Runners are a funny lot. I’ve been told I’m “crazy” for running marathons so many times that I’ve lost count. Truth is, I thought people who ran marathons were crazy too – until I became a runner and completed my first 26.2. Then I became hooked on the challenge that a marathon presents.
Last week, I traveled to England for the Women Can Marathon, a women’s race that covers 26.2 miles of the spectacular Devon coastline and countryside. I’ve got a lot of family in Devon, so I headed across the pond with my mum and we spent a week catching up with family and friends that I hadn’t seen in decades, and then ran the race.
Up until I physically crossed the start line, I was unsure if I would actually run. About 6 weeks ago, I injured my IT band, tearing part of my ITB off my iliac crest, aka the top of my pelvis. I kept quiet about my injury – I had spent hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket to the UK, and somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to admit that I may not run the race. My orthopedist – whom I adore – gave me the OK to go ahead if I was not in too much pain. Do what you can, he said. I spent 6 weeks stretching and walking gently, only running a few easy miles when I arrived in England. I was nearly in tears at the start wondering if I’d made the right decision to participate. Luckily the cut off was nine and a half hours, so I had plenty of time. I crossed that start line and summoned every ounce of fearlessness and began to move forward.
I am so glad I crossed that start line.
It was a day that will live forever in my heart as one of the most epic experiences of my life.
I paired up with my new 261 Fearless friend, Carol. We were going about the same pace and there to enjoy the day. And I love Carol – not only because we helped each other get through some tough miles, but also because she calls me Debs. (Side note – it’s normal in the UK to call someone named Deb ‘Debs.’ My dad always did and it warms my heart.)
We headed into the fields, pastures, and country lanes and onto the cliffs of Devon. The beauty of those 26.2 miles is simply indescribable, and the pictures here don’t do the scenery justice.
Carol and I shared stories of our lives and running adventures as the miles progressed. We stopped to talk to frogs, admire flowers, look for birds, step over snails and scream at a mouse (full disclosure – that was me who screamed, not Carol.) We trudged up hills that made us puff and pant and nearly pass out and then marvel at the view from the top. We ran through town centers around dogs and baby buggies and people out doing their shopping and making their way to cafes for lunch.
We knew we were close to last out of the 200 or so runners, but that did not matter. This race had nothing to do with time or pace or placement. This race was about the joy of moving forward.
We split up at about mile 17. Carol had some unfortunate cramps and tummy issues, and insisted I went on. We talked about it for a few miles, and when she assured me that she would finish, and finish strong, we hugged and said our goodbyes, and I ran on into the forest.
The next 5 miles were about one thing. Mud. Lots of mud. My feet disappeared into the muddy puddles, filling my shoes with globs of wet dirt. I squealed with joy at the squishing noises as the mud oozed out of my shoes. Anyone who was listening in the woods may have thought I was a little crazy.
At mile 22.5, I heard dogs barking – not uncommon along the route as there were dogs everywhere. These were not happy barks though. A terrier and two whippets aggressively ran up to me and I was bitten behind my right knee by one of the whippets. I was in shock and truthfully quite scared as I didn’t know if the dogs would come back after me. I was alone on a country path – they were running free with no humans nearby. My leg was bleeding from the teeth punctures but all I could do was go forward, so I did. But I cried until mile 24 as I was so shaken up.
At mile 25 I could hear music. I knew that was the finish line. It was in a tiny village – Tipton St John, where there was a hog roast and a bar waiting. I ran a bit and walked a bit as that music got louder. I’d been on the go for almost 8.5 hours. I came through the clearing into the field at the finish line, and my 261 Fearless teammates were there cheering me on. High fives down the line and then off to the paramedics to get my leg looked at, where I was served a plate of homemade brownies, cakes and treats and a glass of Prosecco. Nothing a like a small women’s only race in England!
I was in awe of this experience.
So often, we runners focus only on our time. Or our pace. Or whether we met our goals for the race. We get disappointed and see ourselves as failures if we have a sub par performance.
This day was different. This day cemented in my mind why I run. And why I love to run.
This day was about…
…Forming new friendships, sharing stories and laughing at past adventures.
…Stopping by a hedgerow and listening to the bees.
…Smelling flowers and blossoms. And cow poop.
…Stepping around sheep poop and treading through horse poop.
…Baaing at sheep and mooing at cows.
…Searching for a frog in the grass that had just hopped across the path in front.
…Smiling at kids along the route who are waving with glee.
This day was about…
…Eating jelly babies at every rest stop and woofing down 5 oatcakes in one go, foods you don’t normally see along a race in the US. How I love jelly babies!
This day was about…
…Jumping in puddles and giggling like a school girl as the mud splatters on the backs of your legs.
…Staring open mouthed at the glorious cliffs of the Devon coastline.
…Blushing like a teenage girl as a course marshal offers his arm to chivalrously escort you across the road – despite being covered in mud and soaked with sweat.
This day was about…
…Realizing that the experience is about finishing and fun, not racing.
…Knowing that your body is capable of so much more than you give it credit for.
…Accepting that sometimes, the most important thing to do is to stop, breathe, give yourself a talking to and go forward.
…Being Fearless in overcoming obstacles. Whether that obstacle is a giant mountain of self-doubt or a pile of sheep poo.
…And knowing that sometimes the hardest expectations to meet are your own.
…And that sometimes the best runs happen when you simply enjoy the moment.