Tuesday, January 20, 2009

half-way point

It's January 20. Amost exactly two months since I started training for the Rome marathon, and I've got exactly two more months to go. This past Saturday, I ran 10 miles. (Double digits in sub-zero temps, can I get a woo hoo?! I think I may have hallucinated a polar bear or penguin or two). This Saturday I plan to run my first-ever half marathon!

When I first started, I knew it wouldn't just be about running the distance, or raising the money, but I had no idea what realizations would be in store. At this mid-way point, I wanted to share the biggest and the best ones I've come to know so far.

First of all, successfully completing a marathon has less to do with that first, initial big jump into the deep end, where you sign your life away and tell all your friends, and more to do with a collection of a million small choices along the way. This is true of any big goal. You make one choice, then another, then another, and before you know it, you're half way there. Another little secret: Most of the time, it's about choosing the hard choice. You brave through your fear of not knowing anyone on the team, and choose to smile and meet new people, over caving to social anxiety. You put on your running gear instead of staying in your work clothes and head out to Tuesday practice even though it might mean a little career suicide. You turn down a friend's party invite even though you could have met the love of your life there. You decide to get up at 6:30 AM on a Saturday in minus seven and run 10 miles instead of sleeping in. Pretty soon though, the collection of hard choices produces the result you desire. And even more surprisingly, the hard choices actually start to become the easier ones.

Secondly, achieving big, improbable goals boils down to looking at what is, not what isn't. Seeing the downhill not the uphill that comes before it. Hearing Kanye West's "Stronger" click onto your iPod, not your breathing getting heavier as you struggle through mile 6 or 7. Hearing the beautiful ring of a coach chearing, "looking good," not feeling the little pins of pain in your side as you stride by. Seeing visions of the Colosseum, not the $4,000 you have to make to get there, or the 16 extra miles your still have to run on top of the 10 you've clocked in. Being thankful for a body that is and always has been cancer-free and legs and lungs that help you go a little faster and farther each practice, not cursing it for being one of the slow ones.

Finally and most importantly, you learn that marathons are not run alone. And I don't mean a bunch of other people on the course. I may be the one out there putting one foot in front of the other, but throughout this journey, it's been the thousands of little words of encouragement, support and kindnesses from everyone I know (and many I just meet) that have carried me to this point. The thing sealing the deal on those hard choices isn't me. It's not some steel-cut determination or point to prove, it's all the people around me. It's the staggeringly generous but completely unexpected donation from a good family member that gets me out there one day. The friend who listens to me go on and on an on about these mini a-ha moments on another day. It's the coworker who tells me about her own marathon experiences and how great it was on another day. It's the guy at practice who hands me his last goo on another. It's the nice guy at the subway station who calls me beautiful and tells me to keep it up. It's the words of encouragement from runner friends in e-mails that pop into my inbox just as I'm about to give up. It's the donation from a long-ago work colleague or very sweet ex-boyfriend that reminds me to keep at it, and it's the story from a woman, one Saturday morning before practice, who tells us that after years and years of dating at age 33 she found her soulmate, her heart, and then two years later, he learns he has chronic myeloid leukemia. And that if this were 10 years ago, he wouldn't make it until his next birthday, but because of a miracle drug called Gleevec, invented only a few years back, he's now in remission and still hanging on, and that thanks to all us who've made it out there in the freezing cold, she still has her man.

I'll be running the marathon in body on March 22, but it's all of you, all of this, that will bring me there.

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