“We run to undo the damage we’ve done to body and spirit.
We run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered.”
First things first: Never did I expect to have a DNF next to my name on Saturday. I lined up on Saturday with the goal to PR, to go hard and to leave it all out on the course. I knew by the beginning of the second loop that Saturday was not my day. My head was on fire, I was lightheaded and seeing stars, I couldn’t get enough fluids to cool down. There was no shade. There was just lukewarm water, and tiny washcloths masquerading as sponges. I was severely overheated and did not want to damage my body. Having run 46 marathons, I knew what I needed to do. So I stopped.
I stopped after 14 miles. 14 miles for the 14 years I have called myself a marathon runner. Thousands of miles, thousands of tears, thousands of beautiful memories came down to this one moment.
I quit my job to train for the Trials. I sacrificed time and energy to train. And I stopped on that day, earning my first ever DNF. Yet, when stopped I was at total peace.
When I crossed the 14 mile mark near the start/finish area, I signaled the “I am done” gesture to Jason (my one and only BroBird) and stopped right in front of him. “No more. I am done. I have nothing to prove.” It was the moment that I knew I didn’t need a finish time or a medal to feel complete. As odd as it may sound to some, at that moment I was already overflowing with contentment and satisfaction. Yes, that is right. I didn’t need any more miles to prove anything to anyone, or to make me feel worth. I should have known that after Boston – where I gritted it out last year thinking that finishing would bring me happiness. Instead, I finished and found myself crying for days, likely because I was slowly realizing just how much of my self-worth was tied to achieving a goal pace. I was a slave to the clock.
I read Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It on my flight to Los Angeles and highlighted his idea that talent needs trauma – “the knowledge and skills [that] athletes accrue from ‘life’ traumas and their ability to carry over what they learn in that context to novel situations certainly appear to affect their subsequent development and performance in sport.” In other words, some people need bad things to happen to them in order to perform well. For me, this was very much the case for years, until the morning of the Trials. Through various introspective interviews before the big race, I cried through questions of my past, opened up about what motivated me to start running, and what pushed me to work harder than ever before for a goal that many people considered to be insane. I realized a larger perspective of my running “career,” and how trauma and hardships wound up fueling my running.
I ran my first marathon to deal with the stresses of working at the Pentagon during 9/11. I then ran to cope with juggling a newborn and a three-year-old son in a full body cast after shattering his femur. I ran faster to find solace from a dying marriage. I ran harder and faster to silence the doubters and critics. I ran so I wouldn’t cry. I ran as my therapy. It felt like I was always running away from something.
Running, aside from being a mother to two beautiful kids, was the only thing that gave me a sense of validation and purpose. But, over time, something fantastic happened at the hands of running. Running wound up giving me the strength to find myself in a way that allowed me to no longer have to run away from anything. As I approached the trials, my validation and purpose slowly began to extend beyond running. Now, I do not get my happiness and pride solely from my finishing times and paces. I get it from the life I have finally made for myself.
On the morning of the race, just prior to entering the athlete entrance to begin warming up, I cried in my father’s embrace and thanked him for all that he has done for me along the way. It was a moment that I will cherish forever. After the sound of the gun, I ran with my head held high. I ran past my parents, my amazing sister, and my awesome nephew cheering me on. I ran past fans. I ran past supportive strangers. I ran happy. When I knew my head was overheating and that I could not remedy it, I approached Jason, who was at the start line cheering me on, and I told him that I was done. There was no judgment, no shame, no doubt. Instead, I got a big hug, a big bag of ice placed on my neck to cool my body down, some supportive words, and a well-timed joke about the need for a whiskey. I sat at the finish area for over an hour, watching the other women complete the race. Many had pure joy and pride on their faces for their accomplishments. I felt the same for them, and interestingly, I felt the same for myself. Saturday was not my day to run. Well, it was, but it wasn’t my day to finish. And again, I am at peace with my decision to stop. I did not want to hurt my body. Running can rescue you from trauma, but if you prioritize a pace or distance too much, it can wind up traumatizing you back.
Fourteen beautiful miles representing my 14 beautiful years of marathon running were done. If some say that happiness is the highest level of success, then I am beyond successful. I chased my dreams and I found myself along the way. I found a fire in me that was lit by running, but cannot be extinguished by a “bad run.” I am full of love, appreciation, pride, and contentment. I believe in myself, and while some may want to call me a quitter, I won the race before I even started.
I could go down the road of wishful thinking. I wish I could have changed the race location, the course, the weather, the time of start, the course support, but I can’t. I could have gotten IV fluids to rehydrate my body after being the unwelcome recipient of a viral gastroenteritis just days before I ran, but I can’t. And I can’t look back and wonder if I could have gone longer. I will let those questions go and move on. I have a family to be with, kids to lovingly raise, a relationship to nurture, friendships to rekindle, a career to return to, and a new adventure in OCR for which to get fierce.
February 13 will not define me as a runner nor as a person. It will be remembered as a day of thankfulness and celebration, my hat tip to running: my mic drop. I ran the Trials unbroken, more alive than I’ve ever been. So, I hope that provides some context to help mitigate concerns and doubts. Now, it is time for some quality “me time.” It is time to take my watch off, take a deep breath of Texas air and go for a run dedicated to three words that I kept close to my heart during my time in LA: Gratitude, Belief, and Grace.