I was starting to think I shouldn't run the Park City Marathon.
I'm one of those people who doesn't believe in accidents. So when my doctor told me I had to have surgery 11 days before my third marathon this year, I started to wonder if maybe I ought to skip the race. After all, in order to accomplish my goal of the Grand Slam, I only need two more marathons, and I have already signed up for the Top of Utah and St. George events.
Was it an omen? Or was it instead an opportunity? You know, one of those obstacles life throws in your path just to make sure you're paying attention and willing to really work for what you want?
When I got a serious cold in the hospital's recovery room, I again thought maybe this was a hint. Don't run. You need to rest. So I left open the possibility that I might skip the race.
And then Sunday, on my 40th birthday, I went running. I only ran six miles, but I felt great. It was the best day I'd had since my surgery, and I took that as a sign I should run the race. I didn't need the race, but I wanted it.
My husband was worried; my mother was stunned. So I called my doctor, and she just laughed. Then we made a deal. Go slow, I mean really slow, and just finish the race and she'd give her approval. Her final words of advice: "Don't push yourself."
Let me just say that it is impossible not to push yourself in a 26.2-mile race even if you walk the entire time. Just to move forward for that many miles requires some pushing.
And then, the morning of the race, I forgot my bib number, my GU and my Ibuprofen on my kitchen table. Another hint? I wasn't sure. I got a new bib number and found some GU in my car. I'd live without my wonder drug for one race.
I started more than an hour early so that I could keep my promise to my doctor and my husband without finishing at 2 p.m. And then, just a mile and a half into the race, I missed a turn. The first turn, to be exact. I ended up running an extra three miles (and waking my exhausted husband at 6 a.m.) as I tried to right my course.
OK, this had to be a sign. I was frustrated, already in pain and sleepy from my early start. For most of the race, I watched the mile markers count down the miles and then I thought to myself, "I'm really at" and then I'd add three miles to my current position. Incidentally, that didn't do much for my mental state.
I kept telling myself to let the frustration fade away, but it persisted well into the race. I didn't shake it until well past mile 20. That's when I learned something new about myself: I am determined. I moved into the discomfort and discouragement that nearly always comes at some point during an endurance effort, and then I felt the joy.
I have never wanted to quit a race once I've started. The only thing worse, in my mind, than being last, is quitting. But after I got lost, I seriously considered giving up. I had, after all, the perfect excuse.
But I didn't do it. I just kept moving, however slowly, until more than six hours and 20 minutes after I started, I'd run farther than I ever have 29.2 miles to be exact.
E-mail: [email protected]