Zzzzz. My left wrist vibrated. I took in another deep breath. Thud, thud, left, right, left, right. My feet went onward into the darkness. The early morning winter air was crisp, but refreshing. I wonder what mile that was? I didn’t check. I still felt new to smartwatch technology, but embraced the spontaneity it offered. All I needed this morning was to reach 16 miles. Until I thought I was close, I wouldn’t bother checking my progress. I made up my route as I went. Currently, I was heading through a county park in pitch dark; my cell flashlight and the moon, which occasionally hovered above the black silhouettes of the trees, were my guides.
I spent this winter alone.
Well, as alone as one can get when you are the mother of six young children – in the middle of a small city – with a cell phone – in the year 2019. I didn’t plan to spend a winter alone, it sort of just fell together. But perhaps it all fell together because that was what I needed.
Over the holidays I deactivated my social media account. There were a number of reasons for this, one of which was too much contact by non-friends. Suddenly….blip…with the click of a button, I had disappeared. I expected this little stint off Facebook to be several days long, maybe a week. But then a bizarre thing happened; I realized not being present on social media was, in an unusual way, a relief.
Additionally, I spent some time focusing on one of my lesser roles: the athlete. The athlete role is one I often deny even exists, primarily because it is a minor role, and it needs to stay that way for life balance. It can easily create conflict with my other roles. At the present stage of life I don’t have the time or money to commit to large athletic endeavors. That being said, the athlete role does serve a very important purpose for my personality: mental health. It is a primary method for me to unload stress.
This winter I decided to try running a marathon. My first marathon was nearly nine years ago. At the finish I made a mental note I didn’t need to do that again, at least not for a long time. Maybe not ever. I also promptly discarded my high school Boston Marathon pipe dream. The 26.2 was not for me, I decided.
But this past fall, I got an itch. What if I could qualify for Boston? The entry requirements were only getting more and more difficult to achieve. It seemed like now was as good a time as ever to look at the marathon distance again and face my intimidation.
My marathon training meant early mornings. Given the season of year, even my three hour runs began and finished in darkness. I turned off Audible and turned on my audio Bible. I worked on familiarizing myself with the gospel of John. Sometimes I ran in silence. I tried to listen and hear the Holy Spirit. I spent lots of time being thankful. And I mentally worked through stressors. Sometimes I turned on music.
As winter progressed, I realized my thoughts during my runs were frequently drifting toward law school. Though law school was still a few years out, I was rapidly finishing up my B.S. and starting to think about the next steps I needed to take. The magnitude of what I was about to undertake and what it meant for our family was starting to sink in. All the miles I put in were a way to off-load these stressful thoughts.
Race day was gorgeous and the course was flatter than a pancake. A triathlete friend offered to drive with me, and, most importantly, drive me back after the race. While the first half went according to plan, around 17 or 18 miles my major muscle groups started giving me some serious cramping problems. The last portion of the race wasn’t pretty, but I got it done, and, somewhat surprising to myself, realized I wasn’t even disappointed about missing that shot at a Boston qualifying time. I was proud I finished and thankful for a body that can move. I focused on the birds, the sound of the waves on the nearby ocean, and the smell of spring that was now unmistakably in the air.
I’m not sure the next time I’ll go out for the 26.2, but the itch hasn’t quite settled. I am still a novice in this distance and now find myself thinking I would like to finish a marathon feeling strong, if that’s possible. So if, or perhaps I should say when, that itch gets relentless, I’ll get out there again.