I ran a half marathon on Sunday. It wasn't the first one I ran, and probably won't be my last. But, at the time, I thought it might be. My training hadn't gone all that well this time around -- especially not the last few weeks. I managed to acquire a nasty cough that put my lungs through the shredder. I only churned out a few short runs in those last weeks. And they weren't great.
Still, I showed up to the Start on Sunday morning with my game face on. Well, after a brief detour through Sauget. No. Really. See...after picking up my friend T at West County Centre at 5:30, we then collected my sister and brother from my sister's house in Clayton, then proceeded down Highway 40. My intention was to exit at 6th Street since we were going to use my parking pass and park at Stadium East -- I'd checked to make sure the exit wasn't listed as blocked off for the race, and it wasn't. Traffic was AWFUL at Jefferson and 14th, but we sailed by. And then discovered that the 6th Street ramp WAS blocked off. For those who don't know, that ramp is more commonly known as "The Last Missouri Exit." Because it is. Once you pass it, you're heading to Illinois, whether you want to or not. And what's just across the river in Illinois? Sauget. Armpit of the universe. Home to the all night clubs and trashy strip joints. Oh, the brain cells and dollar bills that have been lost there......
As we realized the involuntary detour we'd be taking, we did at least note the humor in actually heading TO the East Side at 6:00 a.m., rather than skulking away from it. The nice thing about Sauget at that time of the morning, though, is they don't really care if you make a U-Turn on Route 3. Which I did, and soon enough, we were back on the right side of the Mississippi, and parking in the garage. After a brief potty break (or eight) at The Hilton, we made our way up to the Start. And waited with the throngs of cattle trying to file through the chute.
Finally, at 7:11, we were off. Or on. Plodding away. My brother quickly worked his way up ahead of us. T and my sister and I stayed together. Actually, it was more like we triangulated -- the two of them ran ahead, chattering away, getting to know one another, while I tagged along behind. The pace was fine, but I was in no mood to chat. I just listened to the two of them, and occasionally interjected a comment to let them know they hadn't lost me.
As we rounded the brewery, I couldn't help thinking that 10 more miles was more than I could handle. As we turned west up Choteau and began climbing that hill, I muttered that I might have to walk, but my sister called back and told me I could do it. And I did. I ran it. But it about killed me. And all I could think of as we ran past City Hall at Mile 6 was how easy it would be to just stop there, since it was so close to the Finish line, and wait for the rest of the gang to finish.
But I kept going. On the phone the night before, B reminded me to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and that's what I did. We made it up one hill on Olive, and then I looked up and saw Mt. McKinley stretching out in front of us, and knew I just couldn't. I couldn't run it. My lungs rebelled, and I hollered to my sister and T to let them know I was going to walk. I did run some of it -- maybe half. But I was no match for that monster.
Still, walking also involves putting one foot in front of the other. Just at a slightly slower pace. The important thing was...I kept moving forward, although with 6 more miles to go at that point, I really wasn't optimistic as to how long I could keep that up. I rounded the corner and discovered that T had decided wait up for me. It occurred to me at that moment, how funny and strange life can be. If someone had told me 23+ years ago, that a boy I met and befriended the first day of college would be dragging my sorry ass through a 13 mile run when we were in our 40's, I'd have sworn they were nuts. Or high. Or both. But there he was. And God bless him for his patience, for I'm quite certain he didn't aspire to walk-running and turning in a 2:30 + time for a half marathon. But he was a good enough sport to let me walk the rest of the hills. Even the one that was only a quarter mile out from the Finish line. Once we topped that, though, we turned on the jets and sprinted that last downhill. That part almost made me giddy.
Always love that feeling -- of crossing that Finish line. Of knowing that I actually DID it. 13.1 miles. I DID keep putting one foot in front of the other, and they got me to where I needed to go. It wasn't just my feet that got me there, though. It was my sister and brother-in-law first convincing me several years ago that I could do something like this, and my sister, so often, running by my side (on the left!) to help me train. It was my brother, running his first half-marathon at 52. My parents, coming down to watch the race and cheer us all on. It was B's words of encouragement, and T's enthusiasm and patience. And the support of so many of my other friends.
Just as in the rest of life. It's hard, sometimes, to remember to put one foot in front of the other. To tuck your head down, and keep moving forward, when all you really want to do is stop, curl up in a ball, and rest. Sometimes, it's only with the help of your friends and family that you're able to keep those feet moving. Sometimes, you feel like you've been walking around in circles. And other times, you realize that, in fact, you haven't. You've just been fortunate enough to cross paths with certain people more than once.