A Virtual Victory
Running solo is something that brings me joy. Running solo and getting lost in my own thoughts is even better. As an introvert, those moments are simultaneously energizing and calming. Since I began running a little more than 4 years ago, those solo runs have helped me work through both big and small decisions. The Shamrock Marathon was one of the first events cancelled as the quarantine was official and the idea of having to run a full marathon alone didn’t sound too crazy. Christina and I had registered together for the live event thinking we would travel together and share a hotel. I knew I was going to have to run the race alone because I didn’t know anyone else running the same distance, so how bad could it be to go through a virtual race on my own? It didn’t take long before starting the virtual Shamrock to figure out that it would have been a poor decision. Even before I gave the first step into the socially distanced miles, I felt glad that I let Christina convince me to recruit some support so we would have a more enjoyable time.
When I run long distances, I plan for everything. I schedule which foods have worked best leading to the race, which clothing works well down to the colors that will help my mood, how many minutes it will take me from the moment I open my eyes the morning of the race, to the moment I start the warm up, and how long it takes to get everything done in between. What I didn’t plan for on the morning of the virtual Shamrock was that I would have to start the run in the darkness, alone, in a trial. As a woman, these setting qualities immediately raise a red flag. After all, the last thing I wanted out of this experience was to be the protagonist of the headline news including words like woman, running, trail, alone, dark, among other words of more descriptive kind. I had planned on having lights, so please don’t misunderstand my minor error. But since we chose to run on the CCT starting from Wakefield, I had not anticipated the feelings of fear and insecurity that came with being alone in the darkness of a county trail. And those feelings overcame me the moment I parked the car. Timing told me I didn’t have the chance to wait for daylight because other people, the recruited support, were scheduled to meet me at specific times along the course. No time to idle! While I was warming up, I saw another woman getting ready to take on the trail which helped me breathe easier. The sense of relief I felt was quickly dissipated by the remark she made when she walked past me: “I came this early because I thought I’d be the only one here”, she said. Apparently I am the only woman worried about newspaper headlines mentioning lonely women running in trails. Whatever the case, I decided I had to follow her from a distance in the attempt to erase the paranoia that engulfed me. Hurriedly, I locked the car and took off. I could see her reflective lights and her dimming head light in the distance. It would do. What was I thinking about isolation a few days before? Forget all that. The knowledge that people would be waiting for me at the opposite end of the first leg filled me with gratefulness. And that wasn’t going to be the last time that day when I would appreciate the presence of others throughout the course.
The darkness only lasted fifteen minutes. Twilight brought with it the calm that I seek in a run. It felt like from that point on any other challenge could be overcome. The morning was crisp, the air was clean, and the silence was broken only by the pounding of my feet on the ground, the heavy breathing, and the sounds of nature. I made it to the first meeting point much earlier than I needed to so I had the time to complete the first fourth of the total distance before making my return. I got a little lost on the way out and couldn't, for the life of me, find the way back. Being right in my backyard, it was a bit vexing because I knew the area but I was so lost in my own thoughts that I simply couldn’t retrace my steps. Derya and Valerie had texted me to announce they were at the meeting point and I had no clue how to get out of where I was. Frustrated, I decided to take a different path that I was familiar with which also added some distance and delayed my first meeting time by at least ten minutes. At the start of the second leg I was met with smiles and cheers by these two ladies, and the rest of the second leg was a joy. We laughed, we chatted, we connected, and overall, we just moved forward. Derya and Valerie are significantly faster than I am and part of me felt bad that they had to hold back from what their preference and their skill calls them to do. But these two women set aside their game to support mine. And they did it in a very entertaining, encouraging, and reassuring way. Once more, I was grateful that I didn’t go for a solo virtual marathon.
At the end of the second leg we met Meg and Christina. Christina would start the half marathon while I completed the third leg of the course. Giving distance hugs, Meg, Derya and Valerie left and Christina and I took off. With a thankful heart for the presence of these women, I went back to be entertained by my own thoughts. Nothing new there. I was interested to find out at which point I’d hit the wall. The two previous marathons hit me hard at miles 16-18 so I was determined not to be punched in the same place again by making sure that I fueled well no later than mile 14. Upon finishing the third leg, I started to feel weak and my pace was slower. Going into the fourth and final leg of the course, I started counting the minutes to mile 22 when I would meet Derya and Meg again. Christina had fresh legs to run on so she was ahead of me and she was a good incentive for me to chase. She would wait for me every so often. I concentrated on reading my body signs to determine what it is that I might need. My right leg didn’t give in on me, like it did at the MCM in 2019 and I didn’t feel light headed which were good signs. My water pack had enough water for the last part and I didn’t feel dehydrated. I concluded that the wall wasn’t too bad this time and I told myself it was simply normal tiredness. Pressing on, I remember cheerfully reaching mile 20 when I knew friendly faces would be only two miles ahead. It was similar to the feeling you get when you wait for visitors from far away, the sentiment that in short you’ll get to laugh and be grounded again. I was grateful for that.
Approaching the last stop was briefly heart wrenching. Derya and Meg were not visible from a distance and I couldn’t spot them when we got closer. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes later that they appeared out of nowhere. Meg had blood oranges for us which came in as a good break from fabricated running food. That was the fuel I needed to keep on going. That and Derya. We ran together the last 4 miles of the marathon and I got to hear her amazing story from the Wall of China Marathon. It was helpful to hear a real story of challenge, victory, and friendship.It was inspiring and energizing and it also kept me distracted. She continued to be encouraging and supportive and ran at whatever pace I could do. We talked about family, and travel, and life’s goals. We talked about the future and the past. And as we talked, we finished the course almost unaware that the distance was completed.
Meg, Christina, Derya and I met at the end for some snacks and cheers and chats that were as fulfilling as running the distance. In the end, the best element of this race was not the miles, it was not the gorgeous weather, and it wasn’t that I finished. It was the great memory built with the people who set aside their own preferences to be there for me. I am grateful that running has brought into my life people who have shown selflessness only to help me get to where I wanted to be. Running solo is something that brings me joy. Running with others is something that gives me gratitude.
Written by Sandra Rozo Meder, fellow strider
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