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!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


"If I'm such a legend, then why am I so lonely? Let me tell you, legends are all very well if you've got somebody around who loves you." Judy Garland
The morning was cold. Sixteen degrees to be exact. The month was February and a storm was coming deep in the heart of the Piedmont plains of North Carolina. On that crisp, calm morning I was alone. Kids were at school and I had a debt to pay.

I owed my neighbor and best friend Debbie money. Twenty dollars to be exact. Why? I could not tell you. I was always owing her something. Good friends do a lot for a loner like me.

Truth be told I was fixing to end my loneliness. I had met a man. A good man. And while it was cold that morning, my heart was warm from the fire of our love.  After a short but story book courtship,  we were set to be married in a couple of weeks .

When you know, you know and that’s how you know when it’s right. And he was the one for me. Still nerves were getting the best of me. A newly single mom of three charting territory of a new frontier, the whirlwind was all that was on my mind. My head was in the clouds.

Never the less I had a debt to pay so after I dropped the kids off at school I drove my silver Honda Pilot to Debbie’s house. Now this Pilot has a story to tell as well, a story perhaps meant for another day. Suffice it to say, this vehicle represented more than just wheels. It was the first car I purchased since gaining my independence, and it represented freedom and empowerment. Plus, it was a good car and good looking too.

As I pulled into Debbie’s driveway I suspected she wasn’t home. But I was on a mission to pay my debt and maybe, on the off chance, have some coffee talk too. Just in case she wasn’t home, I made the fatal decision to keep my car running so I could make a quick escape. It was really cold and I didn’t want to get into a cold car. Remember a storm was brewing in the distance.

So I kept the car running and put it in neutral, uh, I mean park. I hesitated and was about to reach for my emergency brake as is my usual practice, but I told myself not to be so obsessive, her driveway was flat on the front top so my Pilot was safe.

I rang the bell and no answer. Usually the dogs bark but all was silent. Perhaps Debbie was home after all. So I rang the bell a second time, desperate for some coffee talk with my best friend. I waited for the dogs to announce my visit but still no sound. Just as I was about to head back towards my car, I heard some rustling. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “was my neighbor Marsha trimming bushes? Strange," I thought, though it was clear to me that she must be home working in the yard with all that bush rustling. I found this very odd for a cold morning in February with a storm on the horizon.

I shrugged my shoulders and surrendered to the fact that Debbie wasn’t home and my debt would have to hang on my conscience for another day. As I turned to walk away from the door, the dogs started to bark from inside. Why they stayed so silent to my presence at their door for so long, at the time I did not know, but their barking signaled me to head back to my car.

I began my departure and headed towards the driveway. As I approached the driveway I was perplexed. I paused, scratched my head and glanced to the side in confusion. My car was missing. “Where was my car? It was here but a minute ago? Cars just don’t disappear?”

Then an alarm sounded guiding me towards the bottom of Debbie’s backyard. While her driveway was an uphill climb and flat at the top, her backyard was a decline, laced with large pine trees that segued to a cliff that dropped forty feet into the deep woods. Basically her house sat on a hill.

There, at the base of the backyard, smoke a blazing, alarm blaring and echoing into the woods, was my silver Honda Pilot. There was my empowerment crashed into a large pine that stopped the large SUV from plummeting off the cliff. With its three wheels hanging in the air, the fourth cratered into the earth, smoke pouring from the hood, air bag poking out from the driver’s side, mangled door and side, alarm screaming, it was quite the crime scene.

I was in shock at the sight. “How on earth? What the? Why? How?” Then I began to laugh. The sight was too unbelievable for words and so random and unpredictable I couldn’t help but laugh! What else could I do? I could cry but I was just thankful that no human body was harmed. Still I could not understand how the car would just roll down a "flat" driveway.

I put the pieces together. The rustling I heard was my car driving over Debbie’s shrubs and Adirondack chair. The dogs were at the back window watching the car and started to bark when the car crashed. After I came to my senses, got my wits about me, I viewed the event as a minor life crisis and set in motion what I needed to do to put things right. I needed to first call insurance.  Since my phone was in the Pilot, and I was afraid to approach it lest it explode, I headed next door to Marsha’s house to use her phone to report the accident to my insurance.

Thank goodness for insurance. I explained to them what had happened. Oddly enough, they told me they file claims like this all the time. That made me feel less stupid. Marsha and I laughed together, shaking our heads. And yes, no one was hurt but Debbie and Dave’s backyard was a big, hot mess. Like the elephant in the room, one could not ignore the fact that they had a mangle of metal in the center of their yard, with the survival of their large pine questionable at best.

As Marsha and I gazed out at the crash site we spotted Debbie. In the midst of calling insurance, and laughing off some shock and awe, Debbie came home. She pulled into her driveway and saw the destruction in her backyard. The smoke, the alarm, the car, her tree and she went barreling down her backyard screaming, “Mary Beth, Mary Beth!!” She thought I was in the car and, being the good friend that she is, she was risking her life to save me.

Marsha and I raced to her screaming, “I’m here, I’m here!” Then Debbie was confused then relieved then annoyed. Apparently I had another debt to pay.

While annoyed and adrenaline still flowing, Debbie laughed with me as we waited for the tow truck to arrive. Now while a storm was headed our way, and it was cold outside, really cold, North Carolina weather is wacky. Just the other day it was seventy degrees and rainy so the ground was soft and muddy. The car was at the bottom of a hill with a maze of trees as obstacles. We wondered how the tow truck was going to maneuver this one.

The tow truck arrived and the driver assured us this would not be a problem. So for the next two hours Debbie and I watched as the truck created what would be later lovingly referred to as “Lake MB.” Every time the truck got stuck in the mud, it dug its towing thing to jack the front wheels out of the mud which created a rather deep and wide hole in their backyard; not to mention the pretty gum tree (that's an oxymoron, everyone hates gum trees) it used to brace the truck from rolling into the Pilot.

After a good two hours or so, the tow truck was indeed successful in retrieving my totaled car, not without leaving its mark of not just “Lake MB” but many, many tread marks throughout their backyard.

Once the tow truck driver exited the backyard, he stopped his vehicle to grab one of those flags that mark invisible dog fences. You know, those white, little flags that mark the border of where the dog will get zapped if passed? Debbie had them spread out over the border of her property. Well, the truck driver noticed he was about to run one over so he stopped his truck, got out, pulled it out of the ground, walked over to Debbie and said, “Here, I didn’t want to run this over.”

Debbie just looked at him in disbelief as he handed the flag to her. She looked at the flag, then turned to look at her backyard and said, “Really?”

The ground hardened as flakes began to fall. Debbie and Dave’s backyard hole filled up with snow which later melted into a water feature, aka “Lake MB.” Insurance took care of my car and of their backyard. Turns out I did Debbie and Dave a favor. They were planning on having sod put down in their backyard because they couldn’t get seed to grow. The trees provided too much shade for sun to filter through. They didn’t like that pine and gum tree anyway so were glad to see them go. When spring arrived, "Lake MB" was filled in with dirt, the sod took, sun shone down replacing shade and growth of moss giving way to a nice, green yard. Life was happy at the site of the legend.

I’ve since moved from the neighborhood but my legend lives on. Never do I visit without at least one neighbor putting up a cautionary rope in front of their driveway and someone hollering out at me to put it in park and “don’t forget the brake!"

With the replacement of my car, my debt to Debbie paid, my man was not deterred by this event. We were married a couple of weeks later in a cute little chapel in the mountains of North Carolina. That too is another story worth telling.

We moved to a flat lot, with “The Legend of Lake MB” a distant memory, our new neighbors none the wiser. I guess you could say we drove into the sunset, living  life happily ever after.
The End
*disclaimer* For the record, and to my knowledge, the car was in park and must have disengaged.