Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Richmond Marathon: When You Run 26.2 Miles, There's Time to Think

As promised on Monday, I’m writing all about how the ACTUAL Richmond Marathon went for me, as opposed to my 18-week training cycle of joy with a few rough spots along the way. A lot of folks find the finish to be exhilarating, and capture the moment with an official race photo with their finisher’s medal. I have no such photo, which I’ll explain towards the end of this post, but I still got that medal. Take a look.

Pretty, isn’t it?

Back to that race. Now, in case you weren’t aware, let me tell you something: 26.2 miles is a very long way to run. Particularly if you aren’t somebody holding 6 or 7 minute miles (freaks). If you are like me and your training runs fall between 10 and 11 minute mile pace, you’re going to be out there for well over four hours (four hours, thirty four minutes, and fifty two seconds in my case). And you’ll need something to think about for that amount of time. So, I asked friends and colleagues if they wanted me to designate a mile for them, and let them have their pick, with the warning that if anything went wrong during their mile, I would place all the blame on them.

Once all the miles were designated, I printed out the list, made it a bit sturdier by covering it in clear tape, and stuffed it into the pocket of the handheld water bottle I use for races more than an hour long. Come Saturday morning, the race started, and with each mile, I got to check to see who had that mile, and spend at least a few seconds thinking about them so that I have something to keep my mind occupied for several hours.


So what did that involve? Well, a few of the highlights:
  • Mile 1: My sister-in-law asked for this mile because she thought that nothing could possibly go wrong, and therefore, she’d get blamed for nothing. Well, joke’s on you, Michelle, because my heart rate monitor acted up at the start and I had to mess around with it - while running - to get it working again.
  • Mile 7: This one was for the seven senior-level swimmers on the team I coach. This was also the one where my calf cramped up and stayed that way for THE NEXT SEVEN MILES. Oh, ladies, you’d better believe I thought about you. And workouts I could design that would be almost as painful as that calf cramp.
  • Mile 13: Yeah, my calf was still cramped up, but I got to giggle internally about Katie and her fixation on her butt.
  • Miles 15-19: I realized that I’d been running for over two and a half hours and still had almost two hours to go. I then declared this entire thing to be stupid, but at least got to think about Dawn, an awesome swim coach I had, for mile 17. This involved chuckling over the first meet where she coached us and just about ripped out her hair because we had to be one of the most obnoxious college swim teams in existence.
  • Mile 23: Beth wanted this mile because this is where “things get fun.” Or, alternatively, this is where I feel like I’m going to puke. For several miles. But hey, it’s also a good time to think about ridiculous brownie recipes that we come up with, the impromptu triathlon we did, and the time we biked 50 miles and then swam 5000 meters “just because.”
So that was a nice way to keep myself occupied for the race. But the most meaningful designation of the 26.2 miles of the race was reserved for the last 0.2 miles. That was for Melissa, a woman who I met back in first grade. We saw each other throughout elementary, middle, and high school, as we both joined choir, played handbells, swam, took Japanese, and loved all the tough math classes (doesn’t everybody?). She was funny, smart as hell, pretty, nice, had fashion sense (this is where she and I were very different), and just an amazing, talented young woman in every way possible.

An amazing, talented young woman who took her own life on June 26, 2006.

Suicide is a very touchy subject that can be very divisive, and is seldom discussed publicly. Many believe that suicide is a sin; I personally disagree and believe that each person on this planet is given a life, and it is always their choice to end it when they are in so much pain that they can’t continue. While every single person who ever met Melissa was deeply sorrowed with her passing, it was her choice, and we need to respect that decision as hers and hers alone.

I also happen to disagree with the crowds of people who say that suicide is selfish. None of us – no, not any of us – can know what kind of intense pain Melissa was in. And it would be selfish for US to expect her to endure any level of pain to protect us from the sorrow we felt with her passing, however deep and pervasive it may be.

That all said, it is still incredibly sad that the world lost Melissa and her bright smile and endless talents so early. I’ve never been able to fully emotionally process her death, and probably never will. But when I think about it from time to time, I may be sad for the fact that we have lost her, I am grateful to have been lucky enough to have met her. Since I usually find myself cracking a smile over a great memory I have of Melissa from elementary or middle school, I figured I'd match the excitement of finishing a marathon with a great memory of a great young woman.

Instead, I thought of the intense pain she must have been in to leave this life so early as I ran those last 0.2 miles on the screaming downhill finish that the Richmond Marathon course is famous for. I crossed the finish line and burst into tears, which was the last thing I anticipated after finishing a race I’d diligently trained for over the course of 18 weeks.

Hence no finishers medal photo. It seems pretty irrelevant, and since for the 100 mile drive home, I was still periodically tearing up, this wasn’t a matter of just pulling myself together.

I’ve babbled about this for a while now, but I have one more thing. Even though, as I said above, I respect Melissa’s decision and she had every right in the world to make it for herself, it still affected many people, including myself, very deeply. And while I understand that people often find themselves in pain so unbearable that death seems like the only way out, if you find yourself in that very dark place, I want you to do one thing.

Wait a day. Maybe you feel like you can’t deal with the rest of your life. But can you deal with a day? You can change your mind then. Can’t make it a day? Try twelve hours. Four hours. Fifteen minutes. You can always, always change your mind later, but if you do chose to end your life, it will very deeply affect many people for years to come.

(After writing this, I don’t really care to write more about the race itself, but it was a great experience, Richmond is beautiful in the fall, and yes, I’m probably going to do another marathon. My race splits were 10k - 1:05:13, 13.1 miles - 2:17:11, 20 miles - 3:29:50. And yeah, the last 10k was 1:05:02 which means it was faster than the first 10k. That’s weird but kind of cool and I’m proud of it.)

42 comments:

  1. This is so much better and more meaningful than "YAYZIES I GOT ME A MEDAL." Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a wonderful post. I'm totally just shed a tear or two in my campus library. I love how you ran for important people in your life and the last .2 for your friend who took her own life. You are such an inspiration for so many others people out there. I love your perspective on this touchy issue and I think you are such a strong and courageous person.
    Congratulations on such a fantastic race and great meaningful finish! Your splits are amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great idea to break the miles up like that! Congrats again!

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a beautiful recap. Dedicating miles to people and friends is such a wonderful idea. I'm sorry about your friend. My uncle committed suicide many years ago but it is something that still affects me. Congratulations again on the marathon!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was tearing up as I was reading about your friend. She sounds like she was a wonderful person. Congratulations on your first 26.2 and a meaningful finish.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I can't even write a snarky comment because this is not a U R AWEEZING! kind of report, even though you are :) Although I cannot fail to mention that day of 5's included some aquajogging as well...

    I hope that last mile helped you process your friend's death, and hopefully writing this post and getting your thoughts, feelings, and a small PSA out there will help you even more. It sounds like she was someone who deserved the final, screaming downhill finish of a major life accomplishment dedicated to her. Well done!

    ReplyDelete
  7. It sounds like you had quite an emotional finish to your marathon. Thanks for sharing your story. (and congrats on your race!)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow, I am seriously blown away by this post. You articulated everything so so well and I read every single word. First of all, I love your idea of finding things to think about when you are running for so dang long! That must have helped to keep you entertained, keep your mind off of your situation (although a calf cramp is hardly something that you CAN'T NOT think about) and gives your motivation of course!

    What an emotional thing to experience, and I am sorry for Melissa. I agree with you, suicide is not a sin and it's really unfair for US to judge someone on it when we have no idea how much pain they were in. I rarely talk about this, but my stepfather committed suicide when I was 18, leaving my mom, his daughter and so many loved ones behind, including me of course. For a long time, I thought of him as a selfish bastard..how could he do this?! But I am healing from this mindset and honestly, this post is helping me to do so.

    Thank you for this.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is great. I do agree, but I find a lot more to think about when I was swimming versus running.

    I'm so sorry to hear about this. That is such an emotional battle and I can only imagine the pain and emotions as you finished the race.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow. This is a very powerful post and I teared up reading it. You truly honored your friend and her life in the last 0.2, even if it wasn't in the way that you expected. Congrats again on your first marathon.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Scott's cousin committed suicide at the end of the summer and we went through a lot of the same emotions (he did more than I did, mostly bc I only met his cousin a couple times, but they grew up together practically). I always say you just never, EVER know what is going on in someone's head, and even telling yourself that doesn't always make sense of the situation. I loved this recap and that you dedicated the last part to your friend. <3

    ReplyDelete
  12. Marathon recaps always move me, but never like this. Thanks for sharing that story.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've been trying to think of the right thing to say to this post all day... and I just can't come up with the words that convey just how touching this post is. Congrats your marathon, Victoria.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Get out of town! I do the same thing (ask friends to choose miles and run each while thinking of them). I didn't read the whole post yet, as I have yet to write a recap of the race and don't want to blur my own memories with yours; however, I'll be back soon!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow. I am speechless, and I usually have so much to say. But I will say this, I am so glad I read this, I don't always understand why people take their lives and I never will because it is not my life.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wow, I really have no words, but what a touching story. Ending your marathon honoring your friend sounds like the perfect way to remember her.

    On a lighter note (sorry if it's not appropriate to switch gears like that?) I have also done the mile dedication thing and I think it's a perfect way to get through a marathon. My grandmother recently suffered a terrible fall which broke her hip, and as a result she has had to leave her entire life behind to enter a nursing home, but rarely complains and always makes the best of things, so I always think of her when things get rough. That's basically a total tangent but sort of related. Also, I'd like to point out that this post is wonderfully written, which I have found is rare for people who are gifted in math.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I love the idea of dedicating a mile to important people in your life. So your first marathon was meaningful in many many ways. Thanks for sharing, and congratulations.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Catherine Jautz BaileyNovember 16, 2011 at 10:10 PM

    Thank you Victoria for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
  19. what a wonderful way to honor your friend. Congrats on your first marathon and thank you for such a beautiful race recap.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Beautiful dedication. Congrats on finishing! Hope you celebrated with chocolate....

    ReplyDelete
  21. I was hoping to hear that this really great colleague, Brad, picked mile 26 and you spent a mile thinking about how you had to finish and finish well or Brad would give you a hard time. Or something like that.

    Sorry to hear about Melissa, thanks for telling us the story.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Most everything I read and hear about suicide is about how "selfish" that person was. But I agree with you-- if someone is in that much pain, then they are just not able to see beyond it. Nothing can break through that darkness and escape seems to be the only option. I'm really sorry about your loss and this marathon seems to have been a real journey for you, both emotionally and physically.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Very moving post - I teared up sitting at my desk. I always love to know where people find their motivation for their races. We all do it for different reasons, and everyone has a story. Thanks for sharing - and congratulations on a great race!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Not so much with the chocolate, but still very sweet.

    ReplyDelete
  25. This is beautiful. I lost a childhood friend to suicide too, and it's something I think I'll never get completely over, because I'll never completely understand it. So your post, which was already touching, really hit me in a powerful way. Congratulations on all your hard work and finishing the big one in such a meaningful way.

    ReplyDelete
  26. First of all, CONGRATS on finishing the marathon, that itself is an amazing feat. Your idea of designating a mile to someone is great, and I think I may have to steal that idea when I run my first marathon (which hopefully will be next year).

    Your words about your friend Melissa were incredibly moving. I'm very sorry to hear about her, but your message makes so much sense. Giving oneself that extra 5 minutes or 5 hours or just 1 more day makes the hardships in life that much more bearable, and I hope your readers are able to remember that when they're going through tough times.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Wow, what a beautifully emotional way to run a race. I'm proud of you for crossing that finish line and I know your friend Melissa is as well. You had me tearing up just read it, no wonder you burst into tears at the end. Way to go Victoria.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Congrats on your marathon!

    Thanks for sharing the story about your friend. I had a uncle who I was really close to take his own life. So this is an issue near and dear to my heart.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I think the 10-11 minute mile past is just so darn comfy. However, I highly doubt I'd be able to have a faster finishing 10k than starting - excellent work, dawg!

    I think this post showcases your fantastic narrative style so well, and I believe it's my favorite thing of yours that I've read. It's so meaningful, and I very much admire what you chose to share with us. Your friend would have been so proud of you:)

    ReplyDelete
  30. I too remember the great times with melissa on swim team enduring the pain that weitzer would hand us with each workout. She was truly beautiful inside and out and I think your words couldn't have been more perfect. Congratulations on the marathon and the tribute to a life cut tragically short.

    ReplyDelete
  31. First: Thank you for your thoughts and words about your friend Melissa. Very touching.

    Second: I love that you dedicated miles to family and friends.. great way to distract yourself and get through your race. Congrats!

    ReplyDelete
  32. I'm sorry to hear about your friend Melissa. I hope that she has found peace.

    Congratulations on your marathon!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Dearest Tori,
    I am also very touched by your sweet thoughts. Congratulations on your achievement. Not being a running enthusiast, Melissa would so agree that connecting during the last 2/10th of a mile was the best choice - more of the glory and less of the grind (not to mention fun with fractions)! I am so glad to see you are doing so well. We used to banter about whether you'd end up in brain surgery or rocket science! Thanks so much.
    Robin Seymour

    ReplyDelete
  34. One of the (many) reasons I'm grateful for the fact that Australia tends to treat religion as a more personal thing, rather than a public and 'this is the majority's opinion and you're in the wrong/minority if you don't believe" way is that, thankfully, I've never really heard people talk of suicide as a sin. My mother's sister committed suicide as a baby, and I knew very early on in my life that I could never, ever do the same, because I couldn't do it to mum. And yet there have been times when I can't bear the thought of going on, still. I think the terrible thing is that, for some people, they can't hold on to that glimmer of certainty that living won't feel this awful forever.

    That's why I support, so completely, your words at the end about hanging on just a little bit longer. Everything can change in a heartbeat.

    Thank you, Victoria. Love.

    ReplyDelete
  35. congrats on the marathon!! it's crazy how emotional we can be and how much we process when we're out there for awhile. very touching, though, and hope you are both finding your peace

    ReplyDelete
  36. first since i was reading your other posts, you have every right to talk about the marathon as long as you want :) congrats on doing it and i love the emotion you brought to it with the memory, truly these races mean a lot anyways but that made it even more personal and special for you

    ReplyDelete
  37. Incredible post (sorry so behind on blog reading)! First of all, coming up with a list of things to think about is genius.

    Second- such an emotional story. I can't imagine how hard it is to lose a friend that way and know that the person was hurting so much. It is also incredible to see how these painful memories can surprise us and come back out of nowhere.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Just catching up on my reading, and I'm SO glad I didn't miss this lovely post. We all run marathons for our own reasons, to chase our own inner goals and run from our own inner demons. Thanks for the honest, thoughtful perspective on your own personal motivations—and congratulations on that pretty medal!

    ReplyDelete