Victoria race day +1
One of the amazing things I’m learning about running (and life) is that you don’t know what you are capable of until you just go out there and do it. Whether it’s something voluntarily chosen (like deciding to pursue a PhD at “mid-life”) or something too awful to imagine (like the tortuous downward spiral of losing your husband to cancer), I’ve discovered a resilience that I had no idea was mine to claim.
Given the 8 1/2 year difference in our ages and what I had always perceived as my slightly deficient nurturing/mothering/caregiving gene, I’d teased Kurt for many years that if he developed Alzheimers or any other chronic terminal disease, I’d have to drop him off at the nearest nursing home and wish him the best. Obviously I didn’t do that, but at times I was an impatient, stressed-out caregiver. His last month was such an accelerating catastrophe that neither of us could catch up with events enough to grasp what was happening and say and do what needed to be said and done before it was too late. The effects of his pain and then the brain-numbing effects of morphine took the Kurt I knew away from me weeks before the cancer took what little remained.
I told myself at the time that I did all I could do, and looking back now four months later I am beginning to believe that I did indeed do everything I could do, all that I needed to do, and I did it with courage and honor. Unlike a half marathon, caregiving and grieving are not something that you can train for. They are circumstances that come to you and that you will learn to deal with as they happen. Life can, does, and will go on.
Those who followed the blog I kept for Kurt may recall that my last race was the North Olympic Discovery half marathon here where I live, and that I ran it — with the help of several friends who provided respite care — on what turned out to be four days before Kurt died in June. If you really have a great memory, you may recall that I was registered for the Victoria half marathon last year, but ended up not running it because he had started chemotherapy just three weeks before and was already having a very rough time, and I didn’t dare leave him for the weekend.
With all that as background, the race yesterday was especially emotionally-charged for me. It was not merely another “first time I’ve done X without Kurt” event, but it was also exactly four months since he died, three days after my first birthday without him, and the tail end of a full month of travel and adventure. I had the good sense during the last week or so to recognize that I was utterly exhausted, and gave myself permission to stop running completely. While there were late nights and no shortage of alcohol at the conference in Las Vegas, I really tried to eat, sleep, and conserve energy as much as possible.
I had a strategy for the race, which was basically to slow down and keep as steady a pace as possible, just as I’d been doing for my last few training runs. I spent the first few miles telling myself to slow down, and gradually following my instructions to myself. I departed from all the “rules” of racing, however, when I decided to just keep running and see how long I could go before that first walk break. You are not “supposed” to try out new clothing, shoes, food, pacing strategies, or anything else during a race, but I tried this and it actually worked. I couldn’t have done it on a hilly course, but on this flat, lovely course it was easy to just keep going.
I was so busy enjoying the throngs of cheering crowds (this was my first “big city” race), the beautiful public buildings and residences, a series of loops through a heavily-treed park, and the views across the water, that I did not have an “OMG I am doing this without Kurt, he will not be there for me at the finish line, NOBODY will be there for ME at the finish line” moment until somewhere around 11.5 miles. There was a harbor seal playing in the kelp just a few yards offshore, and I remembered being very near that exact spot a couple of years ago with Kurt, standing hand-in-hand on that beach and watching some people tossing things into the water for their dog to fetch. I had to talk to myself very sternly at that moment and tell myself that this was not the time to get emotional; my job at that moment was to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I was elated at the finish line, felt strong, and was blown away that Kathrine Switzer and Bart Yasso were there to congratulate ME (and everybody else), even if only very briefly. After collecting my medal, the little bits of free food that I thought my stomach could handle, and a plastic “blanket,” I found a park bench, did some stretches, and then sat down and cried.
I will now dare to share before-and-after photos of me. Before: looking brave and determined (the headband was to keep my ears warm before the start, most definitely not as a style statement — and brave or not, I must have been shaking because the image is blurry). After: smiling through my tears. It is yet another act of true courage for this camera-shy 56 years young woman to post these photos!
After I got done crying, I had lunch at my favorite Victoria restaurant, where I could watch the full marathoners running by a few hundred yards before the finish line. I thought about the story every one of those people has to tell — overcoming barriers, developing self-discipline and determination, and building muscles and true grit. 61% of the total entrants in the Victoria 8k, half marathon and full marathon were female; endurance running is an increasingly female-dominated sport in numbers of participants if not yet in finish times. We are women: we are strong.
Thank you all for the comments and emails. I want to especially recognize a blogger called The Running Thriver, who is a runner, a domestic abuse survivor, a champion for the cause of women who endure domestic abuse, and an advocate for women everywhere who strive to overcome their challenges, push their personal limits, and become better, stronger people through the process.