The Cherry on Top. WAY on top!

That’s what a marathon is.
I’ve already decided that’s what it is and it’s still four months and six days before the Starting Line is even set up.
It’s the cherry on top of the sundae that is made of dedicating months of your life to a single thing: Training for The Marathon.
It’s the justification for all the Friday night get togethers you skipped because you had to be up at the BCOD (Butt Crack Of Dawn) Saturday morning to get in your long training run.

And maybe it’s a little bit of vindication thrown in for all the people who couldn’t understand that you Made A Commitment to The Marathon that is just this side of taking vows.
The sprinkles are the exclamation points at the end of every time you answered “Is that all you do is run?” with a resounding “Yes, yes it is!”  (Except when you’re cross-training, eating, sleeping, and washing running clothes.  Oh, and working the day job that pays for the race registrations. And new shoes. And Glide. And Gu. And Other Runner Stuff.)

We are finally, HCRP and I, getting into The Meat of The Training Miles.
Earlier today I was staring at the calendar above my desk that holds all those miles in its memory for me, and seeing the mid-week and Saturday numbers steadily moving further and further away from ‘3’ and ‘4’.

We have a five mile race Saturday morning after which we have to run another three to get in our eight.
Two weeks from Saturday we have a 5K we have to supplement with seven miles to get our ten.
In August.
In Memphis.
Just another scoop of rich, creamy, sweet/sweat/salty, running goodness in the bowl that will make that cherry sit just a little higher.

Speaking of heights . . .
Last Saturday we were in Omaha for my thirty year high school reunion and we had to get a run in.  One of my former classmates took up running a few months before I did and we’ve enjoyed sharing our experiences as middle-aged, newbie runners via Facebook posts and commentversations.  As the reunion drew closer our discussions turned to getting together for the Saturday Long Run HCRP and I would be getting in.  Because I wasn’t athletic in high school I really wanted to begin and end our run in front of good ol’ CHS which is right smack in downtown Omaha (incredibly hilly!).  Bob’s kids go to our alma mater and are active in sports (unlike us back in the day – we were choir geeks) so he gets a lot of his runs in while he’s waiting on their practices.
During one of our chats he mentioned the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge which spans the Missouri River between Omaha and Council Bluffs.  I looked it up online and about fell over just looking at the website!
Here’s the thing: I am petrified of heights.
I get up high (defined as my feet more than a foot off of terra firma) and my entire equilibrium shifts and I feel like I am sliding/hurtling over the nearest edge towards sudden death.
Bridges really tweak this fear/sensation. Particularly bridges over water.
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is a bridge over water.
The very thought of running the 3,000 feet across that bridge (and back) was enough to make me dizzy.  And queasy.  And scared half crapless.
And so.
I had to do it.
It was a mandate.

If running has taught me nothing else it has taught me this: I can, in fact, do things I never thought I could.
I can run – not walk, run – a 5K.
I can run a 10K.
I can run a Half Marathon.
Therefore, I could run The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge during our trip to Omaha!

I started putting this intention “out there” back in March.
And I kept putting it “out there”.
I did this for a couple reasons.
First: So I couldn’t chicken out.  You can’t chicken out when it’s “Out There”.
Second: To convince myself that I actually wanted to do this. Theoretically, I did.  In practice?  There was some wiggle room.
By last Saturday morning, I was convinced.
If not “convinced” I was committed.  Or needed to be committed.  Jury’s still out on that…

HCRP and I met Bob at the high school and off we went!
The first couple miles getting from CHS to the foot of the bridge were nothing more than a warm-up/necessary evil for me, and I wasn’t even thinking about the rest of the distance we were set to run.  I had one, and only one, thought in my head: Getting across that godforsaken structure, then coming back across so that I could say “I.  Did.  It!”

We got to the foot of The Bridge during a walking interval and I paused to take a picture before we headed up.

374447_10151545390118587_455956314_n

We’d been chatting along as we ran, but when we headed up the curly-cue ramp that led to the actual off-the-ground part of the bridge I told the guys (something like) “I can’t talk to you while I do this.  I’m turning up my music and not stopping until I’m on the other side.”
And off we went.

The liars at Wikipedia say it is 52’ above the Missouri River.
I say nay, nay!
It has got to be further up than that.
Whatever, Wikidiots. Wikiliars.  Wikiceivers.
I know the truth.
Somewhere in the middle of the (really freakin’ high up) bridge is a line that says you’ve crossed from Nebraska into Iowa (and vice versa on the return).
I vaguely heard Bob say something about it.
At that point I was focused on breathing rather than hyperventilating and keeping my feet pointed forward since everything inside me felt like the bridge was tilting from side to side and I was about to go hurtling off the side to certain death in the torrential rapids of the river below.  (I’m pretty sure, although not 100% because I wasn’t looking, that the bridge didn’t move and the river was flowing along smooth as glass.)
One of the reasons I “couldn’t talk” to Bob or HCRP was because I was exercising my freedom of speech by uttering every profane word in the known English language in what I consider to be some fairly creative combinations.

It is at this point in the narrative that I have to pay special homage to fate, karma, kismet, or whatever you happen to call it when The Exact Right Song comes on your randomized playlist at The Exact Moment when you need it most.
In anticipation of The Bridge Run – what this particular seven miles will always be in my mind – I had set up a very specific playlist.  I’ve been listening to it on every run for the past two months getting my mental game set.  There is No Fear in these songs.  They move me, motivate me, and make it impossible to feel weak or unable.
One of my favorite songs on that list?  Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl.
And guess what song came on just as my feet hit the Nebraska end of The Bridge?
You got it!
My Girl Gwen!
Okay, technically she’s HCRP’s Secret Girlfriend, but for purposes of that song on that playlist, she is all mine! 

We made it to the bottom of the Iowa end of the bridge at the start of a walking interval and paused, in part, so I could take a picture from that end.
For the record: All intervals were OFF during The Bridge portion of the run.  If I so much as slowed to a walk all bets were off and I was going to be on my hands and knees.  So it was “run or stop and wither” on The Bridge.

603020_10151545389953587_1652412449_n

HCRP and I hit our Gu, hydrated, I took a deep breath, backed back up to my girl Gwen, and we headed back across because . . .  well . . .  all my crap was in a hotel room on the other side for one thing.  And we still had four miles to finish for another.  (There was a reason I put The Bridge in the middle of the run.)

The picture below is me (I think) at the Iowa/Nebraska Line mark.

1012427_10151545494768587_479790289_n

Not fainting.
Not puking.
Not crawling on my hands and knees sobbing.
Running.
And damn well Doing It!

Because that’s another thing running does.
It shows you there’s nothing to fear but the fear of a thing.
Face-planting on a run?  Everybody does it once.
Finishing dead last?  Somebody has to.
Crossing a raging river ridiculously high above it on a reeling unsturdy thread of cement?
Easy freakin’ peasy!
Just keep breathing.  Keep your feet moving.  Think about The Run.
And it’s all over but the high five and (look away Mother) “I fucking did it!” at the end!

And that, My Minions, is likely going to end up being the biggest, best, creamiest, tastiest scoop of running goodness under that cherry on top of this whole thing.

(Betcha wondered how I was gonna get back to that whole ice cream sundae metaphor.  Din’tcha?  See?  I did that too!)

Because it will never be harder than chemo for a kid

Today is exactly 20 weeks – 140 days – from Marathon Day!
Today’s Long Run was 6 miles.
Today’s run is the shortest Long Run we will have until after The Marathon.
I have our entire Marathon Training Program on a Google Calendar, a paper calendar that hangs above my desk at work, a second paper calendar that hangs in our kitchen at home, and on an Excel Spreadsheet.
Oh, and in my Franklin Covey Planner.
I have it in all those places not because I have some undiagnosed psychosis or neurosis. I have it in all those places so I don’t have to constantly be thinking about “What’s next?”
(Which could, quite probably, have led to the development of some undiagnosed psychosis or neurosis. But I fixed that.)

Early on in this whole process I started freaking myself out by constantly checking and rechecking the whole entire thing semi-obsessively to make sure I wasn’t double-booking us for some sort of non-running event – because we have so much time in our calendar for anything non-running these six months – and in doing that I started looking at the number of miles we’d be working up to and Freaking The Eff Out!
“I can’t possibly run 14/16/18/22 miles! I’ll die! My legs will collapse. My lungs will explode! I’m not THAT kind of runner!”
Thankfully, during one particularly freak-out filled run I had the sudden flash of sanity that I didn’t have to run 14, 16, 18, or 22 miles that particular day. All I had to run was that day’s three or four or however many miles it was.

Much like the sudden flash of sanity I’d had the first time I set out to run more than four miles.  After nearly hyperventilating I realized that I didn’t have to run the entire four miles that minute, all I had to run was the five minute interval I was at the start of. Then I would walk for two minutes. Then I would run the next five minute interval.  But in that moment all I had to run was the given five minutes.

So, just like I worked through that little existential crisis, I realized that in documenting the entire training plan (in a ‘couple of places’) I no longer had to focus on anything other than any given day’s scheduled miles.

And, four weeks ago, we set off on Our Marathon Training Program.

Brief Aside
We are incredibly blessed (and grateful beyond belief) to live in a city that boasts an indescribably amazing Running Club. We are surrounded by experienced runners (many of whom are certified trainers) who are more than willing to impart their knowledge and wisdom-from-experience anytime we ask.
In addition to that we have not one, but two, actual Running Stores (as opposed to Big Box Sporting Goods Stores) each of which offers a Marathon Training Program designed to prepare local area runners for St. Jude. This year St. Jude is also offering a Marathon Training Program, which is also great! We decided to go with the training program offered by our favorite Running Store, in great part because we have a great relationship with the owner and his staff and trust their judgment and guidance.

Brief Aside Concluded

The first two weeks our training runs felt like what I’m pretty sure military boot camp does. On X Day we ran X Miles.
Why? Because we had to. The Schedule said so. And so we did.
And those runs felt like exactly how I was approaching them: Mandatory steps to get to what I really wanted to do – Run The Marathon.

I began to dread these runs the way one dreads going to the dentist, making a toast at a distant relative’s wedding reception, and trotting out the Christmas Sweater you got from Aunt Hattie in 1987 because “she just adores seeing you in it”.
Don’t get me wrong.
I love running.
I love everything about running.
I love the release, the relief, the effort, the personal barrier shattering.
I love finishing a run dripping with sweat, red-faced, gasping for air, with at least some part of me crying out in protest for a few seconds.  Just because.
But I found myself not loving The Training Runs.
And it stymied me.
I mean, what the hell?!  (Sorry Mother.)
Here I am doing something I love to raise money for a place I love and believe in like few other places I know.
And I am haaaaating it!
Quitting was not an option, so I decided to heed the advice of one of my favorite Bondi Band headbands and “Suck it up, Buttercup!” hoping that the dread of the Must Do Training Runs would somehow get left behind me on the pavement like the stress of work or several ounces of sweat.

And then.
It happened.
It was on a Monday about two weeks ago and, after a week or two of unseasonably cool summer weather, it was hot.
Hot hot.
Ugly, muggy, nowhere for sweat to evaporate to, sun glaring down like the wrath of someone wrathful, hot.
Memphis in July hot.
Who saw that coming?!
Oh.
Wait.
Anyone who’s ever spent a July here.
Enough about the weather.
Memphis.
July.
Hot.
Happens.
Back to my epiphany…
It was hot and there I was again not looking forward to that evening’s run.
Add to that the fact that it was the first week of our running club’s Women’s Running Training Program which I should have been looking forward to.
No, I was looking forward to it.
Really, I was!
I love seeing all these Beginning Runners taking control of their health and, for many of them, doing something Just For Them for the first time in their lives.

I just wasn’t looking forward to my run. My miles.
HCRP and I were going to get to the venue early to get in a couple miles so our total mileage would add up to what the training plan called for.
As I was changing from work clothes to running clothes and mentally bitching about the heat and why couldn’t it be a little bit overcast and where did our cooler summer weather go a thought came slamming into the front of my brain: Kids going through chemo at St. Jude don’t get to ‘just not do chemo’ because it’s too hot. Or too cold. Or too early. Or because they’re “just not feelin’ it”. They have to do it No Matter What.
From that realization was born my New Running Mantra: No run will ever be harder than chemo for a kid.
Since that moment there’s been at least one day when I just really didn’t “feel like” running. But I did. Because kids can’t “not feel like” chemo.
There have been moments during runs when I wanted to just stop and walk the rest of the way back to the car. But I didn’t. Because kids can’t “just stop” chemo.
There have been times when my lungs protested sucking in 70+% humid air and sweat was running into my eyes and my knee was twinging and IT Band and/or Piriformis was screaming and I tied my shoes too tight and . . . and . . . and . . . And whatever it was that was uncomfortable couldn’t hold a candle to what chemo does to a kid during and after.
They can’t make excuses. I don’t have any.
And you wanna know a little secret?
There are no more ‘bad’ runs for me.
I cherish every one of them.
Because no run – no matter how long how hot how cold how anything – will ever be harder than chemo for a kid.

Ready. Get set. Go Ladies, go!

Nearly a MONTH since my last post?!
Seriously?!
*looks back*
Yep.
Nearly a month.

Well, I have been running.
I have also been not running while dealing with The Mother of All Blisters and her Evil Spawn The Blister’s Blister.

Quick Lesson Share:
If you happen to develop a blister on the sole of your foot that is, oh, say, roughly the size of your thumb do not attempt to run again until it is fully healed.  This is The Mother of All Bad Decisions and will lead to missing over two weeks of running rather than seven to ten days.

But back to the point of this post…
Monday begins the 2013 edition of our running club’s Women’s Running Training Program.
Once again I’ll be volunteering as a Coach with the Beginning Runners group.
And once again, I already find myself so inspired by the women who are doing this for the first time who I had the opportunity to meet and talk to at the Expo this past Monday night!
Women who are, for the first time in decades, doing something just for themselves.
Women who are seizing control of their health.
Women who aren’t 100% certain what they’ve got themselves into.
Women who have always wanted to run but never knew how or where to start.
Women who are scared and excited all at the very same time.
Women who, in nine weeks, will go further than they ever thought possible.
Oh, and then they’ll run the 3.1 miles of the Graduation 5K.

And that’s when the fun really starts!

It’s only Algebra if you let it be

After my last post I received a text from a very dear friend that brought me up a little short and forced me to realign my thinking.  She started with “Just read your blog, as usual I loved it.” because she is my friend and she loves me.  And then she stopped preachin’ and started meddlin’.  I love having friends who do that for me.

Among the points she brought to my attention was that if I exercise only one hour a day that is only 4% of my day.  I did the math and she’s right!  Whether you divide 1 by 24 or 60 by 1440 (then multiply the result by 100) it still comes out to 4.  And if something that’s important to me doesn’t deserve 4% of my own time, I’m not 100% certain what does.
Since we began our marathon training program right at a month ago I have found it all too easy to allow Other Things to come between me and our scheduled runs.  Tiredness, busyness, doing-other-thingsness.
You name it, I’ve skipped runs for it.
I even stalled on seeing a doctor for a nagging pain I allowed to go on for a month.
Me, who “learned my lesson” with Ye Olde Knee over a year ago.

It has been all too easy to say “It’s ‘only’ a couple miles.  Missing that won’t make that big a difference at this point in the training.”  Which, from a strictly physical perspective, is true.  I mean heck, I ran a 10K virtually ‘untrained’ back at the beginning of May.  I certainly hadn’t built up to running 6 miles, but I did that race and finished in decent time and without any injuries to show for it.  I have developed enough basic fitness about myself and I’ve learned enough about running, pacing, and my body that I pulled it off.  Not the smartest thing, but crazier things have been done by runners other than me.
But how far I can (or can’t) run on a given day wasn’t the point.  And I knew it.

But getting back to my friend’s point – which was spot on – even I had noticed that it seemed way too easy for me to let “other things” come between me and the miles.  I’d actually been a little puzzled by it given that I truly do love running.  Her point (and I knew it and she knew I knew it but she still spelled it out for me in Just So Many Words because she knew I needed that) was this: YOU deserve that time.  To me it’s like a spiritual practice and a must do every day.  I love you and feel like you struggle with doing for yourself.  Just do what makes your heart sing.

And then it hit me:
I had made running my Algebra.
Let me explain . . .

Math is, simply put, not my forte.
I’m not talking in that ‘Math Is Hard’ Barbie kind of way.
Obviously I can do math – I did it up there with that whole 4% of the day thing up there!

I mean in that This Is My Strength and Brings Me Fulfillment/Accomplishment and Makes My Heart Sing way.
Writing is my Thing.
Cooking is my Thing.
Laundry is my Thing.
Singing is my Thing.
Math is notsomuch my Thing.
I can do it.  Like I can clean a toilet and clip my toenails.
Because it has to be done.
But there is no joy in my personal little Mudville or music in my heart from having done it.

In high school (and a-freakin’-gain) in college, Algebra Had To Be Done.
Not like Breathing Has To Be Done.  I could have simply Not Done the Algebra.  But it was a necessary, nay mandatory, step in accomplishing the goal of achieving the accomplishment of graduation.
And so I did it.
I slogged through every “Solve for X” and found every “Y” with varying degrees of success.  But I did it.  And at the end of both experiences I got to The Finish Line and was handed the less shiny “Finisher’s Medal” of a diploma with all the honors, rights, privileges thereunto appertaining.  And the student loans.
When I look back on the experiences of high school and college I can’t tell you who sat next to me in study hall while I beat my head against the Algebra, and I don’t remember the answers to any of those test questions.  Because, for me, Algebra was the necessary evil.  The foe to be conquered.  The thing done because it had to be in order to get what I wanted.

It did not make my heart sing.

What I do remember are the choir concerts and who I stood beside and what part I sang.
What I do remember are the works of literature I read and the short story that got published in the high school’s literary publication and the essay that made gave the professor “that Emily Dickinson top of my head just came off” feeling.
I remember sitting in the church sanctuary or my parents’ basement playing Beethoven over and over again for nobody but me.
I remember cooking dinner for my family and having it pronounced “Delicious!”
Those things made my heart sing.
I loved the doing of the things.
I loved the time spent with others.
I loved that something I did touched or inspired someone else.
I loved that even if nobody else got anything out of it, ultimately I did it for the joy I got from it.

Here I am, thirty years after high school and almost twenty-five years after college with another Big, Long-Term Goal ahead of me: Finishing A Marathon.
And there are the “have to” aspects of it. Cross-training on an elliptical.  Possibly even getting on a bicycle and riding.  Because I know it will make me a better runner and benefit my body.  Not because I particularly enjoy ellipticalling or cycling.
Another Algebra.
I will do them, with varying degrees of success, but in all likelihood there will never be any heart singing in it for me, and they won’t be what I remember when I look back on this marathon years from now.
And I’m okay with that.
But the running itself, now that makes my heart sing.
Because I never thought I ‘could’ run.  Like I never thought I could hit a high C.
Even the runs I start out “not feeling” end up being some of the best, not unlike being handed A Tale of Two Cities sophomore year (which is now one of my favorite books).
But somewhere in the past few weeks I had begun to see the training runs not as “time spent doing something I love” but as some sort of big, long algebra equation to be slogged through to find the ‘X’ of Finishing the Marathon instead of focusing on the joy of doing the runs for their own sake.
Just like all the hours spent in practice rooms, and the time poring over words (my own and those of the masters) were done with the joy of my heart singing, and at the exclusion of other activities and distractions because they made me happy; so shall be my commitment to The Practice of my running.
And that’s really what it is: A Practice.
Like going through Salvation over and over for the sheer joy of hearing the notes coming from my mouth.
Like reading Dickens’ opening hyperbole of adjective knowing it will eventually lead to a far, far better thing.
Like knowing that seventh grade home-ec’s Tomato Cheeseburger Pie will eventually become to Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

Like prayer and meditation.
I do it for me.
Oh I am doing it for the Finish Line and that big, heavy medal around my neck!  Make no mistake about that.
But every run between now and then, and all the ones that will come after, those are for me because I do deserve those moments of a singing heart that comes somewhere between start and finish.
I’m done with Algebra, it’s time to run!

National Running Day

Who knew?!
No. Seriously. Who knew? Before like Sunday when it started popping up all over Facebook I didn’t know that The First Wednesday in June is National Running Day.
And because I didn’t know that The First Wednesday in June is National Running Day I had accepted an invitation (and tickets) for HCRP and I to attend a local charity event.

I woke up this morning thinking “Ooh! 89 degrees will make for a great run this evening!” I even had the presence of mind to check my gym bag to be sure I had everything together for a run. And then it hit me (when it was too late to get a run in before work): There are simply not enough hours in the day for me to work, run, attend the charity event, be a good pet owner, eat, sleep . . .
And let the guilt cycling begin!
How am I not going to run on National Running Day?!
How am I not going to attend this event we’ve been so generously hosted at?!
How am I going to do everything that’s expected of me by my running friends and my job and my non-runner friends and the cats and the dog and – oh yeah – a girl’s gotta eat!
I finally said, out loud, and in So Many Words “There just aren’t enough hours to make everybody happy!”

And then I got to work.
I fired up my computer, and my desktop background started cycling through the 30+ ‘motivational/inspirational’ images I’ve collected from Ye Olde Interwebs and lo and behold I get patted on the shoulder by this one:

281972_439898836052990_1821223776_n“You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”

Not my running friends.
Not my non-running friends.
Not anyone.
Not. Any. One.

So no, I will not in fact be running on National Running Day.
I will be going to work.
I will be supporting my fellow runners as they log their miles today.
I will be honoring the graciousness of the person hosting us at the event we are attending tonight.
I will be taking care of my household.
I will not be running.
Not today.
I will run tomorrow.
And that’s okay.
And I will set a reminder on my calendar for next year that The First Wednesday in June is National Running Day.

Oh and P.S. the pain that’s plagued the ball of my right foot for the past five weeks? I saw a (really freakin’ awesome) Podiatrist yesterday and the verdict is: inflammation of second metatarsal. Have an orthotic to offset pressure on the ball of the foot. Double dose of Aleve twice a day for 2 weeks. And I’m good to go to “get back out there running”.

Week One: And so it begins!

This is Week One of our Marathon Training Program to complete The Memphis St. Jude Marathon.
The Full Marathon.
26.2 miles.
All in the same day.
This is, arguably, the single biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life!
Yes, that counts childbirth and motherhood.
I always expected to have a child and be a mother.
Running a marathon?!  Not ever in my wildest dreams (until sometime late last year) would I have ever seen myself running a marathon.
And the thing of it is, running the marathon itself isn’t really The Thing of It.
Oh, the marathon is big.  Huge!
The marathon is The Prize.
The Victory Lap.
The cherry on top.
The point and purpose to be sure, but not really The Thing of It.
The training is The Thing of It.
Or so I’m told.
Right now the marathon seems like complete insanity.
But I haven’t finished a 20 mile training run yet.

We’re following Hal Higdon’s Novice Supreme, 30 Week program.
We’re implementing upper body strength training, yoga, elliptical cross-training, and various interval running training . . .  ummm . . . running training things.
We mutually agreed on the overall training program.  And we have a spreadsheet.
HCRP is in charge of the interval running training things seeing as how he ran cross country in high school and knows what pyramids and 400s and 800s and other such things actually are.
I’m in charge of diet and nutrition.  And yoga.  I’m mostly in charge of sharing what I learn from my Personal Yogi with HCRP.
We are mutually in charge of keeping each other from freaking out.
The rest of you are in charge of keeping us from chickening out.
Just so you know.

Tonight was our first Short Run and it called for 1.5 miles.
On one hand that seemed like a really short distance given that nine days ago we did a 10K race.
On the other hand we truly are Supreme Marathon Novices so it has been decided that we will follow this plan To The Letter.
So we ran 1.5 miles.
They weren’t fun miles.  My sinuses and allergies have been giving me fits so I felt like I had no lung capacity and the sore throat that set in late this afternoon made the breathing less than comfortable.
But it will get better.

In addition to training to and running the Marathon, HCRP and I are registered for The St. Jude as St. Jude Heroes which means we have each committed to raising funds for St. Jude and the incredible, miraculous work they do there. If you are interested in assisting us in our efforts to support St. Jude, below are links to our individual fundraising pages.
And thank you for any amount you are able to contribute.  Every dollar helps.

My St. Jude Marathon fundraising page.

HCRP’s St. Jude Marathon fundraising page.

Some of the best runs belong to other runners

Today HCRP and I had the unique experience . . . correction . . . we had the unique honor of playing Support Team to a couple we are privileged to count as both friends and fellow runners.

Our friends or (as I called them in several Facebook picture tags) Team Action Jackson were running in today’s St. Jude Country Music Marathon.
Mrs. Action Jackson has run several marathons, this was Mr. Action Jackson’s first.
They’ve spent the past sixteen weeks dedicating their lives to training for this event.
I can’t count the number of (cold, winter) mornings I’ve stumbled out of bed at 5am to be greeted by the Endomondo/Facebook cross-post “Mr. AJ tracked a run . . . ” that had started an hour before any part of me was anywhere close to tracking the path from the bed to the toilet, let alone a run!
Mrs. AJ (who loathes cold weather like ice cubes loathe sunny beaches) went out on countless weekday runs in overcast, sub-freezing temperatures.  And did I mention her getting both spin instructor and lifeguard certified during this time period?  Yeah.  That too.
Which says nothing of their Saturday Long Runs, many of which took place on cold, overcast, rainy days.  Thus are the perils of springtime marathon runners.
But they did it.
Week after week.
Run after bone-chilling, pre-dawn, I’d-rather-be-post-swim/spin-napping run.

Today was The Payoff.
The End of The Rainbow.
The Victory Lap.
And the weather?  Sucked!
All week we – Mr. and Mrs. AJ, HCRP, me, and 25,000 other runners and their respective cheering sections/support teams – have been staring down Ye Olde Weathere Reporte and never once did it blink.
A high percentage chance of rain and temperatures that would have been ideal on a sunny day, but didn’t bode well with all those higher-than-the-temperature-chance-of-rain percentages.

We were all awake and headed to The Venue well before the sun had even considered its position above or below the yardarm. The sun had, by all appearances, entered the Solar System Warming Device Protection Program and the sky was weeping its absence.
All.
Morning.
Long.
The temperatures joined the sky in its doldrums and stayed as low as the earth’s tilt on its axis would allow.
Awesome!
(NOTE: Both of the above linked-to-definition words are Maritime Terms.  That’s how much it was raining.  Without thinking I used Maritime Terms in writing this post.  I didn’t even know they were Maritime Terms until I Googled them to link to the meanings for clarification.  And to be cute.  But still, there was that much rain.)

But who were we (the non-runners of this race) to complain in the face of The Runners’ excitement and all that adrenaline oozing out of their every pore?!
Did I mention Cousin AJ?
Oh. My. Starz!
Cute as a button.  Clearly a cheerleader or coach or cheerleading coach to the core (all meant in the best, most admiration soaked possible ways).  She was there to run with The AJs.  She’s one of those Running Dynamos who, when asked “How many marathons have you run?” actually has to stop and think and may (or may not) recall the actual numbers because really they’re all just fun runs for her!
And you simply can not hate her.
In fact, you like her all the more!
Seriously.
I adore this girl after having spent maybe 45 entire minutes in her presence in my nearly 50 years of life!

We get to The Venue, deposit them at their Corral and headed to the Starting Line so we could enjoy The Energy of the race and get a picture of them as they started.
We absorbed enough energy to power the Eastern Seaboard for a week.
We missed getting their starting line picture because they moved up two corrals and we didn’t know.
Fortunately, we did get to see them as they passed our position about twenty feet past the Start.  We cheered, high-fived, were happy for, wished well, and then headed back to the car to head to our First Meeting Point: Mile Ten.

Here’s the “Advice Portion” of this post:
If you are ever fortunate enough to play Support Team for friends taking part in a marathon in a city you know abso-freakin-lutely nothing about I highly recommend researching three things ahead of time:
1) Your Meeting Points;
2) The Race Course;
3) Road Closures that might impact your travel from meeting point to meeting point with road closures taken into account.
Just for fun.
You got GPS?  GPS don’t care about no Road Closures.
GPS is a Honey Badger!  Honey Badger don’t care about no Road Closure because of Race Course!  (Seriously, click on that Honey Badger link.  Be Warned: They use ‘ugly words’.  You’ve been warned.  But seriously: Fuuuuuunnnyyyy!!!!)

Thankfully, HCRP is The King of Navigating Unfamiliar Territories.  This is why he will be the one doing all the driving when the two of us take part in The Amazing Race.
One other bit of advice: If the weather forecast calls for any sort of ‘extreme’ weather anticipate The Worst of said ‘extreme’.
If it’s supposed to “rain” assume it will monsoon.  Dollar Store ponchos will not suffice!
Have extra dry clothes that are easily changed into in your vehicle.
Large umbrellas.  Can not stress the importance of a large umbrella (actually in your vehicle, not at home in your garage) enough.
Dress in layers in case the weather ‘breaks’ and the cold monsoon becomes a tropical sauna.
If rain turns to shine, have extra dry socks and shoes to change into mid-weather change.
If rain remains rain, have extra dry socks and shoes to change into when all is run and done.
Trust me.
You’ll thank me.

The Mile Ten Meeting
We arrived at (or as near as we could get to) Mile Ten and started waiting for them to arrive.  Fortunately Mr. AJ and I are Endomondo Friends so I could follow their progress as often as the app updated.  We knew we’d arrived at Mile Ten plenty early because we saw the Pace Vehicle and Elite Runners come through while we were figuring out if this was the best place to be.
A lot of rain, a (thank you nice Lobby Monitor Guy) potty break, and a whole lot of runners later we saw The AJs and Cousin Awesome coming down the hill to where we’d stationed ourselves.
I fully expected them to want to change into the dry shoes we had for them.  *I* wanted to change into dry shoes!  They got to Mile Ten literally jumping up and down, hugging, happy, and genuinely doing great.  Rain and soaked shoes notwithstanding.
We parted ways, us winding our way to Mile Seventeen, and them gleefully running on.

The Seventeen Mile Meeting
This meeting was notsomuch fun to be at for any of us.
By this time the front that had brought the onslaught of rain had moved through, the wind had picked up, and the temperature hadn’t necessarily dropped, but the wind certainly made it feel colder.
The AJs and Cousin Awesome arrived at this meeting place having just crossed The Cumberland River which (I am assuming) meant running the arc of a bridge, and being buffeted by the wind on that bridge pretty hard.
By this point we’d been out in the wind and the cold and the rain for a fair amount of time.  Walking.  In and out of cover.  A good hour of that time in our vehicle driving.  And our feet were soaked.  And we were cold.  And tired.  Our friends, on the other hand (or foot, as the case may be), had been out in all those things the entire time.  Non-stop.  And running.
Dear God!
If they were ready to quit the instant they saw us I would have totally understood!  Hell (sorry Mom) I was damn near ready to try and talk them into it!  I mean running a marathon is an admirable goal and all, but this was just ridiculous!
And then we saw them!
I bellowed out Mrs. AJ’s name because I knew she’d hear me.
They came over to where we were standing.
Still excited.
Wetter (if that was possible).
Colder (which was certain).
Tireder (well duh!).
But still enjoying the race (if not the weather) and determined to FINISH!
We gave them hugs, told them they were doing great, took a picture (Facebook!), and sent them on their way.

The next thing we did I’m still carrying a bit of shame about, but we ducked into Shoney’s (truly the only food-bearing option anywhere around) and ate.  We sat in a heated restaurant and ate hot food while our friends ran on through the wind and the cold and the rain.
*hangs head*
We finished our meal-of-shame and headed to . . .

The Finish Line
Marathon Finish Lines are a lot like Maternity Ward Waiting Rooms.
Everyone outside the fences is there for the same reason, and we all know it.  There’s no reason to exchange pleasantries because really, we’re all just waiting on The Other Guy to see his/her baby so they can get the hell out of our way so we can get our first look (and picture) of our baby!
“Great!  Your spouse/child/co-worker/BFF/neighbor finished!  Yay!  Now MOVE IT buddy, you’re blocking my view/shot!”
Nobody actually says it, but we’re all thinking it and we all know it.
We stood there.
And stood there.
And stood there.
And.
Truth be told.
I shed tears for more than a few complete stranger spouses, children, co-workers, BFFs, and neighbors in whose faces I saw the same thing: Oh my God!  I did it!  I finished!

There are those who finish a marathon like they’ve just finished their grocery list at Kroger’s.  Seriously.  I saw them today.  They’re rare.  Like seeing a Bald Eagle.  I don’t think they breathe the same air the rest of us do.

Then there are The Rest of Us.
The First Time Marathoners.
The Finally Back In It Marathoners.
The I Beat The Odds Marathoners.
The I Ran This For ________________ Marathoners.
Whatever the reason or purpose, you can see it in their faces about twenty feet after the actual Finish Line.
And it’s like seeing that baby (whose father or grandparent you’ve been standing there trying not to elbow out of your own way) open its eyes for the very first time.
Know them or not, you know what it is for them.

After watching dozens and dozens of other people’s marathon stories both unfold and finish before me we finally saw Our Runners round the final turn and head towards Their Finish Line.
We – and by “we” I mean “I” – started screaming Mrs. AJ’s name and she bee-lined it over to me, grabbed me over the fencing, and burst into tears of “I did it!”.
This was Mr. AJ’s First Marathon.
This was Mrs. AJ’s Back In It Marathon.
And we were immeasurably proud of and for them!  They DID IT!!!

Cousin Awesome?  She was basically just there for them!  (See?  How do you not love her?!)
We met them at the end of the Runners’ Only Area, exchanged hugs and offered more “Congratulations”, then had to take off to get to a family event a couple hours away.
It was just such an incredible experience, and one I am deeply grateful to have been allowed to be a part of.

I started the day with more than a little bit of fear and trepidation.
I was afraid that seeing “what the run did to them” along the miles was going to prove to me that I had absolutely no business even considering running a marathon.
I was afraid that I would stand at that Finish Line and see myself in another late-40s woman who crossed the finish line either hobbled beyond movement, or who collapsed and had to be carried off on a stretcher.
I have a really vivid imagination and (obviously) entirely too much time on my hands to spend thinking about such things!

Instead I came away knowing that I can totally do this thing!
I have ample time to train.
I have a great training plan to follow.
I have runner friends – like Mrs. AJ – who have been where I’m going and are more than willing to share the wisdom of their experiences.
I have HCRP and he has me – like Mr. and Mrs. AJ had each other – and doing the training together and running the race together will be our strength.
All this from a race run by others.
And shared with me.