But 2013 was also a year of adversity and probably one of the most difficult years of my life. It was our first full year as foster parents, an experience that has tested me in ways I never expected. Of course, it has brought joy to my life as well, but I'm not going to sugarcoat it. (If you have read much of my work, you will know I'm honest). There were many days I did not think I would survive the strain of parenting, working full-time, and going to school part-time. Those were the days that required much in the way of courage and commitment.
Despite all this hecticity, I was full of new-year optimism when I set the lofty goal of running a half marathon. Among the six of us (my husband, sisters, and brothers-in-law), I was the only one who had not run a half so the pressure was on. By April, I was registered for the Iron Horse Half Marathon in Midway, KY and we all planned on running it together.
The thing about running a half (13.1 miles) is that even the most experienced runner has to train for it. Luckily, I had an encouraging running coach--my younger sister Angie, who had completed at least two half marathons at that point. Not so luckily, my stressful schedule made training difficult. During one of our training runs, Angie said to me, "No one gives you a mile. You take it." I believe she was quoting someone else, but what she said was very true for me both in running and in the rest of my life. It inspired me to write the following poem:
I took that mile
in no one's shoes but my own.
Eked it out of the unyielding road.
Arms pumping, legs burning,
oxygen from the air.
I took that mile
and will take another
and yet another
until the distance
I wish I could say this inspiration was enough to get me across the finish line. Although I started strong, I missed some key training runs in July and August. Getting back on track meant that I would have to increase mileage quickly instead of gradually. Several weeks before the race and during an eight-mile training run, the discomfort and numbness in my feet became excruciating pain by mile six (side note: this was not due to my shoes which I had been properly fitted for by the experts at John's Run Walk Shop). Still, I refused to stop and hobbled on to the eight-mile mark. I finished with tears in my eyes because I knew it was not likely I would improve enough to maintain the 14-minute-mile pace required for the Iron Horse.
The thought of not being able to reach my goal was devastating to me. I was so determined and had worked so hard. Luckily, I read a book that helped me come to terms with this: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. This was an inspiration to me both as a runner and as a writer. Murakami's advice and the pace requirement are probably the two things that kept me from pushing myself too far and doing irreparable damage to my feet.
October 13th dawned crisp and clear. I crossed the starting line with 1499 other runners, praying for a miracle, but at peace with my physical limitations. I would do my best. It was an absolutely glorious and frabjous day. The sun rose over the rolling hills of Midway as we ran past drystone rock walls and fields of galloping horses. I powered up the hills while many of my fellow runners walked. But by the halfway point, I was well behind the pace runner and the pain in my feet was excruciating once again. It was time to stop. I hobbled back into town to watch the others cross the finish line.
I know, I know this is not the ending you were hoping for, but here are the facts: I ran 6.55 miles in 1.5 hours without walking a single hill, two years ago I could barely run for 30 seconds, and my longest run to date is 8 miles. No, I did not reach my goal, but I am still proud of what I have accomplished. Maybe someday I will finish what I started. Some dreams are worth pursuing no matter how much time it takes. It took eleven years to finish my degree, but I finally did it. Running, just like life, is never easy and you can't expect quick results. To achieve anything meaningful takes courage and commitment.