My whole body is covered in perspiration, glistening in the morning sun. Each muscle aches and contracts, stretched to the absolute limit and begging for a relief I will not give. I see my kids holding homemade signs and cheering for me at the finish line. And I push forward...
I've visualized finishing my first marathon so many times that I sometimes confuse my fantasy with reality. And now, my fantasy must sustain me for another year.
On September 16, 2012, I will not be running the Fox Valley Marathon in St. Charles, Illinois.
It started with an allergy flare-up. I popped some Benadryl with my daily Zyrtec and started running with tissues stuffed into the waistband of my shorts.
I would come home with swollen eyes, red nose and occasionally some wheezing. I read the warnings about the high mold count and, intellectually, I knew that I needed to be careful with my allergies and allergy-induced asthma. But I was cocky. I was too emotionally invested in my goal.
Nothing would keep me from that finish line. I chastised my moments of weakness, the failed runs, the doubt which would interrupt my sleep at night. Mind over matter, I chanted in my head.
I took a big swallow of the positive thinking potion and refused to give up.
I thought that I needed to visualize that moment of ultimate triumph more clearly to make it real. So I wove additional details into my imaginary story. I pictured my daughter's dark, skinny jeans and black and cream striped shirt.I envisioned my middle son's quick smile of pride when he watched me finish. I could hear my youngest son's cheers and feel my husband's embrace.
And I kept running, focusing on that moment. On the days when my coughing and dizziness stopped me from running even one mile, I added to my fantasy. I envisioned more friends and family at the finish line.
Running is such an integral, vital part of my life that I just couldn't stop. I couldn't admit defeat. I started running to lose weight and continued running when I found it was the only way to cope when my child was diagnosed with a chronic illness. And I just couldn't give it up.
I lived in a surreal world of denial and fantasy for weeks, even as my body failed me. I questioned my commitment. I blamed the late-start to my training program. I convinced my delusional self that I needed new running shoes with custom inserts, a new running playlist, different brands of refueling supplements. I made plenty of excuses for my stunted progress and I refused to consider the alternative.
Until I stopped meeting my training goals. Until I couldn't deny it any more.
After several long-distance training runs plagued with dizziness, coughing fits and nausea, I finally collapsed at mile 14 of an 18 mile training run on Sunday. I didn't attend the organized training run hosted by the Fox Valley Marathon because I was too embarrassed by my slow shuffle, my cough, my stops to walk and catch my breath, and I honestly feared that someone would see me struggle and tell me that I couldn't run. I had invested so much time, energy, positive-thinking and self-promotion into this one race, and deep inside of me I knew that I was done.
And so last Sunday, I was alone. I was alone, sitting in the grass, wheezing and coughing and trying to figure out how I was going to get home. And I finally admitted that my 2012 marathon dreams were over. It was a long, depressing walk home.
In the doctor's office this week, she confirmed that which I already knew, prescribed four medications and ordered no running and no exercising until... She couldn't give me a concrete time frame, nor a magical calendar date to program into my cell phone. Just until my asthma is controlled again, until my lungs clear and I can find the combination of medications to control it.
I have to accept it now. I have to accept that no amount of positive thinking can fix this, can get me to cross that finish line this year.
As any Cubs fan will tell you: There's always next year. I hope.
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