I wonder if finishing a marathon gives you a preview of aging.
After running over hill and dale with a swarm of fellow runners and the spirit of an athlete, you feel like you’re 87. Your toenails hurt, if you still have them. Your back feels super-glued to your hips at a 45 degree angle. Between calves and Achilles’ tendons, the sore tissue forces you to hobble.
Thank God for your husband. After sprinting across the finish line (in an all-out effort to keep up with your running partner) you slow down, grab his arm and don’t let go for the next two hours. He wraps you in a silver plastic blanket, leads you to the chocolate milk, and lowers your throbbing butt cheeks to the curb.
As the sugar begins to revive your fainting bod, you let the good man help you up and limp to the gear check to meet your tired but triumphant fellow marathoners. Shuffling back to the hotel and a hot shower, the hours slowly roll by and the water rolls down your body, shedding some of the decades.
There is reward in this painful afterglow. You have accomplished something difficult. You have moved through the slog, gritted your teeth as you grunted “I can do this!”, persevered through the cramping toe and the hollering calves, been revived by the good friend who calls you forward though you want to walk. You have done something really hard.
“I have a friend who got through nursing school because of her marathon. She figured, if I could finish a marathon, I could become a nurse,” says Erica. The daily decisions to take one more step toward a dream slowly gather force, until one day you run 26.2 miles, or finish nursing school, or build your own house.
Of course there’s the stuff beyond our control: limited income, injured knees, sick children, family history…but then there is the little circle over which we have a choice. And in that little circle, even if it be but the size of a wedding ring, we can bring intention, discipline, and good companions. We can choose something, even if it is only to trust or to smile.
Watching my running girls dodder to their front doors as they are dropped off at home, I can almost see the walkers in front of each of them. It makes me laugh, and it makes me grateful. We may have strained IT bands, chafed armpits, and wet pants, but we are alive. And smiling.