Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Last 6.2

Today's topic for Take It and Run Thursday is marathon madness. There are a lot of things I could say about the experience of training for and running a marathon, but today I'm just going to focus on the final 6.2 miles.

I get a kick out of this t-shirt:



because for me, that final 10K was a true test. Like many marathoners, the longest run I'd done in training was 20 miles. It felt like a huge leap of faith to think that another 6.2 miles would be no problem, considering that running 20 was such a challenge. But I set out on that fall morning in Des Moines trying to be as confident as possible that I could do it.

My husband and son were waiting for me at the 20 mile mark. They waved, cheered, blew kisses, and promised they'd see me just before the finish line.

As I passed them, a huge smile found its way across my face. In that moment, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to finish the marathon. I felt absolutely giddy. All of those months of training were coming together. And with every step I took, I was running farther than I'd ever gone before. I passed a group of high school students who were playing the drums and as I crossed over into the park, I felt like I could conquer the world.

The trouble was, fatigue was starting to set in. My problem wasn't The Wall (which I never hit) so much as keeping my mental focus. Four plus hours is a long time to be doing anything; you can get bored watching a movie that's that long, much less spending all that time running.

I found myself taking walk breaks, not so much because my legs were tired, but to break up the monotony. I made a deal with myself: I would run the final two miles, no walking. Then, I spotted a pacer holding a great big 5:00 sign. I dug deep, started running again, and passed him. At 24 miles, I took my final cup of water. Before long, I was at 25 miles. Just 1.2 miles to go, I thought. That's not so bad.

That last mile was the longest mile I have ever run. For the entire race, I'd been surrounded by people, but in that last mile, things were quiet. There were no spectators or volunteers anywhere near by. Only a few runners were close to me, and I could see all of them struggling. One guy passed me, then stopped to walk I don't know how many times. He finally gave up and just walked.

In that final mile, I pulled out every trick I knew to keep going. I flipped through my iPod for good songs. I chanted my running mantra to myself: I am strong. I am tough. I can do this. I am a marathoner. I focused on objects a bit ahead of me and imagined myself pulling on them, moving myself further along.

Finally, I reached a volunteer. He pointed off to the left and said, "See that red thing right there? That's the finish line. Go get it."

Yes!

As I ran towards that finish, the streets began to be lined with spectators. "Give me some love," I asked, and they'd cheer for me. The big smile was back on my face and grew even bigger when I saw Steve and Jack.

The two of them were about a quarter mile away from the finish line. Steve was holding up Jack so he could see me, and the two of them were grinning at me, yelling and cheering like crazy. It is a sight that I will never forget as long as I live.

I ran past the two of them, and the rest of the race was all me. I looked at that finish line, and kicked it in. I'm sure it's a mental thing, because for all of my running life, no matter how hard I've worked or how tired I am, I can always kick it to the finish line.

I'd imagined crossing the finish line a million times in my training. And always, the soundtrack was my power song, "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers. That song was running through my head as I ran on:

While everyone's lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I've done
All these things that I've done
If you can hold on
If you can hold on


My eyes welled up as I crossed that line. A volunteer gave me my finisher's medal and wrapped me in a silver blanket. For the first time in four hours and 57 minutes, I had stopped moving forward. I quickly realized three things:

1. I was HUNGRY.
2. Holy sweet Yoda in the swamps of Dagobah, but my legs hurt!
3. I was a marathoner.

12 comments:

The Laminator said...

Nice story Betsy. I got a lump in my throat just reading, so I can only imagine what it must have felt like in person. Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Irish Cream said...

Betsy, that was truly a beautiful story! And I am super impressed that you were able to think after you crossed the finish line! I'm pretty sure that, after my first marathon, I was too busy focusing on not falling over to think! :)

Kaeti said...

Wow, this is amazing! Thanks for sharing that hefty dose of inspiration.

Amy said...

I feel so lucky to have been there after your finish and being able to see that smile in person! You looked so damn refreshed and proud. It is that look that stays in my head when I think about doing my next marathon - I want to look just like you. :}

Your story passed my "tearing up" test - I am sitting at work (shhh!) and my eyes were all watering. That means you must share with with others. Will you consider sharing it with the Lounge in the inspirational story section "I did it!"?

Amy said...

I feel so lucky to have been there after your finish and being able to see that smile in person! You looked so damn refreshed and proud. It is that look that stays in my head when I think about doing my next marathon - I want to look just like you. :}

Your story passed my "tearing up" test - I am sitting at work (shhh!) and my eyes were all watering. That means you must share with with others. Will you consider sharing it with the Lounge in the inspirational story section "I did it!"?

newsjunkie said...

Awww that made me cry!

When I hit mile 26 of my marathon there were cop cars parked on the side of the road keeping things in order (it was DC, after all) and one of them got on his mic and said, "Finish line's just up ahead, it's all yours, congratulations!" I had been walking on and off a lot too, but at that moment I kicked it into high gear and ran the rest of the way to the finish line.

K said...

You're quite the storyteller, Miz Wasser. Well done.

How does running a marathon compare to childbirth for you? Both are long and torturous, but at the end you're really happy you did it.

merrymishaps said...

Great story! If I keep reading stuff like this I'm going to be convinced to run another marathon ...

heatherdaniel said...

Wonderful story, Betsy. I totally know how it feels to cross the finish line like that. Thanks for sharing.

RazZDoodle said...

Freakin' awesome post! Very inspiring! Makes me want to run DM this year! I'll stop with the exclamation points, now!

Tree said...

Awesome, inspiring, you are strong! Thanks for sharing. I will tuck this away for memory and pull it out for future use.

Laura said...

I've got my first marathon this Sunday, so I'm going back to read all the marathon advice from TIART, and... wow. Thank you so much. I've been getting cold feet in these past few days, but I just teared up reading that, and I am SO excited for Sunday!