How to Finish a Marathon

So we ran the Napa Valley Marathon, and it was incredible.  I don’t know what else to say about that, for fear of a) getting sickeningly emotional; b) getting cloyingly philosophical; or c) getting naggy about Why You Should Run A Marathon Even I Can Do It (Ten Times!) And I Am Sick.

I think all three of those can be handsomely condensed under the heading “Sanctimonious Asshole Runner,” so please, contain me.

I ran my tenth marathon.  Not well, mind you.  I knew I wasn’t going to run well, but I did it.

We had pregamed the race with winetasting on Saturday.  There are things that are good ideas and things that aren’t.  Wine tasting the day before a marathon had the potential to go either way.  The winemaker at Sylk Cellars – a friend and former partner of my dad’s – was a wonderful, quirky guy with a vast knowledge of wine, and he gave us a tour of his operation.  And his wife, a native New Yorker, gave hilarious running commentary as they showed us around.

After a tour and tasting, we left Napa, winesoaked, and met Legs for lunch in St Helena for a truly divine meal.  We sat around the table and laughed about life, and love, and change, and kids, and all of the things that I never thought we’d be talking about on this particular birthday, in this particular place.

And then, race day.

The race began with temperatures near freezing, and ended with temperatures around 80F.  I’d danced that dance once before, in Chicago.  But circumstances were different then.  This time, I started strong and Strand and I paced together, but when the sucking feeling of dry throat came, I pulled back.

It wasn’t going to be a low four-hour finish like my training splits might’ve predicted; it wasn’t going to be a PR.  For once, I wasn’t beating myself up about it.  I was fully aware of how dangerous dehydration could’ve been for me.  So I enjoyed a slow jog in the sunshine; I snapped photos of the course; until eee came upon me and called my name.  She was going to make her goal time, even with an injury.  And we paced in together for the last mile, crossing the finish line side by side.

In the end, we each got what we came for:  I completed my tenth marathon; eee achieved a PR; Strand finished her first marathon within her goal time; and Bethany posted a Boston-qualifying time and took third place in our age division.

Overall, a success.  Also, no one shit her pants.

(Photo credit: Strand)

Until Sunday, I thought that there was only one way to run a race; that one wasn’t running “right” unless one ran faster with each successive marathon.  But then I crossed a finish line with one of my best friends, and finished just ahead of another in time to watch her complete the race.  My parents were waiting for all of us at the end to celebrate.

Running, for me, was always a solitary activity.  But sharing that private, triumphant moment at the race’s end was transformative.  We were doing this thing – together and apart.

I always have people around me, but I don’t let them very near to me.  It is hard to articulate my wants and needs.  I am always afraid people won’t like me or love me unless I am perfect.  Unless each race is a personal best; unless every marathon is faster than the last.  I’ve answered to a lot of difficult men, and bad bosses, and mean girls.  I’ve lived in a topsy-turvy world of loving addicts, where no amount of perfection is ever enough, and you think that if you just do everything right, it will change, and the world will hang together for once.

But it won’t.

And so, I’d run these few years like a lone wolf.  It was my private peace.  And I was so sensitive about my birthday, too.  I had come into the weekend with hope and trepidation — what would it be like to run a terrible race?  How would I survive if my friends lost their patience with me, or judged me?  I didn’t understand, at the start, that there was more than one way to run a race.  That there was more than one road to the same finish.

There were many triumphs and blessings, and happy, hilarious moments that weekend in Napa.  But what joy; what gift; what glory to know that sharing that sacred space at the end of the race was the thing that would set me free.


Leave a Comment

  1. Oh god. Now you’re getting me emotional without trying to write an emotional post. I am so proud of you for wrapping up #10. I am so proud of you for enjoying 26.2 miles of running in the sunshine, admiring the gorgeous countryside and going back to that place that so many runners have trouble returning to – a place where we run to live life ferociously and we run because we’re alive and able.

    I will run with the WoW once my hair is fully blonde again (I’m in the painfully long process of growing it out). After seeing these snaps, I feel it is only fitting.

    • Thank you SO much lovely lady! I can’t wait for you to join this awesome sisterhood of runners and blondies! When you make a trip out to NYC (or we make it to MN – we are a travelling sisterhood…), we will do it right…

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