Marathons aren’t about running for me. They are about life lessons, finding what I’m capable of, and perspective. Come along with me as I ran the Boston Marathon for the 3rd time. You’ll be able to feel the race without ever putting on a pair of running shoes.
The marathon has staggered starting times to accommodate 30,000 runners. Because I’m not the fastest, and in my defense, older than most of the runners, I start near the end of all qualified runners. Coming directly after me are runners who are participating because they have raised money for their favorite charity.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve had a neutral view of the charity runners. It’s all fine and good they’ve raised money and everything, but the rest of us worked very hard to get here. A friend of mine tried 10 times to qualify before finally earning the right to run.
As the race started, I was stuck in the middle of the charity runners. They aren’t necessarily ‘runners’. Some wear tutus and others run 4 abreast, not allowing faster runners to get by easily. They’re out for the experience, many not knowing what they’ve gotten themselves into. I was mildly irritated by their lack of ability, fancying myself slightly above them.
I began to notice their tee shirts. Various causes were represented. Each one worn proudly to promote the suffering people endured and the non-profits organized to alleviate it. It was sobering. Liver disease, cancer, domestic violence. These are big deals. There is so much suffering and these people were bringing hope.
Then I saw one that broke me. Broke me of my pride, my arrogance, . . . my privilege. It said, ‘I Miss My Mom’. It was written in red letters surrounded by hearts. I sighed heavily. I bet she’s cried buckets of tears over the loss of her mom to some deadly disease. Now she’s enduring the hardest marathon on the planet as a tribute. She’s raised at least $2,000 so other people don’t have to suffer the same loss.
Suddenly, it was a privilege to be among these charity runners. They could all teach me a lesson in life way more important than how to get a qualifying time. Work hard? I’m sure it was way more difficult to get through enduring the physical, mental, and spiritual strain put on them by a difficulty either they or a loved one faced.
In 2018, the charity runners at Boston raised 36.6 million dollars. They are the real champions.
The Negative Thoughts
When I finished the race, I wrote out as many thoughts as I could remember I had during the run. There were 3 positive ones for every negative, which isn’t too bad considering the event. The negative ones had to do with expectations, limitations, and my body screaming at me because of the discomfort.
Don’t we all do this? We expect things to go one way and they go another. We immediately start to whine and complain. We’re limited by time, money, or ability and our mind focuses on what we don’t have instead of what we do. And many people know this far better than I as they deal with daily pain in their body. It’s uncomfortable and has the power to dash our enthusiasm, hope, and joy.
But our thoughts are super powerful! They can change how we see things. Our thoughts can add perspective to our current situation. We can give ourselves a pep talk to get through the most difficult of situations.
This also applies to our words. Although I wasn’t saying much during the 4-hours I was on the course, many people helped me along the way. When I was running the infamous Newton Hills, a man I never saw was encouraging the runners as we went by. He said, ‘you’re got two down. Just two to go!’ His words gave me reality, encouragement, and motivation.
With about 3 miles to go, I slowed to a walk as I pulled a Gu from my running belt for energy. A young man with determination in his face looked directly at me and said, ‘Number 139, you got this! Do not give up!’ Thank you thank you thank you, random man! I wish I could meet you today and give you a big hug for the encouragement you brought me at that moment!
And along the final 600-yard stretch on Boylston Street, it felt as if the crowds were actually carrying me. I don’t understand the phenomenon, but something magical happened with the encouragement of these strangers, to carry me through the last, most difficult, stretch. Their impetus was as real as the shoes on my feet.
Minnesota’s snowy winter had me on the treadmill during training because of the slippery and dark conditions. About a month before the race, I was finally able to get outside to run. One Saturday, I was running along a sidewalk and stepped in some mud. My pristine shoes were marred. Dang. I had worked hard to jump over the melting snow to keep them clean. Each time I put on my shoes after that, I frowned a bit at the stain.
Fast forward to Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. This is the start of the marathon. Hundreds of porta-potties line the area for runners to take one last pit-stop. After our hour-long bus ride to get there, I headed right for the first bank of toilets. Suddenly, I stepped deep into the mud. The rainy conditions that morning and thousands of runners before me had turned a normally grassy area into a mud pit. Determined to give my bladder relief, I walked further and further into the mess. Before I knew it, my feet were covered in mud and I had no way out but to slosh back through the muddle.
Later I began to laugh hysterically. It seemed God had given me the slight smudge on my shoe a month before as a whisper of what was to come. ‘You’re disappointed by the little stain? If you are distracted by it, I’ll give you a dose of perspective. I’m with you all the way, Cathy. Even in the little stuff.’ Although I started the race with wet muddy shoes, I felt God was with me.
I’m grateful my body could endure the course. I was grateful to be there. I was grateful for the slight breeze to cool me off. I was grateful for the beautiful Citgo sign and Fenway Park. I was grateful two runners named ‘Cathy’ and ‘Catherine’ running nearby with names on their shirts. The crowds yelled, ‘Way to go Cathy! Hang in there Catherine!’ Even though I knew it wasn’t for me, it felt encouraging. I was grateful for the charity runners. I was grateful for the 7 other women from Mankato who ran that day. I was grateful for the cooling rain near the finish.
I am grateful for the lessons.
We all have a race to run. Difficulties will arise. It may be a project at work, a difficult spouse, or an illness. It’s just life. The trials that come our way are lessons. They show us what we’re made of. They give us perspective.