by Lisa Leonard
The day before the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon in Savannah, I wrote the following in my running journal:
Tomorrow, I run in your honour. I’ve trained for a year. You’ve fought your own fight nearly five. You’ve come close to giving up, I know. So have I. But you didn’t. And I won’t.
Last week you faced your fear and had surgery. Today, nerves are threatening to consume me. But I look at the orange band on my thumb that reminds me, and I know those 13.1 miles tomorrow are nothing compared to what you’ve done, battling doubts and fears and pain and exhaustion.
I love you, Mom.
You see, my mother has cancer. Leukemia. Lymphoma. Complications. I made the decision late last year to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll in her honour. For eleven months, I’d trained, using the Couch-to-5K and then the Runkeeper app plan for beginners. The last month or so of training brought far fewer miles than I had planned…Too many distractions beyond my control – jury duty, mom’s splenectomy, fears of a stress fracture in my left foot with its week of no running, Hubs’s stomach virus. Excuses.
Two days before my race, Hubs and I had arrived in Savannah. A day to loosen my legs after the six-plus hour drive from Tennessee. A day to rest. An evening to carb load with a home-cooked meal. (Did I mention Hubs is an excellent cook?!?)
Sleep eluded me…Hubs snored…I tossed and turned…The couch became my bed…Every noise outside startled me – traffic, fencing set-up, laughter from the Treylor Park (the quirky restaurant next door)…
I’d set my alarm for 5:00, but I was up by 4:45. Coffee and a half bagel with a couple tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter were choked down, threatening to return as my jitters multiplied. I double-checked my running duds. I watched part of an infomercial. I showered. I pinned my bib to my shirt. Hubs attached my timing tag to my shoe. I finished dressing. I found my gum, Honey Stingers, and Chapstick, securing them in the left pocket of my running skirt. I untangled my headphones, debated whether or not to take them, and then attached them to my iPhone.
My nerves were overwhelming me.
Forty-five minutes until start time. Another teacher from back home who was also running (we’d happily discovered we were both doing this a few weeks earlier) texted me that she and her hubs were on their way down Bay Street to find our corral. Time to get real.
Music blared in the distance, both behind and ahead of us. Last minute announcements were made, and then the count-down was delayed due to a medical emergency at the start line. Lovely… More nerves.
The starting horn finally sounded, and wave by wave, the corrals were released. Nearly thirty minutes after the initial horn, our wave reached the starting line, and we were off…
The first seven or so miles, Colleen and I hung together. Sometime after that, I’d fallen behind. My sporadic training the last month had caught up with me. But every step beyond seven and a half miles was a step further than I’ve ever run. Thinking of Mom kept me going. She was back home, still recovering from her splenectomy – and in pain – so that hot-spot developing on my left big toe, the nagging pain seeping into my hips, the heaviness in my legs? I ignored them and gutted on, walking a bit longer than I’d planned, but running on. The Avett Brothers’ “Ain’t No Man” played on iTunes. Perfect song at the perfect time.
The thought of finishing in three hours toyed with me. But by then, I’d also lost sight of the three-hour pacer, but according to my Garmin, I was still close. Unimaginable, given I’ve done almost all my training on a treadmill…a lying treadmill that had teased me into thinking I was running faster than reality, AKA on pavement. A woman escorted by two bicyclists passed me with less than half a mile to go…the female marathon leader! An inward smile bloomed when I realized she’d finish double the distance I was covering in less time than me. But finish I would!
Emotion overwhelmed me. After I found him in the crowd, I sobbed into Hubs’s shoulder across the spectator barrier fence. I’d finished. A half marathon. Thirteen point one miles.
Because CANCER SUCKS.