Friday, February 26, 2010

I Am A Runner...Now and Forever

I ran my first Marathon ten years ago. I was seventeen and stubborn as a mule. My brother was 21 and that previous fall I stood by the side of a Detroit road and watched him run the Detroit Marathon. I had sort of chuckled as I watched the thousands of runners and their various paces and body types run by. "I could do a marathon. Doesn't look that hard". My parents sort of craned their heads and looked at me as if I had just seen Flo-jo run by and had challenged her to a race. "Ok, suuure" they said. I was not a runner. I had only ever run because I HAD to for gym class. Oh, yes, and my failed attempt to make friends in my new town in sixth grade by joining the cross country team. It was just the place for the chubby new girl who generally hated running. Anyway, upon returning home from the Detroit race I got on the computer and looked up training plans. I picked a race seven months away and set my sights. I ran and ran and ran. I started out slowly with short distances I would clock by driving them first in my mini-van. As I kept running and the distances got longer I began to find trails and places, some as far as 30min from home, where there were generous shoulders to the road and low traffic volume to run longer distances. My body ached and I still ran slowly. My parents got on board and began riding the bike along side me for my long weekend runs. Ten miles, fifteen miles, eighteen, twenty, twenty-three. My dad would tell me stories about the crazy things he and his gang of brothers did as kids. My mom would tell me about her misbegotten youth as well. It was fun. Rain, snow, discouraging aches and pains. I ran through it all. Spring came and one of my teachers from school who also happened to be a dear family friend also decided to run. It was perfect as my parents had long standing plans to be in France during my race. This was not problematic for me because "you already know what I look like running. And I promise I am going to finish so don't worry. You're not missing anything" was my attitude. Branson was running and so I could go to Traverse City with them and they would bring me home. The day came and the morning was beautiful. The course takes you along Grand Traverse Bay, down this beautiful peninsula. Every inch of the course was beautiful. The race started early and it was cool in the morning but it warmed up through the day and was down right hot by late morning. I was off and running. The dog had eaten just one of my running shoes so I had to order a new pair only 3 weeks before the race and was suffering the consequences of poorly broken in foot wear in the form of bleeding blisters in my arches from about mile eleven on. I kept running though. My brother had been in Costa Rica with a friend and was due back that day but I was very surprised to come over a rise in the course and see him standing out of the sun roof of his champagne colored Honda with sunglasses on and a Gatorade waiting for me. He was in flip flops and chinos but he ran along with me for about a mile. I was about eight miles out and it was clear that I was going to be the very last runner to finish. At this point a van pulls up along side me and a woman informs me that if I would like to get in the van she will take me to the finish line. WHAT?! QUIT?! Are you out of your fucking mind?! I have already run thousands of miles in training and nineteen of them today. I am not getting in that van. "No thanks." I said, "I'm good. I'm gonna keep running." And I did. I kept going. I think I was averaging about 15min/miles at this point. My feet were bleeding and I was sure I was dying inside. My teacher who had finished over an hour ago sent his wife out to find me on the course and Sara ran with me for a while. She was NOT a runner (yet) though now she runs marathons on a very regular basis. She was running next to me and the van lady circled around again. I politely ignored her this time. She informed me that I was going to go over the course time limit of four hours and aid stations were going to be closing up. I kept running. I got to the next aid station and found that all the people there were calling my number and ringing cow bells and cheering for me. At the next aid station someone yelled "Go Anna Hope" and it seems the crowd from the last station had joined this one and they had just two cups poured for me. There were two more stations and at each one the crowd was bigger and more excited. The van lady came by at one point and my brother told her "she's not getting in the van. Stop asking". I finished the race in 5hrs 31min. I averaged ten min/miles for the first eighteen miles and around fifteen min/miles for the rest of it. I finished though. Fifteen minutes after the last runner ahead of me. The most memorable part of the day was not crossing the finish line. It wasn't calling my folks and telling them I made it. The most memorable moment of the whole day and the whole marathon training experience came when Sarah and I were running along the lake, the hot sun on my drained body, Sarah turned to me and said "congratulations, you're a runner. You may never take another step for the rest of your life and you are still a runner." I will never forget that. I remember it all the time when things get tough. I remember that I DID that. Nobody can ever take that away. I am a runner. Broken feet, depression, changes in my body, or my schedule...none of it can take away that simple fact that I am a runner.
Yesterday the hubbs and I went to the woods of Forest Park for a run. I wasn't sure how far or how hard I was going to be able to go between the recent bronchitis and the formerly broken foot. I just wasn't sure. It didn't matter though. Once I got to the forest and let the dog off her leash it was all good. I struggled to get warmed up hacking and wheezing a little for the first fifteen minutes. On the way back I felt so good that I decided to push it a little and lengthened out my stride and picked it up a bit. It felt amazing. The hubbs commented that I had turned up the gas and he was happy to match my new pace. We ran faster than I have run in a very long time for the last mile all the way down the sloping back and forth of the forest. It felt like flying. My stress of the week and the coming weekend melted away. I was running. I hadn't run outside other than once since my injury in November. I was pleased to find everything working just the way it should. A 55min run was no sweat. I am a runner. Today, tomorrow, when I am a hundred years old. I am a runner.

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