Four years ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to run a marathon. I’d never run more than a mile and even that was more of an annual experiment than a regular occurrence, but I was undeterred. After a quick internet search I found a training group that met every Saturday morning at 7am near my house for six months leading up to the race. I hesitated. 26.2 miles? Training every Saturday for half a year? If I didn’t try I knew I’d regret it, so I clicked my future into existence and signed up for the Los Angeles Marathon.
When I decided to train for the marathon, I was at a bit of a crossroads. I felt my recent engagement and mapped out future life with him piling up around my ears and my own identity as a writer and actor fading into a blurry background. His job allowed me to not work if I didn’t want to, but if I didn’t fight to hold onto my own goals, I knew I could very easily become the supportive homemaker my mother was without fulfilling my own career aspirations. I knew I didn’t want that, but I needed something to remind myself of who I was and what I did want. This was my chance to do the hardest thing I could think of, to commit to a far-off goal I could value and hold onto forever as proof of my determination to succeed at something. That and I hoped other people would be impressed I was attempting such a Herculean feat. It seemed like a win-win.
This was not the first time running long distance crossed my mind. When I was about ten, after watching a long-distance race on TV, I told my sister I wanted to run in the Olympics. She laughed. Being a shy, indoor child, I accepted her laughter as gospel and never mentioned the idea again. Of course, I couldn’t be a runner! Look at me, a small, pale girl with a face that turns bright pink after any exertion! The streamlined gazelle with muscles as defined as those of a marble statue striding confidently to the finish line did not match any image I had of myself. The idea that runner might be a big enough category to fit me was beyond comprehension.
Over the last sixty years women’s running has gone from a sport doctors feared would lead to infertility from all that pavement pounding to a sport men begrudgingly allowed women to participate in (to see how begrudgingly google Kathrine Switzer) to a pastime so common women make up close to half of all marathon participants. The perception that marathons are for super athletes has given way to the idea that running a marathon is a way to learn or extend your limits, a reason for travel, or a way to make friends with fellow runners.
My first day of training, I wore way too many layers and the wrong shoes, but I finished three very slow miles. By month two, I had managed to strain my IT band, the tendon that runs from the hip all the way down to the foot, but aches at the knee when stressed. I took a break for a week, stretched using a murderously painful foam roller, and read all I could find on not getting injured again. I ran 10 miles for the first time. I ran 16 miles. I ran 20 miles. Then I ran 20 miles again. The hardest part of the marathon is the hundreds of miles you run before lacing up your shoes on race day.
All the while, I was thinking. If I can do this, get up and run every single Saturday and three times during the week, what else can I do? Without even mentioning my running to that many friends, I became known as a runner, and not only that, as an impressive runner, one bold enough to run an entire marathon. Slowly the idea that I couldn’t be a runner, shifted to a more benevolent, I might be a runner. I saw a dietician and concentrated on eating better to fuel my runs and recovery. I went to bed early on Friday nights. For the first time in my life, I had found a goal no one else in my life shared and pursued that goal without shame. I ran as my fiancé slept and returned jubilant to wake him for breakfast. On days when I felt my legs move a little faster, a little easier, I was grateful to see a person I had built myself.
On the day of the race it rained. It rained more in one day than it usually rains in a month in LA. The view from the start at Dodger Stadium was grey and drizzly at 6am, but an endless sheet of rain by mid-city. It cleared in Beverly Hills as we ran past shops still closed on an early Sunday morning. When I got to UCLA, I walked. I was cold, muddy, and still miles from the finish. Strangers came out of their homes and called the names printed on passing marathon bibs, “Go Rieman! You’re almost there!” a guy with a cup of coffee called as I counted by way past. I saw the ocean ahead of me. I saw the turn to the finish and after all that, after all the exhaustion and wet and cold, I ran.
I full out ran as fast as I could and cried tears as big as raindrops. I was really doing it, there was nothing I couldn’t do now. There is nothing I can’t do now because I am runner.