It was 2008, and I was in the middle of a struggle through the Pacific Crest Half Marathon. I was just getting over a pretty nasty stomach flu and I had gotten into a bad bicycle accident the month before which had hindered my training plan a bit. Going into this race, I wasn’t sure how prepared I was, especially considering the elevation change in Sun River made breathing more difficult. It was also a hot day, somewhere in the 90’s, and a lot of the race was not in the shade. I had a side cramp around mile 3 and the electrolyte drink was not agreeing with me. My feet hurt because my shoes were old and I hadn’t had time to break in a new pair before race day. There weren’t a ton of people out there cheering us on and at one point, I saw a pregnant lady get out of her car and scream at a volunteer who was directing traffic because she was irritated that the road was blocked.
At about mile 10, I looked ahead and there was still no shade in sight. My best friend and running partner, who was obviously feeling much of today’s journey as well, turned to me and inquired, “remind me why we are doing this?” I chuckled and a lady behind us said, a bit timidly, “we’re doing this for all the people who can’t.” That shut us both up long enough to really look around at this beautiful course on this gorgeous day. It made me suddenly grateful for the gasps of air because my lungs could do it. It made me feel lucky to feel the throb in my legs because I had them to carry me through. It changed everything in that race in a second.
Someone died that day. They drowned during the swimming part of the triathlon. When I reached the finish, I heard that people were passing out and throwing up. All of them struggled just as I had, but I crossed the finish line tired but healthy and safe. Not everyone was so lucky. I looked at running a little differently after that.
That friend who asked the question that day, the girl that was my maid of honor at my wedding and that ran three marathons with me and countless halves, can’t run anymore. She damaged her knees so badly that she’s going to need replacement surgery one of these days. Sometimes even walking is painful for her. I know that she would be grateful today to go back to that race course and tell herself to enjoy every step she took out there. Everything can change so fast. You don’t realize how lucky you are for what you have until those things are taken away.
I have a lot of races on my plate for this year. Many of them are more challenging races than I may have ever done in my life. I’m nursing a bit of an injury too, but I tend to run through the pain and try to pretend it’s not there. I know that’s not smart, and it’s not something I would advise anyone to do. But it’s important to me to keep going as long and far as my body will take me. Whenever I reach a steep hill that makes my quads scream and my lungs feel like they are going to explode, I think of that race and my friend beside me that day. I miss running with her every day that I’m out there doing it. And I know that it must be so much harder for her to not be there than it is for me. I am the lucky one and I can’t ever let myself forget it.
There are people in the word that choose not to be healthy, that sit in their houses and never venture out onto the road or trails. I used to be one of those people when I was about 80 lbs heavier and I would sit in front of the TV at night depressed and unmotivated. I can tell you now that those people are doing their bodies (and their mental health) a disservice. I have experienced some of the most beautiful things of my life while running and I wouldn’t take any of it back for a second, even if I ever did find myself “ruined” for all those miles on my body. And I know now that my body and my health are both gifts that shouldn’t be wasted and that I only have one chance to make the best of what they have to offer my life.
So the next time you are out there, wondering what on earth possessed you to attempt those miles or those hills or that heat, think about what you are gaining with every stride, and what others cannot.