Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Second Helping of 26.2 miles

There is nothing like a good first.  From first kisses to first days at school to first babies, I love experiencing something new.  It makes me nervous and excited.  It makes me feel wide awake, nerve endings firing.  With a first looming, I find it hard to talk or think about anything else.  I have whole photo albums filled with the evidence of firsts.  And I'm not alone in this love of firsts:  gold medals, pop songs, and a good portion of the Guiness Book of world records all celebrate firsts.

Seconds, on the other hand, can go unnoticed.  They can sometimes get brushed over in the journey towards "bests" and "mosts" which go side by side with "firsts" as coveted life experiences.  Seconds lack the drama. Remember McKayla Maroney's reaction when she accepted that silver medal?  Need I say more about our lackluster relationship with seconds?

But after running my second marathon this weekend, I want to sing the praises of second chances.  Let me tell you why:

1.  You learn from the first time.
When I ran my first marathon, I was absolutely sure that I could not tolerate more pain, and that my legs were surely going to fold like a wobbly newborn giraffe's if I took one more step.  When lo and behold, they carried me miraculously over that finish line, my subconscious took note.  When the same pain started to creep in yesterday, my brain drew upon those memories.  I remembered what it was like to hurt before, but more importantly, I remembered that the pain stopped and the finish line beckoned.  I was able to push myself with more confidence, knowing that I was indeed as strong as I hoped I was.

2.  Seconds are more fun.
I think I had the majestic "Chariots of Fire" soundtrack playing a loop in my brain for 3 days surrounding my first marathon.  It was a dream, a vision, a goal.  I was breaking barriers and changing my whole story.  I was making history, baby and taking myself very seriously.  But this second time around, with some of the pressure off, I let myself have more fun.  I joked with ladies in the port-o-potty line.  I goaded on a suffering runner by telling him he was about to get chicked. I elicited applause from a group of tired spectators by shouting that "I just ran 23 miles, and I'm tired, Come on!!"  Did I annoy people?  Undoubtedly.  Did I have more fun? Absolutely.

3.  Seconds make you feel like you belong.
This time around, I had the confidence to belong.  I was among those giving encouragement and advice to nervous first timers.  I had a story of my own to recall.  I was no longer an imposter and a wannabe, but among friends, having already earned the right to be there. I greeted the rituals surrounding the race like old friends, and felt more 'in my skin'.

4.  Seconds lead to 50ths.
On the bus on the way up to the starting line, I sat next to an energetic 55 year old (who went on to beat me by a solid 5 minutes, btw).  She was there, partly, to celebrate with a friend of hers, who was running his 50th marathon that day.  As I ran my measly second, I greeted each turn in the race and tried to imagine revisiting the same tough moments again and again, 50 times.  To my total surprise, I found that I couldn't wait.  I wanted the good, the bad, and the ugly of marathon life to become a natural rhythm.  I wanted to feel at home on the race course.  I wanted to spend my life exploring the world 26.2 miles at a time.

There were moments yesterday when things got hard.  4 hours is a long time to be on your feet and it gives you plenty of time for self doubt and self loathing.  But knowing I had already conquered once made a huge difference.  I was able to dig deeper and do more.  I was able to push the final miles and finish with a smile.  And I was able to shave over 10 minutes off my time.

Someone yesterday was holding a sign that said, "The strong get stronger".  It reminded me that as I was testing my limits, I was expanding them.  I am capable of more now than I ever have been.  And that is something I am willing to run 100 marathons to keep on saying.