The best thing about lining up with 15,000-plus strangers to run a race, is that everybody is there running for a different reason, but the same goal -- the finish line. It's a well choreographed symphony of insanity and determination, of demons and angels, of paralyzing fear commingling with forward propelling will.
I am here at Disney World for marathon weekend with those strangers. I am also here with women I have known for over 20 years. We live in different states and cities, but our conversations easily pick up right where they left off in 1993. Marriages, children, careers, triumphs, and tragedies have become a part of all of our lives. And now, so has running.
Some have never run before in their life, and are just starting this journey on the pavement. Others are well-seasoned runners. I have run this race alone for many years, then with one friend, then two, three, and now with over 10. All of these women are here today because I have simply said four words to them -- You. Can. Do. This.
I don't ask my running friends why they have chosen to run. I don't need to know. Anyway, reasons change with the years, as they have for me: baby weight, freedom, consistency, completion, sadness, joy, decompression, depression, liberation, solitude, diversion, elation, selfishness. The reasons at start lines are infinite. But the goal is the same. To finish.
Today and tomorrow there are women here who will finish their first half marathon or full marathon. They will have listened to friends tell them they are crazy, ask them why on earth they would want to run, and joke that they would only run if someone was chasing them (my favorite).
Ironically enough, maybe something really is chasing them. Maybe it is DOUBT. Doubt not just about the miles, but doubt about their lives. Are they good enough? Do they make a difference? Can their average body do this? Their bodies have served them well until now, but an endurance event?
They have forgotten their bodies are amazing machines. Those minds and bodies have made and nourished babies, they've cultivated and nurtured distinguished careers, marriages, and life long friendships. But 13.1 or 26.2 miles? How? I will tell you how. They have slapped doubt in the face at dawn, when they tumbled out of bed to go run. They sucker punched it when injury, time constraints, or exhaustion was luring them to the couch and not the treadmill.
They escaped it when it was telling them they weren't fast enough, strong enough, or agile enough to run a real race. They hid from it when it told them maybe this running stuff wasn't a good idea after all, when it said they don't 'look' like a runner, when they could literally feel on the backs of their neck the skeptic stares of people in cars whizzing by them as they struggled along. They have tucked it away, running cloaked in steadfastness and conviction. And they have made it here this weekend, to finally kick the doubt to the proverbial curb. You see, there are many, many feelings and emotions present at finish lines. But there is one that is most certainly not there -- doubt.
I have run seven marathons. This weekend will be number eight. I still feel all of those doubts, all of them, all the time. I will line up at the start line, surrounded by friends, and I will wonder yet again if I can do this. I will flex my fortitude muscle, swim in a sea of incomprehensible emotions (and runners) and finish something I never thought I would even start. I will meet new people along the route, some struggling, and I will give them a quick "You are doing it! GO YOU!"
I will metaphorically meet others, the charity runners, who literally carry the weight of a lost loved parent, spouse, or child on their backs. We will not share words, only a look, and their spirit and gumption will pierce my heart and tired legs, and will carry me through that tough mile or two. I will laugh at the first timer, giddy with excitement and cart-wheeling by me. I will nod in awe at the grandma, who told retirement to take a hike and started running at age 60. I will give a wink of approval and a wide smile to the overweight woman who feels she doesn't belong, telling her with my eyes, "You are one of us. A runner. Now it's time to believe it." And I will cast a spell on my own inner voices, silencing their ugly dialogue, and opening myself up to the immeasurable grace that the race will give me.
Running. It is a wicked, fulfilling, rebellious, formidable, wondrous, love/hate relationship we have. It is a privilege to know you. But it is more of a privilege to share you. To the amazing women who will see their first finish line this weekend, I say another four words, I. Told. You. So. To those who think they can't, again I will remind them, You. Can. Do. This. And to those who want to give it a shot? See. You. Next. Year.
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