At some point in all our lives, if we live long enough, we come to a point where we realize we are not ourselves. That we are living a life that falls squarely on the path that we thought we were supposed to be traveling. One that well-meaning parents and five (or more or less) years of college and the desire for more and more stuff paved for us. One day on that hard-traveled road we stop and look around and realize we are lost. That we never meant to end up here, even though we thought all along that this is what we wanted.
Some call it a midlife crisis, but that label assumes we are at the midpoint of our lives. Which can be presumptuous. Whether it is, in fact, a crisis can be defined by how we choose to approach it. I choose not to call it a crisis as much as a rebirth. Mine came on not unlike my lone experience with childbirth – a long process with bursts of random screaming and plenty of heavy sweating.
During my rebirth, I quit my public relations job and returned to writing – as a writer-for-hire for only people I really, really like. And I sought out a therapist, one who let me regurgitate all my angst on to his office floor. I left him after each hour to sweep out all the debris before my next visit. Later, I would refer to that time as “clearing the path.”
And then I went out for a run.
I wasn’t expecting much. Even though much of my teens and twenties had been spent on the stair climber and bicycle, I had been sedentary for what seemed a million years. It was spring 2010, and the warmer temperatures were challenging me. I remember finishing my first mile, then three miles, and then five. Just as therapy allowed me to dump the old clothes I wore that didn’t belong boxed up in my mind, running allowed those threads left behind to untangle. I found clarity.
And I didn’t stop running. I grew to memorize every step of the Shades Creek Greenway. I felt – and still feel – that it is my own, a space on which I allow others to walk and run and chase their dogs. But it is mine. I finished my first half marathon (13.1 miles) just six months after taking that first step. Insanely, I signed up for a marathon (26.2 miles) shortly thereafter. But I couldn’t stop. The drive to untangle all those threads was strangely addictive in a way I could not grasp.
Training for a marathon takes dedication beyond what non-runners can comprehend. You commit for four months to build distance once a week. To run 12 miles, then 14, then 16, waning and building until you hit the magic 20. You define time differently. You learn how critical the things you put in your body are. That falling into a bottle of wine the night before a long run means there will be no long run. That carbs are not always the enemy. That it is OK to stop during a three-hour stint to go to the potty and suck down a shot of calorie-laden Gu. You appreciate the nuances of every muscle spasm. You learn the difference between “aches” and “pains.” And you embrace that feeling of accomplishment after putting in 20 miles, how it feels to feel something so few people actually ever have the opportunity to feel. It is earned only after weeks of dedication. Weeks of training. Weeks of focus on a goal that, really, if you think about it, is actually a little … crazy.
I finished my first marathon – Nashville Rock ‘n Roll 2011 – a mere 11 months after I set out on my first mile. It took me 4 hours and 40 minutes. I had hit the infamous “wall” during that run, and swore never to meet it again. I finished that run, barely walking, but swearing to do it again. I immediately signed up for St. Jude-Memphis marathon in December 2011. It was the first marathon my father ran. The course passed dangerously close to the house where I was raised. It was an important run for me.
I am not a religious person. I believe in a higher power that drives us and wants us to accomplish the things we set out to do. I often think I am too small and too unremarkable to draw the attention of the creator. The day I ran Memphis, through Beale Street, past St. Jude where my father worked for more than 25 years, and then past Overton Park which is just steps from my parents’ home, I knew differently. Someone had set me on this path. From that very moment two years ago, when I stopped and looked around and realized I was lost, then sought help in finding where I should be, that higher power put me here. Down the streets where I learned to drive. Down the streets where I watched my own father reach his 26th mile. Down the streets, cleared of clouded thoughts and tangled threads, I found the road I was meant to travel. The road in which every muscle in my legs ached, as I came into the finish line, just within Red Bird stadium. Broken, teary, weathered, I found the girl I had forgotten about. The one who wanted to be. The one I always wanted to be.
I found me.
PR: St. Jude 4:19:33.