Friday, October 23, 2015

Marathon Woman

A couple of years ago I ran my first marathon. It almost killed me. In the end, it saved my soul.

I had never been much of a runner. I was a tennis player. Tennis involves very quick foot action, moving side to side with quick sprints. Distance running involves a forward movement, with a steady, enduring pace; two very opposing actions. Therefore, any forward movement presented a challenge for me.

Being a mom of three, with little care for myself, my fitness level was at an all-time low. I needed activity. I joined the YMCA and began with the stair master. Boy could I climb stairs! I was then inspired by my good friend and neighbor, an avid cyclist, to kick it up a notch. She encouraged me to try “spinning” classes. They were hard but I was hooked, and I began to see results.

The Y had a weekly class that incorporated running a mile in-between spinning. My competitive nature got the best of me and, when I couldn’t run as fast or as far as some of the other spinners, I got fired up to try harder. But how? I could barely run a mile.

I posed this question to a fellow spinner and future fitness trainer named Deb. She said, “Every time you run, run a little extra each time.” Sounded simple enough so I tried it and before I realized her small piece of advice was working. I was up to three miles. Three miles became five miles and suddenly I was a runner.

I trained and ran in my first half marathon. My family was waiting for me at the finish line, beaming with pride. My sights were set higher though. The buzz around town was of this mom or that mom training for marathons and I said “Why not me?” So I signed up for the Outerbanks Marathon in North Carolina, scheduled for the fall.

I trained in all conditions, any hour of the day. I ran in the winter, running along a country, hillside road in ice and snow, in 16 degree weather. I’d run in 100 degree temperatures. I’d run before the sun came up. I ran with migraines. I’d fit runs in-between drop offs and kid pick-ups. A few times I ran 11 plus miles on the treadmill. I was an animal! I’d run thirteen miles, come home and do three hours of hard, manual yard work. I did what it took to get my miles.

I ran to music. Every song gave me unique inspiration and drive. The music helped me work out all sorts of thoughts swimming around. They helped me run harder.

Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man”  I believe I've passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage, I've found that just surviving was a noble fight. I once believed in causes too, had my pointless point of view. Life went on no matter who was right or wrong.

The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name What's puzzling you Is the nature of my game

Phil Collins “I Don’t Care Anymore”  'Cause I remember all the times I tried so hard And you laughed in my face 'cause you held all the cards. I don't care anymore. And I really ain't bothered what you think of me 'Cause all I want of you is just a let me be. I don't care anymore d'you hear? I don't care no more

Running wasn’t an addiction, it was my lifeline. My anxiety level was so high I almost couldn’t function. I didn’t know why I had such high anxiety. I was living such a charmed life, the American dream. I had a loyal family, a coveted house, a secure home, and an ornery dog. But I had horrible anxiety, so badly that I thought I was losing my mind. Running helped work out some of this noose around my neck that was suffocating me. I had such obsessive thoughts that would not leave me alone. Something had to give.

One night I woke up from a fitful sleep with more nagging, obsessive thoughts. In a very conscious yet trance like state I walked downstairs to the cell phone, typed in a password that randomly appeared in my head. There before me was the reason for my intense anxiety.

My heart froze and I lost the ability to breathe. I started hyperventilating. All the anxiety of the past two years melted and morphed into a paralyzing and crushing fear. So I ran and I ran and I ran. Music was my companion, my confident. I became stronger with every mile. My confidence grew. I was a champion and could conquer all.

The time had come: Marathon day! I had spent a year training for this moment. The sun was just rising, dew was in the air and on the ground. The crowd of runners were eerily quiet. Perhaps the anticipation of the miles ahead was a deafening thought. I was by myself, no friend or partner to share in the moment, but that did not deter my excitement. The cool, fall sea air was invigorating with the scent of salt and marsh wafting about.

And they’re off! I began at a steady pace staying to the middle of the pack. Stocked with a good supply of mini Snicker bars and watered down Coca Cola per my brother’s advice, I was sure to have enough carbs, energy and hydration to keep me fueled.

While I don’t remember the exact route, I do remember running along the sound then entering the shade of the wooded sand dunes. There were many hills along these dunes which was unexpected for a run along the coast. Entering upon mile 13 I became melancholy realizing the race was half over. I wanted it to go on forever. I felt strong, I felt invincible as I soared.

Then, after a few shots of candy and coke, my digestive system rebelled! Once I answered nature’s call I was back on the road but my legs were left behind me. The pain and exhaustion hit. I could barely walk. My IT band in my hip tensed up shooting pain into my knee and down my calf. My legs were on fire, burning and numb. An inner voice said “Don’t stop. Walk then run, walk then run but don’t stop.”

Edging up to mile 18 I didn’t know if I could go any further. All along the mile marks were icy hot lotion? but I resisted. Now I was desperate and I dove into the jar, plunging my sore, achy muscles into the miraculous goo. It took the edge off and I began to run once again. Mile 19, 20, 21 and then the bridge that looked out onto the sea. I turned and looked at the horizon, gone from sight “I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then, someone at my side says; “There, she is gone!” leaving my load of living freight to my destined port, gone from my sight.” (Henry Van Dyke) I said goodbye, turned away and moved forward.

I turned away from the horizon and ran the final 6.4 miles towards the finish line with Rage Against the Machine “Guerilla Warfare” playing over and over again…

It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime
What better place than here, what better time than now?

All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now


People, strangers were cheering for me, other finishers were receiving hugs from their loved ones, having water poured over their heads as if baptized, jackets trapping warmth.

I did it! I’m liberated and free. This moment is mine to share. Yet there were no hugs from loved ones, no blankets of warmth. I was utterly alone. I was liberated but alone.

I found some random chair in an alley and sat down and began to cry. I cried hard. I cried from exhaustion and I cried from sadness. I was by myself and it was a sad feeling. I was no longer afraid though. I had just finished the race of my life.

My dad reminded me before the race, when I was complaining about my slow pace, that sometimes it’s not about winning or how fast you are. No one ever remembers who wins what marathon. To finish is accomplishment enough.

My dad also reminded me that the first man to run a marathon died after he crossed the finish line.

The next morning I woke up, stood up, threw up and, while collapsing, reached for the phone to dial 911. I was passing out and white lights flickered in my eyes and my body felt like it was drifting away from my soul, I thought, “Gee, the marathon really did kill. Well that was stupid.” I passed out.

After a few seconds of unconsciousness I awoke and swore I’d never do that again. I was a one marathon runner and done. Grateful to have my life, I echoed that cliché verse of “That which does not kill us can only makes us stronger.”

 I am stronger indeed. I am Marathon Woman, hear me roar!


  1. You're a better man than I, Gunga Din!!

  2. One of the major reason, I don't run Marathons. The others being I'm old, and fat!
    It's quite an accomplishment, good for you. You'll always have that personal victory and no one can ever take that away from you.

  3. Wow! What a journey!! Ruining always looked like a Zen experience. I had no idea there could be such emotional liberation, too. I was with you the whole time. The only question I have is what word did you type in your t trance-like state?

    1. Ah, just having time and took me a few seconds to comprehend the question! It wasn't a name but a random number that popped in my head - the password to the phone that was not mine. Secret password. My unconscious state from watching in my subconscious state must have transferred to my conscious state!:)

  4. That's great you did it. Hope you'll keep running as long as you can) That always make me feeling free, better and calm down.