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.