The Bi-Polar Marathon

Before my first marathon, I created a list of five goals:
1. Don’t die.
2. Finish.
3. Run the entire race (except for water stations).
4. Finish in 6 hours or less (the winner would finish around 2.5 hours).
5. Recover enough to attend Kaity’s baby shower.

When I finished the race over 6 hours, I managed to achieve 4 out of the 5 goals and hobbled away satisfied at my 80% success with hopes to improve my time the next go around (which if you read my blog about Newport didn’t happen).

Skip forward to Summer 2013 which included an injury that kept me from running for over a month and the start of a doctoral program that turned everything else sideways. My longest run during the summer should have been 20 miles, but instead it was just 8 miles. So goals shifted as I planned for the Portland Marathon this October. For months I said out loud, mostly to myself: time doesn’t matter, just finish.

I once again started the race with a set of goals:
1. Finish.
2. Don’t hurt myself.
3. Have fun.

Luckily I’d learned a few things over the past year that made for a good start. Last year I arrived downtown two hours before the start, which was freaky since it was super dark and the volunteers weren’t even there yet. So this year I went for a later bus and arrived 30 minutes before the start, and was in my corral with plenty of time to spare. I also bought a cheap shirt at Fred Meyer the day before so if it was chilly I could toss it at the start without regrets. It was warm enough I was fine in my t-shirt and shorts as I waited to go so I still have that spare shirt for next time. Now next year I need to be smart enough to take pretzels with me (only gummy bears on the course made for an unhappy stomach by mile 20) and that if I take Advil with me, they need to be in a plastic bag rather than in my mesh fanny pack (a definite “duh” moment as I found white mush all over my cell phone).

Somewhere in those first few miles I remembered my 3 goals and focused on them as permission to walk when I needed, to take photos if I wanted, and to not focus on time (though that 6 hour idea was there in my extra-stretchy goals). I ran along streets I’d travelled many times on Saturday and Sunday mornings and realized, I think for the first time, that my goals for the previous year didn’t include having fun. All of my goals were tangible and valuable, but none of them just focused on the hundred moments of a long run. This realization shaped the rest of my Sunday morning as I tried to high-five cute kids, as I charged up and down St. John’s Bridge, as I accepted the gift of walking in NE Portland, and as I said thank you to those who shouted my name (last year I kind of hated those kind people by the end because of the distraction; this year they were angels and the pit crew I needed). I was shocked that I hadn’t sought fun the year before and hoped I would not make the same mistake again.

Oh, and I managed to finish the race in 5:36.38 which was fun icing on a fun cake.

Now when you are running and/or walking for over five hours, you have lots of time to think, so my mind wandered in a lot of different directions, including to a group of my students who were grieving.

I learned Saturday night that one of my advisees died unexpectedly Thursday in his sleep. I didn’t get full details until Monday, but I knew already that I would be visiting that group on Monday night and had no idea what I would say. There are never good enough words in times of loss and I had no intention of trying to be good enough or holy in that space. Instead I knew I had to be honest; I had to just admit the loss and remind them of the resources available to them (myself, the school counselor, their churches, their families, etc).

So amid the joy of Sunday morning were moments of prayer and grief as I missed a good man and thought of his family. And there was worship for the beauty of the day, the community of runners and volunteers, and the ability to run (which I was worried I lost during that summer injury).

With the experience just a few days behind me, I’m still trying to understand how such joy and sorrow combined into a good day. I’m not sure how, but it did. It was a day dedicated to joy and to loss, to Portland and to David, to the future and to remembrance.

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