Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Looking Back

I never felt a sense of accomplishment when I graduated college. I felt a lot of things, but never any sort of pride over completing my degree. To this day I still don’t, even though so many people don’t ever receive a college degree. I remember my mom telling me to appreciate how much work I put into school and to allow myself to feel proud. Part of me knows how much I have dealt with in my life, and I hold myself to very high standards in regards to successes and accomplishments.

To be honest, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that should make me feel a sense of accomplishment. Ten years ago, I became sick with chronic Lyme disease. Up until that point, I never faced any problems with my health. From then on, my life became a day-to-day quest for survival, as doctors and specialists performed spinal taps, MRIs, CT scans, brain specs, blood tests, and a countless number of other tests to figure out “what was wrong.” My parents, thankfully, researched every degree of my illness and took me to a Lyme disease specialist in Boston to discuss how serious chronic Lyme disease can be if left untreated. We estimated that I had originally gotten sick when I was approximately eight or nine years old, and that the disease steadily built up in my body, showing sparse symptoms for years, until I crashed over the span of a week.

To make a very long story much shorter than I should, I endured approximately five years filled with chronic pain and debilitating cognitive effects until I finally felt alleviated from the illness. I was home schooled for about two and a half years through middle school and high school, and was a part-time student for another two years. I had difficulties just walking the distance down the hallway of my home to bathroom, and sitting up for a car ride through town. I hated waking up in the mornings, knowing all I could do was face another day of lying in bed in excruciating pain.

On Sunday, November 21, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. I have to say, without a doubt, that it was the greatest accomplishment of my life thus far. Knowing that I could finish running 26.2 miles was such an exhilarating feeling. After 18 weeks of training, and obsessing over this run, crossing the finish line was truly a feeling I could never put into words.

I decided about a year ago that 2010 was going to be the year to run a marathon, just to say that I had done it, essentially. It was definitely on a whim that I decided this, since I hadn’t even run a 5K at that time. I had never been a runner. I didn’t even know if I would like it. I waited for a while to tell anyone that I wanted to run a marathon simply because I didn’t have the faith in myself that I could complete something so difficult. A few months, and two 5Ks later, I finally started telling my family and friends that 2010 would be the year. There was no turning back.

On Marathon Sunday, the day started at 3:30 a.m. for me, since I woke up naturally at this time. I had set my alarm for 4 a.m., so I didn’t miss out on much more sleep. I just lay in bed thinking of what I needed to do to have a great run, and tried not to get too nervous. Because of my training, I knew I could run 18-20 miles pretty comfortably. What’s another 6.2 miles at that point? It’s just two 5K’s, or one 10K — nothing. Finally, I got up at 4 to start my pre-run routine, and to just generally get mentally and physically prepared. It’s funny, because even after four and a half long months of training, it’s not the physical part that stops you from running. It’s mental. I still had my moments up to mile 12 where I wondered if I could really do this or not. The difference between those that finish and those who don’t is the ability to say “yes”, when your body and your mind are screaming “no.” It is inevitable that at some point you will hit a wall, but regardless, you have to push forward.

My brother, Brendan and my dad dropped me off at the starting line at around 5:45 a.m. It was still dark out, and the sun wouldn’t start to come up for at least another 45 minutes. I picked a spot on a curb and sat until about 6:30, just focusing on the run, and listening to my music. My priorities were just to clear my head, drink water, and stay warm.

At 7:00, I was lined up with the 23,000 other runners who were taking on either the full marathon or the half marathon that morning. Right before I started, my only thought was, “Oh my God. I am actually going to do this.” I couldn’t believe I was about to run a marathon.

Overall, I felt pretty good during my run, but not as well as I had hoped. The night before, I started coming down with a minor cold (of course) so I had a sore throat and I was congested. That’s always the gamble of racing — I had singed up in April, so there was really no way of knowing how I would feel, or what the weather would be like. I felt a little sick throughout the first 15 miles or so, but after that the cold didn’t bother me.

I was so lucky to have my entire family there on the day of the marathon. My brothers flew in from Panama and San Diego, while my parents, and my brother Kevin drove from Connecticut. I think they might have been more excited than I was at points, but it was great to feed off their energy. I saw them at miles 1, 5, and 13, and Brendan even ran miles 1-5 with me to help pace me.

My legs started to get sore during mile 23, but even then I was able to run the vast majority of the last few miles (and the race as a whole). I was glad that I had trained as hard as I did, and that I was only feeling pain when I was should have.

After I crossed the finish line, it didn’t take long for shock of it all to hit. I really did it. I never thought I would do anything like this is in my life, but I actually did it. For the first time, I felt like I had come full circle from a girl fighting to survive to one who came back to run a marathon. This wasn’t just an accomplishment of finishing the run, but of reclaiming my life when so many didn’t believe that I could. I had come so far in the last 10 years, doing so much that seemed impossible at one point. And that is an accomplishment that even I can appreciate.

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