“Just take my hand, lead…..I will simply follow the blueness of the water, the white waves rolling free…where the earth beneath my feet and stars make my heart whole again…in long and priceless moments of shared solitude.” Oksana Rus.
“They say that the first 20 miles of a marathon are just training and preparation for the last 6.2 miles,” my friend Lauren told me on our run last week in the midst of our huffing and puffing. It was still the first mile of our run, and neither of us does any sort of warm-up first. And you usually have the most conversation catch-up to do on your first couple of miles. We should come up with a rule where we are not allowed to talk to each other until the Garmin beeps the end of mile 2.
Lauren ran the LA marathon, her first one, in 2013. After that, she took a little break from running, and then went back to short runs on her own and put races and marathons aside. Over the last couple of months, sometimes she will join me for one of my easier “conversation pace” mid-week 5 mile runs.
In August, when I told her that I had recently joined the LA Leggers, and that the official training season for the next LA marathon had started; she became tempted to consider building herself back up to marathon miles. Last week when she joined me on my run, she said that she’s decided against running the marathon this year. Lauren is ten years younger than I, without children, in the middle of changing career paths, and taking exams to enter post-graduate programs. “I decided that if I’m going to run a marathon again, I would want to actually have a time goal for this next one, ” she explained. “I’d want to train to possibly go sub-4 hours, and I’d really need to have a year of regular running and building up to do that. I just can’t commit that time right now with everything that is going on.”
Understood. Running a marathon is no small undertaking. After all, it took me 2.5 years of regular running to decide that I wanted to take the next step. Before that, anytime anyone would ask me if I would ever run a full marathon, I’d say that I don’t think my body could handle it. It wasn’t until I knew that I had built up my fitness and endurance enough that I began to consider it.
“I agree with you, ” I panted out. “That is sort of how I feel about doing another half-marathon. I would do another if I either was specifically training to improve my time (as in go sub-2 hours…I’m at 2:03), or if I was doing a destination run with some girlfriends.” Wine country half, New York half, Big Sur, Paris, a night race even…..something different than what I’ve already done.
Lauren continued…”But I really want to be a part of your marathon. So I was thinking that instead I would meet you at mile 20 and run the last 6.2 with you and pace you through it.” I start jumping and squealing mid-run.
“Are you serious? That would be amazing. That would help me immensely. You realize that the LA marathon is on Valentine’s Day this year? Who knows…you might be on a yacht in some exotic location with some fabulous guy.”
“No, I won’t be. And even if there is some guy in my life at that point, you will be my valentine’s date.”
She then told me about different people during the last 6.2 miles of her race who helped her along. Random people who saw the struggle on her face and gave her pointers. She recalled one guy who told her to pick a person in front of her and just look at their shoes and follow them to the finish line…. another guy who reminded her that she had not trained for the last 6 months to quit or walk at mile 23. “I want to be there so that I can just carry your water for you. You can swear at me or hit me or cry or whatever you need….or I can just be a body beside you…because that last 6 is a killer.” Oh, there will be crying.
On June 25th, I read an article in a print edition of Runner’s World Magazine about Bonnie Fowler, a Toronto based financial planner and runner who created the concept of a “Running Angel” and created “Bonnie’s Dream Team”. I know that I read it on June 25th, because as I read it, I was so moved that I took screen shots and saved it in my phone (you all know about my screen shot habits by now.) Bonnie’s team places volunteers at different points in a race that identify runners that are struggling and offer to run with them for as long as they need. I didn’t tell anyone about the article, but I had thought when I read it that it I’d like to be a “running angel” one day, and here Lauren offered to be mine.
There are some gifts in this world that have no price tag. Lauren wanting to be there for me is one of them. When I think back to the gifts I’ve gotten that have meant the most to me, they have always involved someone really listening while I talked, remembering something I said, and then giving me what I needed when I least expected it. They have not involved high price tags, but they have involved showing me that the person knows me.
Maybe running has been the biggest gift that I have received to date. A gift that I gave myself, and as cliché as it may seem, a gift that just keeps on giving. It’s given me the gift of time with myself….the time to think, which in turn made me run home and start writing what I thought about on my runs, before I even started a blog. It’s allowed me to be creative. It’s made me turn around and have some meaningful conversations….some difficult but necessary.
Most surprisingly, this blog and the words and truths in it have subsequently connected me to people in ways that I did not expect. It’s made people from my past reach out to me; I thank them. It’s made people in my present get to know me better; they haven’t run away and we’ve become closer. And it’s connected me with new people in symbiotic relationships. It’s made Lauren want to spend Valentine’s Day with me.
They say that running is a “free sport,” but this marathon of mine is coming at a cost to me. LA marathon entry fee: $180. Three shoes to get me through training cycle: $450. LA Leggers registration: $75. My garmin: $200. Gels, gu, energy bars: $100. Cute running clothes and sports bras to keep the girls in place????(I’m scared to add that up.) A friend that can push me through that last 6.2: priceless!
***Lauren’s name has been changed because just in case she does end up on a yacht on Valentine’s Day instead of with me, I would totally understand and not want her to be tied to this post.