November 10, 2012
Running for pleasure, with friends, or easy groovin’ to your favorite indie jams are all fine and good but there comes a time in a runner’s life to leap across the pavement, dominate the hills, dance around the obstacles, high-five the roadside fans, pass everybody for over two hours, and fly like a bat outta hell for 26.2 miles because it feels really, really good. For me that day was November 10, 2012.
But let’s back up. California Part 2 might have been New York Part 1 had a chain of events unfolded differently. In March of 2012 I’d started dating someone who had recently signed up for the New York marathon. He had his own set of reasons for taking on the challenge which I respected and admired. But I was also a little jealous. Why was he going to run a marathon and I wasn’t? Moreover, why had I been running half my life and never even considered it? There was no reason why, at age 32, I shouldn’t run a marathon. So I found a training plan (Hal Higdon’s Novice 1) and got going. I wouldn’t call marathon training the easiest thing I’d ever done but it also wasn’t the hardest. With my solid running base, a relatively stress-free life, a temperate climate and the option for a run commute home, I was easily able to integrate marathon training as part of the new normal. Sure there were a couple days in the last month before the race when it was really tough to run 6 miles after running 10 the day before. Not because I was sick of running (nope, didn’t happen) but because my legs hadn’t recovered from the run prior. All in all it was a fun, vibrant time. I was also securing my entry by fundraising for the Arthritis Foundation. Friends and family from all over supported the cause and my training. I felt their support on those tougher days.
As November approached, conditions worsened in New York. Hurricane Sandy wasn’t slowing down nor was the city’s heated range of emotions on holding the marathon in the wake of loss and destruction. In the end my boyfriend and I decided to skip the race and the trip (he had already had to cancel his race registration). Shortly after, the marathon was cancelled. I know we had made the right decision but I was still left with strong, fired-up legs ready to run a marathon. Coincidentally, a ladies running group my friend belonged to was running the Santa Barbara half the weekend after New York. They’d already rented a charming hacienda and had made plans for dinners, massages, and wine tastings. Could I join? They welcomed me in. Remember the series finale of Sex and City when Harry shows Charlotte a photograph of their soon-to-be adopted Chinese baby and Charlotte says “That’s our baby. I know it. That’s really our baby”? That’s how I felt about the Santa Barbara marathon. It wasn’t something I’d planned for but had somehow come to me. It was the race I was meant to run.
In Santa Barbara, after a day or so of wandering around Sideways country, tasting olive oils, shopping amidst the fancy ladies of SoCal and carbo-loading I was “ready to dance.” I barely slept the night before the race but who does? I’m consistently amazed by what our bodies can do on sheer adrenaline. The first two-plus hours of the race moved at a slow, warm-up pace to the sounds of Dan Savage’s “Savage Lovecast” podcast. If you know this program you know that it’s, number one, a podcast and, number two, a lengthy, detailed talk of sex and relationships: sometimes funny, sometimes depressing, sometimes both. My podcast choice was intentional and based on the best marathon advice I’d received: treat the first half of the marathon as a warm-up; the race doesn’t begin until mile 13. When I leapt over the rubber road marker at mile 13.1 and hit play on “Eye of the Tiger,” I became someone else.
For the second 13.1 miles I listened to a wonderful, terrible mix of Ke$ha, Gaga, Rihanna, and Taio Cruz with a few hard-hitting 80s and indie rockers in for good measure. I also passed people the whole way. I achieved a negative-split, the sought after goal of running the second half of a race faster than the first. The feeling of passing people for not just one mile but thirteen got my mind in a spin. What kind of a person was I now? I felt like a combination of Sasha Fierce and Rocky Balboa: a lean beast let out of her cage. I was now a person who succeeded, who was somehow better than someone else. The girl who got into the best school, got the guy, and rose to the top of her career. The girl who wore delicate, expensive gold necklaces instead of junk jewelry from Forever 21. Or had this girl been there all along? Who could I be when presented with a clear, manageable challenge? Who would I be if that happened on a regular basis? Could I do this in aspects other than running? Sailing past the orange groves, rolling hills, and trails through the Santa Barbara suburbs I thought that maybe I could. As these questions and thoughts passed through my head I was still running. And when I planned at which mile I could refuel with sports beans I was still running. Hours passed and I was still. running. When I approached the steepest hill at mile 24 listening to Joy Formidable’s “Whirring,” wailing: “All these things about me you never can tell…” and kept running and climbing without ever experiencing “the wall,” I knew I could be that person. The last mile of the race was a blur of elation. Fellow runners cheered “you go, girl” as I passed. Charging down the final hill, I was both a part of the terrain and the sky, as though little birdies were lifting me into those blue, California skies. Listening to OneRepublic’s “Good Life” I felt that I could keep going, that an ultra-marathon (50 plus miles) was in my grasp. When I burst into the stadium at that last .2 mile I saw my friends waving and cheering with surprise at how happy and energized I looked at the end of a marathon. I did a little dance before I crossed the finish line to prove they were right.
When people ask about my marathon I tell them the truth: it was the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s the typical marathon tale of hard work paying off but also the story of surprise adventures. The lesson that the experience you’re meant to have is not always the one you plan to have. It gave me a four-hour and forty-three-minute window into my best self. California showed me who I can be.