When I first started training for the marathon a couple of months ago, it was pretty much (please forgive the expression) a walk in the park. The scenery was beautiful, the tunes in my mp3 player were kickin', and I trotted the little paths of Bois de Vincennes quite contentedly from week to week. (Except for a few pesky wrong turns, of course.)
However. The innocent afternoon jogs gradually stretched into longer stints. And the cute little distractions began to wane in effectiveness. Yes, believe it or not, Daft Punk's driving techno beats do lose their potency...after a few hundred repetitions. And trees and flowers are awfully nice, but if all you want to do is lie down and take a nap on the green, green grass, you may as well be running past asphalt and cement blocks.
So what keeps a body going? I depend mainly on the grace of God at all levels. Then there is sheer willpower, of course. (More on that later.) But another thing I noticed as I coaxed my haggard self along those seemingly endless training miles was the camaraderie of the long road. What do I mean by that? Well, amongst runners in general, there is a certain built-in feeling of togetherness. A strange paradox, since it can be one of the most solitary of sports. Usually, a quick nod and smile is all you have time for as you pass one another, and yet this simple gesture can be immensely encouraging. If you have the fortune of crossing paths with the same familiar face a couple of times, you come meeting up with that same poor soul who, like you, was running two hours ago, is still running, and will continue to run. You both flash a grin, broad with simultaneous satisfaction and sheepishness. "Look what we've both done! Wait - what are we doing?" It takes but one humorous moment, but sometimes it is all you need. Imagine 35,000 potentially similar exchanges on April 15th.
Particularly when quite a number of those exchanges take place between you and your own dad. We happily trotted along together as the sun shone bright (perhaps more like beat down on our heads at a humid 85 degrees farenheit... yeesh.) Despite the heat, we were both in fine form, and the miles and kilometers slipped by almost unnoticed. The first 16 miles we ran together, during which he also equipped me for the final push: "remember, the final 6 are all in your head. Your body will be finished."
Mile 20.5, and all of a sudden my entire lower body goes numb. I mean, I can kinda still feel my feet. But otherwise, the muscles that had been moving steadily for about 4 hours were kaput. "All in your head, Abbey. All in your head...." Dad's advice repeated in my head, even though I no longer had him next to me. The event had been a solitary affair for a while, but the camaraderie of the long road was still having its undeniable effect. Greatly heartened by this, the sight of my husband at mile 22 with a shoulder squeeze and an energy bar, and also perhaps the pixie cup of Bordeaux I sloshed down at mile 23, I made it. I crossed the finish line running with a hazy Arc de Triomphe in the distance - 4:46:04 hours after I left. Dad pulled in about 6 minutes later.
And then, everything was victory. And I finally laid down in the green, green grass.
(Thank you, Lord.)