A couple years ago my fiancé and I packed up the car and drove five hours to Leavenworth, WA during Oktoberfest. But we weren’t going for the beer, no, we were doing something much more reckless. The Oktoberfest Half Marathon! That is right- while college students were piling into beater cars and taking over the town for a weekend of boozy frolicking fun, we were pinning numbers to our tank tops and stretching nervous muscles in the freezing cold early hours of the day. This in itself wouldn’t have been a big problem- if I had taken my training seriously in the months prior to the final event. I stepped up to the starting line knowing that I was in way over my head. I don’t think I had run more than two miles straight without a break, and here I was expecting to push my body for 13.1 miles. Now, don’t get me wrong- a few weeks before the race I had decided it was important to know what I was getting myself into- my fiancé and I went for our ‘practice run’ one night. It took us hours winding through two towns to get in the full mileage. At one point I was running while dry heaving over the side of a bridge (that would be thanks to the pile of gummy bears I ate), but we did the full thing. So going into this event, I had an inkling of what to expect. And I knew it would involve a lot of pain.
The first few miles were fantastic, I felt like a superstar. There is something inspiring and invigorating when your feet are clipping in line with thousands of other people surrounding you, people who were just as crazy as you. We all went out there with something to prove, a goal to accomplish- and the excitement in those first few miles were palpable.
After a while though, even the buzzing thrill couldn’t keep my body motivated. The next miles were a collection of jogging bursts coupled with walking breaks. Intervals, they call them- and they seem to save my life every time.
When we hit the halfwalf mark, we came across a woman dressed as a bar wench, in the full German gear- she was running with us while carrying a stein full of beer. Beer that she was actually drinking. College students in town for Oktoberfest were lining the streets and filling her stein for her as she went. And you know what really killed me? She was beating me. I like to tell myself that she was drunk enough not to feel the pain in her legs, but I know the truth; she was just better, stronger, and perhaps even a bit more prepared in spite of her inebriated state. Although I can’t help but be impressed; drunk me knows better than to go outside for a jog. Drunk me wants to sit in bed with hot french fries while singing old Backstreet Boys songs to my always-patient fiancé who simply wants me to brush my teeth and go to sleep (and upon his request, this is where you insert the lyrics from ‘You Don’t Own Me’- thank you First Wives Club for introducing this little gem into my bag of tricks. This is quickly followed by some Joan Jett ‘Bad Reputation’ in response. Oh yes, drunk me can be quite clever with her song choices. She also becomes a fiercely independent woman- until she can’t open the pickle jar.)
By the end we were exhausted, everything hurt, but we were almost there. When we got within sight of that finish line we started running, every muscle in our bodies screaming, our lungs ready to burst. When we hit the finish line we clasped our hands and raised them in the air in triump- until the race attendants pointed to ANOTHER line several feet (it felt like miles) away, saying that was the actual finish line and racers had been confused all day with the inexplicable first mark. I personally think they did it because they thought it was funny- it was the cruelest joke that has ever been played on me. So we shuffled forward, arms still raised painfully for what felt like another five miles- until we were able to joyfully cross the REAL finish line.
At the end were apples and treats, along with a winning tshirt and a medal. That first bite of my victory apple was the best thing I have ever tasted. Everything hurt, the journey had been a rough one and I had been horribly unprepared. But you know what? I did it. I fought through the pain, I pushed myself beyond anything I ever believed my body to be capable of. And I crossed that finish line. Both of them. Looking back, it isn’t the pain and the cold that comes to mind first- it’s the pride, the deep satisfaction in knowing that the chips were stacked against me and I still pushed myself to do it.
We went back to our hotel, took hot showers (oh how I deeply craved a tub in that moment), and then we joined the crazy college kids at the bar for a celebratory beer while proudly wearing our medals. It was an amazing day. And it doesn’t matter that I could barely stand for the rest of the week, or that stairs made me want to cry for my mommy. I still did it.
The thing that I’ve learned: this life isn’t that different from that race. Especially for us writers (and most certainly during Nano). We all are jumping into these dreams and adventures feet first, with nothing but hope that we will be successful. We don’t always know what to expect. We don’t know what struggles we will endure. Sometimes we are rockstars, zooming through the crowd. And sometimes it feels like that woman in leiderhosen has all of her shit figured out while you are bumbling around like a blind man. You lose your faith in your abilities, it seems like everyone else has the secret except for you. But you keep pushing and you keep fighting, even when every fiber in your body wants to give up and call for a ride home. We are fighters, we push through all of the odds. We are plagued with fatigue, with feeling ill-equipped, and occasionally with false finishes that hide the distance you still have left to travel. But you don’t give up. As a writer, I sit down in front of my laptop even when the words won’t come. I type out my blog on a tiny touch screen cell phone when a roadblock falls in my lap (yes, I am still raining curses on my laptop and it’s inability to miraculously fix whatever is wrong with it). We find a way, no matter what. Because it all that we know, because standibg still means defeat and we aren’t ready to throw in the towel yet. We owe it to ourselves, we deserve our success. We must believe it, even if we don’t feel we are ready for it.