The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

September 12, 2010

In which I geek out about running

Sometimes I think about the things that I’ve been able to accomplish and experience in my 34 years so far, and I feel pretty darn proud and fortunate. John and I moved to Chicago nine years ago without knowing anyone; I started a new job and a brand-new life. I earned a master’s degree in writing and had a poem published. I’ve been to the countries of Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the British Virgin Islands. I spent two weeks backpacking around Italy by myself when I was 23. I was promoted to an editorial manager three years ago. I was able to be in Grant Park the night that Obama won the election.

Today I had another experience that fits right in with those. I ran my first half-marathon: 13.1 miles, in 2 hours, 15 minutes, 9 seconds. My goals were (1) to finish strong, without walking and without knee pain, and (2) to finish at 2:15. I achieved both.

I am not athletic and never have been. I don’t like playing most sports. As a kid I danced ballet and played outside, but that’s about it. When I was 23, I ran my first 5k with my roommate; we’d taken up running to fight the negative effects of our new desk jobs. I enjoyed running, but I never got into the racing groove, and I settled on walking as my main form of exercise.

Around three years ago, I felt inspired to try running again. I can still recall quitting at 2.5 miles on the treadmill, and how excited I felt when I began regularly doing three. Last winter, I started doing four. The night I ran five, I thought I could move mountains.

Soon after we decided to adopt last fall, I read about parents-to-be who trained for big events like marathons and triathlons in order to have something to focus on besides the interminable waiting. Even though we’re not in the hardest stage of waiting yet, that resonated with me, and I decided to attempt a half-marathon. There was one in Chicago in September. A good friend of mine is a Boston marathoner and offered to be my coach and put together a training plan for me.

In May, I did my first weekend long run of six miles. It didn’t seem quite possible, but I did it, and I remember walking the last few blocks home with the biggest grin on my face. I had set a goal and reached it. Why not keep going?

And that’s how the summer went. On many weekends, I added another mile to what I’d done the weekend before: 7, 8, 9, then 10, double digits! I ran 13 miles twice—one time in pain and bad spirits, one time in 2:21 with a smile on my face at the end.

I feel like I need to write about today so I don’t forget how it felt: waking up at 5, eating toast and raspberry jam in the dark kitchen. Watching the glowing line of sunrise widen over the water’s horizon as we sped down Lake Shore Drive. Reaching the course start and milling around with 18,500 other runners. Grasping my Shot Bloks and feeling butterflies in my stomach. The amazing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Then, the starting horn, and more than 10 minutes until reaching the start line. The girl who fell before making it to mile 1, who scraped her knees and was crying. Forcing myself to not open up and run fast, to not feed off the energy and the promise of fresh legs. Trying not to look at the people passing me; hoping I’d pass them in the end.

I cannot believe how quickly the miles passed; I wasn’t prepared for that. The course was beautiful in spots, but no more beautiful than the lakefront path where I run; it’s not like I was staring at the scenery in wonder. I had my iPod but was listening to my usual running playlist. For whatever reason, though, time whipped by. There were rock bands playing every few miles, and high-school cheerleaders, a small marching band. So many spectators with big grins and funny signs: “Run like an angry Kenyan,” “Sarah, will you go to homecoming with me?”, “You are all very good at exercise” (this one held by a short, pale guy dressed in black), “Keep it up, Claire, your ass will thank you!” The course ran on Lake Shore Drive for awhile, and people were lined up on the pedestrian overpasses blasting Bruce Springsteen, cheering, dancing.

The energy and adrenaline of running in a race like this really floored me. I knew there’d be some level of it, but not this much and not this powerful. I just kept on running, and my bothersome right knee didn’t bother me except for a twinge here and there, and I didn’t feel exhausted or low-energy or like I had dead legs. I stopped for water and Gatorade a few times. I ate my Shot Bloks. I ran through the misters, grateful that it was barely 70 degrees out. And at around mile 10, I realized what I had to do to make 2:15, and I found that I had it in me to do that. I ran faster in those three miles than I had in the rest of the race. (This makes me suspect I could’ve finished with a better time, but I had a plan and followed it; I can save that faster goal for my next half!)

In the last mile, I saw John, and he cheered and ran alongside me a little ways. And I weaved around people (I was surprised by all the walkers!) and crossed the finish line at a fast pace, with my head up, breathing hard and unable to push myself more than I was. As I collected water and Gatorade and a banana, I realized how much my training mattered and what it had equipped me to do—one of my mantras had been “Believe in your training,” and man, was that ever true.

This post is very stream-of-consciousness—I’m tired and still in a little bit of disbelief. But I did it. I told myself I was going to run a half-marathon, and I trained for it for four months, and sometimes it was very hard, but I persevered. I did it. And I don’t want to forget what it feels like.

Labels: ,