Saturday, October 20, 2012

Running Among Angels

In my last post, my race report for my recent marathon, I didn't mention the fact that I ran for Dad. I mentioned it before a few times, but in my race report, I kept my mouth shut about the fact. There's something very emotional about completing a marathon. With or without a person you love on your heart to run for, crossing the finish line brings extreme emotion to the forefront. It's the culmination of months of training, sacrifice, discomfort, and pain followed by hours of enduring whatever circumstances are thrown at you. And I didn't want to make the experience of writing about that race even more difficult by mentioning this was all for Dad, again. Seems silly, doesn't it?

But really, this was a very important part of my experience. And I should have made mention. Now it's on my heart to write, so here I am.

I opted not to wear a photo of Dad on my shirt on race day like I originally wanted to. Decided to keep it quiet and private. I think it was a good decision. In fact, when we register for the race, we're asked to write what we want the announcer to say when you cross the finish line. I requested a line about Dad, but somehow the announcer got my lines mixed up with someone else's lines and said something about me that wasn't true. Guess it wasn't meant to be.

I chose to place Dad on the course. I asked him to station himself on the course right where I needed it most - at the turnaround point at the 23km mark where I'd need to turn around and go back the same way. That would be a mentally tough spot, and 23km is where everything went wrong at my first marathon. And then he could go wherever he felt I needed him. When I was struggling, I asked him to place his angel wings on my back to move me along. I spoke to him as I ran, asked him to offer a smile to keep me strong. He was there cheering me on.

There was a beautiful woman running near me about the same pace as me. She was running for her Mom, and unlike me, she did put a photo on the back of her shirt. She lost her Mom in April of this year. A new loss, and a marathon to run as a tribute to her. I loved it when she'd move ahead of me, so I could look at her shirt. The photo of mother and daughter could have easily been a photo of two sisters. Her own carbon copy, like how I am the carbon copy of my Dad, or so he often told me. I enjoyed running alongside this woman's angel as well as my own.

At the 33km mark when my quads started to cramp, I stopped to stretch and walk. I was ahead of the woman by this time and she caught up to me mid-stretch to say, "you can't stop now. You've been pacing me for 33km. How can I go on without you?" Little did she know that she and her mom had been pacing me for the same 33km. I needed her just as badly. 

I apologized and explained I had to walk off the cramping, that I couldn't go on at the same pace. "I promise I'll catch up. I'll need to see the photo of your Mom again. I'm running for my Dad." I'm not sure I said the last bit out loud, or just in my heart. But regardless, she smiled, and ran ahead of me. This moment made me so determined to get over the pain so I could move again. It was one of the motivating factors at the 38km mark that allowed me to swallow my pain and push hard. I was determined to catch up. I didn't see her again, but the photo of her Mom, her angel, hasn't left my memory. I doubt it ever will.

This past weekend, I had the honour of being part of the Nike Women's Marathon, A Race to Benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, as part of my role working with Team In Training. Of course many of our teammates too had their own angels to run for. There's one young woman who like me, lost her father recently. I will never forget the moment she spotted me on the course and ran over to give me a hug. Her eyes were full of tears, and her heart full of love. I found out later that she had just finished seeing our poster placed on the "mission mile" that I put together with photos of our team's honourees. I showed the poster to her beforehand, letting her know that her "Pops" had a special spot at the top of the board. Apparently seeing the board came at the time in the race she needed it most. She told me she felt her Dad there with her that race. And she finished it faster than she's ever finished a race before, because he was there.

I don't know exactly what it is that makes running and honouring a loved one so intuitive. How does running and loving someone have so much synergy? Why does it just make so much sense when they are two completely different things? I think it's that endurance running requires dedication, sacrifice, commitment, strength, and the ability to endure extreme discomfort. That there sounds like love - love too requires dedication, sacrifice, and commitment. And loss of a loved one requires strength and the ability to endure and somehow move forward positively despite the pain. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. But perhaps it relates to the very reason I love running. Running reminds me that I'm truly alive, that I'm a living being with a beating heart, and strong muscles to move me. Being in touch with myself physically allows me to be truly in touch with myself emotionally. Running reminds me not to take for granted the life I have, knowing that life sometimes ends earlier than fair and forever impacts the lives of loved ones who suffered loss. And running allows me to make sense of my world, my experiences, and my feelings. There's no question why I'd find metaphor in the most difficult running distance I've ever done, the marathon, to the hardest emotional experience I've ever had. And so, I run. I run to honour him. I run to make him proud. I run to feel alive, strong, and heart-healthy for him. I run for me. I run because I don't want to forget.

I run because of angels.


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  2. Zhaida, this is a really beautiful post & it has my eyes watering for sure. On my much smaller scale (my 1/2 marathon), running to honour my Opa for the was so much of what got me through training, to the start line and through the race too. I think that the power of love is incredible & finding ways to keep our loved ones with us through pain and triumphs is a wonderful way to keep them in our lives when they are no longer physically here anymore.

    1. Thank you so much Monica. I enjoyed writing this post a lot. I wouldn't ever call your half marathon a "much smaller scale". What you did for your Opa was absolutely beautiful. It doesn't matter the distance, the relationship, or any of those details. But rather the gesture of doing something amazing because of the power of your love for someone else. Thank you for your kind, thoughtful words. Hope you are well, and I would love to know what you're up to, especially your upcoming running adventures! <3 Z

  3. Hey Zahida,

    Great post - my eyes watered up a bit a few times. That moment you wrote about at Nike actually sticks out more to me than when I crossed the finish line. Thanks for being there. <3

  4. Thank you so much Ashley! Thanks for visiting my blog :) And thanks for being one of my favourite Nike memories too! You're a reminder of WHY our work at LLSC is so important and so powerful. <3