Saturday, October 22, 2011

13.1 miles/Half-Marathon, by Lucy May Lucas

It was the only clear- or warm day that week. I was going to be running my first half-marathon. I’ve always been an avid runner, but this was the first big race event I’d ever participated in. Competitive by nature, my thoughts raced- it wasn’t that I really thought I would win first place or anything like that, but I sure wanted to be up there. I just had no idea if that would be possible because there was going to be so many people!
Because I had been so anxious, I had barely slept the night before. I also woke up much later than I had planned. Although I felt no appetite that morning, I forced down bites of bran muffin and swigs of O.J. because I knew I needed to eat. A few blocks up from the starting line, I found a spot along the street to park my car. I then made my way down towards the pitched tents where runners were designated to check in.
One of the volunteers seated at the white plastic folding table asked if I had any belongings to check in, then handed me over an envelope packet. Inside were a scatter of papers, postcard sized fliers that advertised things from free tans to massages, a race bib, a time chip, as well as some other freebies. I pinned the bib to the smooth, stretchy fabric of my technical shirt, over my abdomen area. I then briskly jogged around the block to warm up my muscles.
A voice over the loudspeaker announced for all the runners to line up according to estimated pace. There was a countdown as we watched a black box, with red digital numbers read 3, 2, 1. Slowly the sea of bodies dispersed and for the first mile each person migrated to find their place in the now rapid flowing river of people.
It was a slow start for me at a 7-minute mile pace, but I slowly felt myself pull forward with lengthened, even strides. The first 4 miles were through a small park area in the city and neighborhoods of victorian houses surrounded by plush trees. Even with my iPod turned up, I could hear shoes beating like a soft, muted drum on the pavement. We coursed our way downhill, towards the water and along the stretch of waterfront. I peered over my shoulder and took note of the climb back. I already dreaded it.
I was past the halfway mark when I felt my second wind. It was something about the 180 degree view of the water to my right- which twinkled as if diamonds danced along it’s black abysmal-looking surface- as well as the nature of running on a downhill sloped road that made me feel as tall and majestic as the mountain peaks I saw in the distance. For a moment, I was lost in my own place. A place where I felt no anxiety, or searing ache in my feet, or burn in the muscles throughout my body. Free of any thoughts of worry and doubt; I simply embraced the moment.
I counted only a few dozen runners that ran by who were on their way back up the street. Up ahead was the turnabout marker. I then remembered something I’d read out of one of many psychology self-help books: that pain was a kind of signal. My thoughts lingered on this idea, and so I applied it to those moments as I ran. I braced every moment and welcomed every sensation. With each ache I felt, I responded objectively and answered the pleas of my body- through adjustments in my gait.
Similarly, when we grow we can either take actions that allow us to grow or fall stagnant.  Ideally, you want to grow, so you make such changes. You do so when you challenge deeply rooted ideals or beliefs and search the truth for yourself. Then Viola! The pain is relieved... well, at least until it is time again for you to change and grow.
Soon it becomes autonomic… and I’m not just referring to the art of running, but also very figuratively the art of life and the ways to best live it. My thoughts slowly refocused on the water and the endless tail of people I was running past on my way back up the hill. Had I really been that close to the front?
A third of the race left and my iPod battery dead, I really began to feel the mental challenge. Thoughts that popped into my head were of my Mom- whose strength I’ve always admired. Who in a sense, cares for a much larger family than that of my Pa, sister and I. Who makes a living not only by saving lives, but also through educating and enriching the lives of who she surrounds with her wisdom and unconditional, infinite kind-of-love. I thought of the poverty she grew up in and had risen from. I thought of her strong will to educate her self and become a nurse- as opposed to her mother’s desire for her to become a mid-wife like herself. I hadn’t felt so connected to her in a sense, until then. I too, shared the same determination and spirit I recounted in my mom. This thought liberated me and lifted me through the pain with each climb or turn again in the up-slope of the downtown city. It’s funny how the lesson I learned through the experience of this run in a sense, seared itself into my brain.
Seeing my mom’s will, inspired my own. I’ve stopped looking to the person running beside me, to tell me (also figuratively) at what speed I should move along. I also learned to focus on the present and on my actions. In turn, I found that I had a lot more mox than I’d ever compared, measured and expected from myself-and to which showed in the result of the time I placed in that race.