Marathon

My first marathon

Y’all, I am a marathoner. Straight up, after months of training, self-doubt and eating more than someone probably should, I ran 26.2 miles a month ago, and I have the shiny medal to prove it.

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When I signed up for the marathon, I was apparently optimistic and slightly delusional about my projected finish time because I was assigned Corral C. I’m not a Corral C runner, more like a D or E. I probably annoyed the other Steel City Road Runners about my Corral place.  “Maybe I should be in Corral D? Or E? But if I’m in Corral C, is that okay?”

After patient reassurances, I went into Corral C. I moseyed on down to the back of Corral C, and I ended up starting with the beginning of Corral D.

At the beginning of the race, they had fireworks. Fireworks! I felt like a little kid. I may have even squealed.

Since this was the Nationwide Columbus Children’s Hospital Marathon, every mile had a patient child champion wearing oversized foam hands, like you would find at a football game. Despite not being someone who gives high gives, I high fived these kids whenever I could BECAUSE I AM NOT DEAD INSIDE.

One of the miles was a Memorial Mile, and another one was an Encore Mile, which featured children who were past patient child champions. I honestly thought I was going to lose it during the Memorial Mile when I saw all the families holding up posters of their deceased children but still cheering me on. We all had our names on our bibs, so these families were honestly going, “You are doing great, Lara!” “Way to go!”

During the encore mile, I high fived a bunch of these former child patient navigators, who were also cheering and telling me I was doing a great job. I fought the urge to cry like I do at videos of dogs reuniting with their owners after a long period of time. Ugly. Crying.

I know I have been through some shit with my own cancer. I am an adult, though, and these are children. These were children. They are innocent. When I got sick, it wasn’t pretty but it made sense. My mom got cancer young, and now so did I. When a young child is going through cancer, it’s just heartbreaking and shouldn’t be how the world works.  How do you explain when a child comes down with a life-threatening illness or injury? You can’t.

The first half of the marathon, I felt strong. Hell, I even had a mile where I averaged 8:45, like how is that even possible. Oh wait, adrenaline. When the half marathon and marathon split and most of the runners went left instead of straight, boy I felt a weird sense of dread, like shit just got real.

Around mile 21 or 22, that’s when the mind games with myself started showing up.

What happened? You were so strong in the half.

You are a sham of a runner.

Why are you doing this to yourself?

I was my own worst enemy and my greatest cheerleader.

It’s okay if you’re not as strong as you were in the first half. Give yourself a break.

No, Lara, you are awesome!

You’re doing this because not everyone can do this, but YOU can do this.

The last two miles were the worst. I had to stop and walk a handful of times. Every time I started running again, the words “mother fucker” escaped my lips. I had to psyche myself up before I could run again. I swear, I probably went through the five stages of grief during the marathon. Bargaining and denial did play a big part of the last couple of miles.

With less than a mile away, the 5 hour pacer ran by me as I was walking. I thought to myself, “I need to run harder and beat her!” (Denial.)

Ten seconds later as I huffed and puffed, I thought, “Don’t be stupid. Just finish.” (Acceptance.)

For some reason, I stopped about ten or so feet from the finish line. I didn’t cross the finish line all strong and yay, woman power.  It was more like I crossed the finish line all crying and hyperventilating. With my hand on my chest and my emotions boiling out of me, I walked over the finish line with two medics waiting for me.

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“Are you okay?”

Instead of responding, “Of course not, I just ran a marathon,” I replied, “I think I might puke.”

I didn’t puke, though. I just hyperventilated and cried, and let this young man escort me about 20 or so 30 feet as I walked to the best of my ability.

So, I did it. My official time was 5:00:58. Seriously. I was one minute away from seeing four at the beginning of my time. One freaking minute. Maybe if I didn’t stop short of the finish line to have a mini-panic attack or outpouring of emotion, then I could have been under 5 hours. I could have trained harder. I could have had a better diet and been stronger.

Who knows?

When I began training for this marathon, I was going through a breakup of my 7.5-year relationship. It set me back, of course. I bounced back in so many ways. At the beginning of my training, I was in a horribly dysfunctional relationship that had been dead in the water for two to three years.

Even during a short period of time, things can always change for the better. How do I know? At the end of the marathon and outside the athlete area, an amazing man who has made me so happy and treats me like I am the cat’s meow waited for me . . . with a big smile on his face and a congratulatory hug.

I was never an athlete as a kid. I stunk at soccer, basketball or softball. I would rather be reading a book or watching television. I never had a competitive streak as a kid. If me and someone else were going for the ball, my first instinct would be to go, “eh.”

Running just has me competing against myself, and right now, I will probably do another marathon . . . just so that I break sub-5 hours. I will do it, too.

Huffman rules.

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Half marathon…. check

I did it.  I freaking did it.

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Pre-race selfie and post-race selfie

 

I ran 13.1 miles today, and I didn’t stop to walk.  (I did stop for water breaks, but I’m not counting that.)  I’ve been training for this day for months, basically since last October.  This time last year, I was still recovering from five surgeries over the period of two years.  I was 10 to 15 pounds heavier, and I lacked direction.  I didn’t know how to change my life and bounce back from all the crap done to me during breast cancer.  I hated what cancer had done to me physically with all my scars, weight gain and the reconstruction.

I’m now in the best freaking shape of my life.  I have never looked and felt like this, even before cancer.  I have a feeling of purpose with running.  During all my treatment, I remember how absurd it felt to hear people say to me, “Oh, you’re so strong.  You’re a fighter.”  That always struck me as odd because I had never felt so physically weak and just beat up.  Like, seriously, who was I fighting and winning?  Cancer treatment puts the patient in a very passive role.  I didn’t do anything – rather, treatment was done to me.

I feel strong now, and I have realized that I’m not strong nor was I ever strong because I had cancer.  I am now strong even though I had cancer.

During the last three or four miles of the race today, I actually started getting flashbacks to my time in the chemo ward.  I could see myself in the chair, looking out at the other patient.  I remembered that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.  I’d snap out of that flashback and just ran harder.  Then I flashed to my hospitalization after my double mastectomy, and how much pain I felt.  I’d snap out of that, too, and ran harder.  It was like Runner Lara was running like hell away from Sick Lara, like I am finally able to put that period of life behind me (knowing damn well that it can always come back).

Nothing I can do will prevent breast cancer from ever coming back, either local or distant.  What I do today, like putting on a pair of shoes and running, is what i can do.  That’s the only control I have – this very moment.

This race was such a huge deal to me.  It was to see if I could even do it and a big fuck you to cancer.  Now it’s done and in the (Lara) record books, it’s time to move on.  I’m definitely not cancer girl anymore.

I am a runner.