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.”
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.)