the distance travelled

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.


About Jennifer

I'm a freelance translator and American expat. I live in Northern Italy with my two young sons.
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13 Responses to the distance travelled

  1. Mauryn says:

    I have no doubt: you will be kicking ass come Sunday, in the leanest, meanest way possible! I’m so proud of you!!!!!!!

  2. OMDG says:

    You’re a really good runner, Jennifer. Good luck in your race.

  3. Marge says:

    You’re already a winner!

  4. Jill says:

    I know that you are going to have a fabulous experience on Sunday…and I am hoping to see you at the finish line! xo

  5. rosemarie says:

    Brava, bravissima – in bocca al lupo!!!

  6. Gil says:

    Sure sounds like you have the drive to do a great job on Sunday. Wishing you the boest of the best!!!

  7. I Say Oui says:

    I love your stories of strength. Thanks for sharing them with us. At some point we all go through hard times; you proved that you could slug through them and be tougher on the other side, but still with an eye for the beauty in life. Good luck on Sunday!

  8. meredith says:

    Kick ass on Sunday!! You’ve come an awesome long way!

  9. Hilary says:

    This is my favorite post of yours! It was beautiful to read….i especially loved the part of you baking in your mountain home with #1, getting a little chubby and how it got your running shoes back on! I’ll be cheering you on from Sicilia! In boca al lupo!!!!!

  10. Jennifer says:

    Thank you! This was a fun post to write. Hopefully I will do okay!!! Am getting VERY nervous 🙂

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