I wish I'd had that on the back of the T-shirt I was wearing during the Atlanta Thanksgiving Half Marathon 2010 last Thursday. I actually did it, I finished - via run/walking - my very first 1/2 Marathon. That's 13.1 miles for those who don't know, and trust me, the .1 counts! I didn't finish fast, but I sure didn't finish last - what a good feeling to set a goal and accomplish it. I haven't felt that feeling in a VERY long time.
I won't lie. I was a WRECK for quite a while leading up to the race. When I'd signed up for the Half, a total allowable time limit was given of 5 hours, I put down that I'd be able to finish in just 4. Two weeks before the race, I learned that the website was now indicating an allowable time limit of only 3.5 hours! I had missed a crucial 6 weeks of training just a month out from the big day, and those 6 weeks were lounging around in the front of my brain like big ol' couch potatos, systematically wearing down any shreds of confidence I'd built up earlier in the summer about finishing 13.1 miles on foot (my own foots!). The shorter amount of time combined with the lack of training had me in a terrible place mentally.
The final three days before race day, I had to fight myself almost continually to stave off tears. I was so afraid. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to start and finish the race running. I was afraid that I'd not be able to finish all 13.1 mi. which would cause feelings of shame and almost total mortification when my friends found out. I was afraid I'd let my daughter down. I was afraid that I'd be the very last person to finish (This was, hands down, my biggest fear. I now know that even had this been the case, in the very personal battle the Half was for me, I'd have still acheived something huge. And so did whoever did end up finishing last.)
5:00 a.m. Thanksgiving Morning arrived. Rebecca and I were on the interstate headed to Turner Field by 5:45 a.m. We got really close to the stadium, and I was about to bust up into a full on bawling cry-fest. Just then, I took a wrong turn and ended up in... well, in an area of Atlanta you REALLY don't want to end up in. Isn't it funny how God knows just what you need right when you need it? I was forced to stop thinking about my own ridiculous fears and focus on getting to a safe and recongnizable area of Atlanta and to Turner Field. We got there, parked and stepped outside onto the parking lot.
Everywhere I looked I saw people who looked like professional athletes! Rebecca caught me staring at two of these "pros" and I must've had a terrified expression on my face becasue she said "Mom, you can DO this! Don't worry, you're gonna do fine." I felt sick to my stomach. My legs felt wobbly. Even so, we made our way pretty quickly to the front of our corral. We were in the last (read: slowest) grouping of runners. A nice jewish man named David helped me get my timing tag onto my shoe - my hands were shaking something serious! I got my headphones plugged into my iphone so I could have music to help pace myself. I dropped my inhaler, somone picked it up and handed it to me. The announcer announced that it was 20 minutes until race time. I took two puffs on my inhaler. People were smiling, so I tried to make my grimace look as cheerful as possible. I noticed 4 arms flailing and 2 heads bobbing in the corral just ahead of us - Bryan and Becky! They looked THRILLED to be there, and so I tried to look thrilled too as I waved back.
All this time, I kept telling myself "Are you crazy? You cannot do this! Why are you here? You're gonna look like an idiot soon." Then I hear the announcer saying that the wheelchair participant had just left the starting line and that the on foot runners would start in waves momentarily. Rebecca says "Mom, if that wheelchair guy can do this, you can so do this." I said "I know, I know, you're right." But inside I was saying "Yeah, riiiight." The race begins. They move through each corral. Before I knew it, we found ourselves at the starting line about 12 minutes after the first group of runners left. Rebecca hugs me and readies herself. The announcer says "Runners, Ready. . . GO!"
My feet started moving - running in fact - almost without me even realizing it. I see Rebecca shoot ahead and I lose her in the crowd. It seemed like several hundred folks passed me, but when I looked back, the start line was a good clip behind me and so were a TON of people. I just kept running. During training, I'd run 1/4 of a mile and walk the rest, but I just kept running on Thursday and before I knew it I'd reached the 1 mile marker and I'd run the ENTIRE WAY! That was my first accomplishment of the day - the first full mile I'd ever run without stopping to walk in my entire life!!!!
I walked and ran, walked, walked, walked, and ran some more for most of the duration of the race. We'd pass random people on the street and they'd shout "Melissa, you've got this girl! Way to go!" (They could read my name on my bib.) Every time we'd pass a cop working the race, they'd say "Happy Thanksgiving!" The volunteers handing out water, Powerade, and sports beans would say "You're doing great Melissa!" "You're almost half way girl!" "Lookin' Good!" Somewhere between mile 7 and mile 8, I started thinking "I cannot do this, I can't make it to the end." And I kept thinking it. Over, and over and over. My legs felt like lead, my feet like boulders. My shoulders hurt, my arms ached. My attitude, it SUCKED.
At about 8.5 miles, a young man missing the bottom half of his legs and wearing sports prosthetics jogged by and he smiled as he passed me. The first slice of pie I was served on Thanksgiving was Humble Pie. I mean, come on, the guy is missing half of his legs and he's RUNNING and SMILING and I am here to tell you that this race was not his first time at the rodeo.
I immediately asked God's forgiveness for taking my own working legs for granted, for doubting the ability He's given me to use my body to do physically hard things, for not treating my body as the temple He tells me it is. I picked up the pace, when I'd find myself thinking I can't run, I can't jog a second longer - I'd pray, asking God to help me run just a few steps farther.
By mile 9 the running crowd had thinned out considerably. We passed a couple of young guys with a megaphone, shouting "Every single one of you inspires me! You inspire my friend too - don't let his Iron Man Medal fool you, He's inspired!" We passed a soup kitchen, some of the beautiful homeless people there shouted encouragements. As we passed the home of an elderly black woman in the Ebenezer Baptist Church area, she'd say "There you are Baby! I just knew I'd be seein' you today! You're gonna make it Baby!" I wanted to cry, I wanted to hug her, I wanted to ask her if she was 'Mother Abagail' from Stephen Kings "The Stand". As I walked passed Ebenezer Baptist Church I offered a prayer of Thanks for Martin Luther King, Jr. and for how far race relations have come in our country and asked God's help with all that's still left to do in this area.
With three miles left, I got a text from my awesome daughter...
"I just finished!!!!!! Good Luck Mom, I'm waiting for u!!! When u cross the finish they're gonna give u a medal!"
(Rebecca finished in 3 hours! I'm so proud of her!)
I had to walk almost all of those last three miles, but I never once stopped moving forward. I was sad to see many people within less than 2 miles of the finish hop on SAG wagons - I can't imagine giving up so close to the goal! Too many other times in my life I've done just that, I wasn't about to do it Thursday.
When I had only 1 mile left to go, I got a text message from Bryan...
"How did u do?"
"I've got one mile to go"
"U can do it!!!!"
"I'm dying! A grandpa passed me, I almost spit on him!"
"Quit texting and RUN!!!!!!!!"
Um, point taken. I kept moving forward, one very painful step at a time. Did I mention the last half of the route was ALL UP HILL? And it didn't just seem that way, it really was. Ask anyone who participated, that was a rough route.
Rebecca sent me one last text...
"Channel your Inner-Kenyan!"
And so I did. I somehow managed to find it in myself to run the last 1/2 mile! People were walking across the finish before me, and after me. That's just not acceptable! You can't finish a race WALKING. Some guys who had long finished the race (and who I came to find out were among those who finished the race in under 2 hours) were on the sidelines yelling at me "That's it Melissa! That's how you finish a race! That's it girl!!!!"
The clock read 3 hours and 52 minutes as I passed the Finish line. Take the 12 minute delayed start from that, and I finished the race in 3 hours and 40 minutes - 20 full minutes under my goal time!!!! Yet, not enough under to be considered "within time limit" for the race. I'm totally OK with this. I faced my fears, I tried something really hard for an overweight (but 34 pounds lighter than when I started training), sedentary woman facing 40! I am stronger physically than I even knew! I can do hard things! I can see something through to the finish, even if it hurts! I am able to take on a challenge and beat it! I am fearfully and wonderfully made! I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me!
I. Am. Woman. HEAR ME ROAR!!!!!