This is an essay I wrote after running my first half marathon in November 2009. I wrote it for the women in my boot camp group (WoW! Boot Camp) so some of the references are to our little group. I sure do miss them. The Atlanta Half is held on Thanksgiving morning and I highly recommend it if you’re thinking of trying a half…earn yer turkey!
My girlfriends at work asked for a picture from the Atlanta half marathon. The only one I had with me was a screen grab from www.marathonfoto.com, so I attached it to an email and sent it out. Jo replied, “We BELIEVE you ran it…you don’t have to stamp PROOF all over the picture!” Duh. We both got a good laugh out of that one.
But that kind of sums up the feelings I’ve had since crossing the finish line—I still need proof. Marti asked if I had bought a 13.1 sticker for my car and I said, “No, I need to run a couple more before I advertise it on my car.” I saw some cute shirts at the race expo (“I know I run like a girl—try to keep up.”) but I felt like a fraud about buying one. I wore my medal to Thanksgiving dinner, but when my father complimented me on the achievement, I said, “Well, yeah, but I finished in a blistering 2:47.” After my brother said, “I can’t believe you ran 13 miles this morning—that’s awesome!” I answered, “I didn’t run ALL of it; I had to walk up some of the bad hills.” When the finish line picture arrived, my first thought wasn’t of the joy and pride I felt at that moment. I didn’t see my smile. It was more like, “OMG, my boobs look like they are trying to hide in my bellybutton!”
Yes, ladies, this is what a lifetime of Crazy sounds like. Welcome to the inside of my head! Anything sound familiar?
I spent $100 for an hour of therapy yesterday and our main topic was the Atlanta half marathon. WHAT??? Have I honestly reached a point where I need a therapist to tell me that it’s OK to be proud of myself for doing something that was hard? She reminded me that I have a teensy weensy old habit of thinking that nothing I ever do is good enough. True. That it only counts if it’s perfect. Yeah. That even if I run 13.1 miles, I didn’t run it quite fast enough, cute enough, smart enough…. OK, maybe she was on to something. That did sound vaguely familiar, like she was channeling the voice of my first husband. It’s a very old tape, maybe even an eight-track, that gets triggered in my head whenever I should be proud of myself—“Good job, Ashley, but it could have been better.” The flip side of the tape plays when I even consider doing something that scares me—“Well, Ashley, don’t do it until you can do it perfectly. People will know you for a fool.” The greatest gift I’ve gotten from all those hours of therapy is the ability to hit the STOP button, skip tracks and play a new song. Like Beyonce.
So here’s what REALLY happened on race day.
- I ran the first mile next to a squad of Marines. Their cadence chant was about looking fine and feeling strong and I could have kissed every one of them on the mouth for getting those words into my head.
- In the second mile, I talked to a woman who had only been running for two months. It was her first race ever! I encouraged her with all the things Michael harps on about running form—chin up, chest open, drive those elbows straight back, bend forward at your ankle, hold the baby bird eggs, in through the nose…
- By mile three, so many people had passed me that I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was still back there. I saw THOUSANDS of people and I giggled with glee.
- Mile four and the towers of downtown Atlanta still looked as far away as the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. But I had a target. Just keep running.
- I reached our hotel at mile five and there were G and Vivi, waiting in the middle of Peachtree Street to give me a hug. Vivi sang her little song, “Go, Mommy, Go, Mommy, GoGoGo!” I thought my heart would burst with joy.
- Mile six, I passed a woman who was running for Leukemia Society’s “Team In Training.” I thanked her for raising money for LLS and told her that I had lost my husband, Richard, to leukemia four years earlier.
- Finally, at mile seven, I was starting to get tired! I ate some of those sport jelly beans (I think the flavor was “Gag”) as I walked up that bitch of a hill in front of Piedmont Hospital. I thought about popping in to McDonald’s for a large Diet Coke but decided that would be poor form.
- Downhill for mile eight…whee!
- Mile nine I heard Tami saying, “Loosey Goosey! Loosey Goosey!” so I flapped my arms over my head like a card-toting lunatic.
- I slapped the mile marker sign on mile 10. I had never covered more than 10 miles on training runs, so this was new territory.
- In mile 11, downtown Atlanta, three women were chugging along in front of me. One moaned, “I can’t do it” and slowed to a walk. I came up beside her and said, “I think you can.” Another stranger yelled, “I think you’re already doing it!” It felt like the way we help each other believe in ourselves in boot camp. She went back to running.
- At the start of mile 12, I got really emotional. The crowds got larger and people cheered, “You’re almost there!” My quads were screaming and I had to walk up the hill by the capitol. I followed the course around a sharp left corner then looked up to see a small, dark-haired man standing on the sidewalk by himself. He was wearing a Leukemia Society Team In Training coach shirt. He looked a lot like my late husband and I started to cry right there in the middle of the street. All I could think was: “I can run. I am still here. I am alive. Running 13 miles is not the scariest thing I’ve done in this life.” I was grateful for how far I had come and I was filled with hope that I really was going to be able to do this.
- I could see the 13 mile marker and I dug deep, shuffling my way up that long uphill bridge to Turner Field. I. Would. Not. Walk. I crested the hill under the Olympic rings. The finish line was a few hundred yards away! For the first time, I saw the clock and it read 2:59:11. If I busted it, I could finish under three hours! I took off like I had been shot out of a cannon. I was running like Tami being chased by April. My arms were pumping and I may have shoved a couple of people. I streaked across the finish line at 2:59:21. I had outrun crazy!
Jovita reminded me later in the recovery area that I had actually run faster than that. I forgot about subtracting my start differential! I finished in 2:46:37, 7697th overall, 3647th for the women’s division and 449th in my age group!!!!!
Now I have satisfied my homework assignment from therapy—I wrote this story. I hereby own my accomplishment and say I AM PROUD OF MYSELF. The shirt I should have bought at the expo said, “The miracle is not that I finished, but that I had the courage to start.” I’m going to go out and buy myself a 13.1 sticker and I WILL put it on my car!
May we all own our victories and talk about them as much as we talk about our mistakes.
It’s OK to succeed, it’s OK to try and it’s OK to do it imperfectly. It’s OK to come in 7697th.