I don’t have a bucket list. I haven’t always dreamt of running a marathon. It’s not a goal of mine. In fact, I’ve consciously thought, that’s not something I’ll ever want to do.
It was Jacquelyn, a very important person in my life, who planted the seed: “The Napa marathon is on March 3rd! Do you want to run it with me?”
That was an easy no. The most I’d ever run was 10 miles or so, and that was by accident because I got lost (and trapped) in the Presidio Golf Course. I’ve always wanted to be “a runner” but didn’t see myself as one. I thought a real runner has to get up at 6 am and pound the pavement five days a week for miles.
Yet I started running in the 100-acre woods behind my house when I was 14 or 15. I knew then that running invigorates and empowers me in a unique way. I have run over the years in fitness classes and on treadmills, in foreign cities and barefoot on sandy beaches.
I ran a 10k and 5k in my twenties because the other moms I exercised with in Stroller Strides encouraged me to sign up. (Friends make everything better.) I ran a 12k in San Francisco because Bay to Breakers is a cultural phenomenon and shuts down the city on the third Sunday in May. (If you can’t beat them, join them.)
But I have never ran a half-marathon, and never wanted to run a marathon.
Until yesterday when I finished a full marathon, running my heart out for 26.2 miles. How did I go from there to here?
On a Saturday afternoon, after Jacquelyn planted the seed, after I realized the marathon was the weekend my mom was coming to town to babysit, after a night of drinking wine with other moms, the seed sprouted. While I was on a run, of course.
The night before I had accepted the wine when it was offered. Which was fine until I stayed too late and the bottles kept coming. It doesn’t take a lot to put my digestion on hold and my cells out to dry, provoking nausea and inflammation. Two glasses can do me in under the right circumstances, but usually it takes three or four. Though I’m a lightweight, it’s still easy for me to get carried away in the moment; I have a hard time saying good-bye.
I drank water all night and before bed, but I still woke up the next day feeling it. By mid-day, I had worked up the courage to slip into my spandex and Nikes. The sky was clear and I decided to go for a run outside, hoping to pick myself up.
I ran slowly, very slowly through the Presidio of San Francisco, the small but tall forest, the urban campground, the old bunkers. By the famous bridge but not over it. I ran 6.5 miles and with every step, I felt freer. This makes me feel good, I thought. This makes me feel alive and powerful.
Meanwhile, drinking into the night dulls my spirit and my sparkle. Wine is meant to be a delicacy, enjoyed consciously in the right balance with food and water. Instead, we often use it as a social crutch, an elixir for confidence. Something to sip. Something to hold. Something to take the edge off. Something to do when there is nothing else. Wine isn’t inherently bad, but the way we use it is not always healthy.
I can’t afford to be unhealthy. My life is too busy, with too many people relying on me. Things fall apart.
As I ran that day, my subtle hangover fading, I knew I wanted more of this feeling. I started wrapping my monkey mind around 13.1 miles. The half-marathon. It wouldn’t be too hard and it would motivate me to train. Training would help me stay mindful of my consumption. Training keeps track. Like your body.
I needed the boost, something to work for and complete. A finish line. A new reason to put my health first.
When I told Jacquelyn I was considering the half, she pushed me to consider the full. “One foot in front of the other,” she said. “It could be an interesting experience. We’ll do it together.”
But I don’t want to run a marathon! I don’t care about checking it off some imaginary list.
The little girl who hated running a single mile in PE class is still inside of me, and she was indignant. But what about my adult self? The mother who birthed without pain medication to feel the power of childbirth, the woman who thrives on new experiences, the human who believes that pushing one’s limits is always a good idea.
I considered the mental benefits of completing a full marathon, the meditation of running, the distance that would quiet my mind and push me deeper into the discomfort that is personal growth.
It would also test my physical capabilities, it would be painful, I would need to train, I might not get in “enough” miles—because the race was less than 5 weeks away.
But, like Jacquelyn, I sensed there would be something important waiting for me at the finish line. So we got on the phone and talked through our feelings until we were both ready to sign up. As a general rule, humans can do more together than alone.