Lucky. (21 miles)

I was recently reminded by a friend of mine that I hadn’t blogged in a while. I must confess that there has been so much I’ve wanted to write. I’ve probably started and deleted about two dozen posts in the past 10 months. With so much to say and no words to be found, I inevitably remained silent. Until now.

So what’s changed?

This past weekend, I completed my 21-mile training run for the 2014 Boston Marathon. It was challenging and sometimes grueling, emotional and occasionally lonely. In years past I’ve had a tendency to reflect upon nutrition mistakes, injuries and song lists. But these are not the aspects of this particular run that I remember most. It wasn’t the blisters on my feet, the cramps in my legs, the time spent in the port-a-potty — 20 minutes to be exact– or the number of times I considered quitting (many). What I remember most about this run was the unforgettable moment where I threw all pain aside and basked in the joy of being alive.

I didn’t start the day feeling this way. I was a bottle of nerves leading up to the moment my feet grazed the faded start line in Hopkinton. The only thought in my head as I made that all-too-familiar descent from Athlete’s Village was “God, I hope I make it.” About a half mile up the road, I came to a stop to admire a bizarre yet strangely beautiful display.

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It was a tribute to Meg Menzies, a young wife and mother who was killed by a drunk driver while training for the Boston Marathon. I stopped there for a few moments and thought about her. I thought about her husband and children and wondered how life was going on for them. I thought about all the owners of those shoes that hung before me and how many miles they’d logged in them. I looked at my own shoes- brand new- and thought about all the miles I was about to log in mine, all the miles I would have the opportunity to log in the days ahead. And I realized that even as surely as I breathed in that moment, that even I was not promised tomorrow. But now? I was alive. I was running. I was lucky.

All the signs were there on that run. First, it was Meg Menzies. Second, at mile 14 it was a young woman who rode by me on a recumbent bike. She rode with a set of worn military boots and fatigues fastened to her back. They must have belonged to someone she knew, someone who may have died. Was it her father? Her brother? Her husband? Was it Michael Kennedy, the fallen firefighter and former Marine who had been training for the marathon? Either way, I understood the significance of this ride as she passed- that she was making a 21-mile trek for someone who no longer could. And I knew, once again, that I was lucky to make this trek on my own two feet.

At mile 17 came the third.

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It was a donation box set up in memory of the fallen firefighters, Lt. Ed Walsh and Michael Kennedy. I’d been thinking a lot about these two men leading up to my run- their bravery, their selflessness, their normal lives outside of heroism. Lt. Ed Walsh was a young husband and father of 3- a dear friend to one of my marathon teammates. Michael Kennedy had not only been training for the Boston Marathon, but he was also a mentor and ‘Big Brother’ to a young boy; this was particularly significant to me as I am running the Boston Marathon for a the Mass Mentoring Partnership.

I took the few dollars I’d brought with me, stuffed them in the boot and stood there for a few minutes partly because I needed rest, mostly in reflection. I thought about the families of these men, their fellow brothers and firefighters. I thought about the pain they must have endured in that burning building. And in that moment, I knew no pain I felt at the time was even close. I knew I was lucky to be feeling pain at all.

From there, I made my way through the hills of Newton with difficulty but inevitably completing my 21-mile training run. All the while I was reminded by those 3 significant moments that I am lucky to breathe. Lucky to have life. Lucky for the opportunity that I have in the here and now to feel and to love. Lucky to put one foot in front of the other.

And I will never take that for granted.

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