I’m still feeling the aftermath of my first half marathon of the season, and my fist one since, well…my very first one 18 months ago. I finished the ChillyHalf in Burlington at a modest 2:12 and have chafe marks in places no one should chafe.
I didn’t train as much for this one, and as I’ve been back at work I haven’t run every day. Some days are just not runable with 10 hours in the hotel with a 03:30 wake up. I’m sure that sounds like an excuse. Perhaps it is. Regardless, I finished my second half marathon ever in 6 minutes longer than my first one. The day after was a hell of a lot more painful than the first time. My feet started burning at the 16km mark, and I felt like my ankles might break. However, my cardio was pretty decent, and the mental challenge seemed contained. So I thought.
During the first 10k , I felt fine. My realistic pace bunny (2:15) was in my line of sight and getting closer with every km. I passed her at km 12 with ease. I felt great. Then feet started talking to me, followed by subtle yelling. Then the ankles started to state their case for walking. Then my left IT band joined the complaining chorus. Nooo waaay was I going to walk.
I felt a burst of energy when the Lutheran Church handed out oranges. By kilometre 18, I was pretty much fighting myself. But still managed to pass people, who looked about as in denial in their discomfort as I was. We’d pass each other intermittently. Him first, then her, then me… then me, her, him, Hey! where did THEY come from? oh wow, there are people still going outbound! Is she running visually impaired? Wow!
Then I had a difficult time thinking about anything but the pain. Even my methodical counting 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 was silenced. A guy held a sign out at km 19 that read “toenails are overrated”. Oh boy. Is THAT what was happening? (One broken, but not gone).
I wished I’d gone to get orthotic soles. I wish I’d trained more… I wished so much to be finished.
And there it was. Kilometre 20.
One more kilometre. Plus a step or two. I was doing it!!!
I could do anything for 5 minutes. OK, 6:15 at this point.
I saw the glorious inflatable arch, and knew I could drag my arse through. Turns out I had some steam left. I finished strong, as they say.
Then everything came flooding in.
I started to collapse in tears as the medal was placed over my sweaty head. I could barely breathe. I realized how cold i was. My hands were absolutely frozen. My thighs were frozen. Then I thought how hot it was in the garage when I found John the day he left. I was freezing, yet couldn’t help but think about that heat.
I couldn’t breathe, and reached for my inhaler, then thought about how I tried to breathe air into John’s lifeless lungs. I wondered about his last breath.
I no longer felt the pain in my body, only in my heart.
I apologized to the lady who placed my finishers medal and said simply between sobs “I miss someone terribly”. She told me that it was meant to be that I went to her for my medal, because she was missing someone terribly, too. We hugged. I cried more. Then she switched hug sides, saying we had to do “heart to heart” like we did when we were kids.
She assured me that John was there, at the finish line with me. The deluge of emotions as I crossed the finish line, makes me think that he must have indeed been watching proudly.
I thanked my finish line angel, wiped my tears, and proceeded to get my hydrating loot; but I couldn’t open the damn bottle I was so cold.
I sat down, feeling once again the physical pain return. Fighting with the bottle, a young lady sat next to me. She offered me her gloves, her scarf, her coat, her company. I wondered why she was seemingly hovering over me, caring for a stranger in a crowd of thousands, while her friends gathered and gabbed. I realize i was twice her age, and look less than spectacular after running, so maybe she thought I was an older lady who needed care… (as a runner did collapse at the finish line – he’s recovering now).
Maybe she saw me crying my way over the finish line. Or maybe she was just being nice to a fellow runner who was so frozen, she couldn’t open up her juice bottle. We chatted for a bit, about the weather, about the course, about our times. She was slower than she thought she’d be, but still squeaked in under 2 hours. Then she re-joined her group.
The running community might be a bit crazy, and might drink a bit more than non runners, they might think paying money to run in sub zero temperatures for a technical T-shirt, a timing chip and a finishers medal is totally normal, but I’ve also found this community to be caring. But they don’t actually care how fast you are. They care that you did well for you. They care that you feel proud of yourself. They care that you made the day a busy, successful one, cheered others on, and cheered for yourself through the tough kilometres, through the sore ankles, through the wheezy, through the heartbreak of loss. They want you to finish. At your pace.
Running is easily a metaphor for heartache healing.
Pace yourself. You’ll make it. Some days are just slower than others.
We all have reasons to run.
To all of my fellow runners, of all speeds: We did it. Thank you for being there with me. To all of the volunteers, especially my medal angel: thank you.
To all of the bystanders who cheered on the sidelines: thank you for the high fives, thanks for the funny signs, thank you for the oranges, and thanks for all the cowbell.
Can’t wait to see you all again.