Why did I think this was a great idea again?
I repeatedly asked myself for the umpteenth time as I hoisted my leaded legs on the gravel track in Umpstead park this past Sunday on May 20th, 2012. It was a beautiful morning and I was on mile 8 of the 13 miles of the Roadrunner half marathon in Cary, NC. What had been a moderately enjoyable run, filled with appreciation of the majestic beech trees that provided much needed shade as the summer rays filtered through, had turned into a maddening repetitious beat as I drummed my own personal torment on the never ending trail in the woods.
This was my first half marathon of the year. Having participated in a half marathon last year, I had somehow created a romanticized recollection of the experience from last year. As time had passed, I had conveniently forgotten the pain in joints that never usually made their presence known; or the heaviness of my butt which seemed to double with every mile; or the fact that breathing was an integral piece of running; or that the mind had a way of creating a stream of thoughts all generally designed to encourage quitting.
The first 8 miles had been enjoyable. The camaraderie of crazy runners made it fun. There were smiles all around, even cheering as the first of the fast runners started passing us on their way back. Few if any of us partook of the nourishment offered on the first water stop.
Why would we? We had no time to waste.
Snippets of lively conversation floated by as paired groups conversed. Slowly like ants on a mission we traversed the trail. Snaking our way across the woods we tattooed our commitment to self inflicted misery in the hopes that in the end, we would be rewarded by the pride and joy that follows a particularly difficult exercise that didn’t make much sense few ever want to undertake.
Somewhere between mile 6 and 7, things became quiet. There were no more groups of people having conversations. The trail seemed to be hillier than I remembered, and at certain points, I gave up and walked up the hill before running down to save time. Trees that had previously wrapped themselves lovingly offering shade now seemed mocking, hiding the promise of an ending to the pain. The winding trail was now purposefully designed to keep me from ever coming out of the woods. Labored breathing of other runners only added weight to my legs which by mile 9 had, on their own volition, decided to move in miniscule steps.
Somewhere at mile 10 or maybe 11, I realized I wasn’t running anymore. I was walking. All thought had ceased and my legs were dragging on the asphalt. Past the point of caring, I watched with dull curiosity as first one, and then a few more people passed me. I didn’t care anymore. It all came down to finishing. I needed to finish in a bad way. Quitting was not an option. My husband and my son were waiting for me at the finish line. We had somewhere to be later and I couldn’t afford not to finish.
I ran a little, gave up, ran a little again, gave up again then with a last burst of energy ran a little more. The last ¼ mile had a hill leading into the finish line. Incredulously, I weighed the merits of gunning it for the last bit but even as I swung my arms to propel myself forward, I knew that something else was going to come in the way. My legs, finally having created their own alternate personality, insisted on walking and despite my willing myself forward, they persisted in walking defiantly across the finish line. So it was that I finished my half marathon in 2 hours 20 minutes.
It didn’t matter what time I finished though, the joy that flooded into my chest made me realize why I had run the half marathon in the first place. Running a half marathon had been a reminder of how elevating and yet difficult life could be. Somewhere in the woods, I had realized, like I always do when I run, that I am part of a bigger picture. As the trees bore silent witness to my struggles, I was reminded of the fact that even as we jostle and leave our mark on the world, there is silent life going on around us, oblivious to our never ending grasping.
Watching people running, slowing down, walking, resting, even quitting, reminded me that we are all in our own personal journey to the finish line of life. No matter how hard life could be, everything will come to pass eventually, some of us just walk across the finish line while others sprint across it and while yet others quit in the middle of life, and others just never get started.
Either way, it will all come to pass and we all get to the finish line…… sometime.