Running Back in Hindsight

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8:00 a.m.: Feet shuffling, hearts pumping and minds focused, the race begins. I’m in the midst of it all, wearing a garbage bag to keep warm. Everything is in order. I made my mental check moments before the race began. Shoelaces tied and tucked into my shoes, waist pack with water bottles attached and IPod strapped to my arm, purple running shorts from Lululemon, Nike dry-fit hat (also purple) and a white dry-fit top. Plus the garbage bag over it all. I learned the garbage bag trick from Jack, an avid runner and also my ex.

My focus (and daydreaming) is momentarily broken when another runner pulls up alongside me and asks, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Victoria Beckham?”

I roll my eyes internally, not even glancing at the person, before answering. This person is about the 100th person to ask me that in the last week. Over the course of my young adult life, I’ve heard it a gazillion times.

“Yes, I’ve been told once or twice.”

I am trying to picture “Posh Spice” running in this marathon and actually start laughing aloud. All I can see is her wearing one of her tight little dresses and stiletto heels trying to run. I chuckle and try to boost myself with some pep talk and rid myself of my jittery runner’s nerves. I am ready for this thing, go Jo!! C’mon Jo. Let’s go. It doesn’t seem to work though.

Now that the runners are breaking apart and past the starting line, we are no longer shuffling along. I am now able to start running. I pick up my pace and try to ignore the Victoria Beckham comments.

The other runner is male and seems interested in pestering me. “Seriously,” he continues. “You’re a dead ringer.” I finally look over once I realize the voice is familiar.

“F. U.” I say.

He punches my arm lightly and then I break out in laughter.

“I guess you thought that I was just another guy hitting on you, eh?” Jack smiles and I am almost blinded by his sparkly, beautiful pearly-whites. I pull down my Oakley’s.

God, he is awesome to look at and suddenly I don’t feel so guilty about having so many sexual fantasies about him. Who could resist?

I almost stop running.

“Maybe Becks would like the new look,” he continues, eyeing me up and down in my garbage bag dress. He matches my pace easily.

I rip off the garbage bag and throw it on the table at the first water station, chugging a cup that one of the volunteers has thrust my way. “There. Is that better?”

This used to be our thing when we lived together. It was a constant banter back and forth. Jack loved picking on me about how much I looked like Victoria Beckham. He knew how much I hated it. It’s part of what made us break up. The bantering can only go on for so long before it becomes constant arguing. Next you’re ripping into each others’ wounds with hurt words. We run in silence together for several minutes.

8:20 a.m.: The adrenalin rush is just gearing up and 20 minutes in, I’m feeling good. The mid-March chill is no longer an issue and I feel warm. I chug down another cup of Gatorade from one of the volunteers. Jack drinks some water and Gatorade.

“I signed up for this race months ago,” I tell him. I remember following the rigourous training schedule through the Running Room.

“You?”

“Yeah, this is my third marathon this year,” he says. “I ran a few last year as well. Is this your first?”

My IPod plays our old make-out song, Metallica’s “Until it sleeps” and I start to feel a bit dirty thinking of Jack. I force my mind instead to Dan and how much I must have hurt him this morning. Jack taps my side.

“Oh, this is my second,” I say. Just like you were, I almost say aloud.

I switch songs in an attempt to stop thinking of rolling around on the couch with Jack and “Spice up your life” plays. I meant to download my “Jo’s marathon tunes” before I left, but Dan proposing to me threw off my whole morning routine. As I run along, I look at my left hand where the big, shiny two karat diamond would have been had I just said “yes.” Did I really tell him “maybe?” I start sweating and try to get my mind off his proposal.

“What’s your goal for this thing?” Jack interrupts my thoughts.

“Four hours. What about you?” I ask him.

“I’m trying to qualify for Boston.”

This news doesn’t surprise me. I just couldn’t believe that we had bumped into each other after all these years. I thought of Dan and my heart skipped a beat. I suddenly missed him a lot. I could feel myself working hard to keep up with Jack. I’ve got to let him go and I wish I had more time to catch up. I knew that there wasn’t much else to talk to him about, though sometimes I felt like I had done something wrong to cause our relationship to end. We had so many good things going for us. Ours was the one relationship that I felt I screwed up, and if I had only tried hard enough, it would have succeeded.

“I’m sorry about everything.” I blurt out. There I said it. I feel some tears coming.

He grabs my hand and kisses it.

“You have absolutely nothing to be sorry about. I loved our two years together and I loved you.”

I smile and sniffle, feeling some relief and a bit silly.

“I’ve learned a lot you know.”

He asks me if I’m still with Dan. I tell him that I am. Well at least I was with him until this morning, I almost say aloud.

“What about you, Jack?” I learn that he is married and has a baby girl. He looks extremely happy. I pat his back and tell him to go on, he has to make up for some of the time talking to me if he wants to make it to Boston.

“My legs are killing me at this pace – I need a rest!”

He laughs and says, “You never used to tell me that my pace was too fast – you were always asking me for more…” He blows me a kiss and runs away. I feel lonely and naked. Not a good way to feel mid-way into a marathon.

9:45 a.m.: Physically in great shape, my mind is in need of some serious help. Focus on your breathing, Jo. I can do this. I am fighting the doubt that is a cloud over my head. I see the three hour pace bunnies run by me. Starting to feel like I’m in that dream where you try to run away but, can’t move. I start remembering my goal of finishing in four hours.

I look at my watch, and groan as I continue running along Yonge Street. I have to pee. This always happens to me. This isn’t my first marathon and I remember the tricks your mind starts playing with you. A marathon is a test of physical endurance and strength, but it’s also a big-time mind game. I’m ready to win this fight. I start to pick up my pace a bit, feeling stronger with each stride.

I feel good that I told Jack how I feel. At least I got some closure on that old relationship. My thoughts turn to my newest mess-up. How could I have answered “maybe” to a marriage proposal? Who does that? Isn’t it just a yes or no question?

10:30 a.m.: I see that I’m 25 kilometres into my 42.2 kilometre run and feel some depression kick in. I get to the next drink station and feel my body starting to revolt. Then I force myself to smile. Smiling, even when I don’t feel like it, boosts my mood. I can think in a more positive frame of mind.

I ignore the aching in my back and the pain running down my right leg from my buttocks to my knee. I’m capable of running through this pain.

Then I hear someone say “5243!! Keep going!” I smile for real this time and definitely notice a difference. A little cheering from the bystanders watching always gives me a lift. I can feel my running improving. When the Black-Eyed Peas song “Time of My Life” comes on, I am certain that I am going to meet the four-hour mark.

11:00 a.m.: Positive thoughts, positive energy. Let’s go legs! I wonder how it’s possible to go through so many emotions in a marathon. Everything has come back to haunt me now at this point – my bladder feels incredibly full, both knees and back are aching, along with that sharp pain running down my right leg again. Positive thoughts, positive energy, I chant to myself again. I try to focus on my breathing and nothing else. I know that it only gets harder mentally from here to the finish line.

11:30 a.m.: I am now chanting out loud to myself: “keep going, keep going, keep going.” My legs are feeling like jell-o and my form is all shot. I should have said “yes” to Dan. God, I miss him and wonder what he is feeling right now. Normally, he would be here. I can feel the tears welling up. Then I force another smile, trying to keep myself running. Tell yourself that you are close, Johanna. So close. This makes me feel a bit worse. Oh, am I going to screw this up now?!

11:40 a.m.: I see the four-hour pace bunnies and decide that I have got to keep ahead of them if I’m going to make it. I force myself to go a little faster even though every part of me is aching. My body is screaming for me to stop running. I firmly tell myself, “No. You have got to keep going.” Don’t think of Dan, I tell myself. Think of just finishing the race and fixing things with him later. Maybe it will be ok?! I sniffle and notice that it seems even sunnier than before. I breathe and smile and say aloud again, “keep going.”

11:45 a.m.: There are more and more people gathered along the side of the road, encouraging everyone passing by to “do it” and cheering “you’re almost there!” How much longer?! My mind is screaming and so is my body. Where is the finish line?

11:50 a.m.: I look back and see the four-hour bunnies just behind me and I feel a sudden surge of energy. I know that I’ve got ten minutes to reach my goal. I give it everything  I’ve got.

11:55 a.m.: Oh my god! It’s the finish line. I can see it. Then I hear someone scream out, “Yes, Jo! You are so close. Push it.” I can’t believe it. Dan came. There he is, suddenly parallel with me. My face is beaming and my legs are going faster with every stride.

11:56 a.m.: I can feel the four-hour pace bunnies breathing down my neck. Dan is right there alongside me. “Go Jo. Go Jo. Go Jo.” I see that he’s running with something in his hand – it’s my ring. My ring. I mentally tell those bunnies to eat my dust and continue to run as fast as my legs will go. They are being pushed to the hilt. I can picture that lovely ring on my finger, I feel the wind in my hair and Dan chanting, “Go Jo! Go Jo!”

11:58:42 a.m.: My legs stretch across the finish line and Dan screams out “Marry me, Jo.” He catches up to me and I scream out “yes!” Then my body relaxes into his arms as he places the ring on my finger and we hear the people around us clap their hands. He twirls me around, my face is beaming. Dan helps me get some more water and my medal. “You did it!” he exclaims with excitement, meaning that I met my four-hour goal. I smile and tell him, “No, I didn’t just do it. We did it. We are getting married.” We both are laughing now, eyes twinkling.

Dan tilts up my head to meet his eyes.

“I wasn’t upset with you when you said “maybe” this morning. I only want you and I told myself that I would keep asking you until you told me either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You’re the best girl for me and I want to make you happy. My plan was to wait until now anyway to propose to you, but when I saw you this morning, I couldn’t wait.”

I hug him and feel assured that this was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

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