It's dark and cold as the siren signals the start. The first 4 miles will be spent on the bridge that the race is named for.
It is quiet and still. Thoughts of my blog run through my head. My favorite posts, things I haven't written yet, how I will capture these next 2.5 hours. Then my second family, the one I married into. How lucky I am to have found them. I remember the first time I met them. Clif and I were on our way to a friend's house and he said "We're just going to run by my parents' house real quick." This would be the first time I was meeting them and I had no time to prepare. We joke about it now. Finally, memories of distant cousins, meetings at funerals or reunions, finding connections over lifetimes and state lines...Mile 1.
The sun is beginning to reach through the darkness. Birds speak over the vast river, greeting the light. My mind jumps back, way back. Stories of my aunt rocking me in front of a mirror while I cried. A round pink jewelry box from Belgium...I think. Spending hours at my grandparent's, waiting for an overseas call. Walking around an airport all night, waiting for her arrival home. Her long red hair and gentle voice. Then I jump again, to college. Meeting sisters, who at first didn't look like sisters. But over time recognizing that same smile. Nights out, nights in, phone calls, emails. People who are still in my lives and still read my words and we still connect now and then...Mile 2.
The sun begins to warm the water so I stop for a moment to take off my jacket. I think of a wedding, just a few years ago. I was pregnant with Freddie and sick as a dog, but too early to tell. A wedding that was supposed to be outside but got rained out and everyone said it was lucky. Then back to college. Rooming with some of my best friends. Seven and Sevens while watching Tommy Boy every Saturday afternoon, beer bongs in the shower, the trunk's humble beginnings, RA rounds, doing the chicken dance but "don't clip my wings, bitch!", and too many memories to list. Years where every event, every moment, every giggle, and every tear was spent wrapped up in one another. Then summers working with a best friend. Waiting tables from opening to closing, then staying up all night talking or partying or whatever you do when you're 20 years old and have an endless supply of energy. The years after college, living with awesome girls, becoming a family that we never thought would end...Mile 3.
We turn to cross back over the second bridge and head into town. High school. A time I don't think about often. A time I don't remember that well. Four friends. Getting stuck in some huge field in Chantilly that I think is a mall or something now. Sleep overs. Making our own pizzas and playing pool. Going to the movies almost every weekend. Driving by a cute boy's house every hour. And then softball and making some great friends. Calling off of work to go to King's Dominion. Learning to drive a stick shift. Trips to South Carolina during Spring Break...Mile 4.
I am running through downtown New Bern, past old colonial houses but my mind wanders back to my childhood front lawn. A radio in my parent's bedroom window and me and my cousins making up dances to Madonna and New Kids on the Block songs. My cousins are all over. Some live in West Virginia, there's one in California, a few in Pennsylvania and Maryland. One even lives in Korea. I don't see them as much as I'd like. My youngest cousin is more than 20 years younger than me. But my family is close, so we try to stay in each other's lives...as hard as that can be sometimes. Then I'm thinking about how we were pregnant at the same time, both with little girls, due just 8 days apart. We had met when we were 19 and 20 years old, sharing a room, going to parties, talking about boys. Now married and pregnant. I remember the last time we saw each other before the babies were born. We were at a wedding in June. It was hot and we were miserable. We hugged and said goodbye and I cried when we got to the car. Clif asked why. Because the next time I'd see her we'd be mom's and things would be different. They are...but they're not...Mile 5.
I run past Tryon Palace and Clif and the kids are waving at me. Freddie and Ainsley run down the sidewalk giggling and jumping. I would like to stop and hug them, but I'm afraid I won't be able to start again. I think about my childhood house again. The one we bought from distant relatives. It was green, with a yellow driveway. I thought it was haunted. I never wanted to be there alone. But it was next door to my Grandmother's and I loved being so close to her. Then I laugh as I think about a story of me as a child. About an aunt only 11 years old than me and how I called her Nuk, even though that was no where close to her actual name. I would be coached on how to say her name. Repeating each part as instructed, but when it came to putting it all together...Nuk. No one's sure where it came from. I think about how for as long as I can remember she's been there, always supportive and always offering a helping hand...Mile 6.
Halfway. My sister. The one who got me into this. I'm not hating her for it yet. I remember her coming home from the hospital. That's the earliest memory I have that I can put a time frame around. We weren't always close, almost 5 years between us. Never in the same spot at the same time. Me so shy, her so outgoing. Then somewhere between college and weddings and divorces and babies...that changed. She's my best friend and I wish every day she lived down the street.
The chill in the air is gone now. The sun is bright and hot on my face. I think of strength. Not massive muscles or immense knowledge. But strength of one's soul. How there are people I know that are so strong in their convictions and their beliefs. So willing to do anything to continue the fight. That's the strength I want. The strength to know, without a doubt how I feel and what I believe. Then I am remembering my first week of college. Meeting the person who would still be in my life today. We were so different at the time. She seemed so mature and grown up. I was still so naive and young. Seventeen years later, we get together for lunch or coffee instead of concerts and frat parties. We talk about our kids and our jobs and our parents, not so much about boys or this weekend or a trip to Vegas. Everyone changes and she has changed A LOT...but so have I. The trick with some friends is changing together, so you never get so lost you can't find your way back. And then Redskins games. Working in the classy seats. Riding together from Falls Church to Landover, and then back again in the middle of the night. Definitely my most lucrative waitressing job. Staying after for drinks and leftover food. Sharing stories about our drunkest patrons...Mile 7.
The burn is beginning to creep up my legs. I think of connection. How connected we all are to each other. How things we say and do can affect people we don't even know. When I asked for people to pick a mile, I had one response from someone I've never met. How awesome is that? That she was brave enough to reach out. I hope I meet her in person one day. Then I think of friends. Friends that I've made since college. Friends that I've made through other friends. And I think of all the weddings and all the baby showers and all the weekends and I am so incredibly blessed...Mile 8.
I know I'm getting close, but not close enough. I go back to college and think of "One Hot Turtle." It makes me smile. He took a lot of crap for it, but never complained. Then a newer friend. Someone I met years ago through my husband and how shocked I was when she walked into my prenatal yoga class just a few months behind me in our first pregnancies. She has two kids, just like me. But now she's pregnant with twins...not hers. She's a surrogate, and I'm so in awe of her selflessness. Then I go way back. I remember making horror movies in my grandparents' yard. I was no more than 9 and I was one of the oldest. "The Bloody Easter Bunny" and the victim's head being cut off and falling into a makeshift toilet. I am laughing so hard I almost have to stop running...Mile 9.
It's almost 9 and the sun is hot. I'm running directly into it and I know that my body's almost done. I'm not sure if I can make it through the last few miles. I think of the summer I met Clif and all of his friends. The nights and days spent at 1725. Days that were carefree, and I didn't even know it. Clif's friends, that I consider my friends now, and have for a long time. Dave shows and beach trips and nights out and dinners in watching American Idol or The West Wing or whatever was on that night. Then I think of my mom. I'm lucky in that department. I have this awesome mom, who's always supportive and never over bearing. She let's me do my own thing and never says I told you so. I remember her sitting on my bed before I went to sleep as a child. I remember baking cookies. I remember car rides. I remember her slapping me when I deserved it and hugging me when I needed it...Mile 10.
I keep repeating "I can do this, I can do this" but my legs are disagreeing. I think of my sorority and how many awesome friends I have made because of it. One who lives so far, far away in Italy now. I see her maybe once a year, but I'm so thankful for things like Facebook so I can keep up with her and her gorgeous boys almost daily. Then I remember meeting my future sister-in-law. She was like 16. Baggy jeans, tie-dye t-shirt, long hair, dark tan. I forget how young she was. I think about the woman she is now. She's one of the kindest, most selfless people I know and I'm so glad she's in my life. I don't think I would have made it through the summer after Freddie was born without her. I'm pretty sure I'd still be changing Ainsley's diapers if it wasn't for her...Mile 11.
I'm not going to lie, I want to stop. I want to stop right here in this dumb park and lay down and never move again. But I know there are 3 people waiting for me at the finish line, so I push, just a little more. I remember the day I met Clif, the day we moved in together, the night he proposed, the day we got married. All these major moments flash before my eyes. But I also see the smaller moments. The way he laughs so hard, tears squeeze from his eyes. The way he lights up when the kids greet him at the door. How he calls me almost every day after the kids are off so we can discuss whatever, since we never have time for that at home. And 11 years of other small and big moments until I'm thinking about the kids and how I never knew I could ever love anyone the way I love them. I didn't know anyone could love that way. How I would do anything to stop their tears or make them smile. I love to hear Ainsley pretending to be a teacher or a mom or a princess. How she sounds so grown up and uses words I've never taught her. How her imagination just goes and goes and goes. Sometimes I look at her and think how stunningly beautiful she is. I love to see Freddie throw a football or kick a soccer ball. How he gets so excited when he makes a basket or hits a baseball. How he knows the name of every truck we pass on the road. How he smiles and chews his finger when he's embarrassed. How he can be rambling on and telling stories when all of the sudden he stops because a stranger entered the room and he's really just so shy. I could go on, but...Mile 12.
One mile. One mile left. I'm leaving the park and I can see the water that sits near the finish line. I know I'm close, but it's tough to imagine running another 11 or 12 minutes. I'm pretty proud of myself, even if I fall down and die right now. A year ago I was just trying to train for a 5K. Trying to get myself back in order. I went without exercising for about 5 years and I'm hoping to never do that again. It's hard to believe I'm actually doing this. Actually running 13.1 miles. If it weren't for the fire burning in my legs I wouldn't believe it. I think about my whole life and all my decisions that have led me right to this point. 35 years old, married, two kids, working in a random career. Some things about my life are perfect. Others need working on. I need to focus on those things. Make my life the best it can be. Live in a place I love, do the job I like, make more time for my family. That's my goal...13 Miles.
Clif and the kids are just a hundred yards from the finish line. They make that last stretch bearable. Then I see my mom and Charles and Carolyn and Mike, waiting right there as I cross...13.1.