About 5 years ago, I ran my first Flying Pig event. The Half Marathon.
It was my first step into the long distance running world, and my big commitment to seeing what I could do.
Because the distance was intimidating, and because I didn’t know any body who would be there (I was new to the running scene, but not new to running), I was beyond nervous. I was scared. My then-boyfriend, now husband, was a bit unreliable about answering his phone at the time (He has improved immensely, and now even sends me encouraging messages during races – which is amazing. Yes, Husband. You are doing it right). I worried that if something happened to me, who would come to … I don’t know… hold my hand or tell me I would be okay?
I convinced my Mom that she would enjoy going to watch me run my first half marathon.
Five years ago, my Mom wasn’t in the best of health, but she wasn’t …. she wasn’t failing either. She could walk some without pain. She could enjoy a day outside. She always said she wanted to go out and walk more. She could walk for more than an hour at the race, I would say in my most convincing tone. She agreed to go with me.
I remember the morning was stressful. I sideswiped a car on the roadway on my way to my Mom’s (It was dealt with, nothing major. A fairy tale situation any more: where the person was forgiving and we parted ways without needing to exchange anything). It was also pouring down rain. My Mom listened to me pout about not wanting to do this thing, and about how tired I was (I worked evenings then too), and then she grabbed her umbrella, told me I should “suck it up”, and headed for the door. Then she paused saying, “Oh! I don’t want to forget my camera! I need it to take pictures of all you idiots running in the rain!”
My first Flying Pig, my first half marathon, was a good one. Tough. I trained for the whole thing by doing all of my runs on a treadmill. Because. I was new-ish to this whole thing and dumb (And, as I later found out, I was an un-diagnosed anemic…I had energy issues you wouldn’t believe). The Pig has hills, folks. Train for it on hills. Not on a flat treadmill.
My Mom was so proud of me that day. And she was fascinated by the medal.
Non-runners? Have you ever seen or held a marathon medal? Lemme tell you. These suckers run the spectrum of pretty, fancy, interesting, heavy, huge, and impressive.
Four years ago, I ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon a second time (My 3rd half marathon). My Mom came down for that one too. It rained at that one too. It was on that morning that my Dad decided that I was the Storm Bringer, and that every time I raced, no matter the distance, it would rain. He told me to plan more races over the summer so his gardens would get more water.
Three years ago, I ran the Flying Pig Full Marathon. My first Flying Pig full serving.
My second marathon. I could only do better on this one, as my first marathon was plagued with tendonitis and injuries and took me a solid 5 and a half hours to run. My Mom didn’t want to come out in the storm that year, and my boyfriend (Yep, same guy, now Husband) was my ride and on-site encouragement. Mom told him to take pictures of us running in the rain.
This time I was among the running group. Still too new to know a lot of people, but I was learning. I ran with a couple of friends, lost them, made new friends… And finished with a PR, 4hrs15minutes. My Mom drove down from her home on the hill, walked across the bridge to the space that overlooked the finish line, and watched me cross that line. When I called a few moments later to tell her I was finished, she told me how proud she was. She told me that she got to see it, and pouted until my guy turned the car around and we came to her home to show her the medal.
Two years ago, my Mom wasn’t feeling up to making the trek across the bridge to see the finish. Too hectic. Too much going on. Too stormy (They delayed the race start because of the major electrical storm that was waging over us, while I and a couple of friends cowered under a tractor trailer near the start area). My then-boyfriend (still same guy, yep!) decided to take on his first half marathon…at the Pig. I ran with my running group friends who were pacing the 4 hour. The whole way, Superman bitched at me that I would be faster than 4 hours. He predicted my time last year to the second. This year, he told me I was going to do so much better. I made friends with a guy who called himself “Chilly” and we kept each other motivated through to mile 18, where he faded, and I made my way along, chatting with anyone who wouldn’t tell me to shut up.
Only one person in the history of my running races has ever told me to shut up.
I finished that one in 3hrs56minutes. I wasn’t even struggling when I ran it. I got bored during the last three miles, but another running group friend showed up and paced me a mile, then he cheered me through and went back to run in more of the group. My Mom watched the race on TV. This time looking to see all my running group friends as well as looking for me and my man.
Last year I ran the Flying Pig full Marathon. I felt like a rock star. It was like every body was calling my name because they knew people. People I chatted with at marathons in other states recognized my voice, remembered me, and called out to chat and thank me for the motivation in the previous race we were in. I made new friends as I went. I got “surprise hugs” from the sidelines as people I knew jumped in to jog beside me and tell me how “good” I looked and how “strong” I was running, despite me feeling contrary.
I finished in 3hrs43minutes last year. And it made me think that I could predict my running year by how well my Pig went. I saw a new PR in my future. I saw great things for my running.
I never saw life getting so heavy and in the way that I would willingly skip more than half the races I signed up for…Including my favorite 5k, which was the day after my Mom died.
My Mom wasn’t able to come to the finish line at last year’s Pig. She told me, as I was visiting her the day before, that she hoped the TV in the hospital got the right channels and that the nurses would leave her be so she could watch for my running friends and me. She was heartbroken that she wouldn’t be watching for us from her favorite chair at home.
This year, I’m running my 4th full Flying Pig Marathon. I hope my running friends, and all those other runners love the rain, because it’s supposed to be a straight up flood.
My Mom won’t be there this year, to take photos of all us idiots running in the rain.
I won’t get a phone call from her every day during the week so she can say, “You must be racing… the weather looks pretty wet this weekend…”
She won’t be walking down to the bridge to see me finish.
She won’t be looking for all the Pain By Numbers shirts on TV and scouring the faces to find mine or any of my friends that she’s met.
I won’t get to show her the medal this year.
And I won’t get to hear her say, “You did it! Congratulations! I’m so proud!”
If I wanted to believe that there’s a heaven, and an after life, and that people who leave us continue to “check in”, I’d choose race day for it. Its a nice story to imagine that after all this time, my short career as a distance runner, my Mom finally would get to see the whole course, the whole race…and would get to see why the experience meant so much to my friends and to me. But even in accepting that this may not be true – That when we’re gone, we’re gone – The greatest realization to latch on to is that my Mom never needed to see or know about the middle distances. She only heard about the training experiences, the friendships, the people, and she only experienced miles O and 26 to 26.2…. but that’s all she needed to be happy about this strange hobby of mine. She never really understood it, but she loved it. And she loved to hear about it. And she loved to see the medals.