“The spiritually mature human being let’s all things come and go without effort, without desire for any foreseen result, carried along on the current of a vast intelligence.”
Stephen Mitchell, The Bhagavad Gita
My bestie and I let our minds ruminate in the late summer sun about how to celebrate her 40th birthday. The two of us are typically up for anything, summing up the reason why she is my bestest friend. Well that, and she knows more about me than anyone else on this earth so I must keep her close, at least until my memoir is published. The conversation quickly turned to deciding what type of physical feat we would conquer in celebration of her entering her 5th decade in this life. The hangover from ringing in her 30th birthday is hauntingly carved into my memory. I still haven’t forgiven myself for scaring my dogs with my naked stumbling body. A repeat performance was not on the table for discussion, something healthier would be on the menu this time. It seems as though she has a few more years before she’s ready for Ironman, believe me I’m chipping away at this one. So a marathon seemed the perfect endeavor and spending Valentine’s Day in Austin was the answer.
The race fell exactly 11 weeks after Ironman Cozumel. The plan was to recover well, take a few weeks off then start training at MAF, adding in speed at the key time and ramping up as much mileage as I could in the remaining nine weeks while staying healthy. All we had to do was execute and hope that the universe’s plan was the same.
After two weeks of post-Ironman rest and lots of yoga, my return was not as pretty as we anticipated. My heart rate was high and paces were slow. I was sluggish and gaining minimal mileage. It was clear that I was not 100% recovered from Ironman but I could feel something even bigger weighing me down. I needed more time but the calendar refused to slow and the days ticked away. My humanness wanted to panic and feel doubtful. It tried to convince me to drop down to the half marathon. Meditation was my medicine for these unhelpful emotions.
The sharp pain I felt for 17 miles during my last straight out marathon, see forced smile post race pic here, has not dulled much in my memory. Just a few hours after a historic “wintercaine” passed through the Cape Cod area, downed trees, messy roads, cold temperatures and 60+ mph winds were left as the running partners to my under-trained and frozen body.
Designed to project memories of the past and theory onto every experience, the mind continuously flooded my training with thoughts of unease as I prepared for Austin, clinging to the vague similarities of my training for Cape Cod. The short time frame and recurring bizarre and painful misalignment in my left ankle weighed heavily on my belief that I could be successful. I nullified its every last effort with mindfulness practice and meditation. I knew I still had Ironman endurance in my bones and the absence of the 114 miles of racing before the 26.2 would play to my advantage.
After two weeks of pathetic performance, I developed a cold which sucked my energy and eight days of my training. “Ok new plan”, the pressure lifting words of relief spoken just in the nick of time from my coach (and hubby). The new plan was to adjust my heart rate training zone for this race, piggyback specificity runs Tuesday & Wednesday, recovery run on Thursday then back to back long runs on the weekend. Saturday runs were longer of the two and more challenging while Sunday sessions were a longer recovery run. This allowed me to log cumulative mileage and stay healthy. I was also swimming Monday and Friday, maintaining three to five yoga practices and strength training two times per week. The universe and I aligned. I sailed through the rest of my training. Race day was on the horizon and the great unknown awaited me.
I book-ended my training with another, yet more mild, cold and surrendered to bed for first three days. I managed my runs, thankfully they were short, continued my yoga practice with several 30 minute sessions to keep loose and strong. The cold was centered in my chest, neck and head or as I now consider to be, a clearing of my fourth and fifth chakras, heart and throat. Coupled with very bizarre dreams, I had the intuitive hit that something big was coming. Rest and meditation had me feeling well again by Thursday.
I met up with Tara, aforementioned bestie, in the Austin airport. We took our first of many Uber rides to our Air BnB on the east side. We settled in with hysterical fits of laughter over multiple rat traps, backyard cat duels and one thumb sized bug on the loose in my bedroom. Comfortable beds and walking distance to a vegan food truck consoled any question about our lodging choice. We celebrated our first night and reunion with IPA which only confirmed that I am a lightweight and prefer a non-alcoholic life. I never thought there would be a day in my life when I wasn’t a “drinker” but like warm weather, feeling clear is one of the most important aspects of my life right now.
Saturday morning we stocked up on fresh veggies and fruits at the “landmark” Whole Foods. It was a high vibrational check out in preparation of our post race recovery. But first, we had to top off our glycogen stores for the 26.2 mile excuse for a girls weekend. The day before a race means way too many vegan pancakes, all day snacking on pretzels and fig bars. A simple lunch of tempeh, pita bread sandwiches and gratefully, a slow taper off to a small dinner of pasta. Fueled by the excitement of the L.A. Marathon olympic trials, food and rest, we were race ready.
The alarm rang at 3:30am, sadly not a shockingly early wake up time for me. I popped up and prepared our pre-race meals of applesauce, banana and protein powder. I’ve come quite accustomed to putting this away pretty quick but Tara, after making a regrettable baby food reference, had a very hard time getting it down. As much as I wanted to step in a save her and tell her not to eat it, I just held the space as she gagged down every last spoonful knowing that she would be ship shape for race start. I headed back to my room for meditation.
We were greeted at 2nd and Congress with the first signs of light, wind tunneling through the buildings and every kind of runner you could imagine. From the beautifully dolled up Texas girls to the muscle-less young lady with the draw string backpack (yes, she really did run with that thing swinging around). The shirtless, b.o. long haired guy to the American flag couple and without fail, the super jacked dude bearing his Ironman tattoos and the latest in running gear gadgets. Humankind roll call was taken and everyone was accounted for, let the games begin.
Miles 1-3: Ease
The heart pounding moments just before the gun goes off, followed by a herd of thousands mimicking rush hour traffic patterns. Legs are light in this stage, everything is great. “This is so exciting”, I thought, “being out here with all these great people doing something awesome”. The first mile passed in a blink of an eye despite our purposefully slow pace. We were committed to following BJ’s strategy to perfection and we were off to a great start.
Miles 3-7: Denial
The miles kept passing by and things felt pretty darn easy. The most challenging piece was to go as slow as we were directed while feeling so good, I couldn’t imagine this feeling would ever change. Only 22 miles to go. “Maybe I’ll sign up for another in the spring”, I inspired, “maybe I’ll just be a marathon runner from now on. Running a marathon is not even that hard”.
Mile 7-10: Truth
The thing that I love about truth is that it just is, and the truth of this course was hills. Not rollers, as described in the course blow by blow but hills, as in steep ups and steep downs. Unexpected but acceptable. I knew any other mindset would not be helpful and truthfully, I prefer a course with hills. It was all happening, I was entering the trenches of the distance and no one was going to finish this for me, but me. There was an obvious drop in dialog during these miles. I could only assume what was happening to me was happening to everyone else, the realization that we weren’t even halfway done.
Mile 10-19: Separation
The half marathoners split off about mile 11. Enter ego. It came in from the front and back door. Part of me wishing I was running the half and the other part of me feeling that I was doing something better than them, like running a marathon mattered more. A sea of mixed messages, typical negative ego at play. I still had a long way to go and all this thinking was using my energy plus Tara was pulling ahead. The time had come for a mantra. Om.
Mile 19-24: Pick it up and Hang On
Up until mile 22 my body was feeling solid. I had some mild cramping in my diaphragm which was my first clue not to eat anything more and a subtle rubbing on my left toe. Our instruction up until mile 19 had been to stick to specific pacing but now we were to run to a point of “reasonable struggle” and maintain.
Mile 24-26: Wheels Fall Off
Reasonable struggle transformed into real struggle, real fast. Legs were heavy, efforts were maxed and everything was aggravated by a rookie move compliments of me. I had taken in another gel that I didn’t need after a compelling mind debate over intake versus carrying the gel to the next garbage can. This overloaded my system in the wake of pushing every step to go faster resulting in massive diaphragmatic cramping at mile 24. I hung on, barely able to breath and looked to the bright side, it took my attention away from the skin rubbing off my big toe. I saw the mile 25 aid station. BJ was adamant about us not stopping unless we absolutely needed to and I absolutely need to stop. I took in some water, the cramping subsided immediately and I took off as fast as I could to the finish line.
I approached the last uphill on route to the Capital and locked eyes with a guy on the sidelines. All other noise fell away as he calmly said, “you have two more turns, that’s it, just two more turns, you can do this”. This climb led to the to dissolution of the final pieces of skin from my toe and into a whole new level of discomfort. “It’s only pain if I label it that way”, I reminded myself as the frantic voice in my head screamed otherwise. At the top of the hill I faced one more steep down hill. I couldn’t bare the rubbing of my foot so I curled under my toes making a foot fist and pounded down to the final turn.
Mile 26-26.2: Elation, of sorts
I sprinted the final steps, a small fraction of the distance but the one that makes it all worth it. My superhuman me took over and I crossed over the line in 4 hours and 40 minutes hearing the first part of my name and then nothing at all.
I was on the floor, holding Lhasa’s head and chanting the sound of Om. I was resting my cheek on the softness of her enormous head as I had a thousand times before. This time would be the last. Her body, which we were told would only last six years, had finally fallen apart. Blessed with a massive tumor within days of leaving the country for Ironman Cozumel, our answer had been divinely revealed.
I walked towards the finisher’s medals blurred in my vision while a massive force of energy moved up my throat. People side stepped my path giving me room to stumble into my emotional unsteadiness.
In those final moments I felt her struggle. She pushed against my embrace and I held her lovingly and strong. She could no longer walk but still she wanted to run. I chanted the universal vibration deep into her bones as we prepared for her transition.
I spotted an open space along the barrier fencing of the finishers area and rested my arms, hung my head and sobbed over the loss of my very good friend. My finishers medal ricocheted from the fence to my heart over and over again as my body convulsed involuntarily.
Just before the vet injected her body with a high level barbiturate to overdose her system and end her life here on earth, she softened. Falling deep into my arms for one final embrace, I received her message and together we let go. I laid her lifeless body onto the blanket next to a circle of friends candle that burned ceremonially in her honor. I looked into her eyes, she had already slipped away. Three seconds I am told, that is all it takes to crossover, there is nothing to fear only infinite freedom to anticipate.
Buried deep inside me, I carried this grief unknowingly for months and after tearing into my body for 26.2 miles I was stripped down enough for it to move. I held the courage necessary to be vulnerable in the face of this public purge as the greatest of pain rose from the depths of my being. In gratitude of this sacred soul and her purpose to position me for a future of service, I wept until the tears ran dry and my breath flowed in equal measure. I waited in the comfort of dry clothes with a soothing ginger tea for Tara to come through her finish so we could connect and share experience, as good friends do.
Racing is a way for me to test my spiritual progress, a way to put it all out there to observe my behavior and the choices I make in the face of extreme challenge. I crave the process, admire how each stage tests me in a different way and marvel at how it all just ends up being, a metaphor for life. Racing is a life force born from inspiration and realized from steadfastness. At its completion, like all else as we know it, it fades away into nothingness. Each competition holds a unique purpose for my growth and rarely is it the purpose I prepare for. Austin was my 6th marathon finish and I now I look forward to a break in my race schedule to focus on becoming stronger in all aspects of my existence. When the time is right, when I am called back, you can be sure that I will be on the starting line again.
Goodbye sweet girl.