Yesterday I ran a marathon in Ireland. My official finish time was 3:47:22, more than nine minutes faster than my previous best time. That feat was completely unexpected.
I drove about five hours today, and my friends and I weren’t jabbering the whole way, so I spent a while trying to figure out what happened in yesterday’s magical marathon. I was not being pessimistic when I originally thought I would finish in 4:15. And then, when I found out that the women’s course record is a rather slow 3:22, I wasn’t being pessimistic when I lowered my expectations to 4:30. I did get into a very bad place mentally (apologies to my travel mates and the people I sent messages to) the day before the race. I hadn’t run in three days, I’d done a ton of walking, hiking and a bike ride. Even on race morning, I didn’t want to run. In my weird pre-race angst, someone had told me, “You’re running a f’ing marathon in f’ing Ireland!” and that popped into my head as I walked to the starting line. I also thought of my grandmother, whose lungs are giving out and will die in about two years. I can run and she cannot. So I ran because, hey, I was in f’ing Ireland.
I ran through wind and rain and sun. I kept passing people as I kept running up hills. I passed the 4:15 pacer and the 4:00 pacer. I reached the halfway point in 1:53 and knew I would likely crash and burn, but I kept running up another hill. When my watch beeped at mile 15 and I saw an 8:25 mile, I actually said out loud, “Holy shit!” I didn’t know what was happening, but I kept running and kept breathing calmly.
I reached a low point at mile 20, but I knew it would pass so I kept running and made myself smile at people and look at the spectacular greenery. I never walked until mile 22, when I was halfway up the two-mile hill that everyone dreads and talks about in this race. But then I found myself running again while still going up that f’ing hill in f’ing Ireland. I walked the last part of the hill, then took off down the backside of that hill. I had three miles left, down a long road that threatened to derail my exhausted quad muscles, but I pushed through the pain. I had spent the entire race passing people, and I kept doing so in the last three miles — all men, actually. One said “nice legs,” and I realized my bad legs, which had worn special shoes and gotten me excused from PE in childhood, were in fact doing nice things.
I ran the last two miles faster than my goal half-marathon pace. I ran the last 0.34 miles at 10k pace. And I had a huge grin on my face as I reached the finish line. I stood there for a minute with my hands up to my face, in true shock at what had just happened. In the finish area, I was stopped by several of those men I had passed in the later miles. They weren’t flirting, but simply wanted to congratulate me and said they had tried their best to keep up with me. I was merely a runner on equal ground — a runner whose legs and lungs and heart and mind did not give up.
As I walked slowly and gingerly to my car, I looked around at the brilliant greenery and the quaint town and the waterfront. I was in f’ing Ireland and I had just taken nine minutes off my best f’ing marathon time. There, as I walked, I started to cry. They were tears of happiness. Of surprise. Of joy. And they were tears of hope for future dreams not yet realized.