The tent was still dark as my eyes opened, my body wrapped up like a microwaved burrito. I had shed my socks, stocking cap and flannel pants during the night. It is one of the anomalies of having a good sleeping bag: the nuclear world within and the frozen world without.
But it wasn’t because of the climatic disparity I woke so early.
It was nerves.
There are now less than 24 hours before I board the bus that will take me to the starting line of my tenth marathon.
It is my third Jungfrau marathon, so you think I would be a little calmer, knowing what to expect.
But a marathon, as I told a friend recently, is a lot like having a baby. You spend months preparing. You know basically what’s going to happen, but you’re nervous because of the thousands of unknown things that might play out.
Your body has changed since the last one–for better or worse; and you don’t know how that will affect the labor.
You don’t feel like you’re doing anything admirable. You’re still the same person who scrubs toilets and forgets to bring her own grocery bag to Lidl. It’s nothing extraordinary. You’re just doing something that you do.
However, it is exciting. It is nerve-wracking. It gives you both self-doubt and self-confidence.
It is emotional.
The first time I ran it, I cried like a baby at the end. Yes, I was glad to finish–but it was so much more than that. A friend of mine accurately described marathon running as cathartic. It is. The weights you carry when you begin are scattered across the path like a trail of breadcrumbs. If someone could read the emotions left behind on the trail, there would be enough stories to last multiple lifetimes.
What is my story this year? What will I leave behind?
I didn’t run a marathon last year. Last year, I spent a lot of time letting my health go to shit. I didn’t take care of myself. I incarcerated myself in an emotional lockdown.
Then suddenly just before my 44th birthday, my husband, my hero-turned-nemesis, died.
At age 53.
The text messages with silly animal emojis stopped.
The skype requests stopped.
The phone calls stopped.
My nightmares stopped.
23 years of history.
Dead. Cremated. Interred.
All I have left are medals & patches & ribbons & photos & these 4 incredible humans who bear half his DNA.
And the memories, of course. However, foggy and (sometimes) romanticized they might be.
Michael had always scoffed at my marathons–calling them selfish or a waste of my time. But he was always the first one to brag to other people about them.
During the height of his psychological problems, I signed up for my first mountain marathon–the Jungfrau.
Michael was always worried about my marathon running: “What would happen to the kids if you got hurt?” he would ask. His years in Alaska search and rescue fed into his fears like a glacial river.
I never ran marathons to spite him. It was therapy for me. My quiet time. My escape. He could never fully understand that. When you marry at age 20 and spend your life homeschooling four children, sometimes, you need a little time alone with your own noggin. Maybe it is selfish–but it is a much-needed selfishness. The type that staves off depression in a weary mom. The selfishness that gives you some semblance of control over your own body, your own mind, when you live a life in which those two elements belong to god, your husband or both–but never to your self.
I ran the Jungfrau depsite his long-distance skepticism. I ran it again the next year, though stress had already begun to gnaw at the edges of my health.
The next year, I skipped the marathon altogether.
Then Mike died.
And I was alive.
A princess startled and alert, not from a kiss but by the death of a deep love.
I was alive.
Let that word roll around on your tongue for a bit. Let it sink into your mind. Breathe it in and out.
Life means you still have the ability to choose.
You can eat more vegetables or take the dog on longer walks. You can go to the gym and lift heavy shit; or to stay home and drink two bottles of wine. You can choose with whom you share your bed; to whom you give your heart; and you can decide if those two things are mutually exclusive.
You can do the really hard things–like mend broken relationships or walk away from unhealthy ones. You can say what’s really on your mind; to be authentic; to expose your inner thoughts and weaknesses; to forget about busting your ass to be a people-pleaser.
You can make the terrifying choice to be happy, which is like jumping off a cliff, when all you’ve chosen before is to cling to anguish.
I am allowed to be happy?!
Mike’s death is not a crossroads for me–it is a trajectory. Whichever way I point the sharp end, that’s the direction I’ll go.
I am choosing a life that makes me happy, healthy and strong. I can see the person I want to be from here. I can’t lose sight of her–not now, not after going through so much.
The marathon is symbolic for me–this year especially. My whole world has changed. I am happy. On the road to health. Discovering myself along this rocky new trail.
I carry a lot with me this year. The sadness, the anger, the depression and self-loathing. Regrets.
I plan to leave it all behind; and at the end, come out with something beautiful and healthy. A rosy-cheeked bundle of joy.