Well, dear readers, I did crawl my way to the finish line. Actually, I ran on one leg and dragged the other, probably looking like a wounded kangaroo as I hopped along the last mile to reach a personal time goal and complete my 19th marathon.
For a good six hours afterward, the runner’s high kicked in. Nothing bothered me until 11 p.m. when I woke up crying out with painful cramps that interrupted a blissful sleep. I stood up and staggered out in the dark hoping for relief that my husband provided with an emergency massage of my legs. Then all was well again except for my daughter’s stuffy nose — as if she, too, had held out to the end and then her body let down.
At this point, a few of my 19 marathons blend together, but some stand out more than others.
Yesterday’s event will be one of those. I found out about it by accident when an acquaintance told me that there were two marathons on this island, one in July and the other in December. That was a real surprise. I had always planned to run 20 and then stop although even my husband thinks I’ll find a new goal given that I had promised to hang up the sneakers after finishing 10, then 15, then 16.
Yesterday morning, though, I told him about the parable of a man who lived in the Alps. Every spring, summer, and autumn he would go down his mountain to tend to his fields. Every winter he would go back up the mountain to his hut and wait out the cold months. One year, he knew he would not make it back down the mountain. He stayed in his hut forever.
I’m nearing my stay in the hut phase for marathons. My husband and I will do one together in December, his first and my 20th in our 15th year together. Life doesn’t always present such lovely numbers. But to reach this symbolic mark of togetherness and tenacity with my husband, I needed to squeeze in my 19th marathon at a time when my training has been on the lighter side.
Perhaps that really helped yesterday. I joined a group of athletes for an event that over the years had grown from a training run for extremely fit runners to an ultra run for with men and women from 11 states and Canada who chose distances from 13.1 (a half marathon) to 100 miles.
Some 40 of us encountered warm temperatures and hills that would have made my parable friend from the Alps proud. We ran, walked, and crawled 9-mile loops to reach our distance goals. We often were on our own but sometimes we kept each other company. We drank water or electrolyte replenishing drinks from stations often unmanned. Very few people cheered us on, except for a few curious onlookers, but every cheer, including our own high fives to each other, helped us keep going. The scenery was breathtaking and the route reassuring. Having completed one loop, the second and those that followed seemed like familiar friends (albeit ones so new I wondered at times if I might get lost!), just like the big trees on the course where I stretched to keep my muscles from tightening too much, the rocks that became mile markers, the traffic lights that helped us reach the next destination point.
The finish was as organic as the whole experience. Instead of loud cheers and a giant clock, a dirt path in a park led to the check-in canopy tent watched over by event’s organizer who gave us finisher certificates, water, food, and his calm wisdom about endurance! In fact, Kawika gave me all kinds of assurance when I first called him about seven weeks ago to see if I could actually be part of the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run challenge.
The older I get the more grateful I am for every mile. I was not alone yesterday. In addition to the other runners and Kawika, I wore my school’s Run for Peace singlet, my daughter’s watch and carried my husband’s small running towel to rub down my leg muscles. And I carried faith that helped me smile most of the nearly six hours I willed my body to grind through a marathon course again before I finally know after December and a race I will share with my husband that I won’t be coming down the mountain for a long while.