I have something to admit: I have felt a twinge of silliness after finishing a race and wearing a medal around my neck. After all, I am an adult and I don't really need a congratulatory medal to tell me "good job." In addition, with the exception of a few 5k medals where I won my age group, all my medals are "finisher's medals." I often wondered, "Do I deserve a medal for just 'finishing' something I started?"
But lately my attitude towards these medals has started to change. For instance, the 2010 Baltimore Half Marathon medal quickly brings a smile to my face. That was my first half marathon. I was so nervous I barely told anyone I had even signed up for the race for the fear that I couldn't finish it. When I got halfway through Mile 11 I started to tear up because I knew I would make it. I'll never forget those goose bumps when I crossed the finish line.
I have the same thoughts about my 2012 Pittsburgh Half Marathon Medal. That's the medal I proudly think of as "the comeback." As quickly as I had reached the high of finishing my first half marathon in 2010, it came to a crashing low in 2011. An MRI and the words, "scarifying of the tissue" around my knee sent me to three months of physical therapy. I was sad. I was nowhere near the runner I had known just a year ago. I started to wonder if I could ever finish a half marathon again. Sitting, walking and running were extremely painful. But slowly I got better and decided to give it another shot. I signed up for 2012 Pittsburgh Half Marathon and started running. At first I could only run one mile, but eventually I got back to eleven miles to prepare for the race. This time tears came at the finish. Not only had I finished, but I had a personal best. I was back.
The 2013 Pittsburgh Marathon medal is the heaviest medal I own. It is literally made of steel. Sometimes I still stare at it in disbelief. I always thought it was ridiculous that a human body could run 26.2 miles, let alone that my human body could run 26.2 miles. It is a constant reminder that I achieved something that once seemed impossible.
Then there is that one medal that glows in the dark. That is my 2013 Las Vegas Rock and Roll Half Marathon medal. What makes me happiest about this medal is that there are two of them. My husband and I ran this race together. In 2011 he had spent six months in physical therapy after ankle surgery and had wondered if he could ever run again. Now he was running half marathons. We crossed the finish line holding hands and with arms held overhead celebrating this victory.
When I signed up for the 2014 Mario Lemieux Foundation 6.6k, it seemed like an insignificant race. It's definitely not a well-known distance, but having a miscarriage two weeks prior changed all that. I needed this race. When I ran this race I knew I had changed. Instead of being timid, I was aggressive and attacked the course. But I noticed the other runners around me more. Instead of seeing runners, I saw people who had struggles and heartbreak in their own lives. I didn't know anything about their suffering and they didn't know the hell I had been through. But we were all in this together; moving one foot in front of the other. It was symbolic. It was beautiful.
Then there is my favorite medal: the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon medal. This is the one I hang on the mirror of my dresser so I see it every morning. It's from the second marathon that I ran when I wasn't satisfied with the outcome of my first. This medal is the one I questioned. This is the one I repeatedly asked myself, "Is it worth it?"
Now when I look at that medal I have the answer. It reminds me that it's ok if you didn't get the result you expected. It's ok if you achieved something amazing and still weren't satisfied. It's courageous that you tried again even when you weren't sure you would succeed. It's admirable that you set yourself up to potentially fail. But you didn't fail. You found out you were better than you ever believed.
Now when I look at my medals I don't just see some award I picked up at the end of race. I see the story of my life. Although the medals represent the "highs" I'll always remember the "lows" in between. I'll remember the stories of pain and struggle. But I'll also remember the stories of perseverance and triumph.