I've crossed many finish lines since, but I will never forget my first big race. It was the Rock 'N Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon several years ago. In many ways Philadelphia reminds me of Boston. Rich in history, tremendous people and impressive architecture. The recent tragedy in Boston has been on my mind and inspired me to write about the sport I love.
It had never occurred to me that I could run a half marathon. I didn't picture myself as a runner. I had been happy doing my little turbo kick class at the gym, and occasionally hitting the Elliptical. Running in a race, and a half marathon at that, was not on my radar. At the time I didn't even have a bucket list. I existed in my little world and thought I was happy with status quo. I was just trying to keep my head above water.
Then came the phone call that would change my life. One of my best friends called and said "why don't we train and do this half marathon in Philadelphia in September? It'll be fun!" Her enthusiasm won me over and I agreed. I figured, what the hell...I had successfully made other changes in my life why not go for it? For the first time in my life I had a race on my calendar and a goal to work toward.
We got off the phone and excitement bubbled up inside of me. I immediately got online and researched training, nutrition, etc. I went out the next day and bought new running shoes. I put together a training plan using Hal Higdon's Novice Half Marathon plan. 12 weeks and I would cross that finish line. I followed the training plan to the letter. You might even say I was obsessed.
Two days before the race I flew to Baltimore, where my friend lived and the next day we took the train to Philadelphia. I was petrified when we entered the city. What the hell was I thinking? I was nuts to think I'd be able to run 13.1 miles. My stomach was in knots. We checked into our hotel, met two other girls and headed to the race expo. My first expo! It was so exciting. I picked up my packet, and held my first bib in my hands. It was so precious. It was official, I was a participant in a half marathon. We ventured to an italian restaurant for dinner, then headed back to the hotel. How was I going to sleep?
Race morning came, and the alarm sounded at 5:30am. Here we go! We walked to the race start line. There were over 20,000 people from all over the world participating in this event. It was a massive crowd. I remember wondering if everyone else was terrified also. We made our way to our corrals and waited. I was a wreck!
The gun sounded and we were off! I had no idea what to expect, but the instant the crowd moved forward my nerves dissipated and my adrenaline kicked in. I started dodging and passing runners, then settled into my stride. Each mile marker I passed increased my excitement. I was actually doing this! My training took over, I relaxed and enjoyed the race. The runners were all encouraging each other and the volunteers and spectators along the course were fantastic. As I approached mile marker 10 the brevity of what I was doing set in. I became emotional. I felt that I was a part of something great. A year before this race I was at the lowest of lows and almost died. On this day I was in the last 3.1 miles of a half marathon.
The finish line was near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, home of the famous steps Rocky ran wearing his grey sweatsuit. As I approached the finishing chute I heard The Eye of the Tiger being played over the loudspeaker and I began to cry tears of joy. I was almost there...I did it!! It was the most amazing feeling of my life. As I entered mile 12 one of my friends caught up to me. The spectators were chanting "one mile to go!!" We crossed the finish line together and I felt as if I was flying. The feeling was beyond description.
Judy, Me, Janette and Lydia
When I heard of the explosions yesterday my mind went back to this picture, and my first finish line. Every one since has meant so much. There is a feeling of accomplishment, joy and celebration when the finish line is crossed and the race is completed. Most importantly, I've always felt safe. Whether as a spectator or an athlete. It's a sanctuary of sorts for us. As if we were running home. The finish line was different yesterday for the athletes and spectators of the Boston Marathon. That is what hit me the most. As an athlete it made me very angry. How dare the sick individuals invade that precious place. It will haunt me but it will not stop me. I will not be in fear. I will continue to work hard and enjoy the sport I love and I will feel safe and secure when I cross finish lines this season. I will not let this tragedy take that from me.
As I thought about this post I looked at all of the medals and bibs I've collected. There are quite a few, and I hope there will be many more. Thank you for sharing this memory with me.
Pray for Boston and for peace. May your finish line always be safe. Peace.