I wrote earlier this year about my difficulty in finding a race that I wanted to run for my
only first marathon. It’s very important to me that my kids attend this endeavor, for a variety of reasons. For one, I think it’s important that they witness their mom complete a goal of this magnitude, with all the blood, sweat and tears that will undoubtedly come with it (that whole role modeling thing).
For another, especially as my eldest gets ready to head off to college next fall, I feel like this is the culmination of an identity shift over the past several years. I began running in 2013 to cope with the aftermath of my divorce, and the main reason I’ve persisted is to keep my sanity with the ongoing coparenting challenges, and exposure to my PTSD triggers.
It’s been a long, long winding road. Pounding out the miles helps.
I was leaning towards the Houston marathon, which occurs in January, but I realized that it would interfere with soccer and swim seasons for my boys. Ideally, I wanted a race I could drive to, because our budget is quite tight, and it needed to be 1. on one of my weekends and 2. not interfere with a sporting or performance event for any of my 3 children.
You can see my dilemma.
This is all to say that several weeks ago, I unofficially decided that the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon fit all my criteria. While it is during my busiest time of year (I run a senior year program that occurs during the last trimester of senior year, ie April 29th is smack in the middle of it), Oklahoma City is close enough that I can drive back on Sunday and be in my office on Monday morning (and my senior won’t miss any of his AP classes). I have heard and read that the OKC marathon is heartfelt and full of crowd support, and one of the more desirable marathons to run.
I made my peace with it. But I wasn’t overly excited about it. I mean, it seems like a cool marathon, but for my first, and quite possibly only 26.2? Meh.
But then, during last week’s long run, I listened to a recent Human Race podcast. If you’re not familiar with the show, it features stories of unusual or inspirational “every day” runners (meaning, usually not famous). This one featured a woman named Amy Downs, a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing.
I know. Weird, right?
She told her story of surviving the bombing in 1995. How she was diagnosed with PTSD after being buried alive in the rubble, waiting for rescue, for hours. How she began running, and then eventually, competing in triathlons, as a therapeutic approach to her PTSD. How the gun going off at the start of races triggers her, as does putting her face in the murky water for open water swims (reminding her of being buried alive), but she keeps doing it. How she believes in telling her story, because confronting the trauma, talking about it, pushing past it, is the only way to get through it.
She divorced her husband. She eventually remarried, to a man she met through one of her training groups.
I was transfixed as she described her PTSD; “I describe it as an app that’s always in the background, it’s just there. The only time it’s more of a struggle is in the spring. During spring it becomes difficult. It’s not like I’m sitting around thinking about the bombing, I’ll become anxious and on edge, and then I realize it’s March.”
I thought of how Septembers are for me.
She ran her first marathon at the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon. She trained to break 5 hours, and then just a couple weeks before the marathon, she got injured in a bike accident. She described her frustration, “This is my life, I planned it perfectly, I did the training program for the 5 hour marathon, and nothing ever works out. My plans never work out.”
She still went on to run it, finishing in a slow and frustrating (for her) 6 hours and 30 minutes.
Exactly the amount of time she was buried alive, waiting for rescue.
When the interviewer asked Amy how she remains so positive, and inspiring, and athletically accomplished (she’s training for an Ironman), she said, “Even in tragedy, it’s important to ask yourself what you can take that is positive out of it. You can’t control what happens to you, you can only control how you respond it. Yes, it’s not fair. It sucks. Life is not fair. But what are you gonna do?”
Life is not fair. Plans never work out. But what are you gonna do?
I’m going to run a marathon.