I ran 12 miles yesterday. It was my last long run before I run 13.1 miles around Notre Dame’s campus in two weeks. From now until then, I will taper down my miles – only doing six miles next Saturday, a week out from the race.
Only is a subjective term there. Once upon a time, running six miles was something other people did – specifically, runners. I walked a lot – I’ve always been active, but running came later. In 2014, I started running in the middle of my longer walks, and then I started running a three-mile loop around my neighborhood. From there, five miles. Then seven.
My first half-marathon was April 25, 2015, three months before my 42nd birthday. The sun wasn’t up yet when my husband drove me to the starting line – both of our kids asleep in the back seat of his truck, still in their pajamas. Our six-year-old son woke right before we got to the race and said something about not feeling well. Before I could unbuckle my seat belt and turn around, he had puked all over his blanket.
Using a mostly stale wet wipe to clear the puke from my son’s face, I gave him a few sips from my bottle of orange Gatorade. After wadding up the pukey-blanket, doing my best to avoid getting any vomit on me or the truck’s interior, I turned to my husband and said, “You’re going to have to deal with this after you drop me off – if I’m late for the start of this race, I’m going to freak out.”
My husband got it. He knew I had trained religiously for twelve weeks straight – crossing every run, every distance, with a black X on the training program I kept on our kitchen counter.
He also knew I was already a mess of nerves over the rain that was supposed to happen later that morning. I had gone through three black Hefty bags before we left, trying to cut out perfectly-sized arm holes, and had told him more than once how my water-wicking ankle socks were probably going to be a huge distraction since I had never run in them.
“Then why wear them?” he asked.
“Because it’s going to rain!” I said in the voice I use when I’m not making any sense, but am hell-bent on starting a fight.
My son, on the other hand, was going to be fine – my husband had dealt with much worse. Years before, I left for a weekend to walk a Saturday-Sunday race with a friend in North Carolina which included a full-marathon on Saturday followed by a half on Sunday. Within hours after I pulled out of our driveway, our daughter broke her arm. My husband assured me it was not a big deal, “Don’t turn around – she’ll have a cast and you’ll be back Sunday night.”
I was pulling into the parking garage of my hotel in Charlotte when my husband called to tell me the doctors had determined our daughter would need pins in her arm. A little puke in the backseat was nothing compared to an overnight hospital stay and neon pink cast.
By the time I finished my half-marathon that wet April day, my son was feeling better and my mess of nerves had turned into pure elation.
Since that day, I haven’t found a whole lot that creates the same sense of accomplishment I feel after finishing a particularly long run. Even a five mile jog in the middle of the week leaves me in disbelief that I can run that far without stopping. Yesterday, I was all smiles as I turned down the final block to my car – knowing I had just cross the 12-mile mark on the route I had mapped out the night before.
I still get nervous at the start of nearly every run, thinking to myself, “God, I hope I can do this” – as if it’s the first time I have ever tried to run.
I imagine my coming around to running is a lot like what finding Jesus is like. I want to tell everybody about it – how far I ran, when I wanted to stop, how I kept going – the times I fell, how my legs ache after, the bursitis I get in my right hip when I run eight or more miles, my favorite podcasts to listen to on long runs, the Hoka shoes I’ve fallen passionately in love with.
When I pass runners while I’m driving, I give them a wave no matter if I know them or not. Yesterday, on my drive down to New Albany for my big run, I saw two runners near my house – both dads from my neighborhood. There was more than a sliver of me that wanted to stop the car and shout to them that I was on my way to run as well.
“Me too! Me too!” the devout runner in me wanted to yell at them.
When I’m running and pass other runners on the road, I feel an immediate since of camaraderie – not unlike when I would go to Mass with my grandma as a child and would turn to say “Peace be with you” to anyone sitting in the pews in front and behind us.
Maybe running is my religion. Since starting I’ve dipped in and out of it, but always come back. I struggle with the idea that I’m not as good at it as I should be – I’m too slow, I don’t have the right form. Like prayer, I don’t like doing it with others. (Even with running, I’m an only-child at heart.) And often during my run, I have to talk myself into continuing – willing myself forward one meditative thought at a time.
If I had a running prayer, it would sound like this: “Where are you, in your body, right now? What hurts? Can you catch your breath? Focus on why you want to stop and run through it.”
I’ve said these words to myself on many runs – often multiple times during a run, but this is the first I’ve written them down. It only occurs to me now – seeing them on the screen – that they are more than just a running prayer, they are a mantra.
Where am I?
Can I catch my breath?
Focus on why you want to stop.
Now, run through it.