Monday, October 18, 2010

The Man Behind the Marathon

Last Sunday I ran my first full marathon. It was an intense experience, one of the most difficult things I have ever done. There are so many factors that go into completing such an overwhelming feat.... speed training, cross training, tempo runs, fueling, physical therapy, overcoming injury, and countless miles of long runs.... but when you strip it all away, what really makes it possible, at least for me, is not the numerous hours spent in my tennis shoes out on the trail, but the people standing still on the sidelines. Eventually I will write a post detailing my marathon experience, but today I want to share with you what went on behind the scenes that made 26.2 miles possible for me.

18 months ago I decided I wanted to run. I set a goal of completing a 10k race. Aside from my immediate household, I told no one. Not my friends, not my family, no one. I asked my husband if he thought I could do it. "Of course you can!" he replied. And so I ran. I followed a 10k-in-10-weeks training plan. The first day I was supposed to walk/run one mile. I ran around my 1 mile block in 12 minutes. That was the first step on my marathon journey. As my runs got longer I took to training on the Towpath Trail, a popular local spot for walking, biking, and running. We would often go together as a family. My husband Nate would pull our 3 year old son and our 4 year old daughter in the wagon and carry our 7 month old in a backpack carrier. I would run ahead for however long my plan called for, and when I was done I would walk back along the trail until I found them, take the baby, and we would all walk back to the parking lot together. I ran the 10k, I took 2nd in my age group, I continued tell no one, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. (Not a logical jump really, but hey, I'm a go-big-or-go-home kind of girl). What happened next is somewhat blurry, but it goes something like this:

I ran. We brought a beautiful baby boy home from the hospital and Nate traded in the backpack carrier for a double stroller which he pushed with one hand as he pulled the wagon with the other. I ran faster. I got injured. I recovered. I ran a second 10k and took forth over all. I still told no one. Birthdays. Christmas. Mothers Day. I ran further. My secret was outed by a dear friend and fellow runner, who to this day, I'm not sure exactly how she knew. I ran. I doubted myself. I asked Nate if he thought I could do it. He assured me I could. He pushed the stroller and pulled the wagon further. I ran. I got injured again. I started to recover. I ran the last leg of a marathon relay team and felt for the first time, the thrill of crossing the finish line and feeling the finishers medal slip over my head and settle against my chest. I signed up to run a marathon.

During the last phase of my training, when I got to the really long runs, the 16, 18, and 20 milers, Nate and the kids would load the van up with supplies and drive from one trail head to the next meeting me with refilled water bottles, energy gel, power bars, Gatorade, and the irreplaceable sound of little voices yelling "GO MAMA GO!" Nate would make eye contact with me over their heads and say quietly. "You ok? What's your pace? Hows the knee? You got this!" In the moment, I didn't have time to fully process what those days must have been like for him... loading and unloading four kids in and out of the van so many times, dealing with an infant and a toddler who were missing their naps, entertaining two preschoolers in the middle of nowhere for hours at a time. But he did it, without being asked and without complaint.

At 6am on race day, while I was stressing out over my gear, my clothes, my D-tag, my bib, my fuel, Nate was waking up four very sleepy children, changing diapers, bundling them up, packing diaper bags, coolers, bottles, formula, coloring books, juice boxes, snacks. Once the gun went off, while I was solely focused on putting one foot in front of the other, Nate was busy finding spectator points, unloading kids from their car seats, keeping them entertained and fed until I got there, cheering me on for 30 seconds while I ran past, and driving to the next spectator spot to do it all again.

When I crossed the finish line, I felt the finisher medal slip over my head and settle against my chest, but that feeling didn't matter near as much to me as feeling little arms wrap around my legs and Nate's arms wrap around my shoulders... hearing them say loudly at my knees "Mama You Did It!" and quietly in my ear, "I'm so proud of you."

Spectators don't get medals, they don't get applause or accolades, they don't get facebook posts full of congratulations. I am not the only runner whose support team calls her mom or honey. Next time you are at a race, be it a 5k or a marathon, take a good look at the faces of those standing on the sidelines, or waiting at the finish line. The faces are intense, they are invested, and they represent not just one runner's hard work and effort, but the effort of an entire family. And I will spend the rest of my life running toward, running for, those faces.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Own It

Why do you run?

Really, why do you do it?

Chances are, your answers to that question will sound similar to mine, similar to thousands of people who, early in the morning, or on their lunch break, or in the cool of the evening lace up their shoes and call themselves a runner.

No matter how similar sounding our answers or how in-common our responses, each one of us owns the reasons why we run. That is the beauty of a solo sport. Regardless of whether you run on a team, or run with a partner, or run with a club, or any version of social running, at the end of the day, when you kick off your shoes and stretch out your quads, this running thing, its yours. Its mine.

Maybe you run as a means to an end. Perhaps you picked it up when you were trying to lose a few pounds or lower your cholesterol. Perhaps for you, running is an emotional outlet that keeps you grounded and happy, gives you some "me-time" in your day. Perhaps you want the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal, crossing the finish line and being able to say "I DID IT". Maybe you run just because you can.

My relationship with running, when it was newly "out-of-the-closet" has been described by some as an affair. Like other love affairs, it is a complicated story and honestly, I sound somewhat like a lunatic when I try to tell it, so I will save that for another day. But I will tell you this much, I was born to run. Obviously not in the same way professional runners or Olympic athletes were born to do it, but running is something I am just supposed to do. Lacing up my Sauconys and hitting the trail feels like coming home. Those of you who know me, know that I have been training to run my first marathon. These past few months have been some of the most peaceful in my life. I am certain that I am meant to do this, passionate about it.

Unfortunately, this has not been easy for me (not that training for a marathon is ever really easy). You see, I am not what you would call a natural runner and I get injured..... a lot. Yet my dedication to the sport, and my conviction about who I am as a distance runner never wavers. I don't say that to sound arrogant, because honestly, it can be a very frustrating place to be sometimes, when I find myself in the middle of the trail, pain throbbing in my knee or shin, wondering why God would give me such an amazing gift then make it so hard. Why would He give me such a passion for this, such a determination over it, such joy within it, and then allow me to struggle so much?

I don't know the answers to those questions just yet, but I do know that for some reason, for me, this is supposed to be hard. And all I can do is own it... and run with it.

Why do you run?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Midnight Confession

My name is Chanda and I.......

and I......

[stammers, looks down, bites lower lip]

I run.

There I said it. I run.

It seems like a very simple thing to say really, now that I've gotten up the courage to say it. Just four little letters. I run.

Those four letters have been my secret for the last 18 months. Those four little letters have been my covert hobby, my clandestine passion, my hidden life, my secret identity [not altogether unlike a superhero, I've been told].

The details surrounding my secret identity, the "how's" and the "why's" are another story for another day... another episode for another comic book. Stay tuned.