We moved to this town from the mountains in 2007 and I started running almost right away. The winter was long in the mountains and I had a delightful little boy for company. We stayed home a lot and baked. I got a little fat. Then we moved and I saw it as my chance. I was going to run very slowly thirty minutes every other day, the way this woman urged and I hoped it would help me lose the mountain weight.
The first time I went for a run, I thought I might die. Despite going as slowly as I possibly could, I was gasping for air within a few minutes. My heart was pounding, my face felt hot, my legs didn’t know what to do. “This is ridiculous!” I told myself. “I used to run cross country. What have I let happen?”
Our new neighborhood was on the outskirts of town and had plenty of bike and running paths surrounded by beautiful scenery. I worked from home and my son went to preschool during the day: I had no excuse. A thirty-minute run every other day was more than feasible.
Before long I could run 5 km slowly without thinking I might die from the exertion. Then I got pregnant and had some issues in the first trimester. The doctor advised me to stop running. But by then I was kind of hooked. I was back to running again the day my baby turned 3 months old. “No excuses!” I told myself.
There is a 10k race every year in my town and I wanted to try it. Could I run 6.2 miles without keeling over? I went for a test run one day, covering my usual loop twice. I didn’t have a special watch back then, and I calculated the distance either by driving the route in the car or looking on Google maps when I got home. I made a deal with myself: if I could run 10 km in an hour or less, I would sign up for the race. And I did it, but just barely.
The race was fun, but hard. I ran it with the husbands of two women I knew, and I almost thought I might not make it the last half km. We finished in something like 55 minutes. My legs weighed a million pounds.
Pretty soon I was running 45 minutes three to four days a week, and less and less I felt like I might die. But my marriage died instead, and running was what kept me from going down with it. While that was happening, I ran every day that I could, for an hour, an hour and a half, then two hours, pulling the brim of my cap down low so it wouldn’t be so noticeable when I cried. I would run as far as I could down the bike path before turning around and heading back, when I thought I had nothing left, but then, somehow, I did. By the time I got home I felt better. Or at least I could trust myself not to start sobbing in public or in front of the kids.
We spent the summer in the States with my parents and I ran almost every morning. We came home to Italy in September and the boys and I moved into town. After taking them to school I would run back to our old neighborhood and follow the same bike path out into the country as far as I could go. There were days, sometimes, when I never cried, not even once, and after awhile most days I didn’t cry at all.
Then one night, up late, I calculated the distance I had covered that morning on Google maps, then checked it again. I had nearly run half of a marathon. I decided to try it again, but before leaving home I looked at the clock, and checked the time again when I came back. If I could do it in under two hours I would sign up for a half marathon.
That was Verona, February 2012. One of the dads at school asked what time I was shooting for and when I told him I’d like to do it in under an hour and forty-five minutes he laughed and shook his head and told me I was being very ambitious. I didn’t know much of anything about times back then, and had only picked 1h45m because it seemed challenging but feasible to me. I finished in an hour and forty-four and felt so high I could have run another race immediately afterwards.
The next half marathon I ran three minutes faster, and so on and so on until December when I found a local running club with a trainer who was happy to help me train for a full marathon. I bought a Garmin. I learned about fartleks and reps. I went on my first long run. I signed up for the Barcelona marathon, March 2013. Then I hurt myself in a race in February. It was the 2013 Verona half marathon and I finished eight minutes faster than I had the year before, but I would not run again for 50 days.
By July I was back to marathon training, and had signed up for the Venice marathon, October 27, 2013. As of today, I have completed my training; now all I do is wait: five more days and one or two more short, easy runs, just 30 minutes like I used to do.
At the end of last year my goal was to train for and finish a marathon in 2013, possibly within four hours and hopefully without hurting too much. It was to prove to myself that I was tough enough to run that far; it was a tangible demonstration of how much I’d overcome in my head and in my heart. I wanted proof that I was beyond the reach of the people who had hurt me, or anyone at all. If I could run a marathon, surely that would mean I was as invincible as running made me feel.
Ten months and hundreds and hundreds of miles later, a lot has changed, and the running, the marathon, they are not about the same things anymore. If I cry on a run, it’s because, holy shit, look what I can do! Look how far I’ve come. It’s because I might very well run a whole marathon to the end without stopping and I might do it in well under four hours. But then again I might very well not, and if I don’t, as disappointing as it will be, I will still be okay in my head and in my heart. That, now I see, is what it means to be invincible. Therein lies the proof of how tough I have become.
I’d still really like to kick some ass on Sunday though.