21. I’d Only Just Begun

21. I’d Only Just Begun

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

I’d Only Just Begun

Running the marathon gave me an inner strength that changed my life… just finishing can have a profound effect on your confidence and self-esteem.
 ~Henley Gibble

I never thought I’d run a marathon. Then again, I never thought I’d get a divorce. It just so happened that in my case, for whatever reason, there seemed to be a fine thread that wove these two events together in my life.

I’d been a runner since high school. Never far. Never fast. Just consistent. Two or three miles a day, five or six times a week.

Marathons had always been unfathomable to me. How any human could run 26.2 miles was as foreign to me as swimming the English Channel or climbing Mount Everest. And when I realized that the best marathoners actually complete the trek in a little more than two hours, the only plausible explanation seemed that their bodies were created differently than mine.

The most essential ingredient to their success never occurred to me until the day a co-worker passed along a training schedule she had received from a friend. I glanced at it, chuckled and tossed it on top of a pile of things on my desk. But it was too late. The seed was planted.

There it was staring me in the face. Black and white instructions for making the impossible a reality. Sixteen weeks of training. Six days a week. Building up the mileage until some miracle transpired by week 14 and the long run actually broke 20 miles. As is the case so often in life, it all boiled down to one thing. Discipline.

The idea twirled around in my brain until one spring Saturday I took the matter out on the road to let my legs decide. Never before had I tried to run long. What if I kept going until I dropped? Maybe I’d be surprised at how far I could run.

Or not. Seven miles later, I stopped dead in my tracks, a mere 19.2 miles short. No matter. I was hooked.

An October marathon required my training to begin in June. It didn’t take long to realize that I was never going to make it if I didn’t find time for myself, an alien concept to me during those dark days. But suddenly I had a mission to accomplish. I would have to put work aside, find a sitter for my son and, quite literally, hit the road.

Six days a week, mile after mile after mile, I was alone with my thoughts. At a time when it seemed my entire life was collapsing around me, I was building something new. When it seemed as though everyone I ever trusted had let me down, I was learning to rely on myself. Even in the worst of moments, I discovered I could put on my Nikes and work it out on the road.

I ran past it all. The white lace and promises. The heavy anchor of expectations. The long shadow of religious obligation. Through it all, I kept running and running and running.

With every mile, I was getting stronger. I was gaining confidence. I was becoming reacquainted with the girl I had left behind somewhere. An impossible goal had been set and there was only one person who could make it happen.

Finally, the big day arrived. Even though my longest training run had barely broken 20 miles, there I was, poised in my new T-shirt on a warm October Sunday.

At the opening gun, I was buoyed along by the camaraderie of the event. The thousands of runners. The colorful shirts. The new running shoes. The theme song from Rocky. The exuberant crowd that lined the streets. I could run forever. I believed this. After ten miles, I still believed it. After eleven. After twelve.

But that would change.

After climbing a gut-wrenching hill, there was one neighborhood left to pass through before we would head for a long loop near the ocean. That’s where it happened. I’d been warned it would come at around mile 20 or so. But at mile 14, there it was. The wall. Never in my life had I felt so defeated.

Whose crazy idea was this, anyway? Twenty-six miles. Why not a hundred? Why not a thousand? My feet stopped running. I started to walk. This is the worst thing you’ve ever tried to do. Who are you kidding? You’ll never make it. I couldn’t go on.

Then a man came out of the crowd and stood alongside me. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t ask what was wrong. He just smiled and started to walk with me. Despite my despair, I found myself matching my stride to his, just as I had so many times before.

A half mile later, I was ready to run again. I asked my dad why he’d chosen that particular spot to watch for me. He just hugged me and said he’d be waiting at the finish line.

And finish, I did.

I still remember it all. The foil cape wrapped around my shoulders to keep the heat in. The shiny medal around my neck. Not because I won. But because I had actually done it. I remember the hugs and the handshakes, too. How they came at me from every direction. A surreal moment for a lifetime.

I should have been ecstatic. But I was content to sit and drink a bottle of water. I had accomplished what once, for me, had seemed impossible. I had made it from start to finish. From there to here.

As it turned out, my marriage ended with far less fanfare. The final papers arrived amid a pile of junk mail on a gray winter’s day. An official proclamation that someone I had relied on for so long wasn’t going to be there anymore. But by the time it came, I was ready. Because I’d learned to rely on someone else.

Myself.

~Rita Lussier

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