This past Sunday, I met my running partner at mile 19 of her marathon, in order to run a few miles and offer some bit of encouragement, or at least banter to keep her mind off the remaining 7.2. To find her, I chose to run “against traffic” so to speak- I ran on the sidewalk, on the same side of the street as the runners. From this vantage, I played the role of a “fan on the run.” I yelled to them. Called out their names. Said all of the things I thought I would want to hear if I were them, at that point in the race. After several “woo-hoo’s” “you go girl” and “go so-and-so,” I realized that a fresh faced runner, gleefully shouting bits of encouragement probably was more annoying than helpful to them. Accordingly, I politely shut up. Instead, I focused on finding my friend as quickly as possible so I could jump in to run “with” the crowd versus against it.
I found my friend just before the 19 mile mark. I must say, she was on the high end of the “you are looking great for mile 19” spectrum. Many runners around her did not have the same spring in their steps, or the ability to carry on a conversation, laugh, and, well, function normally. 19 is usually the point at which the “I would give anything to be anywhere else on earth” thoughts start to set in. Not my friend, though, she was rarin’ to go. So we went, through the crowds and to the water stop. Let me note here that it is very interesting to run through a water stop when you are, in running terms, “completely sober.” (i.e. Fresh, not thirsty, not hurting, not delusional… a civilian amongst the athletes in the heat of their games.) So, completely sober, I saw the runners chugging water with drool on their faces. I saw them spit up things. I saw them throw cups to the ground with sloppy determination. I observed people who looked like they were going to lose their cookies, and believe me, I felt their pain. This is not a fun place to be, with your stomach crying bloody murder at the same point your legs are on the verge of turning into sand bags and stopping you dead in your tracks.
All of these things happen right before the infamous “a marathon is twenty miles and a 10K” point. Translation… this run in the park is NOTHING until the remaining 6.2. Another translation- this is officially the point where you CURSE the name of the person who first said this quote to you. I considered this thought as I talked to, and monitored my friend and those around her. I sensed my immediate company was officially entering the “shoot me, hurt me, do whatever it takes to end this” zone.
Being a runner, this is a challenging place to be. Since I knew just how miserable this point of the game is, I wanted to choose my words carefully. I tried to break down the remaining miles down into palatable chunks. “Okay, so we just need to get to 21… then, well…” (You still have FIVE hell filled miles.) What do you say when you realize really there’s nothing to say? I was dumbfounded. I continued on, silent, feeling responsible for entertaining my friend and maybe even those around her.
As I silently ran, I began to notice the faces of the crowd. I felt like an imposter as they cheered me on… “You’re looking good…” Of course I was looking good, I had been running for about twenty five minutes. I smiled, wondering if they’d figure out I was a poser. I decided I’d play along with the game, and really listen to what people were saying. Yes, there were the typical, “You’re almost there…” lines that are always heard from mile 12 all the way up to to 26.2. I looked at the faces of these fans, and they appeared so sincere, I forgave them for their extreme misperception of the 5 miles that they considered an “almost.”
I heard them yell my friend’s name, and others around us who were wearing bib numbers with their names. All of these random shouts seemed to blend, one into the other, until one fan stuck out. She was an older woman, with the look and air of a really hip grandma. She was planted somewhere around mile 22 and a half. What she said was perhaps the best bit of encouragement I’ve ever heard- today or during “real” marathon runs for me. She looked directly at my friend and me and said, “You girls should be so proud of yourselves.” Wow. She nailed it. At that point, the enormity of the first 20, and the subsequent 10K all hit home. Regardless of how crappy or good, how fast or slow, pretty or ugly each person’s marathon is… completing it is pretty darn impressive.
When she said this, I wondered if my friend heard her. I looked to her, and her mouth had a more smiling look to it than the pained look I had seen just seconds earlier. I took this to mean she had heard it, sort of like one hears their loved ones talking to them right before they’re wheeled into surgery. The words served their purpose for that brief moment in time, and that was all that mattered.
But I will always remember that genuine and sincere fan who stated the obvious. We- the marathoners, half marathoners, anyone who is working to achieve a goal- on or off the pavement- should really be proud. If you’re out there, going for it, or if you were out there and did it… don’t forget to give yourself credit for all of the hard work that got you to that point… because, after all, it’s pretty darn impressive.
Remember what your accomplishments look like from the “other side of the coin…” and pat yourselves on the back!