others nervous. And as we're still standing on the line, as the corrals begin moving forward toward the start, Sandra looks at me in disbelief and says "Um, just so you know, this is NOT how I usually do things". I tell her it's going to be fine. She does not believe me in the slightest. A guy runs by and tells us about a row of porta-potties with no line. We trot over, do our business and head for the corrals - which now have moved forward and seem to be closed. We jump a fence and jog through the crowd to our corral. Sandra's a trooper. She's actually still speaking to me and hasn't hit me yet. At least she hasn't had time to think about being nervous, I tell her.

And then, of course, we wait...

...take pictures, disrobe, jump up and down in place...The usual stuff. And yes. I need to pee again...

Slowly we make our way to the start. And we're off. We immediately run through a long underpass beneath the city buildings where the walls are lined with peeing men. Grrrrr. Not fair.

So things tick along well. I have to keep gently encouraging Sandra to slow down. As always, I have key splits written in ball point pen along my arm. I'm closely monitoring the Garmin. Everything is going well. As we run through the city I take it all in. We wave to the seniors lining the windows of a retirement home. They furiously wave back encouragement. Chills. This experience of taking it all in, looking around, actually enjoying the run is a new and liberating experience for me. I am thoroughly enjoying the whole thing...

We pass the halfway point, onward toward the miles I find so challenging when I'm really racing - miles 15-19 - where you begin to feel the miles add up and you still have a lot to do. This is where you either do it or don't do it, in my opinion. This is where we have to shut up and run and push when we want to stop. I look at Sandra. We aren't talking much at this point, but she has the look of absolute determination on her face. We continue at a good pace. We are still a bit ahead of our splits (which, as always, I've added a cushion to). I occasionally check in, not asking how she feels - I can pretty much guess how she feels and we really don't need to talk about the elephant in the room at this point - But I tell her that she's doing great and we're on pace.

And so it goes. She smartly nips some cramping in the bud with a quick 30 second walk break - which is NO break because she walks so damn fast. I can't keep up with her and walk at the same time, so I jog next to her. It's easier for me. After a few of these, she says that's it. We run weaving in-and-out-and-between-and-around walking, hobbling runners. It seems that we are the only ones still running as we hit Michigan Avenue.

Now, I've had to pee something awful from about 6 miles in, but I don't want to stop Sandra and I don't want to have to catch up and find her in this crowd...so I push on. All the porta-potties have lines. I eye random trees. I have no shame, but...that might be too much for Sandra...so I reassure myself that this is good training. 

I'm checking the time, checking in with her, not asking anything, just looking. At this point I stay about half a step ahead of her. Partially to run interference and to clear a path through the slower runners or to stay out of her way, but I know I'm probably pushing her a bit. She may hate me for this, but I can see that she can handle it. We pass 25 miles, and I look at her and I say "Okay, Time to go". She turns to me and says something to the effect of - I am and I can't go any faster. I press a little and she stays with me. Our pace is picking up. As we turn the corner to go over the last bridge (a hill I know she's been dreading) we push it past the 26 mile mark. She doesn't slow down a bit, but powers up and over the bridge. As we head downhill, around the last turn toward the finish she is running strong. Her dream goal for this first marathon was to go under 5 hours. We cross the finish in 4:54:39. She cries. I have chills...and not because I'm cold.

As I stand in the hall the next morning, waiting for the elevator to take me away, I look at Sandra and say "I hope it sinks in, what you've actually done". She waves the comment away as just so much blather. And I'm not going to get all deep and emotional about it at this point - but I am in awe. She began running two and half years ago, and here she is, a marathoner - who not only ran it, but ran it well. I ran for decades before running a marathon. I'm not sure I could do what she's done. I admire her greatly for pushing this boat out into the great unknown.

My past, my present, my future all seemed to come into focus over these two days. Who I was, who I am, who I will be - ever changing but with strands of continuity that seem to hold it all together. And I am left feeling very thankful for where I am right now...


  1. You're a good friend. Congratulations to you both on a great run!

  2. What a wonderful story, beautiful friendship and amazing achievement.

  3. Excellent! Congratulations to you both. You on some fantastic pacing and Sandra on conquering her goal.


Any comments that could easily fall under the definition of "Cyber-Bullying" are promptly deleted.

Cyber-Bullying is a crime punishable under Federal Law and in some cases Individual State Laws. By posting a comment to this blog, you acknowledge that you understand and accept these laws and are aware that you will be prosecuted for offenses under the full extent of these laws. By posting a comment to this blog you also agree to waive your anonymity, and any rights associated with that anonymity, by having your computers I.P. Address tracked.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...