“Obsession gives you something to do besides having your heart shattered by heart-shattering events. It gives you a helicopter ride out of the desert… In the drama of obsession, you are the star, the costar, the director, the producer.” Geneen Roth
After a long weekend in Richmond, Virginia running one of my favorite races, Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k (more about that in a future post), my husband Bill and I returned to Lititz and headed into town for a short post-race easy run.
When we drove into the rec center to begin our run, the weather was warm, humid, and overcast, the air still. We walked into our respective locker rooms to stow our gym bags and chatted with a few friends.
Upon emerging from the building, we saw Mother Nature had done a complete 180-degree turn, as she often does in spring. The temperature had dropped 15 degrees, the humidity had disappeared, and the wind was howling out of the west.
We set off accompanied by a ferocious tailwind, knowing that on our return, the wind would be in our faces. After flying east, then trudging west, we showered, returned home for breakfast, and watched the Boston Marathon on TV.
Of course, watching the Boston Marathon brought back memories of the time I ran Boston 10 years ago.
I qualified in May of the previous year, after a pivotal time in my life.
My mother and I had always been close; I never went through one of those teenage “I-hate-my-mother” phases. My mom was my sounding board and my champion, someone I admired and counted on.
Mom was a one-of-a-kind woman. Imperious and generous, loving and indomitable, an only child married to a man with 10 siblings, she was a life raft to me at times when I desperately needed something to cling to.
For the last three years of her life, Mom’s independent spirit was diminished by a stroke, her sharp intellect compromised. She lived in a retirement community, which she hated, and gradually moved up through increasing levels of care, fighting each step.
Our roles reversed, it was my time to be Mom’s champion. I visited her every night, gave her a shower and got her ready for bed. We would make frequent “jailbreaks” in the afternoon for a snack and a Bloody Mary at a local watering hole where the owners and staff fussed over Mom.
My oldest son and I fought Mom’s battles with the facility for her, but after hospitalization for pancreatitis, we were left with no choice other than to allow a move to a skilled care unit, the highest level of care, and not a pleasant environment in which to live.
At about the same time Mom moved into the skilled care unit, I contracted the Epstein-Barr virus, not unusual for a teacher in contact with teenagers every day. Instead of resulting in the typical symptoms associated with mononucleosis, the virus attacked my liver, causing hepatitis. I missed a month of school (December) and had to DNS (for my non-running friends, DNS stands for Did Not Start) a planned marathon. Worse, I was unable to visit my mom.
Mom passed away right before Christmas of that year, while I was still laid low by the virus. I returned to school in January after her funeral, still pale and shaky from illness and loss.
The Miami Marathon was on my race schedule for the end of the month, but I had not run one step since Thanksgiving. This was before my husband and I were running partners, in fact, there were few things we did together. Bill vacationed with his golf buddies; I traveled with my running girlfriends. My youngest son, then in his early 20s, planned to accompany me to Miami.
Broken-hearted and alone, feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I began the arduous process of putting in the training miles needed to at least complete the marathon.
As the effects of the virus decreased and I began feeling better, running made me feel like I had a purpose in life once more. My mom was gone, my kids had all left the nest, my husband and I had a distant relationship, but at least running was there for me.
My youngest son and I traveled to Miami together and had a wonderful time. He was (and is) the perfect traveling companion, easy-going, fun-loving, and able to navigate effortlessly. I realized that my son and I could have fun together as two adults, just like my mom and I had. Although he no longer lived at home, he still needed a mom, just like I had needed mine.
I had no illusions about being able to run a fast race, but I was able to finish and feel good with the effort. In the weeks after the Miami Marathon, my training increased dramatically. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say I was obsessed with running.
My training miles passed 50, 60, 70 per week; I did track workouts, tempo runs, long runs of 20 miles or more and a mid-week run of at least 10 miles before school. I researched training plans, workouts, and cross-training; I read obsessively about how to improve.
The best part was when Bill started running with me, not every run, but sometimes. After viewing “The Spirit of the Marathon“, we made it our goal to run a marathon together and signed up for the Richmond Marathon in November. We focused on enriching our mutual social life and began doing things as a couple rather than individually. We discovered that even with our empty nest, we still enjoyed each other’s company.
In May, we traveled to Oregon to visit our middle son. I was registered for the Eugene Marathon, Bill for the half marathon, and our son for the 5k. After a late night concert that included some beers, we stood in the pre-dawn cold together, shivering and anxious to run.
The half and full marathons followed a similar course. I did not plan to run with Bill; my full marathon pace was slower than his half marathon pace, but we started out together. I kept up with him, however, for the first miles.
After the half marathon split off to head toward the finish line, I planned to slow down, but I was feeling strong and well-trained. I maintained the same pace through mile 17, 20, 23, 24.
At mile 25, I saw Bill waiting along the course. After finishing the half, he had come back to run the final mile of the marathon with me. We ran the final mile together, Bill encouraging me to keep up the pace. He knew a Boston-qualifying time was a good possibility.
I crossed the finish line with two minutes to spare and was immediately enveloped in a group hug with my husband and son. There may have been some tears. Shed by all of us.
My obsession with running has cooled somewhat in the years since I ran Boston, but it remains a positive force in my life. Looking back, I realize that particular spring was a turning point. I formed new, better relationships with my children and husband. I lost my mom, but hope I have gained some of her indomitable spirit.
The confidence, strength, and presence I have gained from running are irreplaceable. Best of all, my one-time obsession gave me “a helicopter ride out of the desert” when I needed it most.
I am linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well, Fairytales and Fitness for Friday 5, Raisie Bay for Word of the Week, Crystal Twaddell for Fresh Market Friday, Susan B Mead for Dancing With Jesus, Counting My Blessings for Faith ‘n Friends, Embracing the Unexpected for Grace and Truth, Morgan’s Milieu for Post, Comment, Love, and Lyli Dunbar for Faith on Fire.