Nine weeks ago, I was diagnosed with a sacral stress fracture in the middle of training for my second marathon. I was walking down the street in Fremont on a sunny afternoon when my doctor called to give me this news. As her disembodied voice told me that there was no way I could run that race, and worse, that I would need to stop running entirely for two months, I didn't think about the big picture. I didn't think about our (literally and figuratively) burning planet, the people of the world who want to run but won't ever be able to, or even about my many friends, whom I love dearly, who have dealt with stress fractures and worse. I didn't think about how insignificant this temporary problem would be in the long run. I went straight into disaster mode. All I could think was that I was weak, I was broken, and I was utterly unequipped to deal with my ever-present anxiety without the outlet of my sport. I couldn't respond to my doctor; all I could do was sit on some stairs on the street and cry.
Last weekend, the incredible women I'd been training with for that marathon- CIM- ran their race. I hadn't run with them eight weeks, yet they kept me in the loop of their training, invited me to post-run brunches, and included me as part of their team. I flew down to Sacramento with them and the three other awesome humans who made up the cheer squad. Despite not being able to run the whole distance of the race, I was cleared by my PT to run 3 miles, and I had the best time. The weekend was filled with laughter, tears, group stretching, early mornings (yass morning people!), sunshine, meeting run icons like Sally Bergesen and Devon Yanko, vegan brunches and multiple viewings of The Devil Wears Prada.
But most importantly for me personally, I was surprised by how overcome with emotion I was for a race I didn't run. I've never felt more proud than when I stood at that mile 23 cheer station, watching for the magenta shirts that signaled another teammate approaching and seeing them fly past. My plan was to cheer each one on, and run to the finish with whoever the last team member was to come by. I had unceremoniously ripped the timing chip off of my race bib (just in case) and thrown it into the hotel trash can the night before. I had been through eight weeks learning to let go, and though I can't say I have quite mastered that art, my perspective on this particular race had shifted dramatically. This was no longer my race, it was my team's race. And that was enough to fill my heart.
When I spotted my last teammate approaching the cheer station with pacer/cheerer Rira running beside her, I shouted her name and some encouragement as she went by, and then stepped onto the course and started my watch. I caught up to them and learned that she had been in serious pain since mile 11. This badass was still running at mile 24, and I wouldn't have believed such a thing was possible if I wasn't watching it with my own eyes, and if I didn't know how dedicated and tenacious she is as a person. Rira and I ran a few paces ahead of her per her request, keeping her going. When Rira- the kindest and most encouraging pacer and person ever- had to jump off in the last mile (she wasn't registered for the race, but was pacing for the last 9 miles), I dropped back to my teammate and told her that we were going to cross the finish line together. I would not cross without her. She thanked me, and honestly the fact that she was talking impressed me even more. Then she picked up the pace. I couldn't believe it. When I ran Eugene in the spring, I didn't start to hit a wall until somewhere between mile 18 and 19. And I certainly didn't pick up the pace at the end. I barely remember getting to the finish, and I'm pretty sure I all but fell across it. My legs were so trashed and my body so empty that the prospect of a final push was completely off the table. But here was this woman who had run through 15 miles of intense cramping in her legs, pushing so hard that she picked up the pace by a full minute per mile, according to my watch. I was proud to finish with her.
In fact, I was overwhelmed with pride for all of the teammates who completed that race. Many of them BQ'd, and for one of them, it was her first ever marathon. But more than anything, it was amazing to watch the progress of these strong-as-hell runners, even when I was sidelined and feeling sorry for myself. They worked so hard and yet with so much joy. It was a privilege to see them on the journey of training for and running this race together. And it was a gift to be embraced into this group despite my inability to actually run.
I've been thinking a lot about the word brave lately. After celebratory post-race burgers and a few days of collective processing of emotions, one of my teammates called me brave. At first this surprised me. I hadn't run a marathon that weekend, I hadn't pushed my physical limits like she and our other team members had.
It's a brave thing to sign up for, train for, and complete a marathon. Bravery can come in many forms, and it might not seem immediately obvious why running a marathon is "brave" if you don't see the point in it. I know plenty of people don't. But being brave simply means doing something scary. When we do things that scare us, we become stronger people. We show ourselves that we can do things we didn't think we were capable of. We actively fight the most pervasive and powerful demon there is: fear. Proving ourselves to ourselves builds confidence and endurance that can be carried into other areas of our lives. People fight the fear demon in many ways. Sometimes by running a marathon. Sometimes by not running one.
I think I understand what that teammate meant when she called me brave. I was forced to find and use new weapons against my fear demon than the one I was used to wielding. And despite the intense FOMO that came with watching my friends do the one thing I desperately wanted to do but couldn't, I didn't isolate myself from them. I didn't ignore them and crawl into a cave of despair (at least not frequently). I participated as best I could from the bench, and tried to give as much support and encouragement as I could muster. And in return, these women kept me endlessly entertained in group messages, shared meals and hotel rooms and triumphs and disappointments with me, and that gave me strength. They enabled me to be brave, and I'm so thankful for that.
This isn't a CIM race report. This is a report on months of not running and the last 3 miles of CIM. A different kind of race, but an endurance event nonetheless.
This morning I finally broke 4 miles in a run for the first time since September, and this time, my teammate who I crossed the finish with at CIM helped me cross that line. I finally see a light at the end of this dark, run-less tunnel. When I get there and step into that bright sun, I'm going to run like hell.