Who would you want to see at the finish line after a long race? I’m a runner and I’ve learned that just like in life sometimes the unexpected can happen while running. A running friend of mine told me that she loves running because she constantly sees connections between running and life. She believes it’s much more fun to run with a partner than alone and like life, it can leave you feeling empty but invigorated at the same time. Let me take this a step further, if running a race is like living, then the finish line is like heaven. Somehow I don’t think I’m the first one to think up this analogy, but run with me on this anyway.
For the last two months, I’ve been training for the Xela half-marathon. 13.1 miles of pure fun (I can’t say hell, this is a family blog.) I have now trained for 3.5, half marathons and ran two. I love training because it helps me set a goal and I run each day knowing it will push me closer the finish line. Yet, training is hard and this year was no exception. Fortunately the knee problems I’d been having lessened and most of my long runs went well. The only major set back during training occurred when my training partner, Yasi, came down with tonsillitis the week before the race and had to back out, which disappointed her and forced me to run alone.
Running alone can be fun. I raced alone last year and finished with a rather respectable time. But, like life, running is more fun to with other people. For example, try to play a game of monopoly by yourself, it’s no fun; trust me. And who really wants to spend life playing solitaire?
Back to running. Two weeks before the race, Yasi and I went out on the Day of the Dead, November 1st for those of you not up on all of the many Spanish holidays, and ran 11 miles. We started out around 8 in the morning, a great feat in itself for a day off, when I would’ve liked to sleep in. Unfortunately, both life and running require early wake up calls. It was worth it. We jogged out of sleepy Xela, to around 8,000 plus feet in elevation, making it back for 11 miles in around two hours. We passed small painted churches and cemeteries alive with guests paying their respects to the dead. Many of whom were littering the air with kites as if they were sending messages skyward to their dead relatives. As I pressed on, I wondered if the dead were up in heaven partying like they’d just finished a long and tiring race. (side note, if you haven’t got to a cemetery on the Day of the Dead you really should.) The next week I ran 12 miles in one hour and fourty-five minutes. I knew I was ready for my race.
So, early on the unseasonably warm morning of the 14th of November, I jogged down the colorful streets of Xela to the European style arches on Independence Street, which were serving as the starting line. Runners were jogging up and down the streets. Bouncing up and down to loosen their limbs. It was like a river of Salmon all swimming up stream in their bright bright yellow half-marathon shirts. As I waded down stream through the crowd of runners, which seamed to be much larger than last year, I still managed to find my friend Maria Marta. Maria and I had run a 10 k together a month earlier and, with an unspoken agreement, we set off together at the starting gun. She matched my pace for the first 10 kilometers, passing people when I passed them. Weaving in and out through the packed streets. Every time I wanted to slow down, she would either be right there pushing me on. It’s hard to slack off when you have someone running right by your side.
I ran all the way until the 14th kilometer. Maria had finally fallen behind. Around 12 kilometers in, we’d reached the Cuesta Blanca, the big hill on the race (it’s so big cars struggle up it’s slope), and she was gone, somewhere behind me. My heart was pounding out of my ears and my mind wouldn’t push my body any harder. I had no one to keep me going, except my iPod. AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long blasted me onwards toward the next water station. And then my iPod died. I no longer had any desire to go on. But I knew I had to press forward or it would be hours until I finished. I had trained so hard. I couldn’t let it go to waste. I walked in the heat. Ran in the shade. Pushing my self toward the finish line. Encouraged by my students who had come to watch. Each heavy footfall on the pavement brought me nearer to the end. From the Minerva Temple I could see Heaven, the finish line, and I knew I’d made it. Euphoria set in when I realized I’d completed the race. My time wasn’t what I had hoped for, but that’s life right? We don’t always get what we want, but we wind up at the end anyway.
Just like life, the best part of the race was when I had someone to run with. Finishing the race all by myself was hard. I’d like to say I didn’t finish as well last year because my iPod died, but I really think it was because I didn’t have anyone to push me at the end. I walked into the finishing tent alone and received my medal and Powerade. Yet, as I looked up from the finishing line, I saw people I knew. There was a girl I had gone on a date with, but hadn’t called back because she was crazy. Awkward! There were my housemates Mike and Denise, a few people from work, and several of my students. I felt very encouraged to see them cheering me on at the finish. It made the hard run worth it. And I think life and heaven will be like that. We will finish the race and see people we thought we’d never see again and it will make all of the hardships we went through worth it.