Marathon Miles: Crossing The Finish Line
By Alexis Mercer
I was sure I was going to cry from the nerves at 7:55. Only 5 minutes to go, waiting in the starting chute. What had I done to myself? But I kept receiving messages from my loved ones.
Mom: You are my favorite runner. You’ve got this.
Dad: I hope you enjoy the whole 26.2!
Mer (my sister): Run steady! Run with valor! You’ve got this!!
I took a few deep breaths and before I had a chance to think anymore, the race was starting.
At 8:12, in mile 2, I was feeling great. My legs were cooperating, the cold wasn’t defeating, and the energy of the runners and the crowd was lifting me up. I got a text on my watch from one of my athletes that brought tears to my eyes.
Kate: Hi Coach! I know you just started your race so I wanted to remind you what you always tell us. Keep the smile on your face and you’ll do amazing! By the end of the run you’ll be so exhausted but you will have achieved something you have never done before. So…Good luck!
That text alone carried me through to mile 10. I kept thinking about my teams of runners over the years and how I hope that they know I believe in them and their abilities. That running teaches us so many life lessons and that each of them is strong enough to conquer their fears and all the obstacles life can throw at them.
The smile stayed on my face the entire race.
I passed a medical station and there were some of the athletes from my cross country team with a mom who drove them cheering and taking pictures. I was surprised and humbled to say the least. The smile remained.
Going through Millennial Park was difficult. It was beautiful but it was just shy of the halfway point. The thought crept through my mind that I had gone out too quickly. Not ever having run a marathon before, I didn’t know what my race pace would even be. But I was feeling good and not at all fatigued, so I told my mind to just let my body take over.
Miles passed by and before I knew it I came across another family from my team. And then another. Athletes who got rides from their own parents. Athletes who rode with friends or other parents. My friend Lindsey who ran so many miles with me last winter. My dear friends Mollie and Amanda. It was almost too much for me to handle. They all showed up to watch me run.
Runners around me kept making comments that I had the best cheering section. I couldn’t agree more.
The smile stayed on my face the entire race.
I crossed the finish line. The official time was 4:24.0.
After crossing the line, I bent over and gasped for breath, not because my lungs needed air. But because I was overwhelmed with emotion.
I had done it.
My husband was there with our kids. Clint Abbott was there to take a video of me crossing the line. My team and their parents all joined me.
I grabbed the obligatory space blanket (which doesn’t do a lick of good for keeping the heat in, by the way), a bagel, cheese, water, and pickle juice (yup, that’s a thing), wiped my tears from my eyes and soaked in the moment of pure bliss. I took a prolonged look at the sky and smiled at my Grandpa Mackenzie, hoping he was smiling down on me with pride for the valor with which I ran.
There are many ways this process has changed me.
The most obvious is the physical changes I have undergone. I’m leaner, lighter and fitter. Whereas I used to hit a wall at 5 miles, I now can go 15 without second thought.
I feel physically stronger than I have since my college volleyball days. Throughout the months of training I suffered through minor aches and pains. But I made it without injury. Something I always had in the back of my mind. Could my body physically handle the stress I was putting it under? It did. And I feel great as a result.
I feel mentally stronger than I ever have. As in my whole life. Not because I completed the marathon itself. That was just the icing on the cake. Each day I woke up with a goal. I made choice after choice based on completing that goal. I pushed through more miles than I ever thought possible. Speed workouts and tempo days and long slow miles. Rain, humidity (ugh the humidity), sunshine that beat down on me for days, and even sleet. I ran on trails and pavement and dirt roads, paths, bike trails, and newly restored gravel (ouch). None of it was a chore. I enjoyed the process so much that I feel I will never be the same as before I started. It filled me up to the rim with joy.
I know now more than ever how blessed I am to be surrounded by the kindest, most loving and thoughtful people a person could ever ask to have in her life. It wasn’t just on race day where I knew this. The number of people who reached out in their own ways to support this journey was astounding. This love has given me more ….
“In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself.” L. Sterne
It’s this. In my daily life I am surrounded by people. For this I am grateful as I am surrounded by wonderful, supportive, joyful people. But from the time I wake up to the time I collapse in bed, I am never alone with my thoughts.
I get the kids ready for school. I talk with my husband and prepare for the day ahead with our family. I go to school and am inundated by questions, comments and conversation (often times multiple people at once asking and talking and needing things). It’s my profession. I am not complaining. It’s just the nature of the job - a job I love dearly. I head to practice and I work with 25 young adults, all of whom need my individual attention. I strive to make this as personal as possible; giving each what he or she needs to succeed. I get home and get to spend a few hours with my family. Asking how their days at school went. Talking about the problems and happiness of their days. Then when the kids are in bed, my husband and I get a chance to catch up. Relaying stories from our jobs and what we have planned for the week.
I fall into bed at night without having the time for my own thoughts.
But for when I run. This is my time. My mind gets to be wherever it chooses to be. I can focus on the run, I can focus on the beat of the music, I can listen to the peace of nature, I can solve problems, I can focus on my blessings. Wherever it wants to go it can.
When the going gets tough and my body is in pain, my mind learns to push back against the pain.
It learns when I need to smile and relax my shoulders and when I need to grit my teeth and demand that my body move faster, harder, stronger.
It learns where my breaking point is, and then learns that it can actually do more.
It learns that every so often the mind and body need more rest, and to listen to those signals so the next day or week can be better.
“The goal of training is simple,” writes Steve Magness. “We are trying to fundamentally change the person we are coaching.”
For all the teaching, coaching and parenting I do on a daily basis, I finally got to coach myself. I got to pour into my own body the time, attention and focus that I strive to pour into others each and every day.
While I don’t plan on having this abundant time for myself all the time, it is imperative that I seek it out occasionally. Because I am more whole, full of life and available for others when I can give my own mind and body attention.
So while certain things didn’t get accomplished most of the time while I was in the thick of training (like the dishes, laundry...except my running clothes… or organizing closets), the important things in life rose to the top. I prioritized family, friends, my team, love and connections above all else. I wasted no time. Because I didn’t have it.
Many people have asked me since I finished whether I would run another marathon. My answer, even minutes after crossing the line, has been a definite yes, without hesitation. Every ache, pain, hour of training, sweat, tear and moment of fatigue has been far outweighed by the positive growth I have experienced. First, however, it’s time to catch up on some good books, Sunday morning snuggles with my kids, and researching a fun location where my next race might take me.