Two days ago, I completed my first marathon. Why? Because I said I would. I had decided this about three years ago, while I was running a half-marathon. I came around a corner, and saw my daughter among the crowd that lined the course, smiling at me from the baby jogger. Willing to accept second place, I stopped to kiss her on the cheek and then pressed on feeling a bit lighter. A bit more fleet of foot.
She proudly wore my finisher’s medal for two weeks straight. Now 6 years old, she still dons it as an accent to her Cinderella dress-up gown. Princess meets athlete. I could not think of a more natural combination, or a better use.
I think it’s important for us to show our daughters what is possible. She can be an artist, a surgeon, an athlete, or yes, even a princess. She can be all of these things at once if she wants. The lesson isn’t in the being, it’s in the becoming. I didn’t simply wake up yesterday and decide to run the Atlanta Publix Marathon. I trained for 4 1/2 months, running 4 times a week when I could barely squeeze in a shower. At the hardest point of the training program, I was running an average of 35 miles a week. Some of the Saturday long runs took upwards of 3 hours to complete. Everyone made sacrifices.
“Why do you have to run?” she whines.
“Because I said I would.”
There are a million reasons I could give her, all of which are partially true. I run for pure vanity, counteracting the unsightly effects carbs have on my thighs. I run because I paid a $100 entry fee. I run because I want the t-shirt. But when it gets right down to it, I run for myself. On solitary jaunts, I sometimes think of little more than putting one foot in front of the other. Those runs are a kind of meditation—I’m in the moment with my body and, oftentimes, my pain. Other times I listen to the voices in my head, giving my thoughts permission to distract me. I solve problems. I write stories. I mentally get back on track.
When I put in the miles with my running partner, Kelly, we cover every corner of our lives—our husbands, our children, the vacations we want to take, the bills we hate to pay. Sometimes our talk wades in a pool of profundity, but we can also spend an inordinate amount of time discussing our favorite flavor of gel shot (espresso!) or how we should coordinate our outfits for our next race. Kelly has seen me at my best (running a personal record) and at my worst (let’s just say “runners trots” and leave it at that). A friendship founded on running literally fills you up.
Those months of “selfish” training carried me to the 2-mile uphill finish on race day. But something else carried me across the finish line. The muscles at the front of my shins were competing with the back of my calves, trying to determine who would give out first. The late-morning sun beat on my face. Salt had crusted on my cheeks. At one point, I stopped and walked, wondering how I was going to make it another step, let alone another 2 miles. But then I thought of my husband and daughter looking for me at the finish line. They weren’t looking for a walker. They were looking for a runner. “Go.” It was all I could muster. “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” would’ve been more inspiring, but the sentence construction was too complex for me at that point. “Go.”
Up the hill I went, tired, angry and practically broken. Then, about 50 yards from the finish line, I saw my husband and daughter wildly screaming “Go Mommy!” as if I were vying for a first-place finish. I started to cry. Not because I was proud of what I was about to accomplish, but because they were.
So, yeah, I trained for and ran this marathon for myself. But because I did it for myself, I also did it for my daughter.