Monday, May 25, 2009
"Come on Kat! You can do it! Keep going!" a spectator cheered to me as I labored to walk under the big banner that read "Mile 24". If I had made it this far, I better keep going. Left foot forward, now right foot forward, every step the intensity of the pain and exhaustion seeped into every crevasse in my body keeping me from my efforts in staying positive. Can I keep going?
The day was overcast and cool, though by this point the mugginess of the marine layer was really getting to me. I'd been running for 4 hours with what seemed like no end in sight. Was it really still before noon? Whatever possessed me to actually get out of bed this morning at 4:30 AM has got to kick in right about now. 4:30 AM had hit like a ton of bricks that morning. Not only was it way too early to get out from my cocoon, but to do it only to beat up my body by running all these miles has got to border on insanity. If I survive, I'll have to seek counseling so this doesn't happen again.
Around 5:30 AM, I had stepped into the Wilshire Grand Hotel ballroom to meet up with my running group within the LA Roadrunners training team. I had trained with them for ten long months, and by the look of terror on my face, I believe they knew I was ready for my very first marathon. Previous training years had consisted of eight months of training, but as luck would have it, the LA Marathon was pushed back to Memorial Day. Everyone tried to put a positive twist on it by saying we get two free extra months of training. Unfortunately that free extra 2 months left me with shin splints, new blisters, extra back aches, extreme exhaustion never known to me before, and just plain overtraining. I was slower than I had been a few months earlier, but my pace leaders reassured me that no matter what, I should keep going.
At about 6:30 AM we were prodded out to the starting gates like a heard of cattle. As we made our way into the special corral for the Roadrunners, I saw about 50 people getting ready for the race. It was a bit calming to see people who looked like they knew what they were doing preparing for the race in their own special way. That calm was quickly dissolved into panic as I turned to see the other end of the corral. Behind the temporary gate were leagues of thousands ready to run me over the second the race committee let them out. I suddenly felt as though I was the rabbit in this dog race scenario. I quickly turned back around to see a guy doing yoga on the street in front of me. "Just sit down and stretch," I thought to myself. As I focused my energy toward stretching, and away from the fact that my neck was already giving me signals that it was going to cause havoc on me throughout the race, I realized where I was sitting. I touched the overused asphalt beneath me and it dawned on me how special it was that I was sitting in the middle of the street in Downtown LA. I looked up to see the towering blocks of cement and brick that made up the skyscrapers lining the street. Helicopters hovered overhead at each block in front of us to capture the wonder of all the maniacs who chose this for themselves. Instead of feeling as though I was being chased, I finally felt like I was a part of something. My excitement grew as the horn blew for the start. And as I started running, I tried to ignore that nagging feeling that my body was not going to cooperate today. Instead, I keep going.
The first few miles I chatted with my group and I was on cloud nine. There were so many wonderful people out at such an early time to help cheer all of us on. They knew the trail before us was long and they wanted us to know they were there for support. My neck was still bothering me, but I kept stretching it in hopes that it will help me keep going.
By mile 5, that nagging feeling was turning into worry. The neck pain was starting to crawl down my back, as if it was growing like a cancer. "My body just doesn't seem to want to run today," I commented to a fellow roadrunner. I kept my chin up and figured, like many of my past runs, my muscles will loosen up and I will feel better in just another mile or two. So, I take a deep breath and keep going.
It wasn't until about mile 8 when my body decided it was no longer going to take a back seat to my mind. As my back screamed at me, I had no choice but to deal with the fears I had worried so much about for the past 10 months. "I can't do this today, can I?" I thought as I passed mile 9. My body was apparently not aware that I was in a very important race, or worse, it was just plain throwing a temper tantrum. But slowing down is much better than quitting, so I slowed down from my group and realized that the rest of this race was going to be just me and the road. So I keep going.
Mile 12 brought about doubts that I could even finish this race. I couldn't believe that after practicing 22 miles runs, I couldn't even get through 12 miles. My husband was up ahead ready to cheer me on, so I prepared to tell him I couldn't finish the race. I prepared to wave my white flag and admit that I was, in fact, insane and all the people who told me so were correct. I hated to let him down, but I had to tell him. As I ran up to him, his huge grin gave me pause. Can I tell him that I have to quit? That after all this time, I can't do this today? He was already cheering for me, telling me that he has no doubt in his mind I can do it. As I try to tell him that I don't think I can finish, he just keeps grinning and says, "Yes, you can." With a huge lump in my throat and doubt in my eyes, I nod and keep going.
By mile 15, my pace had slowed even farther. I grappled with the fact that I would have to give up my training goal of a sub-4 marathon. I realized I must've been crazy to try to run that fast in my first marathon anyway, but it was hard to let it go. I reminded myself, "Just get to that finish line running, head held high…and don't throw up." With that, I had 11.2 miles to go and I had to keep going.
Mile 18 brought me into familiar territory. It was the start of a whole stretch that was right by my usual running haunts around my neighborhood. I felt sheepish getting to this point, especially since I had slowed to a walk/run by this point. Every step was agony and my body didn't seem to want to propel itself forward any longer. After all this training and hard work I went through to build up these powerful muscles, they didn't want to work when I needed them most. I was angry and exhausted. I was walking in a marathon I had trained to run in the whole race. I was in my neighborhood and I wanted to just walk home. But I couldn't go home because my husband had the keys. I couldn't go home because that would give in to the very thing I was so angry with. I couldn't go home because I had to keep going.
Each runner had not only their number on their bib, but also their name. So by miles 21 and 22, I had been told many times by spectators "You can do it, Kat! Come on Roadrunner, keep it up! You're almost there, Kat, keep going!" "Keep going, yeah, you can shove it, keep going" I muttered as I struggled to just make it 2 feet. How can I make it to the end? With just 4 miles left, I can't quit. So the only option is to keep going.
"Come on Kat! You can do it! Keep going!" that mile 24 spectator was the vain of my existence by this point in the race, and yet the reason I knew I could make it. The smile on their face, and the determined look in their eyes to help me made me realize how much they cared that I finish. Why would they care about me? They don't know me from Adam. Why me? And I realized that I looked like I needed it. And I did. I needed someone to believe in me because I didn't believe in myself. For 24 miles I struggled through the worst pain and torment I had ever subjected myself to, and I didn't believe that I could finish? No way! I was going to finish. I was going to cross that finish line running and I was going to be proud of it. The only logical this to do was to keep going!
Finally, the last ¼ of a mile. I had made it, I'm running and I'll be damned if I don't keep running up that evil looking hill that lies before me, laughing at me with a sinister gaze. I will finish, I will run and I will NOT throw up! I kept going faster and faster, barely able to lift my feet except for the sheer will power to get to that finish line. I passed through the huge crowd of spectators, I zoom past the painful looks on other runners faces, I gave my last final effort to cross that finish line, and with a determination unknown to man before this moment, I planted my feet across that finish line like no one has ever crossed one. I smiled a huge grin as they place that medal over my head. I breathed deeply to make sure nothing but air came out of my mouth. And I cried.
I kept going. Through all the agony that my body decided to present me with that day, I kept going. After all the training I had been through, my body was up to the challenge of 26.2 miles. But there is no way to guarantee what we'll have to face when we get to the starting line. If it weren't for my training, I wouldn't be telling this tale. I wouldn't have finished. I'm now looking through the other side of the mirror. Its like my life is flipped around to finally see everything with a 360-degree view of the world. And as I look back to see what brought me to this life changing moment, I'm amazed that the journey was made by the simple decision to run a marathon. But the destination showed me I'd earned so much more.
Marathons aren't just about running. They are about hard work, living through the pain, putting "you" first, and, most importantly, allowing yourself to dream. I dreamed, and I dreamed big. No one can ever tell me ever again that I can't do something, anything, because I, Kat Nevin, keeper of a rebellious body, ran a marathon. I took what seemed like a lump of coal and turned it around…because I kept going.
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