Kat will be running in her *FIRST* ever marathon tomorrow morning in the Panama City Beach Marathon. When she’s not training, she runs with (and works for) Youth Run NOLA. She was also Charm’s camp counsellor this past summer at Live Oak! Kat loves eating peanut butter out of the jar, laughing too much, and bopping around New Orleans’ Bayou St. John.
With less than 24 hours to go, my legs twitch, break at the bit, make small circles in the air under my body. They are ready — for movement, for exertion, for force. I look down at them — see the miles hued into my calves, see the callouses caressing and cushioning my toes, feel the tightness stretching from my achilles to my hamstring, feel the scar tissue blanketing my knees, see the oblique turn of my ankles. They are the legs of a rough-runner, of gutsy finish lines, of ragged breathing, of pushing through immeasurable pain.
They have carried me through more than a decade of competitive running — a seemingly endless slew of cross-country and track meets, road races, trail races, and 15 half-marathons. And now, after five months of training through southern humidity, a broken toe, a sinus infection, and a hurricane season, they are about to carry me through my longest run to date:
26.2 miles. The Marathon.
To say that I am nervous is an understatement —
I am scared shitless.
Scared to the point of having dreams where my legs carry me off a cliff. Scared that I will trip and fall over an invisible crack in the sidewalk. Scared that I will keel over 100 meters from the finish line and not be able to move another inch.
For so long, I’ve been afraid of running a marathon: afraid I would lose my speed, afraid I would have to sacrifice too many things and too many people, afraid I would lose too much weight, afraid running would take over my life, afraid I would begin to hate running, afraid I would lose myself to running.
Essentially, I’ve been afraid of losing. Losing myself to the addictive nature of searingly fast tempo runs, all-encompassing training plans, punishing negative splits, voices inside my head that have told me to “GO!” rather than to rest, to eat less rather than to eat more, to run and run and run until I can’t run anymore. I’ve been there. For at least a small portion of my life. And I was afraid that training for a marathon would bring all of that back.
Ironically, it was also fear that drove me to sign up for this marathon — fear that I had become a Phony. Fear that I had stopped being a Runner. Am I still a runner if I am not as competitive, relentless, or goal-oriented as I once was? Am I still a runner if I forget splits, eat too much chocolate, and walk during training runs?
This past February, I stood at the finish line of the New Orleans Rock n’ Roll Marathon and watched as a handful of friends completed the whole thing. 26.2 miles. I went home that day, coasting on euphoria and brash courage, and said to myself, “F@*k it! I’m doing one!” and signed up for a marathon the day before my birthday. 26 miles for 26 years.
Since then, I’ve spent the past five months trekking through my neighborhood, around parks, through cityscapes. Sometimes I ran with friends, sometimes with kids, sometimes on my own. Sometimes a Taylor Swift song lodged itself in my head and refused to budge. Sometimes I brainstormed ideas and analyzed actions and fumed about the world. Sometimes I thought about nothing at all. Mile after mile, my feet hit the pavement. My body kept moving. I kept moving.
In those runs, I began to swallow the fears of being a “phony,” of being a “non-Runner.” I bulldozed through them, running an unofficial 1:38 half marathon, running 20 miles non-stop, running an out/back loop at a 6 minute/mile clip. The numbers were reassuring, gratifying even. But I realized they were no longer the reasons why I run. They were no longer how I measured myself or my abilities. I realized despite changes in times, expectations, people, myself, I have never stopped being a Runner.
I have always, for as long as I can remember, been a Runner. And results or pace or body structure or weather or place or a whole host of other factors will never change that.
In less than 24 hours, I will be towing the starting line of my first Marathon. I will be staring out at a sea of people in front of me, behind me, next to me. See the ocean glimmer in the background. See everything stretch before my eyes. Feel a rush of endorphins, feel my legs prepare themselves, feel my mind quicken.
Before every race in college, I dedicated my run to someone– to a teammate, to a mentor, to a family member, to a friend. I imagined them running alongside me, cheering me on, pushing me forward. When the gun goes off tomorrow morning, when my body leans forward and my arms begin to pump, I will be summoning all of them. All of my people– my teammates, my friends, my students, my teachers, my coaches, my family– all of them will be there running right alongside me.
Tomorrow morning the gun will go off, my arms will lean forward– we will lean forward– and I will run. I will run because I am ready. I will run because I have put in the work. And I will run because I know now, unequivocally and without a shadow of a doubt, that I am a Runner. And will be for as long as I can put one foot in front of the other.