For many years I have said, “Some day I will run a marathon.” I’m aware that a lot of people say that. My ex-boyfriend said it all the time. He still hasn’t. I suppose the idea came into my head because my brother Jimmy is a runner. I asked him in February of 2011 to commit to doing a marathon with me. It was a tentative step towards developing a relationship. We have never been close. Kids in families like ours aren’t allowed to be close.
In May of 2011 my Uncle Bob died. Uncle Bob was the man in my childhood who loved me and cared for me without sexually assaulting me. My family didn’t tell me he was in the hospital or that they were taking him off of life support. My niece decided I should know and she called me. He died while I was stuck in traffic less than five miles away from the hospital.
Something inside me broke. My sister asked me if I had “ever lost someone close to me before” and turned red with fury when I responded, “like our father or our brother Tommy?” I wasn’t allowed to bring them up. They “didn’t count” because they both abused me and sexually assaulted me. I went home and outed myself as an incest survivor on the internet. My brother Jimmy didn’t think that was ok. He told me I was melodramatic and looking for attention. I haven’t spoken to him since. Since my family all decided they were done with me I figured it was a good time to finally write the story of my childhood. I did so in November of 2011.
In January of 2012 I asked my housemate/co-parent to move out, which was stressful and emotionally hard. I also started running. I decided that even though I wouldn’t actually be doing it with Jimmy I was going to do the marathon anyway. We were planning on Long Beach because it is one of the flattest marathons in the state. I registered. I looked up training plans and put them on my Google Calendar for the next ten months.
When you decide to do something there is this waiting period. You want to do it and it is going to be ridiculously hard—how do you get there? I’ve never done anything physically taxing like this before. The only running I previously had done was getting away from people who wanted to beat the shit out of me. I did one year of t-ball and less than a full season of little league. I was “catcher” for one pitch. I missed and it hit me in the stomach and made me puke and cry. They stuck me in the outfield and I got sick of going after a couple of weeks. So I had no basis of “fitness” to build on.
It’s probably worth mentioning that I am a stay at home mom with two kids. They are two and four. So I’ve been doing this running while trying to manage them. Finding time has been interesting. For the first five months I ran in the afternoons after my husband got off work because none of my runs took very long. Once the runs started getting longer and longer I switched to leaving my house by six in the morning. I have no childcare. I have to make use of what little time my husband has available. He is a software engineer so he is out of the house a minimum of 45 hours a week and often more than that. And he wrote a book this year so he doesn’t have a lot of time available for helping me. It’s been stressful.
I hear a lot of people talk about how running is supposed to improve a persons mood. I have no idea who these people are but it doesn’t bloody work for me. I have spent the year crying. I cry before I run. I cry while I run. I cry when I get home. I have a lot of grief. I’m crying for Uncle Bob. I’m crying for my father. I’m crying for my mother. I’m crying for my sister and my brothers. I’m crying for my niece and nephews. I cry and feel worthless and empty. It doesn’t matter how I feel on any given day. I know what I have to do. I schedule things so I don’t have to wonder what a day will require.
I have asked myself over and over all year why this is important to me. Why am I torturing myself? Am I running because my brother is a runner? Because I want to prove that I am a fucking Archer whether my family wants to acknowledge that I am alive or not? Because I want to be a bad ass? Because… I don’t even know. I said I would do it. If I quit or stop then I become just one more person who makes promises and doesn’t keep them. I said I would run the Long Beach Marathon.
About a month before the event a good friend ran a twenty mile race near her home in Portland, Oregon. I was kidding when I said, “Hey if you trained up to this mileage then a full marathon is easy. Come do it with me!” Surprisingly she said yes. Within hours she had talked to her husband and booked a flight.
The last month of training was both the hardest and the easiest. All of a sudden I wasn’t on this terrible solo death march of feeling abandoned. I had to keep training because Ali was coming. Ali loves me. I still had a lot of days where I cried so hard my knees buckled and I fell to the ground and cried until I couldn’t cry any more. Then I got up and ran again. The good days came more often.
Six days before the race I drove to Southern California with my family. We were off to Disneyland! The girls and I had a lot of fun getting in my last walking miles in the park. The day before the race Ali was supposed to fly down first thing in the morning. Her flight was delayed. At the first notice I started feeling a little worried but I thought she would make it and it would be fine.
Six hours later they cancelled her flight entirely. I was afraid that was the end. I didn’t sob on the phone to Ali. I only freaked out a little in text. Her amazing husband jumped on the internet and booked her another flight. It was later and going into a different airport and it would be a lot more complicated—but she would get to SoCal. Unfortunately she would get there too late to pick up her race bib. She emailed me a picture of her ID and her husband emailed me a waver to print so I could pick up her bib for her. We live in the future!
I drove down to the Expo by myself. I didn’t want to be focused on my kids while I was trying to figure out where to go. I wasn’t feeling patient. I checked the lists of people registered. My brother’s name wasn’t on it. After a year of heart pounding anxiety worrying about seeing him that was rather anticlimactic if you ask me.
So I picked up the bibs and went back to our hotel room. I angsted and fussed. Ali got to her moms-in-law’s house. I arrived around 7:30. We talked more than we should have. It would have been impossible to avoid. I hardly ever get to see her. Talking to her feels really good. So we didn’t get to sleep till around 11 pm. I slept till 2:30 am. Then I woke up to use the bathroom and the crying started. I cried until Ali woke up around 5:30. I cried because I didn’t have one more chance to see anyone in my family. They are just done with me. I think there was some big part of me that was praying that Jimmy would see me and hug me. I haven’t said that out loud all year. I was afraid to hope. I was smart.
We woke up and piddled around getting ready. Ali had trouble forcing her way through her breakfast so we left about fifteen minutes after we were supposed to. That’s ok, we left a little bit of a buffer. Then it turned out that the person driving the vehicle had a different opinion about the optimal way to get to the race grounds. An opinion that was unfortunately not born out in reality. We were blocked continually by the race track. Whoops. Eventually we went around on the freeway (what Ali was campaigning hard for from the beginning, apparently—I was fairly unaware of this subtext) and arrived at the race. We had just enough time to stop at the port-a-potties before the last wave started. We hurried. We made it into the last wave and settled in for our run.
I’d like to say it was wonderful because I was with Ali and in many ways it was. She sang me silly songs. She encouraged and coaxed. She helped me through the rough parts. There were a lot of rough parts. The first big problem was the air quality. I am not used to SoCal air quality. I felt like I had to chew each breath before swallowing. It was really hard to run. I was dizzy and nauseated. We walked a lot. It was also almost twenty degrees hotter than either of us are used to running in. Oh and the humidity. The humidity was nightmarish (thus the bad air quality). We were wet all day and crusted in salt. But the real kicker? I started my period at mile 13 along with terrible cramps that made me want to go to bed and curl up and cry. Luckily Ali had extra tampons. Yay for planning ahead. A medical station provided some ibuprofen. I had to finish.
It was beautiful traveling along the ocean. The city of Long Beach is certainly picturesque. One of the most disheartening moments of the race was when the half marathoners split off and we went from being part of a large crowd to being one of the stragglers. It was a little sad for me to realize how far behind the pack of “runners” we were for the marathon. Really we mostly walked. I ran as much as I could but I didn’t want to faint or puke so it wasn’t that much.
In the end our running time was 6:47. We finished seven and a half minutes before they closed the finish line. We were part of the last wave and they only keep the finish line open for 7:30 hours. It’s a darn good thing we weren’t just a hair later and that I managed to run as much as I did.
I did it. I finished the Long Beach Marathon. Thank you Ali. Near as I can tell this is the hardest thing I have ever done with another person. I’m so glad I had you. I won’t forget.
The flea had a gleam in his eye. (Silly song Ali sang.) I think it was because he was plotting. He was wondering how hard it was going to be to run. He wanted to know if he could keep up with you too.
I won’t do another marathon with you. Can we do a half next time? That’s only half as crazy. Next time on your turf with better air quality.
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