December 3 2017. 10:38 am. I crossed the finish line, completing my first marathon, 5 hours 48 minutes after I started the longest run of my life.
Family and friends applauded the accomplishment with many asking me what’s next (the simple answer: Everest Base Camp) including if I would run any more marathons (the simple answer: maybe).
The harder question which I have been posed and which I was also asking myself was what were my emotions and thoughts during the run and as i crossed the finish line. I am still struggling to put words to answer 4 weeks after.
Words seem blunt and woefully inadequate in lending themselves as a means for expressing my thoughts, particularly given the emotional road I have traversed the past few months.
For the journey did not begin at the starting line on an early morning of December 3 but much earlier in March, and was infused in the 9 months since with optimism, hope, bravado, joy, friendships, social experiments, anxiety, a wedding, 2 deaths, love, a few injuries, heartbreak, stress, pride, doubt and faith.
The genesis for my virgin marathon was the death of a person in March. It triggered me to take stock of my life and draw up a list of things to do before I get too old/die, including to run a marathon. And I thought it would be particularly poignant to do so in 2017 at 42 years of age (42 km at 42 – guess you can’t take the marketing out of me!).
I started training in optimism in March, as I started opening myself to meeting people and dating. The coincidence of the two led to a friend thinking that I had not really signed up for a marathon in all seriousness but was using that as a conversation starter! She eventually realized I was serious about a week before the marathon!
Running did lead to some new friendships as kindred spirits found each other across the universe of random strangers. I made new friends at work joining a weekly running group. And as I prioritized running over dating, a few guys did contemplate joining me on my runs as that seemed to be the only way to find time with me in the midst of an already very packed calendar!
I blacked out whilst on a run in June. Fearing a stroke or heart attack, I went to the hospital to get checked. An echo and 3 days of observations later, I was released and got back on the training schedule under the watchful eye of a running buddy who has since become a great friend.
A wedding in Copenhagen led to some great training runs overseas in a cooler climate and the chance to have the Little Mermaid to myself. My running guide in Copenhagen even pointed out running routes that were popular with runners looking for a romantic running partner!
August to November were months of deep trials. At the point when marathon training should be kicking into a higher gear, my ex-husband passed away, one of my kids was dealing with milestone exams and I had a sudden change in my role in Microsoft. I was also limping badly from a deep muscle inflammation that made running painful and near impossible (and I stopped running the month before the marathon in desperate hope that the muscles might recover in time).
Each of these events eroded away at me as they swept like waves one after the other over me. November 21 – I did not feel like I had it in me to run any more both physically and emotionally. I did not think I had it in me to show up at the start line.
Then on the morning of November 22, I picked my sorry self up and went for a run. It was not my best pace. I hadn’t run for 3 weeks. But the muscles were healing and I was doing much better. I stopped at 10 km even though I felt like I could do more as I did not want to cause re-injury with a few days left to the big run. Completing the marathon was going to have to be a leap of faith with such light training (stationary bike cycling to keep up the cardio) in the past few weeks.
When I walked into the holding pen on December 3 at 3:30 am, I was not sure if I would be able to make it, how long I was going to take or how long I was going to last for that matter. All I could do was start and hope that stubborn determination would keep me going. I guess that reflects life to a large extent. We can sign ourselves up for all sorts of grandiose plans and ambition, but we really do not know if we would be able to see it through to the end until we eventually get there or fail/die trying.
Continuing on that thread of thought, as I now look back on the run, it did seemed to have been a compressed mirror on the emotional ups and downs of my life thus far (did I not already mention 42 km at 42?).
The first 15 km was easy enough and I was able to run well, enjoying the crisp, cool morning air. By coincidence, the first 10 km took me through my childhood haunts, including my Primary school, my father’s offices, the places where I hung out as a little girl as well as places where I had spent time with my ex-husband and our girls in happier times. To some extent, the first phase of the marathon reflected the innocence, freshness and unbridled ease that I was fortunate to enjoy as a child and in the first few years of my marriage.
The next 5 km proved challenging, and eventually I slowed down after the 19 km mark and it gradually became a slow grind for the next few kilometers. But I kept going, focusing on putting one foot after the other, no matter how slow I was. Cramps started setting in but I refused to stop completely, afraid that I would not continue once I stop. And that was how I had lived pretty much every day of my life in the first 2 years after I walked out on my marriage, dealing both with heartache and an acrimonious, bitter divorce.
At the 22 km mark, I felt like I could run again but in brief spurts, alternating between a brisk run and a slow jog for the next 13 km. That seemed to mirror the following years after when I was trying to walk out of the shadows of my failed marriage, sometimes catching the wind in the sails and moving forward and sometimes, turning a corner only to be seized again by a moment of deep sadness or frustration as I continued to grapple with my divorce proceedings and eventually the news my ex-husband’s cancer diagnosis. People along the way cheered for all the runners and gave us a much needed lift in spirits, reigniting the determination to keep going, reminding me of every person I knew who had kept me going in those most challenging times of the past few years.
At the 36 km mark, there it was, the bridge unfurling in front of me. A daunting incline that had to be surmounted under the now hot morning sun before a run downhill to the final flat stretch of run to the finish line. It was there that I came face to face mentally with the heartbreaking and distressing events of August to November that had almost knocked me over. And as I had crested those events in my life eventually, it was stubborn doggedness that pushed me to the top of the bridge.
Most people would have thought the downhill would be a welcome reprieve. Well, it was a bittersweet one. After 37 km, tired muscles would be in pain running uphill or downhill. And every step downhill was more punishing on the hamstrings and gluts even as gravity lent a hand to tired bodies and minds. And I thought how oddly that was also the case in the aftermaths of my ex-husband’s death in August – cushioned by family and friends even as the deepest of sadness was ebbing away but how the heart continued to ache in those days shadowing.
And finally, before I knew it, I found myself on the homestretch in the last 4 km, tired but looking forward to the finish line where my children and mother were waiting for me, there was a fresh spring in my step and a renewed energy. I picked up the pace, determined to finish well and strong. And then I crossed it, seeing and hearing my kids cheering me on as I passed them just 5 meters before the line.
It was an emotional finish reflecting not just on what I had just put my mind and body through in the last 42.195 km, but what I had gone through in the past 42 years (and especially the past few years and even more specially the past few months).
Those last 4 km, I hope, will be a still distant event in my life’s future. And when it finally comes, I hope it would be indeed a strong and good finish in the celebratory company of loved ones. Definitely, no matter what life will continue to throw at me, completing this marathon has given me a deeper appreciation of what is meant in 2 Timothy 4:7 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.