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The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done

It is quiet.  The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt.  My heart reminds me of the task at hand: kee...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Way To Cross The Finish Line, Part 1

This is the blog I have been putting off writing. I include that statement mostly because it is obvious by the date, and also because I want my fellow MS survivors to understand that recording these efforts is not an easy task for me.  Sometimes I think it is easier to lay down a ten mile run than to write down this experience.  But, I did commit to recording the half marathon.  I did commit to scripturizing my labor, my love.  Here’s the truth of it:

It was an incredible day, one of the three clear days we have had all this Spring in the Pacific Northwest.  The morning held crisp air and anticipation.  I woke early and confident, ate granola and drank coconut water.  I exchanged an encouraging moment with my husband before we dragged the children from their cozy beds, fed them, stuffed them into the car and then drove to pick up my running partner and newest friend, Stephanie Gray.  Stephanie is an encouraging gal, herself confident in the technique of Chi Running, and also newer to this sport we both seem to enjoy.  We started running together through our training group and then took to extracurricular runs to supplement the program.  We are compatible runners and I am grateful for her companionship and support.  I am also grateful that she knows I have MS and runs with me anyway.
My husband dropped us off near the start line.  There were people everywhere—people stretching, people trotting in place, some waiting in long lines at porta-potties erected just for this occasion, an ocean of runners.  Nearly 8,000 people had turned out to participate.  The mood was electric!

We found our training group doing their Chi looseners, and quickly joined in.  Some hugs were exchanged and thanks to our coach, Keith McConnell, who gestured to his parked bike telling us his job was not yet over.  We posed for a picture then went to line up with our projected time.  Stephanie and I tried to get near the five minute pace, not fast by any standards of running, but completely realistic for us and also respectable.  We also tried to stay near the left side so I would see my kids and husband after the gun sounded.  There were so many people I was afraid I would miss them.  There were more hugs and encouraging words from people we knew, waving across the sea of eagerness.  Music.  Laughter.  A loud, indescribable sound.  The crowd moved forward and then cheering wafted up and at once we were off.

The initial pace was lesser than a snail’s crawl as we passed beneath the ‘Start’ sign.  We moved with those surrounding us.  I saw my husband, David Vazquez, and my 2 girls cheering and waving.  They saw me, too, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was something that might have a positive impact on them in years to come.  They threw kisses and merriment and my gratitude for them squeezed my throat and watered my eyes.  Stephanie told me that we would see her girls and husband somewhere around mile seven.  Then, we jogged along, at a much slower pace than either of us would have chosen, obligated to the pace of those around us.  Had the path been free and clear, we might have started too fast.  I was happy to be there, doing what I did not think could be done.  I was running a half marathon.  The thought of it choked me up a bit, so I pushed it from my mind.  I could not afford to hyperventilate this early in the run.

About mile 2, the crowd had thinned enough for us to get up to our pace.  The air was brisk and easy to breath.  We had started up Patterson when I saw my good friend Toviana Jackson stood at the curb, cheering.  Her toddler daughter was perched on her shoulders and they both waved and yelled.  It was a wonderful sight so early in the run.  On the road up to Martin, the first uphill climb, we passed a young girl with a tinfoil tiding.  She held out her snack to the passing runners and I thought her offer a wonderful thing.  I told her as much as we passed, then I heard a voice behind her say, “Is that Rhonda?” and then “Go Rhonda!”  I turned and saw that the girl stood in front of the house of my friend Bob Hutchings, and there he was in his lawn chair waving and smiling.  Later I learned that they were handing out bacon to the runners.  I laugh about it now, about the bacon, but then it felt so nice to have another spectator know me, to cheer me on.  Not too much further along, Stephanie also found one of her friends cheering from the side of the road.  I had no idea that spectators made such a difference, but they surely do and did.

We had strategically pre-decided that on the top of Martin we would take our bathroom break.  We were joined there by about 100 of our fellow runners who also had the same idea.  We enjoyed a lengthy wait in line and then a nice downhill surge.  We had paced with our Chi Running Group teammate Jeannette.  She brought new conversation to our regular talks and she and I spoke of going on to do a full marathon.  Stephanie regarded the endeavor with respect but also declined to commit to something so insane, especially in the middle of a run that none of us were entirely sure we could finish.  Still, it was an optimistic stretch.  We saw our coach, cheering from his bike.  We passed the 6 mile mark and then the 10K mark, where they logged our time for posterity.  Then we turned up Amazon Parkway, sure and confident.  We all remarked about how good we felt and we all reminded each other of our posture, our foot strikes and of our pace.  We were Chi Runners, after all.

We saw Stephanie’s family just where she said we would, and we paused so she could get some hugs and supportive comments to take with her.  Upon departure, her youngest daughter hollered after her “Run Mommy, run!”  I thought of the positive impact this action would have for her children and the moment returned me to my sentimental reaction.  I had to remind myself that I would lose my breath if I succumbed to the emotion of the scene.  On we pressed.

We neared 19th, or ‘The Hill’ as we non-affectionately had it dubbed.  19th is not a terribly steep hill all on its own, but after nine miles of running, it can be the factor that breaks a runner’s stride and confidence.  This is when Stephanie’s training really kicked in, and I was grateful it had.  She took the lead and she leaned into the hill.  I stayed behind her, riding on her energy and copying her pace.  She passed fit runners, she passed young men, she passed cheering spectators.  All the while, I stayed behind her, in awe of her tenacity and determination.  In Chi Running, there is a simple term called ‘Y’Chi” where you can focus on something ahead of you and feel its energy pull you along.  On 19th that morning, I focused on Stephanie and she got me over ‘The Hill.’  I am fairly sure I could have done it on my own, but I am not so sure I would have had the same speed, efficiency and determination.  The best part, though, was looking behind once we got to the top to see that Jeannette was right behind me.  The second best part was the down hill run and our camaraderie, then.  As we rounded the bottom of 19th and turned on to Agate, I high-fived anonymous spectators.  We all joked about our speed and strength.  It was truly a memorable time.  I thought, even if I don’t finish this race, or go on to the next race, this is enough.  Right then, I was a runner, and I was a runner among other runners, and we ran and ran, hearts pounding and heads high.

Stay tuned for Part 2

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