Sunday morning, April 1, 2012 at 6:30 a.m., I left my still sleeping family a note that I would be out for a run. A 26.5 mile run, it turned out. A 5 hour 40 minute run. My first marathon.
Was I planning this? Nope.
First had the idea the day before.
Had I been training for a marathon? Nope.
Ran a mile for the first time in my life just six months before.
Was it a formal marathon race? Nope.
Just me, all by myself, out on the horse trails of Harms Woods, Skokie IL.
Well, that might take some explaining.
I am a mother of 4 children. My oldest will leave home in two years. At that same time, my youngest will start school. I have spent the last 16 years in a deep fog of “little kids.” I love my children more than life itself. They are the biggest blessing I have ever received. They are also the hardest job I have ever done. I had to set aside my own needs so many times to take care of everyone else. I became accustomed to not showering, not using the bathroom by myself, not even hearing myself think. I have spent countless hours rocking crying children, changing diapers, breastfeeding, wiping butts, playing Rescue Heroes and Polly Pockets. Sixteen years later, I am still wiping butts and playing Rescue Heroes and Polly Pockets. Yet, I am now also teaching Noah, my oldest, how to drive! Faithfully going to every basketball and soccer game that is played. Not to mention, all the daily chores I grind out, like laundry, bills, groceries, meals, making lunches, etc.
My baby, Zeke, is 3. We think he can walk but we are not really sure, because we have never seen him do it. He only runs. Since he was upright and in motion, he runs from point A to point B.
Last summer, my Dad brought me the book, “Born to Run”. He explained that it was crucial for me to sit right down and read it. He went on to say that as far-fetched as this book seemed, it would help me understand Zeke, my child of speed.
What my Dad did not know, at the time, was how much I was struggling.
When we moved to Chicago, 10 years ago, we were on a path to becoming more observant and religious Jews. My husband, Richard, was taking the lead on this, and it was a path I embraced. We learned about Shabbat. We began keeping kosher. We converted our kids. I studied with a Rabbi and converted.
Five years ago, this led us to move a few miles down the road to a more religious community for our kids. It was the natural next step on the journey…
But things don’t always go according to planned…
I am still not sure exactly what happened. I have my theories, but to this day, all I can say is, it was a hurricane that almost took us out…
I never saw it coming.
When you don’t see it coming, there is no time to run and hide.
There were signs, though. When a big storm is near, the atmosphere changes. Strange things began to happen. Mezuza’s began falling off our doorposts. Hundreds of flies filled our basement. Richard had 2 emergency room visits in 1 month, due to our house attacking him!
What was happening? Was this new house haunted? I called a Rabbi to come and say the proper blessings over the mezuzas. Maybe I had been in a hurry and hadn’t done it right? He happily obliged. They didn’t fall off anymore. Maybe he had prayer super powers. (Maybe it was the super glue he brought along to back up the blessings.)
Looking back, I see it was just the wind before the storm.
The storm (Hurricane Skokie) hit our shore almost immediately after our move. Because I never saw it coming, I was caught in a small boat in the middle of the sea, nowhere near the shore. My main goal was to keep us all alive, and not let anybody fall out of the boat. Each time a wave almost capsized us, I held on to everybody for dear life.
These waves consisted of: Richard’s mid-life crisis (although he prefers the term awakening), a full family orthodox conversion to Judaism (yes we were already Jewish), starting a business (refer back to mid-life crisis), money lost (refer back to business), crash of the market (more money lost), a shot gun wedding (yes we were already married), our fourth baby born (only days after shot gun wedding), surgery for this new baby boy, a job loss (more money lost). A bar mitzvah, mortgage and private school to pay for during all this job and money loss. Then I came down with shingles. Something you only get when you are old or REALLY stressed out! I did the only thing I knew how to do.
Hang on!…for four years…it takes a toll!
My marriage was on the edge of a cliff. My husband was ‘finding himself’ and I had gotten lost! Where did I go? What happened to the girl who had dreams of her own? The light hearted, playful, fun, person my husband married? I was afraid she had disappeared forever. In her place, was this out of shape, stick-in-the mud, super stressed, middle aged cook/chauffeur/maid/soccer mom. ugh! No wonder my husband wasn’t sure he wanted to be married to me anymore. I wasn’t even ‘me’ anymore. I had to find a way to get strong again. I had to find my way back to myself.
The answer came last summer when I sat down and read. My Dad, in his attempt to help me understand my son, had unknowingly, given me the inspiration I needed for myself. I could not put it down. The stories of strength and determination moved me. The case made that running is not “dangerous to your health” opened my mind. A seed of possibility began to take root.
I never thought I could run. I was a competitive horseback rider as a child. I began seeing a chiropractor at age 12! Pain management for back and neck injuries I sustained at this sport. I saw people run. I heard about marathons. But I NEVER considered it for myself. I was flawed. My body would let me down just getting through the day. But I was searching for a life-line. I needed hope and inspiration. I had lived through a hurricane for pete’s sake. Maybe, just maybe, I could run.
I asked my chiropractor (who is an ultra-runner, I later found out) if he could teach me how to run. Safely, so I didn’t end up worse off than I already was! He said, “yes”.
That was August of 2011. I was 42 years old.
I began to run. It was hard. When injuries happened, even though it was the normal adjustment of my body, it made me afraid. Afraid I didn’t have what it takes. Afraid my body would fail me. Afraid I didn’t have the right to go after my dreams. Yet, I couldn’t stop. I was running for my life.
March 23, 2012 I did my first 10 mile run. It was pouring rain and really hard, but it was a tipping point. Double digits. I never dreamed I could do that!
Two weeks later, I ran 12 miles for the first time. Reading Dean Karnazes, “Ultra-Marathon Man” the same weekend, created the perfect storm.
The more I read, the more I got fed up. Just plain fed up with being afraid. Afraid of always feeling like I am too much or not enough. Fed up with all my ‘plans’ and baby steps. Fed up with this label of ‘just mom’. Fed up with buying into the myth that ‘just mom’ means ordinary, invisible, boring! No career, no identity, no paycheck …..just mom. My claim to fame is being able to change a diaper anywhere, any position in under 30 seconds flat. And frankly, I had enough. I started thinking about all the super strong women in my life, who go around quietly holding the world on their shoulders, with a smile on their face. Their strength is phenomenal. They do marathons everyday with their love and endurance. They have heart like no one else on earth. That was it! It was time to run my marathon…tomorrow. Just like that. Because all of us moms are stronger than we look, and it was time to prove it. Maybe mostly to myself. And why should this Dean Karnazes guy get to have all the fun anyway?
Before going to bed Saturday night, I tested it out on Micah, my oldest daughter.
Me: “What if I run a marathon tomorrow.”
Micah: “Oh my gosh, that would be so cool mom!!! You should definitely do it.”
She did not doubt. She was not afraid. She was simply excited about the adventure of chasing down something significant. Sure enough, my own doubt and fear stepped forward.
Me: “I don’t know if I can.”
Micah: “So go as far as you can go! See what you can do! Even if you did 20 miles that would be amazing!”
This I will never forget. The kind of moment that changes the course of things. I was so struck by this child. She only knew the sky as the limit. She believed, if you wanted to chase a dream, you had the right to do it. I wondered, what happens in between? What happens between the girl who knows how to dream, and the woman who gives up so much of herself she begins to disappear? What do we do to that girl? And how can I keep from doing it to my girls?
I realized, that while she was an inspiration to me, I had to also be inspiration to her. I had to stop being that woman willing to give up her dreams. I had to show my family what a woman possessed looks like! I had to lead by example. They needed to be reminded of the beauty of feminine strength and will-power. I had held our family afloat during a horrible hurricane, and we had survived. I knew I had endurance. I would go as far as I could go, and see what happened.
April 1, 2012, I left my still-sleeping family a note, “I will be out for a run”. A 26.5 mile run it turned out. A 5 hour 40 minute run. Out in the woods of Skokie, IL. All by myself. My first marathon.
I don’t know why I needed to do my first marathon out in the woods by myself. I just know it was right. My body was not quite ready for the journey, but the rest of me was not going to wait any longer. Call it a rite of passage, at 43. The first thing I came across going north was a big coyote. She was just standing in the path looking at me. Her look said, “I get it….You gotta do your thing….so get after it.” And then she was gone. It seemed like some kind of blessing, a confirmation that it was right.
I kept running. The more I ran, the more I realized I was not alone. I was running with all the people who supported and inspired me. I kept hearing their words of encouragement in my head. It gave me strength. I wanted to finish, as much for them as for me. I wanted to prove that us moms can be bad ass too.
A few days later, even though I could not walk very well (had to crawl up and down stairs), I was hit with the enormity of what I had done. All the fear that I should have felt before this little adventure, hit me hard. Then came a profound sense of gratitude. The same kind I have felt after giving birth. Maybe it was kind of like a birth.
The birth of me.
I am so deeply thankful for the strength of my body to accomplish something like this in one piece.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to reveal myself…to myself.
And I am so thankful for the realization… that I was by myself, but not alone.
June 10, 2012, I ran my first official race. A half-marathon.
October 7th, the day after I turn 44, I will run the Chicago Marathon.
Running has not just changed my life, it has transformed it. I found a life-line. My only wish is that I had found this earlier. I would have had running to hang onto along that painful path of growing up.
My first marathon was for me.
My second marathon, I dedicate to my kids.
May they always see themselves clearly. May they always dream. May they always have the strength to chase those dreams. And while they may sometimes be by themselves, may they always have the knowledge that they are not alone.