Friday, May 7, 2010

Bitter Sweet Marathon

On Sunday, I ran my second marathon. The bitter part was the actual run. The sweet part was the extraordinary group of friends and family who came to race and to watch. Two years ago, I started this journey of endurance races. Up until then, I was simply surviving the daily rigmarole of parenting toddlers, and had no time or energy for any selfish pursuits. When I was in my early thirties, I told myself that I would be in the best shape of my life by age forty. The requirements for completion of my goal had to include: one marathon and one triathlon. The last thing I expected find on this adventure was a great group of friends, but unexpectedly, that is what I found.

Whether you are raising babies and toddlers now, or have ever done so, there is a time in your life when the people you socialize with are chosen for you. Your child meets a friend on the playground and de facto, their parents become your peer. I say peer and not friend, because a friend is someone you chose to spend your precious time with. A peer is like a prison cell mate, someone you are stuck with. They are not the mold of your previous friends, or any friends you ever had. However, they serve their purpose, at a time in which making friends is virtually impossible. You begin to question if you will ever make a good friend again. Ultimately, you just survive and socialize with who you need to, for the happiness of your kids. It can be a great time of introspection and contemplation about what a friend really is; if only for sanity's sake. In high school and college, making friends is easy. Everyone is the same age, single, and interested in the same social life. As an adult, the parents are as varied as a multi-colored quilt. Finding a friend becomes like dating, only it is no longer a man you are seeking.

There were times I would think I found someone who fit the friend mold. I would flirt with the idea that we could be friends. Then I would find out they were crazy. Like the time that my friend (my peer) failed to invite me to a party that a real friend would have invited me to. It became a break up predicated on our children's friendship. Our kids were not invited to the kid party, er go, I was not invited to the adult part. I learned a valuable lesson. Just because my kids have friends does not mean their parents are my friends. I had to start all over again, with the intimidating thought, that I would never find a friend that would replicate the timeless friendships I found in college.

Running is a solo sport, and not one I meant to encourage friendship. I started running, not to find friendship, but to find myself. Running distance can be very lonely being on the road for hours at a time. Running enables the opportunity for self introspection. At the time, I was a neophyte with respect to elite performance training. I could not distinguish between a pedantic pain and an injurious pain. A professional, who could make sense of it all for me, would be priceless. Throughout my training I had a plethora of injuries that required some time in physical therapy. That is where my friendships began. Lori, my physical therapist, asked me to join her and another woman for their Sunday morning runs. The runs were always 8 miles or more, and included inclines so steep that a Granny could pass you in her wheelchair sitting still. Warily, I met Tracy and Lori one Sunday morning and we all hit it off perfectly. At the same time, I met a woman(who had previously run a marathon) and was having a difficult time adjusting to a move to a new city with three kids. I told her to join us and so she met me on a Sunday morning. Alicia was not happy about being up early and never liked running in a group, so I forcefully told her to "suck it up and get the f#$@ out of the car and run". She practically cried getting out of the car but in the end, she loved it. Her first time with us, going up the treacherous billy goat hill, she broke out singing the theme song to Rocky. Ironically, she now shows up more often on Sunday mornings than I do. She is like the perfect pair of shoes that make an outfit. Our outfit became complete that day.

A Catholic, two Jews, and a Protestant.......this is not the beginning of a bad joke, this is my running and partying posse. We run hard and workout strong, but when we let our hair down, we do it with the same enthusiasm. At last weeks marathon my new posse showed up in full force. Lori and Tracey were running the half, so we all started together. Alicia was not competing, but running with me from mile marker 20 to 26.2. She was my secret weapon to keep me strong through the finish. The marathon started off great. My aunt and cousin were walking the half and Lori and Tracey were running to mile 11 with me. I felt great the whole first half with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes. I was on target to finish in 4 hours, hoping for a negative split during the second half. I had spent an infinite amount of hours training each day before the marathon, so I thought I had it in the bag. When I reached the sixth and last bridge, I saw my Dad on the side line. He was full of motivational words and told me how great I was doing. I gave him a kiss and kept on running like Forrest Gump. The next three miles were fine, although I felt a few shooting pains down my right leg, but I figured it would be fine. Then as I approach mile 17, I saw my husband, 3 girls, my Mum and my step dad. This could not have been better timing. My leg was really hurting, so seeing their faces made me suck it up and keep moving. When I saw them, I wanted to cry because of the pain, but I persevered. Then in the next 50 feet, I saw my neighbor Gail and her daughter Mona(my favorite teenager ever) whom I consider part of my family. They were there to cheer for me. Again, I gave out some kisses and continued, knowing Alicia was only 2 miles away.

Those next two miles were the absolute worst. My right quadricep was cramping up so badly that it was all I could do to pick my leg up. As fate would have it that day, during this painful moment, I saw Chris(a running coach), from my church. He instructed me to keep stretching it out as much as I could over the last 6 miles and walk it out. "God damn it! I do not want to walk it out, I want to finish in 4 hours". This is when I realized my goal had changed. I would be lucky to finish. The only thing that kept me moving was knowing Alicia was waiting for me.

Finally, mile marker 20 appears after what felt like an eternity. I am barely moving at this point. When Alicia saw me, she bounced out beside me and thought she was going to be flying to the finish. Once she saw my tears, she knew she had a bigger job to do. Her words were the support I desperately needed. She coached and motivated me for 6.2 miles of tears and pain. I pushed to the finish, barely running and sort of walking. As I gimped toward the finish, feeling and looking like I had gone through a battle, Alicia turned to me and said , "the crowd loves to see someone in pain finish, you are like Rocky, JUST RUN!". Alicia and her Rocky comparisons, obviously this movie is a favorite of hers. Her timing was impeccable, because at that moment, as I am laughing at her Rocky story, I look over and see my aunt, uncle and cousin cheering and they see me smiling. I make my way to the finish with a ridiculous time of 5 hours and 4 minutes. The piece de resistance was when I looked out and saw my family. My girls saw me in pain but they saw me finish. The feelings of defeat left as I realized how blessed I was to have so many loved ones there to see me run a marathon.

From the onset of my training, I unexpectedly discovered the support of friends. Friendship was not the purpose of my training, but it was what I found. I learned that sometimes when you are trying so hard to find something like friendship, it conceals itself. It is when you change your focus, that the lens becomes clearer, and what we are looking for is staring right back at us, as if it were there the whole time. Life is full of brief moments that can go unrecognized, but sometimes these brief moments are the ones that create memories that last a life time. The 5 hours and 4 minutes I ran, are only a blip in time. In 26.2 miles I came to realize that I had unexpectedly discovered friendship. Sometimes, the greatest miracles are found in the unexpected moments.


  1. I love your "perfect pair of shoes for an outfit" analogy... Alicia as the shoes :-).... soooo... are you the "bling" or what? Congrats on your marathon. Would have liked to see you guys run it home "Rocky-style". Hope your leg is better (please tell me you're WALKING the Race for the Cure ;-).

  2. Sherri,
    Yes, we are walking as a family. We are going to walk to the race, do the race and then walk home. I told the kids, I only want one thing for Mother's Day: NO WHINING. I will let you know how that works out me?! Have a good weekend and thanks for all the blogging support with your comments. Happy Mother's Day.

  3. Joely, thanks so much for sharing this with us - especially the difficult parts! It makes a much better story, rich with lessons about diligence and friendship, than if you had finished in 4 hours.

    And - this is important - you completed a marathon!!! You ran 26.2 miles! That's ridiculous and amazing. I'm proud of you and I know your family is too!

  4. Joely, what a great post! And you're so right about friendship. We have our husbands but finding real, true friends - who aren't CRAZY!- that's real work! Such an interesting insight that when you took your focus off of it, it came.

    I believe in the old adage that you have to be a friend to get a friend. Sounds like that worked.

  5. Linda,
    Thanks! You are so right, we have our husbands and kids but there still is another piece to the puzzle.

  6. Eva,

    Thank you! It was surprisingly one of my most difficult moments and finding friendship and support during it was priceless. I think everyone should try a marathon, just once.

  7. I love the take-away, that life is really what happens along the way more than any real end-point. I love the poet Jon O'Donohue's take on friendship in his book "Anam Cara," which is a Celtic term meaning soul friend. Happy Mother's Day

  8. Privilege of parenting,
    Thank you for the Mother's Day wishes. I will have to check out the book you are referring to, I never read it.
    I love the things that happen along way.

  9. I teared up reading your post. I especially related to your idea that we do not choose our friends during those day when our children are little. So much of our life during those days is devoted to those little put a lot into perspective for me with that.

    I'm so glad you finished your run...both runs, the 26 mile run and the run to help you find yourself and the woman who could find herself as she journeyed down the road.


  10. Rebecca,
    It is so difficult raising toddlers. But everyday is different and then you see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know they will be in college in 8 short years, so I am trying to appreciate every part of my journey. I am glad my words meant something to you, this training has been a very big part of my life and my childrens, so I wanted to reflect that in this piece. Thank you!

  11. Loved this post for so many reasons. I am in awe of anyone who can run a marathon or half-marathon. I am still trying to work my way back to a 5k (race). And I completely understood your not wanting to walk. Congrats on making it.

    As for the friendship stuff, I totally get that too; I have blogged about it several times. Still trying to find some good friends to complement (and in some cases replace) the ones I have/had from college and high school. This is just not easy being a parent. Glad you found some running buddies. If I ran that far, I would appreciate some as well. For now, I am happy to run alone.

  12. Congratulations on your marathon. Both the marathon and incredible friendships are an accomplishments to be so proud of.

  13. What a remarkable achievement, Joely! I am inspired by you - by your dedication to your physical health and by the community of friends that came with it.

    As the mom of a baby and a toddler, I am right smack in the middle of that phase you refer to: most of my friends are the parents of the kids in my sons' playgroup. I have been toying with the idea of getting back into yoga and/or running and I hope that this post is just the kick in the pants that I need to do it.

    Great post, Joely. Thanks!

  14. Facie,
    running alone is my favorite part of running. Keep it up, maybe I will see you out on the street or at a race someday.

  15. Kristen,
    The toddler phase is hard, there is so little time but all things come to an end, sooner than you wish. Hold onto the phase you are in, it will go by too fast. There will plenty of time for the other stuff. Thank you for your nice words.

  16. What a great post! I feel the same way about frienship. I find solace in running but have also found my dearest friends.

  17. Rachel,
    I am so glad you stopped by. I am in awe of all your training. I hope to do an iron man someday. I need a few more years to get so my kids get a bit a older and I get some more time. My goal is 2014. I just get so damned freaked out in the water. That was really really difficult not being able to see the blue line at the bottom of the pool. I am learning many tips from following you. THANKS!

  18. Took a minute to look at your blog...loved this post! My favorite part: "There were times I would think I found someone who fit the friend mold. I would flirt with the idea that we could be friends. Then I would find out they were crazy." But, you know what, aren't we all a bit crazy? Some of my favorite friends are the craziest ones! You are an inspiration, girl! Love ya!!! xoxo Amber