Smiles for Miles: The Time I Ran a Marathon

Approximately 18 weeks and 500 or so miles ago, I lost my shit.

Lost it.

I was at an all time low. Drowning in grief and self-pity, slipping further and further away from my family, my friends, my self and into a deep dark place that I didn’t honestly want to leave. Not really. It was easier to cry myself to sleep and keep my eyes closed. To sleepwalk when I had to and disengage at every possible opportunity.

It’s better to lose your shit, though. Better than depression. Because losing it means action… and even crazy action is better than complete apathy.

The crazy thing I did? I signed up for a marathon. Not a half-marathon. The whole shebang — 26.2 miles. In Washington, DC. On March 12th. I didn’t even pay the couple extra bucks to make it refundable. I was all in.

I ran 5 times a week for 18 weeks. Mostly outside. Mostly in Wisconsin. Almost entirely in the winter. There were some amazing days and some awful days. Some big blisters and some seriously raw patches of skin. I listened to many books on tape and consumed an inordinate number of Gu gels. I cried, I felt my lips turn blue and then watched them become pink again, I learned that cotton can be both lovely and the fabric of Satan.

Training montage. (Not picture: blisters, chafing.)
Training montage. (Not picture: blisters, chafing.)

Running became my sole focus. The marathon was what I lived for. And in doing so, I looked forward. I moved forward, physically. And because of that, I couldn’t stay stuck in that hole, in that dark place. It became impossible.

 

I don’t even know where to begin talking about the actual marathon. I had five and a half hours to think real hard about it and I’m pretty sure that during that time I had about five and a half million blog-worthy thoughts… but they must have been expelled with all the vomiting or something (it was intense) and now I’m left with all the feelings and none of the words.

The running was of course a huge and important part of it — I trained for the marathon and I finished it — but it was, for me, about a lot more than just the miles and the motion. My heart was in that race and along the course. My heart was almost literally on my sleeve, perhaps rather on my arm. And it was my heart that got me through it. It was what happened to my heart that made it all worth it.

My arm, my dedications by mile, the morning of.
The people I ran with, mile by mile.

I wrote the names of friends and family, people who inspire me and fill my heart to bursting with love, all down my arm. A dedication for every mile. But not really a dedication, exactly. I didn’t run for those people… rather, I ran with those people. For a mile at a time, my thoughts were completely focused. Completely positive.

And then, over and over and over again, I’d see a bright blue shirt, a blonde buzz cut, and I’d suddenly know it was my husband on the course. And my dear friend Jess. And I couldn’t help but beam.

Mile 14

Then a blur of green on two wheels, a crazy beard, and my friend Rob was there on his bike — sherpa-ing, willing me on, mile after mile. (And oh my goodness, he saved me in those last 5 or so miles.)

Mile 25

And then at the end. I’m starting to cry now even thinking about it. I heard my name, I saw the smiles, the cheers. My friends, my beautiful, beautiful friends were there waiting for me, five and a half hours after the start — Seth and Jess and Ellen and Rob and Erika and Stephen. Bright pink shirts that screamed that I rock… And I smiled and smiled and smiled. Have I ever in my life felt that loved? That supported? I’m honestly not sure that I have.

Marathon Photo

Not because I haven’t been that loved and supported in my life. I know that I have. I come from loving stock, there’s no denying that. But I think maybe it took a marathon to really believe it. To believe that I could be worth it, to recognize that all those names scrawled down my arm (and so many others) had always been there for me in exactly this way, on other courses, at other times, through other struggles and to celebrate different victories.

 

Why did it take a marathon? Why wasn’t the miscarriage enough? Grad school? Depression? Anything else? I’ve been supported in a way that no one could possibly deserve through all of that. So why not that?

I don’t know. But it was the marathon that did it.

 

Conveniently, I had a therapy appointment the Thursday after I returned from DC. In the hall, before we even got to his office, Dr. C’s first question was: soooo… how was the marathon?

I sat down and told him that it was the most amazing experience. That I’d never in my life felt so loved and supported.

He told me that was a totally weird answer and asked about my legs.

 

I guess it never really was about my legs.

It was definitely physical in that it was about proving to myself that with respect to my body, despite infertility and miscarriage and faulty brain chemistry, I can still be in control. But more than that… It was about finding my lost shit. About letting my heart feel something really effing amazing. For that, I get a medal.

Medal

And to everybody else, my eternal gratitude, appreciation, love, respect, and adoration. I hope you get a chance to feel what I felt, smile like I smiled — marathon or otherwise. Let me know how I can help!

8 thoughts on “Smiles for Miles: The Time I Ran a Marathon

  1. Love the arm, love the smile, love the story- thank you!! You inspire so many people Rachel and your gratitude is always so encouraging to me. The real question: did you already sign up for another one?!? Marine Corp lottery starts tomorrow….

  2. I’m crying real tears right now. Perhaps I’m over sensitive. Perhaps that Nicole M is the same Nicole M as I am. Mile 10. <3 I'm glad I could be spiritually there. I wish I paid more attention so I could have been physically there. Plus, I've never been to Washington, D.C.! SO PROUD OF YOU!!

    P.S. You said the s word! Totally had to read that a few times to let it sink in. First time I've read you swear!

  3. Congratulations Rachel! I’m so proud of you! Of course you deserve all the love and support as we all need your love and support. People need other people, whether we believe that or not. I love you!

  4. Wow, what an amazing experience! I am so impressed, I cannot imagine running 26 miles all at once! What mental and physical strength that takes. Congrats on your accomplishment!

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