Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The line

In life, there are a lot of lines. When someone takes things too far, we like to say they have crossed the line. Whether real or imagined, there are countless lines we draw for ourselves and even those lines we impose upon others.

All throughout my half marathon on Saturday, I thought about lines over and over again. The lines of tens of thousands of people trying to get into their letter-coded (A-Z, that's how many people there were) corrals. The people waiting in line to just get across the start line (it took us 20 minutes to get there, for reference). Then, of course, the race toward the finish line.

But more than anything, I saw people crossing their own personal lines in the worst way possible. It was hot. It was humid. And people were dropping to the ground from exhaustion. People who looked young and in shape were in very rough shape on the ground, the sidewalk and the sidelines. Some were passed out. Others were vomiting. It was scary.

Saturday was hot by running standards, already in the mid-70's by 7:30 when the race began. To add fuel to the temperature, the humidity a stifling 90%. The air was thick and the dew point was high, making it difficult to breathe and for many people it was nearly impossible to simply function and sweat through all 13.1 miles.

Amidst the crowds of 35,000+ runners and their families and supporters, I was unable to find my running partner before the race began. The one I had trained with for months. The one who had been telling me all along that we were going to cross the finish line together, holding hands. I cried. I cried because I knew she would have to run by herself. After waiting and searching, we had to give up on trying to find her. It felt like I was letting her down--and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I prayed to St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of lost articles and people. I prayed over and over again nearly the entire race.

My husband and I ran together for the bulk of the race, and wasted a lot of time (and energy) passing people. I cursed myself for putting down a finish time of 2 hours, which put us toward the back of the group. I would guess we ran an extra quarter of a mile, or more, by just running around people. But, when you run the largest half marathon in the United States of America, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

At mile 12, we readjusted our goal: we were going to finish in 1:54. We picked up our pace to what felt like a lofty goal of an 8:30 mile and pushed through. Just as we approached the 13 mile marker, it happened: I found Julie. Amidst the crowds of tens of thousands of runners. We were wearing matching shirts and I did a double take when I saw her back, with that familiar shade of pink which said the same thing mine did:


I took one look at her face and realized she was struggling. Big time. My husband quickly took off without saying goodbye (it's every runner for themselves in this family) and I joined my long lost running partner. She had crossed her line--the line that told her she couldn't do it. It was clear to me that I found her at the right time, which was no coincidence. She told me to go on without her. Several times. She even told me she couldn't finish. But I didn't listen. We stayed together until we found our line.

I have always thought that running was about improving and getting faster and stronger. But I think it's about friendship, too. We finish when we finish, and they are going to give us a medal no matter what the clock says.

Oh, and we did finish together, holding hands.

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