I ran a half marathon yesterday.
I wasn’t always able to run. A large, physically awkward kid, I who would rather read a book than do much of anything else, and that included being active. I was consistently the slowest kid when we ran races at school and perpetually picked last when we formed teams in gym class. My mother kept encouraging me, and I learned the joy of moving my body in the ice skating classes she made me take. Soon, I wasn’t quite so slow and awkward in gym class, but I still was no runner.
I started running in college to prove to myself that I could do it. It seemed difficult and unnatural during my first slogs through the streets, but over time I learned the joy of a breeze on my shoulders, the rhythmic pounding of my feet with matching breath. I started running more and more and with my dad, and he spread the marathon bug to me. In two years I ran 5 marathons, two half-marathons. I was never fast, I was never even not-slow, but I could endure, and that’s really all that mattered, all that matters.
Dad went on to complete over 20 marathons, including qualifying for and running Boston, but I had to step away from marathons in 2007, after a disastrous race in Honolulu (painful on every level, it started with shivering in the rain while waiting for the race to start and ended with my then-husband telling me to go fuck myself after I hobbled, with blistered feet, across the line). My personal life was unraveling, and I became depleted on every level. I couldn’t run 45 miles a week anymore. Some days it was all I could do to get out of bed.
But I kept running, albeit for shorter distances, through the divorce, through grad-school stresses, through my mom’s illness and untimely death, and now, through the frustration of infertility. What was once difficult and unnatural has now become part of me. Before I started my marathon of loss, I’m glad I had running to teach me that I’m stronger than I think.
Even now, as the load of grief over losing my mother is lightening a bit, I’m finding it difficult to fit in time for my long runs. I was under trained for the half-marathon and my muscles are protesting terribly today. I almost skipped the race entirely due to the undertraining, being out late at the opera the night before, etc. But I figured I could likely finish the race without an injury, so I went for it. Because I have the gift of health, and I’ll lose that too someday. But before that happens, I’m going to use it.