Sunday, October 2, 2010
I had been training for months. Training in the sweltering heat of the St. George desert. Training in the early morning hours before most people even think to open their eyes and start their days. Training smack dab in the middle of the day when the fiery sun is relentless, just so I could make one of my kid's sporting events. Training all my beautiful Saturday mornings away. With all of that training, not only did my miles increase, my faith in accomplishing the task ahead of me increased as well.
I arrived in downtown St. George hours before the sun was due to rise, full of energy, awake as if it was noon day. I zigzagged my way between people who were just as full of energy as I was and a labyrinth of big yellow school buses. After all that zigzagging, I finally squeezed my way into one of the many lines forming at the entrance of each bus. Full of confidence, I boarded the bus that wonderful, grand, energizing October morning. I held my head high as I swaggered onto that bus, because I knew I was ready for the task ahead of me. The buzz of excitement around me only intensified the energy I felt. There is that age-old-saying regarding children: "If I could only bottle their energy, I would be rich." Well, that morning, I felt as though I had discovered the secret of channeling that energy into an adult body. I am sure the majority of people around me felt the same way; it seemed that every mouth in that bus was moving at the same time. I could almost see their words floating through the air:
"Is this your first time?"
"Where are you from?"
"I can't believe it's finally here!"
I laughed out loud at the irony of where we were and how we were acting. The old school bus had the same musty-old-leather-dirty-shoes-sweaty-kids-diesel-smoke smell from my school-age years. Although the bus did not have one kid on it, we were all acting like kids--loud, energetic, non-stop chattering about nothing and everything--and loving it. Just as in grade school, the bus ride flew by with endless chatter and excitement. Before I knew it, the bus came to a halt, jerking us all to face the front and face reality--there was no turning back now.
As I exited the bus, I could not believe what I was saw. I felt as though I was at Disneyland at night, waiting for the infamous electric parade to begin; there were thousands of people. The excitement was like the excitement on the bus, only magnified by thousands. With the increase of excitement, came the increase of my confidence; I didn't walk off that bus--I strutted off--long, slow strides, head held high, looking straight ahead. Yes!
I weaved in, out and through the excitement, absorbing additional energy from each person I passed. There were crowds by bonfires, crowds by port-a-potties, crowds by the UPS truck, crowds by the food vendors, crowds everywhere. The crowds started moving, congregating in one common area. Oh no! Am I really ready for this? What choice do I have? Yes, I am ready! I have trained for months for this! There is no turning back! I got this!
I was at the starting line. Well, with the thousands of people, I was actually several hundred yards away from the starting line. That did not matter--I am at the starting line! BANG! The starting gun was fired. But wait, I'm not moving. Waiting. Waiting. Still not moving. Finally, I am moving. Shuffling, baby steps, walking, jogging, and, finally--the starting line--now I am running!
It was still dark, so there wasn't much to see. The only scenery afforded to me and those around me, was those running off into the bushes to "relieve" themselves from the excitement that had been building for the past few hours. It didn't take long for the sun to rise, and silhouette the barns, horses in the pastures and cows grazing along the route. There was never so beautiful a morning. The dew made the air feel cool and damp on my legs, face, and shoulders. As the brisk air entered my lungs, I could feel the coolness send chills throughout my body. I felt alive.
Approaching mile 8, I noticed there were people ahead of me as far as I could see. There were people behind me as far as I could see. All of us moving in one fluid motion, like mercury flowing out of a broken thermometer. There were short people and tall, young and old, serious and funny, quiet and loud, fast and slow people. As I ran the highly talked-about, grueling (and when I say grueling, I am talking a full mile straight uphill type of grueling) "Veyo Hill," I discovered there were incredibly inspirational people also. As I ran on my two fully-functional legs, I marveled at the man tackling that hill with all the gusto he had to give--without the use of his legs. He forced that wheelchair up that hill with clenched teeth and a furrowed brow. He inspired me and I ran harder. A stranger taught me more about determination in a matter of seconds than what I had learned in a lifetime. All of my training was worth this moment alone.
About mile 14, the sun was fully shining. Not just a normal sun, a humongous ball of fire sun, the kind of sun that only shines in the deserts of Death Valley and Baker, CA. What is this sun doing in St. George in October? I generally love the heat, but this was no normal heat. The sun that day had horns and a tail and seemed to laugh audibly at those pounding the pavement. The evil kind of laugh that chills you to the bone, gives you goosebumps even on the hottest day.
It hit me. I was really doing what I had only talked about doing. I was putting my words into actions. When I first set out to run a marathon, I was given the advice to tell everyone I knew what I was doing so I wouldn't lose my nerve. It was good advice. I felt a need to accomplish what I started. I knew there were people expecting me to finish. There I was, smack dab in the middle of what a few months ago seemed an impossible feat: 26.2 miles on my two legs. I realized that if I could do this, I could do anything I set my mind to. If I had told myself this was too far too run, I would have never had this amazing life experience, nor would I have increased my self-confidence.
As I passed the mile 20 marker, I began to see people lining the side of the road. There were full families, husbands holding babies, wives with little ones, teenagers, grandparents, hundreds upon hundreds of people. They were shouting! As I got closer, they were shouting at us runners:
"You can do it!"
"You look great!"
"You're almost there!"
As I turned the corner at mile 23, I realized there are angels on earth. Some kind folks decided to hand out popsicles on the course. At first glance, the popsicles resembled what we all know as "bigsticks," when actuality, they were "lifesavers." I know this for a fact, because that "bigstick" saved my life. Never in my life has a popsicle tasted so good. I was like a four-year old that just suckered her mommy into buying her an ice cream from the ice cream man in the middle of July. I let that popsicle drip down my chin, onto my hands and all down the front of my shirt--and I didn't care one bit! With every lick of that popsicle I felt my body temperature drop.
My legs suddenly felt like bricks. My mind willed them to keep moving. I had to focus on the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other. After running twenty-four miles, two miles seemed an impossible feat. The crowds I welcomed so earnestly just minutes before were now annoying me beyond comprehension. Oh, be quiet! What do you know? Are you out here running in this stupid heat? I don't look great! I am NOT almost there! Zip it!
I was so thirsty, but the water station a half-mile ahead seemed as though it was unreachable. My mind was running, but my body felt like I was running into a hundred-mile-per-hour wind storm. Ah! Stupid legs move! I made it to the water station. I dumped two waters on my head and splashed a third in the vicinity of my mouth hoping to splash a few drops in to quench my thirst. About a mile before the finish line, I was handed an ice-cold washcloth. When I put the washcloth to my face, I was instantly invigorated. It was as though I had jumped into the waters of Alaska in the dead of winter. I felt alive again.
I've run 25 miles. One more is a breeze! I've got this! I turned the corner of 300 South and saw the finish line. I had tunnel vision, nothing else mattered. I put every ounce of energy I had into those last several hundred yards. As I crossed that finish-line, I wanted to laugh, cry, do a cartwheel, lay down. I wanted to do it all over again and I never wanted to run another day in my life. All of my training was worth this moment alone.
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