As always, upon completion of a race, I have two versions of the story to tell. The first is what comes from my heart, likely because I am still riding the emotional high of crossing the finish line. Later I’ll tell you about the logistics, about the actual race. But first, the heart of the matter.
The morning of this marathon, I arrived far too early at the start, in weather that was a bit too cold for sitting around and waiting for 2 hours for the race to begin. I was alone, having left my husband behind to rest, confirming for him that I did not need him to sit idly by while I waited for the 7:55am start time. As I wandered around after filling my water bottle, using the porta-potty and checking out the tent area, an announcement was made about a pre-race non-denominational prayer service. I am not a religious person. I find peace in meditation, but that meditation normally only happens when I run. But I also find peace in community, so I entered the tent where the service was taking place, found a seat, and kept an open mind. A Marine chaplain led a short and beautiful ceremony, of which two parts spoke directly to me. The first included a reading from Hebrews 12, which includes the line “let us throw off everything that hinders” and “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” While I had heard the portion of the verse that included the word run, I had never heard the line before. “Let us throw off everything that hinders,” is exactly what I needed to do. I was standing at what would surely be one of the best races I ever had the chance to run, in one of my favorite cities in the world and I was afraid. Terrified. Fear is not uncomfortable for me. I often welcome it, but what was I afraid of today? Afraid to not finish? Afraid to not run the time I had hoped for? Afraid that I was alone? It was time to be done with all of that. Time to throw it off, time to stop allowing it to hinder me.
The chaplain’s homily included a humble message as well: he was no runner and he was part of a religion that often suffered from a lack of unity; however, he was humbled by the strength of the community of runners he had seen that weekend. Humbled by the fact that we had our own kind of faith, our own kind of ceremony. I wanted to stand up and shout “Yes! That’s me!” but held it together and kept that message to myself. He likened faith to placing a stake in the ground, reminded us that we had been placing our own stakes in the ground every time we had trained, that today was the outcome of all those stakes. I left that tent deciding that I would celebrate my accomplishment, the weeks and months of training, the joy that it had all brought me. I would try to hold fast to my goal, but if it fell apart, I would finish. No matter what. The stakes had already been placed in the ground.
The starting line to the finish line served as an affirmation to me that even when I am alone, I am connected to the world around me. The universe will give you any number of signs to confirm so, if you simply look for them. My bib number ended in the digits “114.” My late father’s birthday was January 14th. I lined up behind a husband and wife running in honor of their son who had passed at the age of 7. His name was Grant, same as my dad. As I waited for the start, messages started flooding in on Twitter and Facebook from running friends & family back home in Cleveland, running friends from across the country who were merely kind enough to send me a message to say they were thinking about me. People I have never met face to face. I got to see Stephanie, a running friend from Cleveland, and was grateful for a familiar face and a quick hug before the start. Twice, on a course flooded with tens of thousands of spectators, I somehow found my husband’s smiling face and was able to run to the side lines for a hug, kiss and supportive words. I saw Bart Yasso, a running hero of mine, shouted his name and was thrilled when he waved back, said hello and shouted words of encouragement. As I hit the wall and began bargaining with myself to get to the finish, a favorite song started blasting from a spectator area sponsored by a local college. I passed mothers and fathers running with children in wheelchairs, disabled veterans racing in wheelchairs, parents who had lost their children to war. I had goose bumps over and over again. And most importantly, I was reminded that my difficulties, my pain, paled in comparison to what my fellow runners had endured.
I finished the race. And it was, simply put, the best race of my life. Not because of my time, but because it served to remind me that I am right where I belong in the world. I am right where I am supposed to be. This is who I am now, and there is no greater peace in the world than knowing that for sure.