Your protagonist is not you. Your protagonist is the reader. You are not telling your story for yourself. You’re telling it for her. You’re telling her life story. You’re expressing her pain, her longing, her struggle.
— Steven Pressfield
The Pressfield quote arrived in my inbox moments ago.
I had nixed the idea of following-up on my big day, but decided that the struggle isn’t about me, it’s about sharing the journey.
I had every intention of completing 26.2 going into Boston, despite my previous protests. But I kept my intention to myself, because I was simply going to hunker down and do it.
This was not to be. There were early warning signs. I wore a pair of cute, casual dress shoes on the bus and into Boston. Navigating the “T” and its stairs, walking around downtown Boston, it didn’t occur to me that dressing with a bit of chic might not be a great strategy. They weren’t exactly pumps, but they weren’t sneakers.
Saturday night, my left leg, down the side of my leg and my calf contracted in painful charlie horses, deep spasms that curled my foot up.
I took a breath. “This too shall pass,” I told myself. Steadfastly refusing to think that this charlie horsing had anything to do with my intention, refusing to let it change my will.
I slept well. But the alarm did not go off. Crazy. That never happens with my cell phone alarm. (I later discovered that I unknowingly changed the setting from a.m. to p.m. Really? That has never happened before. Ever. Hmmm.)
Two hours late. Ooops.
What I didn’t realize is that it wouldn’t matter, and that Providence was allowing me a good night’s rest, despite my self.
I showered, dressed, loaded my day pack, including chia seeds, water bottle, Ibuprofen, change of socks, Vaseline for chafing. I put on a pair of angel earrings from my godfather and his wife, who gave a large donation. I then took out my Jimmy Fund sticker that says, “I participate for . . .”, wrote in “My Father,” spelled out his full name in big purple letters, and placed the sticker over my heart.
I was out the door of the College Club of Boston while it was still dark, and I headed for the shuttle buses parked at Copley Plaza. I boarded the bus, arrived at the Hopkinton check-in, ate a sesame bagel, and grabbed an onion bagel for my day pack.
Took off, though I was terribly slow.
The weather was perfect. No problems.
Every two miles, there was an impressive entourage of volunteers cheering everyone on. “You are amazing,” they yelled, and immediately I felt my spirit soar, despite the increasing burn in my knee. “NO,” I yelled back, “you’re the amazing ones!”
I realized how many volunteers make this event happen, the folks who show up to encourage other folks, and make it a success.
Every mile there’s a marker of a child — some as young as two — whom Dana-Farber is serving, with a quote from the child telling what they enjoy doing or what they want to be when they grow up. I wanted to complete the journey for these kids, knowing their pain more than mine.
As I learned the first year I participated, probably a decade ago, it’s a tradition to touch the mile placards as you pass, connect with the kids. I placed my fingers to my lips, then patted their picture on the mile marker each mile, and waves of emotion passed over me.
Something deeper than my little 26.2 goal was at stake.
I was okay until mile 8 or so. By mile 9 or so, my knee was trashed, the pain brutal. I caught up with a man who was going slower than was I, and we started chatting. I slowed my pace a bit thinking it would help, and I was grateful for the company. After a few minutes, I realized the pace would kill me, and I had to find a sweeter spot, which meant leaving Glenn on his own.
I apologized. I wanted to get to the mile 10 refueling station and sit and stretch.
I did. I talked to the medic, who I was apt to ignore, but why not chat as long as I needed to take some pressure off my knee. He told me to call it a day; the long-term damage not worth the price. “All medics in these situations say things like this,” I told myself. Not what I wanted to hear.
Glenn showed up. “Here’s my old friend Glenn, ” I said, laughing and smiling. He sat down and talked with the medical crew. He asked about the medical van. The next one would arrive in about 15 minutes.
“You know, buddy, you’re going to be screwed if you screw your knee,” he said. He kept calling me buddy. Very endearing, coming from him.
“Bone on bone,” he told me, pointing to his knee. “The doctor told me bone on bone, but I just did ten and I am so proud.”
Glenn had the right attitude. There was something about him that I liked, and something told me to listen to him.
“You know, Glenn, I wore these angel earrings today,” I said dangling the small angels hanging off my ears, “to lift me over the finish line. But I think you’re my angel today.” He laughed, gave me a high-five, and said, “yeah, buddy.”
So I went with Glenn into the medical van, sat down, and started yammering about my failure. He looked at me in shock and said, “what failure? You completed 10 miles! That’s amazing!” I then continued complaining about how I didn’t even get my revised goal of a half-marathon in, that I felt like if I just would have pulled out enough grit, I would have done the 26.2.
“No, buddy. Listen, you would be screwed if you screwed that knee. You gotta take care of yourself, buddy. Really, you gotta take care of yourself.”
The medical bus stopped at mile 14 and 16. More folks with serious IT band issues.
I was not alone. This wasn’t about grit. And I was learning that it’s not always about grit. Sometimes, it’s about smarts.
At mile 18 a woman hobbled on the bus. It was her 17th year. She told us she’s having knee replacement surgery this upcoming year. She told the driver to let her off at Cleveland Circle, mile 22. There’s a hangout that old timers meet out, a kind of secret society, she whispered to us. She told us she could catch a ride from one of the old-timers.
Mile 22. I quickly calculated, that’s 4.2 to the finish line. 4.2 plus 10 — I’d beat my revised goal, by a mile.
I looked at Glenn and smiled, “I’m getting off. I can meet my goal if I get off at 22.”
“You sure, buddy?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” And then I started laughing. “I AM SO HAPPY, I’M GOING TO GET MY HALF IN. WHOOO HOOH!”
Glenn high-fived me about four times, the other medical van folks cheered me on, including Linda, a woman who had the same left knee IT band issues as myself.
“I’m going to be waiting for you with a chorus singing as you cross,” said Glenn, as he gave me another high-five.
I got off at 22. My knee was insanely tight, but I’d been off of it for about an hour and a half, so I was good. I felt re-energized and ready to finish strong.
For about a mile and half. BAM. The pain started again, and with every quarter-of-a-mile it exponentially worsened.
The crowds the last three miles were in the thousands.
There are four starts for the Jimmy Fund: the 26.2, the 13.1, the 3 mile start, and the 1 mile start, which is where the families with children usually begin, as well as many folks with challenges or injuries. The shorter entries have later start times, so there was a flood of folks coalescing near the last mile.
My knee was burning, and I could barely move it. Going from the road to the sidewalk and stepping up seemed barely doable. To change my pace was torture, the sidewalk and road were a deluge of people walking, running, skating, men and women with baby strollers, and I was trying to navigate the crowd through the pain.
It was not a competition, it was a big party, and everyone was enjoying themselves, though the pain level of the 26.2’ers was obvious. “Take your time,” I heard myself say, “take your time.” This day is not about winning, and it’s one of the reasons I love this event.
Yes, it’s a great way to push one’s self and take on the Boston Marathon route, but this was about something bigger than winning, it’s about all kinds of folks who show up, some to do the marathon route, but most have family or friends touched by cancer.
They want a world without cancer, and raising money for research no matter the distance is their way to create change.
Winning isn’t only about mileage, it’s the magic created by caring.
I then thought about how many of our great athletes have been outed for doping, because we live in a culture that values winning, success, and qualifying everything more than we value the journey itself, something my angel Glenn was trying to tell me.
A little past mile 25, and the families were pouring into the last mile.
An adorable little girl, probably two years old, started running as toddlers do, down the sidewalk, her arms waving in the air, screaming and laughing in excitement. She was a toddler runner, and she was so excited for all the people, and she was happy to live and be in the moment.
Her enthusiasm was pure, her joy unabated.
I smiled as her father tried to reign her in, so she didn’t trip someone.
“It’s all about play,” I thought to myself. “Just play.”
Then I realized that I had smiled. I did not grimace in pain or implode in a psychological melt down as I did two weeks ago.
I don’t know if this enlightened perspective is permanent, but it’s a turn of my mind and heart in which I take satisfaction.
Thousands and thousands of people crossed the finish line, received medals, because everyone who participated was a winner.
Every volunteer, every person who contributed money, every person who completed one, three, 13.1, or 26.2 and did their best, found something in themselves that was bigger than themselves.
Those words sound platitudinous, but to feel them deeply, understand that life and its experiences are larger and more breathtaking than we allow ourselves to believe, but we can’t stay fixed in narratives that we refuse to revise.
Experiencing life deeply isn’t measured in miles, though miles sometimes may feed our aliveness, and sharing that experience with others may feed their life experience, enlarge their emotional and spiritual journey, while challenging their physical one.
I crossed the finish line, picked up my medal, and refused to listen to that voice telling me that I had no right to a medal, because I didn’t do 26.2.
“I enjoyed a beautiful day, I crossed the finish line on two walking legs, I met wonderful people, I raised money for a good cause,” I told that voice.
I wore the medal proudly, and I smiled that my angels carried me across the finish line to my half-marathon goal, through the most fortuitous of circumstances.
Among the thousands and thousands of people, I ran into Linda, the other left-leg with IT band issues person from the bus.
“Did you get your medal,” I asked.
“Yes,” she smiled.
I talked with a friend on Monday, and the first thing I said to him was, “I didn’t get the 26.2 under my belt this time.”
He said, “you’ve already completed the marathon, a million times over.”
I’ll take that, and give it back to the world.
For I see a little more clearly that revision encompasses not only writing and goal setting, but the art of life, in how we choose to speak of it, look at it, and live it.
It’s life’s most important art, revising how we view the world, where everything is a miracle or nothing is, and living in the belief that life’s unlimited miracles are worthwhile, every moment of every day, as best we can.
The art of revision without judgement is perhaps our most sacred life duty, to grasp pure enthusiasm and unabated joy a little more deeply, moment by moment, one day at a time.
(Please note: I may be away for the next few months, though I may pop in for brief visits, i.e., entries. I’m not lost, just working on other things.
Peace, love, and good stuff.)