Eleven years ago I entertained a personal physical challenge: could I run 13.1 miles?
For some, that was a reasonable, attainable goal. For me, I wasn’t so sure. Never had I been an athlete. I grew up an overweight child and topped the scales at nearly 240 pounds by 14 years old.
Academic? Yes. Athletic? Not even a little.
By the time I graduated high school I’d dropped the weight but in the most unhealthy way. Though I eventually came to enjoy exercise, I also used it to punish myself. It was a cycle of nonsense that lasted throughout my college years.
After getting married and becoming a mother, I watched my body change slowly and caught a glimpse of the unhealthy girl I used to be. Even though I exercised moderately and ate reasonably, I knew I was a hop, skip, and a jump to a size and shape I didn’t want to be.
Then I saw one of my best friends train for and run a half marathon. Astounded and impressed, I wondered – could I do that? Could I run that far?
As it turns out, I could. I ran the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville in 2007 and was hooked immediately. Bawling at the finish line with a prize in hand that I earned through physical activity, I was ALL IN. I ran another half in Louisville that year, followed by Chattanooga’s Scenic City Half in 2008. Encouraged and steadfast, I went back to Nashville that April for the Country Music Marathon – all 26.2 miles of it. I turned 30 that year and moved to Texas, and though I was tempted to let running wane on account of high elevation, dry air, and the craziest wind I’d ever experienced, I didn’t quit. I ran Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Dallas. I flew to Chicago and ran there too.
Back to Tennessee we moved and I kept running. Knoxville, Atlanta, and Oak Ridge. Murfreesboro, Townsend, and Sevierville. At some point I decided I wanted 20 medals by the time I turned 40, and since I hate running in the blazing, suffocating heat of summer, I knew I needed to figure it out no later than May 2018.
Maryville, Farragut, and the Chickamauga Battlefield.
I remember when my sister and brother-in-law ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon years ago. They said the whole weekend was worthwhile, not just the race, and when I polled other runners online, the Flying Pig was mentioned again. A quick search revealed that 2018 would be the 20th anniversary of the race.
Well, what do you know about that? Twenty is a good number, but I still needed Medal No. 19 if my goal to was make the Flying Pig my 20th. Off I went to Charleston, West Virginia.
In between 19 and 20, we lost Bill. I considered that maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps I shouldn’t go. The business of death in the aftermath can be lengthy, as many of us know. I questioned my priorities.
But then, getting out of town for a night offered a nice distraction. Plans had been made and I had trained. Logistically, it was doable. Cincinnati wasn’t necessarily close, but it wasn’t far either. We could zip in and out. Couldn’t we?
The city overflowed, but that’s to be expected when a race draws 43,000+ runners on the same weekend as a Cincinnati Reds home game. Restaurants were packed, so we opted for quick meals and played pool back at the hotel. (Correction: the boys played pool while I stirred. My pre-race brain is singularly focused.)
Mercifully, I slept well and arrived at the start line with time to spare. Unlike the “no frills” races I’ve grown to love, the Flying Pig is ALL FRILLS. The energy in the air was palpable from start to finish. As always, the corrals were filled with people of all ages and abilities, people half my size and twice my size, serious runners and just-for-fun runners. If you think you can’t run a half marathon, then you haven’t seen a half marathon. These events are for everyone.
Miles one through three were a blur because I was too excited to think about it. I saw my family on the sidelines between miles four and five, so that carried me through mile six.
Then came the hills. VERY TALL STEEP KILLER HILLS. I had to walk a little, but that was fine because I ended up taking a photograph of the view from atop Mount Adams, an elevated suburb of Cincinnati. (See the bridge? The start line was well past it.)
What goes up must come down, so miles nine through twelve were pure delight. I made up for the walking and scurried back down to the city with no time to waste.
A few hundred feet from the finish line I saw my family again and started crying. I honest-to-goodness ugly cried.
Then I received my 20th medal and cried some more.
My official time was 2:21, which is typical for me. Not fast, not slow. Just right there in the middle. I stopped caring about my time ten races ago, so when I saw a shirt at the expo that said World’s Okayist Runner, I thought it was perfectly suited for me. I am totally the World’s Okayist Runner.
Of course, I don’t think I’ll stop at 20 medals. I’m eyeballing two more races this year because I have no reason not to run them. If they bring me this much joy, why not? Maybe I’ll run another 20 by the time I’m 50, or maybe I’ll stop counting races and make goals for other things.