It was 27 degrees on the morning of October 8th, 1989. I barely slept the night before as my mind and body raced in anticipation. It was a brisk fall morning, 27 degrees to be exact, and I pulled on the fluorescent blue and purple tights and white thermal turtleneck, the first of several layers I would need as the temp would rise to 50 degrees over my 4ish-hour (or so I hoped) jaunt from Mpls to St. Paul.
It was my first marathon. And would be my last. Not because the feeling of crossing the 26.2 finish line at the State Capitol in St. Paul amidst hundreds of people cheering wouldn’t be one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life—it would be— but in the aftermath of the race, as most of my toenails turned black and blue and subsequently fell off my toes, and the intense difficulty of sitting down, standing up, and walking up and down stairs for far too many days post-run, I decided that a one-and-done for running and finishing a marathon sub 4 hours was A-okay with me.
There are distinct memories from that race that I diligently trained for and ran as a college student with big dreams 31 years ago. Ones that I have carried with me throughout my adult life, and ones that I am especially pulling from at this very moment in time. There was a pivotal point in that run, as I crossed the Lake Street bridge and headed east on River Road toward Summit Avenue, where things started to blur. I remember a band playing on the side of the route–rock’n a Rolling Stones song–that put a skip in my step and helped my brain convince my legs to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But it was a short-lived boost.
Hitting Summit Avenue and absorbing the subtle incline of that never-ending, albeit beautiful St. Paul, tree-lined boulevard, I was threatened to my core with each painful step. I could not see the finish line, couldn’t even envision it. And yet, I knew that it was less than 6 miles away. Or was it? I was exhausted. Running. Out. Of. Steam. I questioned everything: my strength, my sanity, my ability to “finish strong” or even finish at all.
This past week, I have gotten far too many well-meant (I think) comments from friends and colleagues who I have “seen” on zoom, “You look really tired, you seem really stressed, drained, depleted.” And they are right. This is mile 21. For me, and for most of us. And mile 21 is no joke. I remember seeing runners limp off to the side of Summit Ave. and collapse to the ground. As they shooed me away when I asked them if they needed help, I wouldn’t know if they got up again to finish the race.
I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I have food, a safe, warm place to live, a loving family, and a strong community. My family is healthy. And yet, I am battling to keep ModernWell afloat, have three of my four children at home, when only one of them is “supposed” to be, and helping them all manage this wonky Covid life is no small feat for this mama’s heart as I struggle to manage my own wonky Covid life. And I am carrying the concern for the health and safety of my parents and mother-in-law, painfully staying away from them as we all are having to do with many loved ones during this time.
There is no shortage of Covid struggles, for any of us. Whether you or your partner have lost your job or are unable to work because of the increased demands of having kids home; your kids are feeling isolated, depressed, unmotivated, or struggling with distance learning; you are battling isolation or struggling with anxiety or depression; or you’ve lost a loved one to Covid, this pandemic has spared no one from losing at least one toenail.
We are doing what we know we are supposed to do: finding gratitude for the simple gifts in each day, lending a hand to those in need, and enjoying the calmer paced life with no travel, commute time, traffic, or stress over social events that we’d rather skip but feel obligated to attend. And let’s make sure to take all these lessons with us as we move back into our “normal” lives. (Boundaries, friends. We are allowed to say “no” post-Covid.)
But there is no doubt that even with the silver linings that we’ve gleaned from Covid, we are feeling the exhaustion of the 21 difficult miles we’ve run this year. And while we all can hear the sweet song called VACCINE blaring at mile 21, we know that Summit Avenue is a steady uphill climb that feels like someone keeps moving the finish line further and further away.
These last five miles, until we have the finish line in direct sight, when we are still fraught with uncertainty and strain, might be the toughest of them all. Before we know for certain when we all will be vaccinated, when we will be able to safely gather in groups again, when our kids will go back to school, when we will go back to work (and what that will look like), and when we will feel “normal” again (and what that even means), our feet will continue to feel very heavy.
When I think back to what it was that got me through the painful haze of mile 21 to the moment I could see the finish line three decades ago, I realize that it was not only the fact that I stuck to my training schedule. There was more. And it is exactly what we all need to continue to move forward through these coming days, weeks, and months ahead:
We are going to get there, friends. While we might not have “how to get through a pandemic” training, we do know how to be resilient and believe in ourselves and humanity. We will hit Ramsey Hill, make it halfway down on our wobbly legs, where we’ll catch a glimpse of the state capitol, and from there, our minds and bodies will simply carry us over the finish line. And for those of us who had and will have moments when we fall over on the side of the route (I’ve certainly had many!), let’s make sure we pick each other up and conjure up an abundance of strength, support, love, and forgiveness for ourselves and one another.
And with that, I will plan to see you at the finish line where I will be cheering loudly and hugging everyone! And for the record, I am also good with a one-and-done pandemic marathon! How about you?