The Purple of Life

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

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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.

August 15, 2011

15 minutes


My second half-marathon: It went so, so well. That’s what I've been thinking since I crossed the finish line at around 8:40 yesterday morning. The weather, the energy, the course, the crowds, the music, and me. It all went just as well as it could have.

This entry is about running, and about me preserving the memory of this race. I did my first half last September, with a primary goal of finishing without walking and a secondary goal of doing it in two hours and 15 minutes. I achieved both, but when I finished, I had this nagging feeling that I could have run faster. I hadn’t left it all on the course. It was my first big race, and I tended toward the conservative; I was afraid of flaming out halfway through and having to walk. I didn’t trust my training or myself as well as I should have.

I wanted this year to be different. During my three months of training, I did long runs with “fast finishes.” I did six- and seven-mile pace runs. My race goals were (1) to finish faster than two hours and 15 minutes and, hopefully, (2) to finish in two hours. I succeeded at both. I shaved 15 minutes off last year’s time. I did that. Me.

Nothing else in my life gives me that kind of high.

I am not a morning person, but on Sunday I woke up before my alarm at 4:45 a.m. The wind was blowing steadily, pushing cobalt-blue clouds across the dark sky. John and I were downtown in less than 20 minutes, flying down Lake Shore Drive with a smattering of other cars, some of them taxis carrying runners. We found parking on State Street and were at the start area with half-hour to spare. I warmed up, milled around, strapped on my Garmin, adjusted my visor about 16 times.

After the anthem, the waves broke quickly—I was in corral 12—and just a few minutes after the starting horn, I was moving through the start line, feeling a little choked up with excitement, that thrill of being one in a crowd of thousands of other runners, that thrill of starting.

The weather was—cool. Yes, on August 14. There was a refreshing breeze, never any real sunshine, the lightest drizzle for a few minutes at one point, and beautifully dramatic dark-gray clouds for the first few miles. No humidity. On August 14.

I liked the course much better than last year’s half, which was primarily on Lake Shore Drive. I love the lake as much as the next Chicagoan, but I run alongside it all the time. This course wound through downtown: River North, Greektown, the South Loop. I ran under the el tracks, by buildings and on blocks I’ve never seen before, up and down a few slight hills that revealed the giant pack of runners owning the street ahead of me. Best of all, the downtown location made it much, much easier for spectators to congregate along the sidewalks. The energy from the crowds was just unbelievable; sometimes I felt like they were buoying me along: musicians, cheerleaders, babies, grandparents, dogs, dancers, people with bells and drums, in costumes and wigs, and so very many signs.

I wore a paper wristband (covered in clear tape) that listed my goal times for each mile to get me to a two-hour finish. I also wrote the four locations where friends would be waiting to see me, so I didn’t have to memorize them. As each mile went by, I realized, almost in shock, that I was meeting each goal. I was on track for two hours. I was doing it!

And I just kept going. I was working hard, but I could do it. My right knee acted up, as it’s wont to do around mile 7 or 8, but I did some high marches at the next two water stops, and that took care of it. I just kept going: miles 9, 10, 11, they slid by under my feet. Just after mile 12, during a stretch where there weren’t many spectators, a friendly-looking man held a homemade sign that proclaimed, “YOU GOT THIS.” It was the exact right thing for me to read at that moment. I knew that I did have it, that I was going to do it. I ran as hard as I could through that finish line, official time of 2:00:26. I did it.

The one other sign that I remember from the race was held by a woman standing on a bridge. It’s a quote I’ve heard before but never chosen as a mantra; I tend to think things like “Believe in your training,” “Your only competitor is yourself,” “I’m 35, I’m strong, and I can run.” Her sign read, “There will come a day when you can no longer do this. Today is not that day.” I thought about that as the miles went by, and especially at the end. There will come a day when I can no longer run. Man, will I miss it. Even when it’s the very last thing I feel like doing, when it hurts or feels like a long dull slog, deep down inside I am so, so glad that I run. Now is the time in my life when I can, and when I can still keep getting faster. What else can I do?

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5 Comments:

Blogger Christine said...

Every time you write about running, you inspire me. I'm sitting here all teary-eyed (because, yes, it is that beautiful a post) ready to go lace up my shoes and hit the pavement.

CONGRATULATIONS on an amazing race!!!

9:41 AM  
Blogger Pix said...

I so admire you for doing this! Congrats on meeting your goals and running a great race! Somehow, I just can't mentally get past that 3 miles at a time mark. When I'm on the trails, I have no idea how far I'm running, but that treadmill work messes with my head! I wish I could do the long runs because they sound dreamy. And thanks for sharing the inspirational messages/signs. I'm gonna think of that when I'm running tomorrow!

10:48 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

So proud of you and thrilled to hear about your awesome race! This morning while I was doing 200-meter speed repeats on the track and wanting to die, I remembered that final sign quote you shared and it pushed me to finish strong. Today is not that day, indeed. Thanks for sharing.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Kellie said...

Congratulations, Amy. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm thrilled for you!!! And, it's inspiring for all of us runners out there (especially those of us yet to run a half marathon!) Missing you.

12:33 PM  
Blogger wendryn said...

Wow - that's really impressive! I am just a beginning runner, and a half marathon sounds like a hugely long distance to me.

Congratulations on meeting your goals!

10:11 PM  

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