Inspired by: Karicho
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My Marathon Story
My Marathon Story
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Running a marathon is something that I always "thought" I would do. Something I had always desired to do, perhaps on a head level, but something that had never dropped down into my heart to become reality. That is, until, this past fall. I had gotten back into running the prior year and had started to do a few 10ks that summer. I remembered my first one. I thought every step I wasn't going to make it. Jonathan ran with me. "Open up your stride," and "embrace the wall..." He often said to me...Who knew that I would take those words into my marathon about eight months later.

It just so happened that at the time of the decision, he and I were having some space. And literally, too. I was finishing up a graduate program in Vancouver, and he was getting settled into his new place in San Francisco Bay Area. We talked occasionally, and usually about lighter things to give our relationship a break. In one of those conversations, I mentioned that I was researching a half marathon to do, and he invited me to consider a full. It happened that the very half I was looking at was the very full one he was: The Napa Valley Marathon. No better time to bring the thought of a marathon into reality than then, so I went for it.

Training was interesting. Thankfully though, my feet kept putting one foot in front of the other through a "break-up," Vancouver sun, rain, weird (non-permanent) injuries, "why am I doing this," the reconciliation, the move to the Bay area, the missing of my Bikram yoga classes...and it all boiled down to making the choice to conquer the mind. "Mind-over-mattering" my body. All of these things led to a wonderfully prepared feeling for race day. Honestly. I couldn't remember when I felt that preparedness before. I had been in karate competitions in my younger years, but because I grew up with it, I never knew I was ever feeling the "preparedness" even though I was. This time, I'll be honest, I was out of shape. I trained hard with Bikram and running and felt, dare I say, excited for the marathon.

My alarm clock, a.k.a. my phone, vibrated at 4:15am, signaling our supposed wake-up time. Soon after, we found ourselves out the door. It was pouring. It continued to pour. At the race site, the lines for the port-a-potties were long. Jonathan scoped out how things looked behind the gross blue large rectangular bathrooms, and he came back confident and relieved that this was the way to go...So, with five minutes before the race, and a good nine people in front of me, I hopped behind the row of mini-buildings and became friends with nature, sort of in public.

"3...2...1..." and we were off. We run at different paces, so after the first few minutes, we separated. This marathon didn't allow for any music players, so I had a good long while to just run, think, run, run, and run. For the first 9 miles, I felt good. I was holding myself back and got excited that with more energy in the reserves, perhaps...just perhaps I could shoot for the Boston qualifying time of an 8:30 mile. (Of course, I had no intentions of running it, and I never thought about training for that pace, but it'd be a nice way to end a great 4 months of training!) The marathon was well on its way, and so was I.

Well, that is until mile 10. That 8:30 dream pace popped like a balloon and the air came out faster than if it was in a real one. Just prior, my ankle started to hurt for a short bit, which was strange. Surprisingly, that one wasn't on my weird injury list. I actually stopped to retie my left shoe a couple of times at that point. Mile 10 came and my Lululemon pants felt about 25 pound heavier than their usually featherlight weight. I looked down to see my shoes squirting water out of the mesh toe lining with every step, and that was when I felt the wind change directions. I looked down at my garmie to see my average pace increasing.

By mile 12, my leg muscles felt as if they were eating each other, and I shuddered at the thought of 14 more. So as quickly as I thought of that thought, I pushed it out into the valley of vineyards and wineries I ran through. "One more mile," I thought to myself, "and I can walk." As I passed the 13 mile marker, I saw an African (you'll understand why I didn't add the -American in a second) running the opposite way. Clearly, he looked as if he was a runner. Tall, lean, easy, long stride... He seemed to be looking for someone. When he was about 20 feet away, I realized it was Karicho! I couldn't help but burst out with excitement and joy. He immediately b-lined it to me and slowed down to meet my pace.

"I finally found you." He said in his beautiful Kenyan accent. I couldn't help but chuckle from the comment and from the pain that I was still enduring and knew that I'd continue to endure. I also realized the irony in that particular moment. Exactly one year ago, I watched him and two other friends, Michael and Emilee, run the Mt. Kili Marathon in Tanzania. While I wasn't able to hop on the course and run (logistically, there was really no way to do it), I stood at the start and finish line. Who knew that 365 days later, I'd be running a marathon, and he'd be living in the States, helping me run mine! I was humbled by his presence. He's fast, and his spirit is full of humility. He'll run with anyone and match the pace. Often times, I looked over and fought back tears. He probably just thought I was breathing hard. So we ran together.

When we came to mile 15, I saw Emilee and Michael! Em jogged through the runners and said, "Could I run with you the next three?" with a big smile on her face. Again, in one breath I was excited while simultaneously realizing this meant I had to keep going. The pain loomed over me as if they were the heavy gray clouds in the sky, yet their encouragement nourished me as I felt the rain continue to drench me. We did walk that afternoon. The moment I'd stop, I'd fight with myself and say, "This is the RACE!!" So 10 steps after, we'd pick it up again. A few tenths later, and the cycle repeated itself. We finally got into some type of groove before mile 18 where Michael was waiting. He updated me with how Jonathan was doing (running in spite of an injury), Em stayed there, and I kept going.

"I'm going to go find Jonathan," Karicho enunciated, and with that, he sped off. Literally. I just remember seeing his black, lean legs go and bright white shoes kick his bum. In five seconds, I swear he was 100 yards in front of me. It turned out that he did catch up to Jonathan before he crossed the finish line! He ended up running about 13 miles that day, going back and forth between Jonathan and me. Meanwhile, I continued on...I had worked too long and hard to be discouraged, distraught, and let nature get the best of me. I knew I couldn't control the day, but I was not going to let it win over me.

I kept on, sometimes repeating the walk-run cycle. As time continued, my endurance reserves depleted as they were combating Mr. Extreme Pain waging war in my thighs and hamstrings. My knees hurt because muscles were in another battle: playing tug-a-war (my knee was the knot). At one point, I stopped. I walked for probably close to a full mile. I cried. I couldn't tell where the tears met the rain and where the rain became my tears. Thoughts began to run through my mind all jumbled up and crazy.

"I'm not a runner...(then why am I finding myself currently running this!?!)...Why aren't I in a jazz class? I love dance. Why aren't I a dancer?...How can this be the worst run of my entire training??...I am running this thing to let go of things (and yet, when I finish I'm still faced with those things...!)...Running this marathon won't let go of them on their own." This sudden realization, though obvious, really helped me process some things. "It's a choice Jessica. You get to choose. And here you're choosing to put one foot forward each time...And why does everything have to be so meaningful?? Why can't I just feel my body run!" So I made that choice too. The feeling of the abs work in synchronicity with the legs and arms, the pushing off the ground...moving forward each moment... "Don't have discouraging thoughts. You are doing this. You ARE doing this...6 more miles...It's okay to have meaning and to live in lightness...okay, stop having deeper thoughts!"

Then it was mile 21, then 23. I was determined to run 23 through the end. I had one long run in training where my muscles felt as if they were eating each other, and while I ended up walked a good third of it, I ran the last three. I brought myself back to that day, and then felt further discouraged when I just couldn't pick up my feet to run. I breathed hard to fight back the tears. I started to look at the runners passing me, old, injured, young, all different sizes...and here I was in good health, relatively speaking, and walking. One man passed me in his plastic poncho and who had a wrapped shin. He took little steps. I mustered up the mind to gets the gears of my legs working again. It took a few steps before the legs followed, but I stared at his feet and matched the rhythm with mine. That got me through 23. I stopped again. I walked. I thought. I cried. I hurt.

At mile 24, I heard a woman coming up behind me talking to someone. She was setting her personal PR. As she passed me, I attempted to match her feet with mine. Let them be friends in the rhythm of life's moment. I tried to distract myself, so I struck up a conversation with her. I soon learned that this was her fourth marathon, and she got started with her first one because she wanted to do something radical for her 50th. Each time, she set a PR. Granted, the time on my garmie was now pushing 5 hours, so we're not talking fast on the level of elite running athletes, but we're talking about genuine inspiration that could fuel anybody to run. It did for me. Soon mile 25 came. She decided to walk for a few minutes and wished me the best of a strong finish.

I pushed. I cried more because I was actually doing this. I was doing this for me and no one else. So what about my time, let alone the dream time I thought at one point I could (maybe) make. The wind changed that day, and I had to push through. Isn't that what life is really about anyways? Choice? We get to choose. That was the biggest realization I came across with that day. I knew about it before in my head, but it really dropped down into my heart. With 4 blocks to go, and people cheering on the sidelines, I started to take off my plastic poncho, my polar fleece vest... My bib showed.

"Open up your stride...blast through the wall!" I found myself saying as I was getting an amazing second wind. I was sprinting! I passed two people and crossed the finish line! I had heard, "Go Jess!" from the sidelines. I was humbled and proud. I made a choice that day. A choice to keep going...

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