When asked about the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, you’d think I’d answer, bury a parent or have babies. But, no. When I think of “hard” I always go physical. Somehow the emotionally hard stuff doesn’t even register on my radar.
When I was twenty-six I ran a marathon. Actually, I finished a marathon. To say I ran it is a bit of a stretch. I ran a lot of it but not fast or particularly well so I always feel weird saying, “I ran a marathon.” Certainly I ran more than I ever had in my life the six months I trained leading up to it. You may think that would be the answer to what’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. After all, I gave up half a year of my life for it. We left vacation early. I was the sober driver through many of my friend’s weddings that year. (Except, perhaps ironically, the wedding just a few weeks before the race wherein I got so obliterated I may have forgotten my name. I was a Bride’s maid, on meds for an injury and wildly intimidated by the Groom’s men. Pain pills and insecurity are an ugly combination.) I woke up early on Sundays, and three times a week before work I pounded the sidewalks in the dark. Yes, the marathon was challenging, but not the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
A tiny little five mile race comes to mind when I think of the hardest. Funny really, as it’s a fraction of 26.2, but felt longer than anything I’d ever done.
Why? Because the marathon I ran with my brother. He was responsible for the training plan. He told me when to show up to run. He brought the replenishment fuel to our workouts. Hell, he even registered me for the race. I was 26 and almost unconsiously finishing a marathon. Why not? What else did I have to do? It was time with my brother and even though I threw up for about six Sundays in a row and needed cortisone to keep my knee from exploding during the race, I never thought about quitting because I wasn’t in charge, he was. Thus, never in that entire period or in any time after did I consider myself a runner. I hit the finish line and gladly hung up my Nikes, knowing it was the end. I managed to finish a marathon as a non-runner and felt just fine.
Except, there wasn’t much pride.
The five mile race was eleven years later. I signed up with a running group but other than register me for the race, they did nothing for me because after one or two weeks I decided running in groups is not my thing. I had to prep for this race from zero. Before I started training, I hadn’t run a step since that marathon in 1999. What I had done was have three kids, move four times and gain and lose anywhere from 20-50 pounds depending on the year. I was fat, sick and lazy when I set my sites on a beach five miler.
I dragged myself out of bed to run in the morning, even if there was a kid up all night. I found the time for cross-training. I spent precious money on new shoes so my knees wouldn’t hurt. I read articles on how to fuel. I sought counsel on form and breathing. I paid attention to everything.
And on race day, I braved the unseasonable chill, high winds and broken iPod. I ran the five miles with only my pounding feet and gasping lungs in my ears. Then I came home and continued running. When I don’t run, I feel off, physically and mentally. I’ve signed up for other short races and now have my sites set on a fall 10K. Not quite a marathon, but a distance that feels right to this me.
I did all that. I relied on myself to accomplish a goal that was scary and hard and could have easily been swept under the rug and I did it all for no other reason than to prove to myself I could. Then I went further. I somehow took a tiny little race and used it to make myself into a runner. Me, the fat, sick and tired girl, a runner. I hit the finish line and felt like I’d conquered the world because I knew that was the beginning. I hit the finish line and kept going.
That is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
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