This post is my contribution to the PAIL Monthly Theme Post. For more information about PAIL, please click here. Everyone is welcome to read, write, and comment! Please be mindful that this blog is not anonymous.
September 2013 Theme: Why We Blog
We have all heard the marathon metaphor of family building through the ALI spectrum. Each of us can place ourselves as a runner in that race, see ourselves struggling at different mile markers, crossing the finish line, even lacing up again for another race. When I ran an actual marathon in real life, I wasn’t prepared for the “after” – the recovery. For me, it was more painful than the actual race. And so it was with infertility and pregnancy loss.
What follows may be my most convoluted metaphor ever, which is saying something. I have only ever had one blog, and I have only ever run one marathon. I started thinking about marathons when this theme idea started brewing a few months ago and haven’t been able to shake it.
I ran the New York City Marathon in November of 2004. I had only started running in February of that year, with the help of a colleague who was a long-time runner. In September, I moved back to my home province, but kept up with the training. I would like to think I did it out of determination or sheer force of will, but the truth is that I had already paid for the trip and it is extremely difficult to enter this race on the international lottery system and I somehow got through my first year. Of course self-determination was part of it, but so was the obligation.
I wasn’t ready. Not physically, not emotionally. My longest run to date had been 21 miles. We had to be on Staten Island at 5:00am (for a 10:10 start) because they were closing the bridge. I was so terrified that I couldn’t sleep the night before. The bus arrived at what I think was an army base, covered in FORTY THOUSAND runners huddled on the ground in garbage bags. Five hours later, standing in my starting group the gun went off! EXCITEMENT! And then…nothing. My feet did not cross the starting line for 22 minutes. I don’t think I was able to run for the first mile because of the masses of humanity.
At mile 3, I randomly found my friend Elizabeth who had started me running. JOY! We ran through Brooklyn light-hearted and happy. There were bands, handsome firefighters, lots of spectators – all a very good time. Things started to sink in once we hit Queens. At the halfway point (13.1 miles) I realized that I was running the worst race of my life. Do you run? You know when you have a bad run? This was a BAD run. Things got serious crossing the Queensboro Bridge. That was the one and only time I have ever seen someone collapse in a race. Right after that, Elizabeth told me she needed to go the rest of the way alone. I had a beautiful but fleeting moment coming off the bridge and rounding into Manhattan, and then things got hard.
When you enter Manhattan, you run in a straight line forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. You never seem to get anywhere. I remember seeing the mile marker for mile 17 and being sure I was going to actually die. This is when I started thinking about quitting. My friend Kathryn had come with me though, and she was waiting for me at the finish line, so someone would know if I quit. And someone would KNOW that I finished. At mile 20, in the Bronx, I think I had a full on nervous breakdown. I actually sat down on the curb and burst into heaving sobs. I heard a man yell “Hey Canada! I’m from Darmouth. GET. UP.” and I did. I more or less chanted “Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.” at myself for a while, then started thinking about whether or not Tom Cruise was going to be in Central Park. See? CRAZY.
I don’t remember a lot of the last five miles, though I do remember my toenail falling off. I have a VIVID memory of seeing the marker for mile 26 and thinking “THANK GOD” before remembering that you have to keep going for 0.2 more miles. And lo, I crossed the finish line and some kid gave me a medal and another one wrapped me in tinfoil and pushed me forward. Here’s the kicker, when you are finished, you are in this corral where they force you to walk another mile so that your muscles don’t implode/explode. They should film this zombie walk for a sequence on The Walking Dead. It is eerily silent, with every one of us having accomplished something of great magnitude and personal significance. Together to share it. Alone.
When you run a race, you are given a microchip to attach to your shoe. It’s purpose is to record your personal race time as not all racers cross the starting line at the gun. Ergo, you have your “gun time” and your “chip time.” My goals prior to arriving in NYC had been 1) Finish the race 2) Don’t die. At the race expo the day before, I learned that if you finished the race under a certain time, your name would be printed in the New York Times. I pushed myself to the absolute limit of my soul to make it in under this time, and I did. Barely. The next day, crippled with a body soreness I have never known again, I searched for my name in the tens of thousands. I wasn’t there. The cut off was gun time, not chip time. I didn’t make it. I was an “also ran.”
For the last few months, blogging has felt like miles 17-21. Many times, I have found myself inching forward, doing my best to cheer on those that passed me when I could raise my eyes up enough to see the course. I got tripped up recently, and I very much wanted to sit down on the curb and quit. As with running, there are many miles of enjoyment, along with fleeting highs and crushing lows. Right now feels like a bad run. But the thing is, and this has been the hardest thing to learn, I run for myself. I’ve run in clubs and informal groups, but it’s always just me and the pavement. Me and my shoes. Me and my thoughts. Me and my inner voice saying “You can’t do this. Yes, you can.”
We “run” so many other marathons on “the other side.” Infancy, babies who never eat or sleep, TODDLERHOOD – sometimes simultaneously. For some miles, you need your running club. Other times, you must withdraw inside yourself to keep moving. The draw of the race is strong though - just having racers around you moves you forward. You chat with those who keep pace with you, and the miles fly by under your feet.
When I volunteered to take over PAIL with the other ladies, I thought I could help others with their healing. I did not anticipate the impact they would have on mine. In mostly every way, I have made peace with my journey, but something was holding me back. For many months, I have struggled with what I needed to do to keep running forward, and it was while I was watching Finding Nemo for the 289374374th time that I realized something Dory tells Marlin is true – “…it’s time to let go.” And so, in our last video chat, I bid a tearful goodbye to the ladies and turned in my key to the house we built together.
In my heart, I have moved on from family building. I do not see myself as a coach on this marathon, but rather as an “also ran”. A body in the herd. Some miles are fast and others are slow. If I stop talking, I will be better able to listen. Really listen. Which isn’t to say that I won’t ever have anything to say about ALI again, I just feel that I don’t have anything more to say for the foreseeable future. I think I’m okay. In the end, it was a good run. It’s time for a new race, new things to say. Thank you for running with me.
This is my last post as a PAIL contributor. But not as a PAIL member. Because though I am an “also ran”, I also ran.