Two Sundays ago, my husband and I crossed the finish line together of the Honolulu Marathon, hand in hand, taking in the vastness and noise of thousands and thousands of fellow marathoners and spectators.
Music was playing everywhere, beautiful medals and shell necklaces were draped around our necks, recovery food and drink was behind an enclosed area for the runners along with their finishers’ shirts and souvenir merchandise to purchase for memories back home in Hawaii, the Mainland, or Asia.
For Ben, who had a stroke out of nowhere three years ago at age 41, it was a triumph of discipline and dedication that helped him move out of disbelief and mild depression to commitment to fitness that helped him lose 60 pounds.
For me, it was marathon #20, not bad for a guy who has loved sports his entire life, but grew up gay in an era when he was usually the last one picked for teams at his high school. Back then, sports and being gay were not a natural match for most people. It was fine for me to win awards for writing poetry, but for me to be a bona fide athlete was not within the realm of possibility back then for my classmates and even some of my own family. I’m glad I never took heed.
For Ben and me as a couple, it was a celebration of 15 years together with all its highs and lows. We ran the marathon to raise money for a school that promotes inclusion, diversity, and opportunities for students to develop their courage to nurture peace.
On Monday, Ben and I wore our finishers’ shirts and, along with a student marathoner, were applauded at our school assembly. Our legs hurt, but we took our daughter to the YMCA and walked on the treadmill for a few miles.
On Thursday, I called a new friend whom I met last summer. Kawika organizes and manages Hawaii Kai Ultra Run events where you pick your distance: a half marathon, 30K, full marathon, 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles. Times are official and recognized by distance running associations, but the races are really more about personal challenges and camaraderie than winning awards (although receiving finishers’ certificates and medals always feels great!). I ran my 19th marathon last July in Hawaii Kai, one of the best experiences of my life. I didn’t commit to running a marathon for a second weekend in a row, but it was fun to ponder doing so.
On Friday, I joined a two-hour training session at work in an office scented with candles and other fragrances that are pleasant but make it hard for me to breathe. Wanting to be a good sport, I didn’t mention my allergies. In the afternoon, I attended a great holiday party with my workmates. I told Ben I had made peace with not running another marathon for a while.
On Saturday, I couldn’t breathe. My throat hurt. But I persuaded Ben to drive out to Hawaii Kai. I visited with Kawika who was helping runners. You can choose a Saturday or Sunday for Hawaii Kai Ultra Run events. I made a faint promise to return on Sunday.
On Sunday at 6 a.m., I woke up with a fever of 101. But my throat felt better. I asked Ben how much time I had to make a decision. He gave me two hours.
At 8 a.m. we started driving. My fever had gone down to 98.7. I promised Ben and our daughter that if I started to feel unusually tired, I would stop. I hugged them both and asked them to enjoy holiday activities. I would call.
At 8:45, I started a marathon.
A few hours later, I made up my mind, sort of. I convinced myself that I would be just fine finishing a half marathon and leaving it at that, receiving a nice certificate for 13.1 miles, enjoying the afternoon with my family, getting good sleep, and telling a few friends the next day that I was proud of finishing a half. I went to the finishers’ tent. I talked to Kawika. He persuaded me to try one more 3.3-mile loop. I did. Then I realized I had completed over 16 miles. I drank more water. I took another mustard packet for cramps.
I met wonderful people on the course who encouraged me which was extremely kind given that about 40 people had signed up for this event and all but Kawika, a young man who had also run the Honolulu Marathon the Sunday last, and I were the only runners on this Sunday. The other 37 athletes all ran on Saturday.
I’ve never been part of an official race with only three people, but the loops through a neighborhood that belongs in a movie set with stunning mountains still green in an Hawaii December with gentle inclines and families taking time while looking after their children to applaud us was heaven.
I’m a Quaker. I love seeking silence. This felt right to me. And it was.
At 3:15, I finished. I sprinted to the runners’ tent. Kawika raised his arms. I raised mine. We hugged. And then talked story, a Hawaii tradition.
Kawika had also finished his marathon. While I completed #21, he has finished more than 200.
My husband and daughter came to pack me in the car. My temperature had gone up again to 100, but I felt great. Later that night, cramps set in, but I was fine. Today, if someone were to ask me to do another marathon this weekend, I would.
But I won’t. I want to spend more time being a father, playing the bassoon, giving my husband time to pursue goals that on paper don’t make sense.
Only that gently stretching personal limits can be a lot of fun.