As a child, I had asthma and my parents were told I wouldn’t live past the age of three. There were many late night trips to the ER for asthma attacks, but I survived them all. Still, I was glad to have an excuse to get out of P.E.—until junior high school, when I wanted to put on those frilly little bloomers and see the boys. I dated a boy in high school who ran track and I’d go watch his meets, but I could never imagine myself taking part in a running event. I was part of the generation before Title IX; girls didn’t do sports.
When my husband took early retirement, I was disappointed because I’d spent two decades raising three sons, who were now out of the house, and I felt like I’d missed that period where I was going to have time for myself. When he retired, it was almost like being a mom again. I fixed lunch and worried about the schedule. It felt like the chance to do something had been taken away.
Then my husband joined a group at a local running store, and he was quite proud of the progress he made running again after 25 years of not running. He kept saying I should join him, so I did—and it became something I did for myself.
Yes, 13.1 seemed crazy—but, thankfully, my asthma turned out to be allergy related. I made sure to take my medicine and changed my route to avoid heavy foliage areas like the Riverwalk in San Antonio, where we live.
I ran a full thirteen miles in training so I knew I could do the distance on race day. Still, I felt so much anxiety and apprehension the night before my first half. So many negative thoughts to push away. Thoughts like “I hope I can do this,” and, “have I adequately prepared?” ran through my mind all night. I trust my training and know I’ve been diligent. But maybe, I can’t do it. What if I don’t?
At starting line of my first half-marathon, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in San Antonio, I stand with members of the running group I’d trained with. My husband was ahead of me in a faster corral, as he had a qualifying time from doing this same race the year before. I know he’ll be at the finish line waiting for me.
To help me feel strong and confident, I’m wearing a straw cowboy hat embellished with bits of traditional Mexican embroidered fabric. In the corral, I get a lot of positive comments and high-fives about the hat; it reminds me this experience is going to be fun.
One of the things that get me through the hard parts—around miles 8 and 9 before we hit the double digits—is seeing others who are struggling. I say a good word to them, like, “we’re going to make it.” We’re in this together—and here are others who are just as unsure as I am.
I am not discouraged by the young fast ones. I know I’m not in that category. I’m not trying to be. It’s not that I set my expectations lower but I’m going to finish this and I’m going to have fun. Not once do I think I’m sorry I signed up for this.
I see my kids and grandbabies cheering on the sidelines. One of them holds a sign that reads, “My grandma can run faster than your grandma!” I feel so much pride and happiness. Their support means so much. The affirmation gives me the boost I need to finish strong.
When I cross the finish line, I’m overwhelmed with huge emotions. It’s kind of like childbirth. I hurt. I hope I don’t faint. I did it. What a high!
—Pat (Treats herself to a Mexican Coca-Cola after a long, hard run.)
PS: Pat’s running story has further evolved from last summer, which is when we did this interview.
In March, I learned about an inaugural marathon in November on South Padre Island. It is the first time I ever heard about a full marathon and think: I want to do that! For days I went back and forth over whether or not I should register. The answer was more often “no” than “yes” and always comes with negative thoughts like, ”You can't do this. You're too old.” The most positive thought I could muster was "you're not getting any younger."
What makes me finally hit send on the registration was reading the story about Elinor and Jodi Scott. Elinor, who had not been able to complete the final mile of her Boston marathon after the 2013 bombing, managed to do so just five months before she died of pancreatic cancer in 2014. Her sister Jodi decided she needed to run in Boston this year in honor of her sister and all of those who have pancreatic cancer.
It makes me tearful to think about all I would have missed if I had talked myself out of being a grandmother runner because I was "too old.” I would have missed so very many experiences I consider precious. Soon I can write about what it is like to run your first marathon when you are 64!