Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Birthday Triumph

Birthdays have always been a big deal to me. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never grown out of waking up and believing that my birthday was a day to be celebrated. Some say this is because I am only 28… but we’ll talk to them again when I am 48 and 68… Lord willing.

On January 5, 2008, I did indeed turn 28. I woke up next to my new husband and believed…hoped… prayed that my birthday would be a day to be celebrated. We were in Jackson, Mississippi with plans to run the Inaugural Mississippi Blues Marathon, and I was aiming for a personal record. I’d trained hard – harder than before. I had a short series of personal records from the previous year to beat – and proof that I could indeed improve.

So that Saturday morning I awoke, stretched and got ready to run. I put on the lucky running socks Jason had given me for our very first marathon together the previous year. I put on my running tights, a pink short-sleeved camo running shirt (also from Jason), and a long sleeved white shirt over that. I clipped my hair back, made sure my watch and ipod were in working order, and put a few skittles into the key pocket of my pants. I pinned on my race number and was ready to go.

We drove 2 miles down the road to the stadium parking lot near the start line of the race. We stretched, watched the crowd around us, and Jason gave me the standard 3 pre-race kisses before heading to the front of the pack.

I stood amidst the crowd as we listened to a local minister say a prayer for our safety. He encouraged us to run the race set before us with perseverance, and I vowed to do so. A blues musician played the National Anthem on his guitar and, as always, I got a lump in my throat as we said the Pledge of Allegiance. I was proud of my country, proud to be a runner, and thankful to have the strength and desire to be in Jackson on my birthday to run the marathon.

The starting shot was fired. It was time to run.

My goal was to beat my previous personal record, which was 4:49 in New Orleans. I wanted to run this race in 4:45 and I was ready to fight for it. I ran the first half strong and steady, getting to mile 13 in 2:13. I didn’t know if I could hold that pace for the entire race, but I meant to try.

When I reached mile 18, I was growing weary, but not discouragingly so. I felt strong enough to hold my pace and I was excited about that. Because, in my already delinquent mathematics skills, I somehow believed that at mile 18 I only had 6 miles to go. Sans marathon, I am already mathematically challenged and need the use of my fingers to help with addition and subtraction. But add 18 miles to that and all ability for that sort of brain work leaves completely. I do not know WHY I thought I only had 6 more miles…but I remember believing it whole heartedly and following that with the belief that I was indeed a much-improved runner.

This was a great disappointment when I reached mile 20 and realized that 26 minus 20 was 6…and NOW I had 6 more miles to run.

I looked at my watch. I was still within reach of my goal, but I could not slow down at ALL… and yet I was slowing down!

I pressed on. At mile 23 I told myself to dig deep…and I answered myself, “Dig deep for WHAT?”

The weather was good, but a bit windy. The course was a good one, but full of hills so that the runners were constantly going up and down, up and down. We had a flat stretch until we reached mile 23 and then the hills returned. And I loathed them, but fought anyway.

At mile 25 I caught site of a familiar red toboggan and Jason fell into step beside me. I smiled at him and told him I didn’t have anything left. “I’ve given all I’ve got.” There was a slight pause as he looked at me and said, “Well, you’re going to have to give a bit more. You have one more hurtle and then you’re there.”

I knew he meant the hill I’d already heard about. I reached it and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t slow. I looked at my watch and knew if I didn’t see the finish line soon, I would not reach my goal. And I HAD to make it. It was my birthday!

I did make it. I rounded the corner and there it was. They said my name and I threw my hands in the air as I crossed the finish in 4:43. It was the perfect birthday present. It was exactly what I’d wanted.

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