It has been said that tourists impose their own perspectives on the places to which they travel. Pilgrims, by contrast, allow themselves to be changed by the experience.
In 2013, I knew that I wanted to attempt a second marathon, and travel to do it. My only objective was to reach the finish line before the finish line went home, which translated into 26.2 miles in under seven hours. Our Destination Training group was almost perfect – hotel accommodations were arranged, there was going to be a group dinner for all the participants in Phoenix, and it was an opportunity to travel with other runners. Unfortunately, as much as I had wanted to train with the group, my schedule did not allow me to attend the Saturday morning long runs. No problem, right? I could just do it on my own. “I’ve done this before,” I thought to myself. “Just do it,” as they say. I knew how to run. I even knew how to “Run Happy.”
Two weeks had gone by on the training schedule…and I had not yet attempted my first long run. A few short, easy ones, yes…but the long ones had somehow escaped me….to the point where my stomach would sink, my heart would pound and I could feel the color drain from my cheeks when I thought about the race. A training program with coaches and pacers would have prevented this, or at least would have made the process easier. It finally got to the point where I was truly terrified about whether I’d be able to complete the full marathon. I had run/walked the Chicago Marathon in 2011, and despite my rationalizations, had not yet forgotten the challenges this distance entailed. A deep desire to succeed broke down my pride and made me ask my colleague, Julie, for help. I laid my soul down in front of her, tears in my eyes, as I waited for her response. And in her kind, unaffected way, she told me a few of her marathon stories. She related, “Sometimes you think you will train with certain people who end up drifting away for various reasons. Don’t worry, others come out of the woodwork to help you if you commit to the training. You’ve just got to enjoy the journey. Let the journey change you.”
Wanting to believe that I could do it alone, but realizing I couldn’t…A call to arms was made, Facebook style! “Operation Team Flo: Marathon Edition” was created and out of the woodwork people came…to run alongside me! Constructing long runs piecemeal with new training partners every few miles is a truly genius idea of the running community! What a journey it was to travel not only on limestone paths, but also through the hearts of the people there to support me! For example, three different friends, each running three miles on a long run of 9 miles in Pheasant Branch (loop after loop after loop) gave me an opportunity to learn not only about them, but also about myself –how we are all so similar but we all contain fascinating and unique differences, how stories are what keep our feet moving, and what trust allows to happen. Trust allows us to tap into the collective unconscious. Trust allows us to change. I discovered that the only way to build trust is by letting people in, by running alongside one another.
We planned our training runs around races, so the Jingle Bell 10k became an 18 miler for me. We met at different locations around town and a different group of people came each time. I started the process like a tourist in Madison – curious about different locales, learning where to turn and how long certain roads were. It reminded me of the first scene in Barcelona in Cedric Klapisch’s film, “L’Auberge Espagnole” in which Xavier first surveys the city. I encountered unfamiliar maps whose only purpose was to transmorph into something more familiar than one’s own heart. I even had my own cartographer! I have fond memories of Bill, a previous NOBOer, proudly showing me a couple of routes that he had painstakingly and thoughtfully created. The first looked like an iron, the kind used on starched shirts, to accommodate the different runners’ preferred distances, so we called it “Flo’s Ironman Route.” I have it framed on my wall at home. Another route he built spelled out my name from a bird’s-eye view, while also taking us on a nostalgic trip through his wife Mary’s childhood neighborhood. I can honestly say that I finished the marathon training a changed person. I learned how generous and kind a runners’ friendship really is.
And now, those who were part of my pilgrimage last year are on a journey of their own. They will leave in less than two weeks for their Destination Marathon 2014 – New Orleans! Bill and his training buddy, Rich are now ready to run their own first marathons. So many people who had supported me when I thought I couldn’t do it are now on the cusp of their own destination marathon or half-marathon. They are each engaging it in a different way – running, run/walking, walking or cheering. I transformed into a fully committed pilgrim during the journey of last Destination Marathon, changed not only by the miles, but even more so the relationships. And I will be cheering them on every step of the way from Madison on February 2nd 2014 as they find themselves “Pilgrims of the Marathon” in New Orleans.
Now, about the marathon itself in Phoenix, Arizona last year ? Well, the race…hmmm…the race is a whole ‘nother story…