Life is like a marathon
Three years ago, on April 17, 2017, I ran my first marathon without any training. Not all what I had planned, but it is the way life happened. I had finished my last long run at the end of January (16 miles- the furthest I had ever run), the same day my nightmare began. The same day,
that my youngest son and I rode in an ambulance to Children's Hospital in Boston to be met by a huge team of panicked doctors. That was the day that I stopped running physically.
I actually started running when Devin was born. I had four boys in five and a half years. The only time I was truly "off the clock" was when I put in my headphones, put on my sneakers and ran. It was my sanity, a way to clear my head, to just be alone with my thoughts. But, when you are told your child has months to live and there is no plan of action, no protocol, no way to fight the monster growing aggressively in your son's head, the last thing you want is to take time away. Honestly, I didn't even want to sleep, I didn't want to miss a moment.
One of my besties was given a bib to run the marathon to raise money for our war against DIPG. I had run plenty of half marathons so I decided to run half of the Boston Marathon with her. I felt like I was sprinting every single moment since January, how hard could it be? The team captain of Framingham's Running Club told me to expect to run to mile 16 or 17 because the momentum in Framingham (where we live) would carry me through. It was a beautiful day. My friend and I took the team bus to marathon village, I had on a handmade tank that my brother in law made with a sharpie the night before, and I was hand in hand with one of my besties. Not at all how I expected my first marathon to happen, but as I had learned, life wasn't always how you planned. As I was walking to the start, I received a phone call. Boston PD was going to have Devin a block and a half from the finish line to cross with me. Um- what?? I am going to run this entire thing.
It was unbelievable. I met some truly inspiring people along the way, an amazing women (who I am so proud to now call my friend) who was running for her son who also had a brain tumor, a man at mile 13 who was running with a brain tumor, someone else who was running for their best friend who lost a child in the Newtown school shooting years before. None of these meetings were a coincidence. The crowds were absolutely amazing, the weather was gorgeous, I felt so happy for the first time since January. My only fear that day was being injured and unable to board the plane with my family at 10 o'clock that night. We were flying to meet Pope Francis in Rome on Wednesday. The marathon, my first, and the one I was running without training, was on Monday. Think about crazy that is! Crazier, is that I was so happy to have this be my only fear. For the past three months, every moment, was consumed by the fear of my son dying and making sure I took care of his three older brothers. I came around the corner onto Boylston, a truly unbelievable feeling, the crowds roaring. As promised, Devin was a block from the finish line in front of a long line of Boston PD. He jumped into my arms, wiped away my tears, and put his arms around my neck and hugged me tight. It was a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. I put him down and we ran across the finish line hand in hand. My other three beautiful boys were waiting at the finish line. Many of my family members and friends were also there with open arms and tears in their eyes. I finished my first marathon with Devin, uninjured and totally reenergized.
I ran my second marathon the following year, April 16, 2018. A year later and a lot of loss. Devin passed away 6 months before, I was in the process of getting divorced, and trying to help my other three sons continue to live through it all. My sanity had been my long runs on Thursdays with my soul sister. We would talk, laugh, and cry through them. When each long run was completed, I felt rejuvenated. As the marathon approached, I started to silently panic. What if I couldn't cross the finish line without Devin. What if the reality of coming around the corner on to Boylston and not seeing him was enough to paralyze my muscles and make me stop. Much of a marathon is a mental game. What if I couldn't overcome that? About a week before, the weather was reporting terrible weather for the marathon, everyone started panicking a little. Marathon Monday was a monsoon- freezing cold weather, snow in the morning and then torrential downpours. We ran in garbage bags for the fist six miles. It was pretty awful, I felt like it was a metaphor for my life at that time. We hid in a porter potty for 8 solid minutes because we would have rather been in a stinky disgusting dry place then outside. There were no crowds and we were grateful for the volunteers who still chose to stand in the awfulness to give us water. We didn't care how long it was taking us, although the longer you were on the course the more susceptible you were to hypothermia. My dear friend, who ran with me the year before, had to stop at mile 19 because of hypothermia. The rain and cold temperatures, and the almost unbearableness of it, consumed most of my thoughts. But every now and then I would feel the grip of not seeing Devin. As my soulsister and I finally came around the corner onto Hereford, mile 25, I felt something snap in my foot. I instantly knew it was broken. I kept running, I couldn't stop. I would not let this prevent me from going the last mile. This became my focus, literally one step at a time. I believe that I broke my foot to shift my focus. Hand in hand, I crossed the finish line with my best friend, my soul sister, my bestie since we were little. The emotions that hit me when I crossed were overwhelming, but when I pulled myself off of the ground, standing before me were three of my sons with open arms and eyes beaming with pride.
Last year was my third marathon, April 15, 2019. I was divorced, had a schedule with the boys, and was trying to navigate this new life. I had my first official WhyNotDevin Marathon Team for my foundation and we raised a ton of money. It was a beautiful day, warm temperatures and a bright sun. The crowds were amazing-a sea of green for Devin and lots of signs for us as we ran by. I ran with my bestie again- who isn't a fan of running in nice weather (we are such different runners! ha). This time, I helped her through the first 14 miles. I encouraged her to keep going even when she wanted to stop, just as she had with me so many times during the last few years. When I knew she was ok and able to finish the race I took off, running my own race for the first time. I caught up to friends and passed them. I had a much faster second half of the marathon. I turned onto Hereford with the sun on my face and the crowds roaring. This year none of my kids would be at the finish line. They were with their dad. But I was ok. I was finishing this marathon for me.
Life is like a marathon- uphills, downhills, heartbreaks and triumphs. It's the people you love and the people you might not even know, cheering you on. It is putting one foot in front of the other and just keep going. It's not a series of sprints, it's running your own pace, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. It's helping others during their race with encouragement, praise, sweedish fish and popsicle sticks of vaseline. It's about giving high fives to others who aren't running your race and inspiring kids that they can do whatever they put their mind to. It's about the long training runs to prepare you for the big race. It's about never expecting to run the same race. It's to knowing you can do hard things.