A marathon is 26.2 miles—52,400 steps. In 2008, 20,000 people participated in the Boston Marathon. Most trained for months, some for years. Many are accomplished athletes—faithful runners who awake even in sub-zero temperatures for their morning run when the remainder of the populace turn over and crank their electric blanket control up a notch. Being that I am comfortably caudled in the latter, it may come as a shock that I did, indeed, join the less than 1% of the entire world who have participated in a marathon.
In 2000, as the Arthritis Foundation Executive Director for Middle Tennessee, I led the Joints in Motion team to the Dublin Marathon—never expecting to participate. Suffering from FMS, if I managed to walk the length of the mall during holiday season I was elated. But thanks to a fantastic doctor, six weeks later my energy level increased dramatically as my pain level decreased. I found myself walking farther and farther. Two weeks before our departure date, I decided to enter the marathon. The day before our flight to Ireland, I trekked 14 miles. I was significantly behind the others in training, but thought “why not?” Ironically, Sonia O’Sullivan, Olympic Silver Medalist, had the same thought the night before the race and made headlines around the world when she surprised only herself and won.
I knew the only headline I might make was back home in Tennessee: “Local woman drops dead in Dublin.” You see, I am what my friends dubbed: “athletically retarded.” But, I had a wildly important goal, a coach and a strategy. I tracked my lag measures closely and had specific lead measures: how many miles/days to walk; how much water to consume; attend meetings; etc. I listened intently to our experienced coach. He taught us to: sip water; pace ourselves; and use mental mantras to distract from aches and pains. The first week I chanted ”don’t pass out, don’t pass out.”
Although my official time reads more like a cross country road trip, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life: the carb-cramming buffet the night before (now there’s a sport I could win a gold medal in); heart-pounding excitement as 8900 participants lined the streets; rainy, bone-chilling temperatures; laughs; tears; and finally crossing an invisible finish line. The crowd was long gone along with the finish line tape and flags— removed hours before without concern for the unprofessionals, the athletically challenged stragglers who followed a trail of empty water bottles to find the finish line.
Along the way, I chummed up with a cheery Englishman who in honor of Halloween was sporting an exceedingly large, green Leprechaun’s hat. When asked which organization he was supporting, in a melodious baritone British accent, he exclaimed, “It’s for the puppies!” He’d entered on behalf of the RSPCA.
One advantage of having little concern for your race time is that you can stop to go to the restroom at will. So, we popped into a pub where pint wagging patrons cheered us through to the water closet. When I came out, my jolly friend was chugging his own pint and reading the newspaper. To my puzzled face, he said, “So much for the puppies!” After saying farewell and Godspeed, we parted ways.
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