I had three goals for the Medtronic TC 10-Mile--finish between 1:30-1:35; start slow and finish strong; get to the starting line energized and healthy--and I'm happy to say, I nailed all of those.
What I didn't know was that another trio was actually going to make the race one of my most memorable events ever.
I'll just put this out there: As a child, I was rich in imaginary friends. In our playroom, I taught whole classes of students you couldn't see; on the trampoline, I taught hundreds of virtual kids how to do a seat drop; and most importantly, I had an imaginary friend named Elizabeth who was my BFF for most of elementary school: We sat next to each other at dinner every night, and I was allowed to call her once a day (which entailed dialing our home number and talking to the busy signal--as complicated as phone tech got back then).
So when I returned to my hometurf--the Twin Cities--I was caught between childhood and myself today, as often happens when you revisit your youth as an adult. I shouldn't have been surprised when, at Mile 4, I was suddenly caught off guard by my dad, who died before I got married. Our relationship is too complicated to explain here, but one thing to know: he was a tall man with a booming voice, and was quick to broadcast his pride in me, which always felt ridiculous. Any compliment or accolade he gave me in any kind of public arena--I'm talking Burger King here--never failed to make me just want to shrink to the size of a beetle. For whatever reason, I couldn't handle it.
Dad, this is what love to do now, I mentally told him, as I pictured him today on the side of a parkway, yelling for me. I wasn't embarrassed when he cheered. I hugged him, high-fived him, told him to head on up and look for me in a few more miles.
I'll just put this out there too: I ran 1:24, which blew me away. The sea-level, mostly flat course was a real gift. As I saw my splits in the mid-8:00, I kept thinking I should slow down, but I didn't feel like I was flying-and-dying, which is my forte. Like I said: a real gift.
Around Mile 5, the 10-miler joined the marathon course, and I saw the red flags that read mile 21, 22, and so on. I knew Sarah would be in my footsteps in a few hours, and poof: there she was, running along side me. After two days on our feet at the expo, I wasn't sure what kind of race she could pull off, and I wanted her to soak up how strong I felt, I wanted to give her the feeling that slowing down wasn't even an option.
Stay with me Sarah, I told her as I mentally placed her beside me. Stay strong and with me.
Dad, this is what I love to do. Sarah, stay with me.
Completing the trio was my Uncle Ham, my mom's youngest brother who died almost exactly two years ago. He was my Godfather and the uncle that loved to sit at the kids' table at Thanksgiving. I'd always volunteer to clean the kitchen after family dinners with Ham because I knew he'd crack me up. As an adult, I realized he lived a really difficult existence, a life I didn't know very much about.
Towards the end, he was a near hermit, and I still have a hard time reconciling the goofy uncle I couldn't get enough of with his severe, life-ending struggles. The crisp fall day, full of yellow and orange leaves and bluebird sky, reminded me of his service, and there was Hambone along for the ride.
I hope you tasted this kind of peace, Ham, I told him, The kind of peace running brings me.
Dad, this is what I love to do now. Sarah, stay with me. I hope you tasted this kind of peace, Ham. I repeated those three things again and again, and got into such a meditative zone, I didn't want the race to be over. (Truly. Told you: This was a one-in-a-lifetime race for me.)
Running doesn't just bring me mental peace. It soothes sore spots I didn't even know were bleeding; it brings back memories, both lovely and cringe-worthy; it lets me realize when I'm being petty and should let things go; it gives me confidence to take on things I shouldn't let go (but want to); it solidifies friendships; it connects me with branches of my family I thought had withered; it lets me relive and laugh and wander and chat and connect and imagine.
And when it all comes together beautifully, as it did today, I can't help but cry, as I did a couple times on the course and as I wrote this. I am so thankful for this sport, which brings me to so many places. Places I would've never thought--or been able--to visit had I not been moving forward on two feet at a rhythmic pace.
Dad, this is what I love to do now. Sarah, stay with me. I hope you tasted this kind of peace, Ham.