By Stephanie Cook Broadhurst/The Mother List
Run a marathon? Who, me? Ba-ha-ha! I can barely run around the block. If you had asked me a few years ago, at age 37 after the birth of my third child, I would have laughed and slapped a “0.0” sticker on the back of the minivan. That would have been the end of it.
OK, I did enjoy 3-milers sprinkled throughout the week sans the little ones. To clear my head. To listen to music – and to just be alone. (In our house, even a shower does not guarantee solitude.) But anything beyond 4 or 5 miles made me nervous – not to mention the lack of time. I enjoyed sports growing up, but the demands of work and motherhood meant working out hardly ever worked out.
So when my soon-to-be sister-in-law posed this suggestion, my hands got clammy: “We should run a race together!” she said, happily. She had run the Chicago Marathon. What a stud – I was seriously impressed. I had always coveted those shiny space blankets that runners wear after the race. Like a royal silver cape, you are elevated to Serious Athlete status. (Yes, I’m a bit nerdy about them.) I had seen a picture of her wearing a space blanket and was impressed. Me? NEVER! At a family dinner she suggested we start with Chicago’s Soldier Field 10-Miler, where you get to run on the football field: “Finish on the 50!” Rah!
We trained diligently. When race day arrived, it was ideally overcast and misty. She patiently ran with me when I know she could have bolted ahead. “Not bad!” I thought. “Now you can run 10 miles, what’s a few more?” How about a half marathon? Hmm. OK. Fast forward, two half-marathons, and a 15K run for chocolate later, and the inevitable next question arises: Are you ready for a full marathon? No, thanks. But on a lark, and after guzzling a very Grande Caramel Macchiato, I registered for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2012. It’ll help me stay in shape this summer, I thought, not entirely sure I would actually go through with it.
The marathon training program for amateurs starts off manageable (Hal Higdon, Novice 1). It’s kind of a confidence boost, to get you started. You think: “I can handle this!” But hit Weeks 5, 7, 8 and you start logging 10 miles, 12 miles, 13 miles on the weekend long runs. I would have good runs and really bad ones. Talking with other runners helped me realize this is totally normal.
Once school started up, I incorporated “pace” runs, mainly because I was scrambling for time. “I have preschool pickup in 5 minutes. Uh-oh, better pick up the pace!!” I showed up breathless and sweaty. I was that mom that did not have time to shower before preschool pick-up.
Another time, my husband was trying to make a 7:30am train downtown and I had jogged further out than planned. I had to bolt home, so he could get to work on time. I nearly face planted on the sofa. My then 2-year-old daughter, munching a waffle, observed: “Mom, you are stiiinky – take a shower! Stiiiinky!” (This became her ongoing joke.)
I nearly threw in the towel for good after the 18-mile training run. I had stopped at mile 17, unable to finish. “I’m done. I just can’t do this!” I screamed.
I called my brother: “I’m not sure I’m going to run in the marathon. It’s just not going to happen,” I told him. “My feet hurt, I mean really hurt. I can’t fathom going another 9 miles. I mean, really?” He had run a marathon the year before, so he gave me a much-needed pep talk. It boiled down to: Find the right pair of shoes – gear matters — and trust the training program. Just trust it. Also, don’t be afraid to stop and walk. All good advice. I then took a much-needed week off. (Yes, it’s OK to miss a few training runs.)
Geared up with fresh confidence, I decided to do the 20-miler. My dear mother agreed to follow me on her bike so I didn’t have to run with loads of water and GU. Her bike basket was stocked. (I’m surprised she didn’t bake brownies.) She had my back. There was a silent camaraderie among the runners that morning along Sheridan Road, just north of Chicago. They would smile and give a knowing wink. That longest of long runs proved to be a tipping point. The training had started to take, and I finally began to think: “Maybe?”
The morning of race day, we hired a saintly sitter who came at 5am to watch our three children. My husband (who often had pancakes waiting after long runs) was part of the support crew headed downtown.
Standing at the starting line, I noticed people of all ages and sizes ready to run. The man standing next to me was in his 60s and had run this marathon over 20 times. Once we started, the crowds kept me going. Signs like: “Run, Total Stranger, Run” and “The End Is Not Near” made me laugh. I eagerly looked for my family, as they held a giant butterfly balloon and cheered me on at different points.
When I hit mile 22 and stopped to stretch, I just wanted to stop. Miles 24 and 25 were like the movie “Groundhog Day” where you keep thinking you’ll finally put this day behind you, but it keeps going and going… That’s when crowd support meant the most.
After crossing the finish line, I was enveloped in the crisp and soothing hug of a space blanket. Like being wrapped in fall leaves. Ahh. Finished.
When people say a marathon is mental — they aren’t joking. The lessons I learned included persistence, patience, commitment – keeping the goal in mind, even when it seems impossible. You develop an internal focus. These are lessons I’ve spoken to our kids about: Never give up. Hard work takes effort. Don’t ever limit yourself. And when the going gets really tough – take a day or two off – then dig in harder.
The race itself is a bit like giving birth. It starts off more manageable, gets challenging – and then it’s over. And you have this brand new accomplishment that you’ve worked hard for as the big payoff. So if you can give birth, you, CAN run a marathon. Yes, you can.