This piece is going to take two, count them two, disclaimers.
Disclaimer 1: This story was written prior to, but edited after, the Boston Marathon explosions. The timing was a coincidence, but I decided to publish the story anyway, hoping that it doesn't communicate any sort of insensitivity, but rather the incredible sense of community people can develop by doing the same thing at the same time. My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by yesterday's events.
Disclaimer 2: Unlike most pieces written on Her/Story, this one lacks a thesis statement, a conclusion, and maybe even an argument. I've taken the name of our blog seriously and told a story, modeled off of a couple of storytelling venues that I adore: The Moth and Modern Love. Check them out!
I was 19 and a month into training for my first marathon when my grandfather, one of the best men I have ever known, died suddenly. I spent the next several months running in the midst of my confusion, trying to process my devastation, attempting to grasp what to me felt like true injustice. When my training ended, I completed the marathon, patted myself on the back, mentally checked "Marathon" off my bucket list, and stopped running.
|Marathon Finish, Des Moines, IA 2008|
Four years later, I would move back to Iowa to take care of my grandmother who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
There's this saying in life that you should live like you could die tomorrow. It took Grandma and I an entire month to get over the grief and realize that Grandma needed to stop thinking she was going to slip off any moment. She needed to die like she was going to live tomorrow. And me? I needed to get out of the house more.
So Grandma and I started talking walks and I started training for another marathon.
It's been eight months and Grandma has officially outlived the time she was given by her doctor. And me? I'm still living in her house and I'm still running. I stay with her Sunday night through Friday afternoon, and other family members take care of her on the weekends. This means I get to spend my weekends visiting friends all over the Midwest.
Last weekend, I went to Kansas City to watch several friends run a half marathon. I was standing at mile 9, cheering like crazy for these random people that I didn't know, waiting for my friends to run by when I was absolutely struck by how amazing this whole thing was. Here was person after person running by me who had dedicated part of their life to doing exactly what I was dedicating part of my life to doing: running. Running a long freaking way.
|Half Marathon Starting Line, Kansas City, MO 2013|
There was a woman on the other side of the street cheering for the runners with her two kids, and I knew immediately she was a runner. There's this thing about runners that's just like with lesbians, they don't have to be running down the street or holding their girlfriends' hands (respectively), if you're one of them you tend to know who the other ones are.
So this lady and I are cheering loudly, and at some point the slower set of runners run by us and I'm watching them, yelling my guts out, and these people start looking at me, right in the eye, and saying "thank you." Thanking me. In the middle of their 13 mile runs. And I flash back to my 16 mile run the day before when I could have really used someone at mile 9 yelling for me, and I start yelling my guts out for these strangers, yelling because I get it, because I've literally been in their shoes, literally felt their blisters, literally wanted to quit just like they're looking like they want to quit right this very moment. And that's when the tears start flowing down my face, quite unexpectedly, and I'm surprised because, although I'm both a runner and a crier, they don't normally fit into the same section of my life.
But here's the truth about people like me who take at least 10 minutes to run a mile: we don't run long distance to beat the person running next to us. We don't run long distance for exercise either, because if we wanted to get that we'd just run 5ks. No, no, for people like us there's something much deeper at stake. There's something about identity, something about seeking ourselves going on. Maybe we're running from something, maybe we're running to something, or maybe we have something to prove. But the truth is you can't spend hour after hour hitting the pavement without having to confront yourself even if only just about, at bare minimum, how freaking tired your legs are. Maybe for these reasons, I have dated people who are runners almost exclusively over the years.
|My very own cheering squad, Des Moines, IA 2008|
I spend an hour cheering at mile 9 and then I move on. I head to the finish and I stand right next to the mile 13 marker, a tenth of a mile from the finish line. And I notice immediately that no one next to me is cheering. They're standing, watching quietly. And I make a quick decision to give the runners every bit of energy I can muster. Suddenly I'm screaming; I'm clapping so hard I have to take breaks because my arms get so tired. I'm saying things like "You're almost there." "The end is in sight!" "Power through!" But what I really want to be saying to these people is "Look! Do you see it? You accomplished your goal! You did the thing you wanted to do, the thing you spent hours training for, and even though you feel like total shit right now, you have conquered this run."
But the words won't come out of my mouth. They get stuck in my throat because by now I'm crying, full on crying, because I feel so proud of these perfect strangers. So I keep yelling the one-liners, praying they understand that I am mentally with them, one hundred and ten percent. And these people are looking up from the pavement at me, and I swear they are seeing my whole self. I swear they're seeing things in me I didn't even know existed. And a couple of them, even at the very end of this whole freaking race, tell me thank you as they run, sometimes stumbling, by.