I ran the recent 2018 Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham. This was not my first time to do this, but I was extremely nervous about it. I knew this would not be a PR day. I had some perfectly good excuses: It was rainy. It was hot. I had some on-and-off pain in my hip. But the fact was: I had not prepared as much as I should have done. I simply had not put my feet on the ground enough in the weeks leading up to this race.
But I did it anyway.
And I ended up running a joyful race. There’s really no other way to describe it.
I decided early on–at about mile 3–to just run. To simply be in every moment. I’m pretty competitive, and I have a bad habit of sizing up the women running near me to try to see if they are in my age group (and therefore someone I need to pass). I’m not proud of this. But at this race, I didn’t do it.
“You do you,” I actually said out loud.
Once I let go of my expectations (and tamped down my competitive nature), I started noticing things that made me happy and grateful to just be there–moving forward at my own pace.
We passed by Kelly Ingram Park and I looked at the beautiful Four Spirits sculpture, and I acknowledged the precious souls of those four little girls. I ran by Glen Iris Elementary School, and I thought of the awesome young girls on the Girls on the Run team I coach twice a week. I had met them only the week before, but they already are “my girls.”
I was listening to a playlist made by two of my children, and the songs they picked out for me made me happy. From Kygo to Beyoncé to Fleetwood Mac. It was all good. My older daughter had given me two charms for my shoes–an Eiffel Tower and a Girls on the Run button–and I smiled as I put one fancy foot in front of the other.
Members of the Mountain Brook High School Track & Field team were staffing one of the water stops in Southside around mile 6, which is always more hilly than I remember. A few of the girls I know hugged me and shouted: “You’ve got this, Mrs. Swagler.” And I knew I did.
I thanked each Birmingham Police officer at every intersection. A special thank you to the officer who gave me a high five at the top of that small hill on Highland Avenue.
A spectator in Avondale gave me a string of green Mardi Gras beads, and I ran on happy to know enough to be dressed appropriately in a thin tank top in winter (and now with a fun accessory!). I took a moment to appreciate having some great shoes and even greater socks. (My Thorlos Experia socks were everything the salesperson said they would be. Funny how something so small and simple can make a really big difference.)
At mile 10 when Tiidrek Nurme, the winner of the full Marathon (and an Olympian!), passed me, I did not think about how quickly he had lapped me. Instead, I thrilled to see him so closely, moving so effortlessly and so fast.
At mile 11, the pickles and pickle juice were just what I wanted. At mile 12, that cold sip of beer was good, too.
Just before mile 13, my phone died and so did my music. But then I noticed a man running with a small (but really loud), portable speaker, and I ran alongside him for a block or so. He was pacing his wife who was running her first half marathon. He told me he and their kids already had gotten her a fancy display board for the really cool finisher’s medal she was about to earn.
When I finished, Rick Journey gave me a special shout-out, which I appreciated very much. I got my medal (it really is one of my favorites) and a finisher’s gift that remains a mystery to me. It looks like a towel, but it has a strange little zipper and some webbing and a clasp (see the gallery below). I have no idea what this thing is; if anyone else knows, please tell me.
As I walked toward the party (with barbecue and massages) in Boutwell Auditorium, I realized I had not looked at the clock as I crossed the finish line. My time didn’t matter. But the moments I spent running that race did matter very much. They added up to a truly joyful whole.
I had savored that race in a way I had never done before. In a way I didn’t even know was possible. I was tired, sure, but I also was immensely satisfied. It was similar to how I feel when I enjoy a perfectly delicious meal or when I read the last page of a wonderfully memorable book. It felt good and right. And it made me happy.