The Selfless Mile?
Repost from my wordpress 11-Oct-2011
Is there truly such a thing as selfless good deed? And if so, can you run a selfless marathon? Even if you are raising money for a charity or running for a "cause" most people set some type of personal goal for themselves. Selfless - [self-lis] adjective: having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.; unselfish.
Yesterday I ran a marathon. I was told by many that it was very selfless of me and remarkable to do such a thing. Men running by me with tears saying what an incredible thing I was doing, hundreds of thumbs ups, fist hits and sheepish nods of the most sincere expression that they were at a loss of what else to say. The night before the race, I went to bed early like all the other runners and put one running shoe on at a time just like everyone else with the same pre-race jitters the morning of. It was just another beautiful Sunday morning is the fabulous city of Chicago and today we were going to run 26.2 miles through the streets and neighborhoods of it.
I love this day. It is like a holiday to me. If I weren't running it, I would have been checking the air in my tires and getting myself ready to ride all over town to watch as much of this exciting race as I can. I will never forget watching my first one; ten Chicago Marathons ago, and I have loved watching them ever since. In fact, I love watching this exciting sport more than I enjoy being part of the action.
On my way to the race with my running partner, he told what he needed to run to make a qualifying time for Boston and thought it would be a good carrot to have in front of him. Casually I told him that if wanted to make it to Boston, I would make sure that happened. My longest run before this week was 10 miles the week before. We made the walk to the race site, ran into a few fellow runners and headed to the start line.
It was unlike any start I had ever experienced as we made our way to the corral, I look behind us to see the elite runners filing into their area, then looked to the right to see twenty of the best runners in the world filing into their coral next to us. I felt like a little kid a Christmas filled with excitement and anxiousness - the butterflies in my stomach immediately doubled. Some might call it a disability start, I like to call it a preferred start. Who in their right mind wouldn't want to start in front of Ryan Hall and get to see him and the pack of the front 15 blow by you as you make your turn off State street?
7:20 the wheelchair group started, 7:21 the hand-cycles and other disabled runners hit the pavement. 1 partial amputee, and 4 visually impaired and 5 guides were the first to run down Columbus and Grand then onto State Street as the crowds were at their height. The race had started! People hanging over bridges, lining the streets yelling and cheering for you. We ran down the streets of downtown Chicago, with my running partner next to me, I described everything around us and at one point when it was just him and I on the block I told him we needed to milk this moment, and we did as we waved, the crowds only cheered louder. For 14 minutes we had the Chicago Marathon to ourselves and it was the most incredible race start I had ever had.
You see, a couple months ago I had a runner named Israel contact me from the charity group I was working with and asked me if I knew of anyone who could possibly guide him for the marathon. A runner and triathlete, a man who just wants to race like the rest of us do, he is fit and has time goals, nothing to hold him back except he needs someone to be his eyes for him. As I asked around I got the same response from everyone, "Wow, that is amazing, but I don't think I could do it," or "I would like to some day, but not until after I've gotten all my racing goals." I could not come back to him and tell him no one wanted to. I am not a fan of running 42km, but I thought if I were in his shoes I would want someone to say yes to me. So I told him I would do it. Besides, how hard could it be?
It is hard. At least for your first few training runs. There are a lot of "I'm sorry's"...a lot, mentally exhausting, bumping, tripping and very slow paced miles. But there are also a lot of laughs and stories and trust building. To build trust have someone trust you is a very big responsibility to live up to. There are many lessons in life that can help you learn that lesson, but none so profound to me as getting to help someone live his dream by trusting me to be his eyes as I lead him through the streets with 45,000 other people at a 9:00/mile pace.
The first 13 miles were a breeze, with a few bumps and only 1 trip. At times I felt like he didn't even need me as we flowed effortlessly with the crowd of runners on both sides of us. But like any marathon, as the miles continued, the congestion and walkers start piling up. THANK YOU for having our second guide come in and run with us, as she took over the tether (as we are tied together) and I flanked the right side as we made our way through the slowing bodies. We had a goal - we were going to make it to Boston and we were going to make it come hell or high water.
Like most runners, there is a wall at some point. And the wall was hit. The other guide, Jen was phenomenal as the two of us became the "blonde bitches" (our joke) on the course as we yelled, cheered, prodded and pulled our fellow mate on his 26.2 mile victory lap. As a coach to an athlete who has a goal, who has trained to reach their goal, you show no mercy on game day. Today was game day and it was time for no mercy. Boston is what he wanted and we were going to make sure that was going to happen. With Jen as the sled dog and me with the whip we worked away at every mile until the last.
Anyone who has worked to make their way to a Boston qualifying time usually wants it so badly they can't see straight...it is the same for someone who can't see. The emotions are the same, the pain feels the same. One foot in front of the other, that is how we get there. We are all the same...we are runners. And in 4:50:38 we crossed the finish line with 9 minutes to spare, qualifying Israel for the Boston Marathon. But even more exciting, breaking his previous PR by 45 minutes!
Is there such thing as a selfless good deed? I didn't do anything different from what I would do for my other runners. Every runner who wanted to qualify for Boston and I paced, has made it. I wanted to keep a perfect record. I think I may have enjoyed our preferred start start more than Israel; getting to have the crowds cheer for only us was pure elation, it was incredible! I want a start like that every year! Isn't helping people who need help something we as humans should do? Wouldn't that make the world a better place? And shouldn't we treat others how we want to be treated? If something were to happen to me and I need help fulfilling my dreams, I would hope someone would want to help me.
If I can end with one thing, is that you don't have to guide a blind runners through a marathon to be a good person. But have a little compassion as a person, maybe next time you see someone standing at the corner trying to cross you help them. It can be scary living in this big world in the dark. (Did you ever sleep with the lights because you were scared? I did. Still to this day I sleep with the lights on when I am in a hotel by myself.)
How time flies. I guess that is something we should be reminded of right now that our lives have been forced to slow down. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my life and were I was a decade ago and where it is as I am currently locked down in a country I don't even live in. The past couple days I have spent reading my old race reports and reminiscing on all the crazy adventures I have been on. There are so many fond memories.
So much in my life has changed since then. So much that I often get asked if I run, if I have ever done a triathlon and what I do for a living. I quietly listen to people as they try to tell me how one should train for an endurance race as if I had never experienced one before. It's okay, I actually enjoy listening because we share the same excitement and love for the sport. I get it. But there is one thing these people don't know about me; I was doing Ironman races long before it was the cool thing to be doing.
I thought it would be fun to pull out the old race journal and share some good old stories of my life that once was. I am not going to do any editing on them, so please bare with me on any errors.
“This is my last; never again,” these were the words I had during a brief moment of sanity in June…eight hours later I signed up for another one; clearly I had regained my loss of sanity.
I remember being eight years old and flipping through the channels on a Sunday afternoon and coming across NBC or ABC and seeing the Gatorade Ironman. Watching in amazement I said, “Daddy what is this?” He didn’t know, living in a small town in the mid-west we had never seen or heard of such a thing. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen anyone do. Sitting there with tears in my eyes; as a kid I didn’t know why it brought tears to me, I wasn’t a crier, but watching the race that day gave me a feeling I had never experienced before. There was nothing more I wanted to do than to try one of those races…whatever is was.
It took about 10 years to pass before the sport of triathlon to reached Indiana and learned what an Ironman was. By this time I had graduated from high school and having been an athlete throughout my childhood and adolescence (a gymnast, sprinter and diver who rode her bike to town throughout the summer), I signed up for a race and thought this would be a piece of cake. I couldn't have been more wrong...doing a sprint triathlon was the toughest thing I had ever done! Running 3.1 miles is a lot different from running a 400 meter dash and swimming 800 meters is even more different from swimming to the side of the pool after completing a dive. I was more amazed in having survived the sprint triathlon than what I was that day I had watched those athletes completing the Ironman on TV. I was 19 and knew nothing; I did my one triathlon and got on with my life.
Seven years went by before I figured out that what I missed more than anything in my life was the competition I had loved as a kid. I really enjoyed the training, the races and meets, the challenges and the way I pushed myself. It was a part of who I was and the seven years I went without it were the seven years of my life where I felt most lost and undirected. As I soon started to realize that thirty would be around the corner quicker than I had hoped for, I decided I wanted to be in the best shape of my life and knew this would be a huge challenge as I would reflect of my late teens of what my body was capable of doing. There was a girlfriend of mine who mentioned she wanted to do the Chicago Triathlon but didn't want to do it herself; so I told her I would buy a bike and do it with her.
I bought a bike, running shoes, goggles and every book there was on training for your first triathlon. It took me about two weeks before I could fully complete 1 mile without walking and that single mile took me 12 minutes to complete. How was I going to make it through? But there was something in me that kept me going...maybe the fear of turning thirty (in 3 years) and looking thirty. Who knows, but whatever it was I kept on training. First race was difficult; it was 104 degrees that day, but I had fun...more than fun, I felt something inside of me that I hadn't felt in year. A light turned on inside of me.
That year I did a race in July, August, September and November. Suddenly I thought maybe if I had a coach I could be good at this, so I hired one. I soon started to remember that day as a kid sitting in my living room watching the Gatorade Ironman and actually started to believe maybe I could do one of those. March of the next year I did my first Half Ironman in Oceanside, CA...fired my coach, cursed her out for ever talking me into a race like that. I cried before the race, during the swim, on the bike and in the run. At the end of the race I re-hired her, but told her, "Never Again!" Three months later I signed up for my next Half.
A couple years went by racing all distances up to the Half Ironman and with my 30th birthday in front of me I couldn't think of a better gift to give myself but to fulfill that little girl's dream of doing One herself. So I thought to myself, "if I were only to do one and only one, where would I want that to be?" Ironman South Africa it is; Happy Birthday to Me!
Why did I pick a "fall race" in the southern hemisphere while living in Chicago?! I became one with my trainer; riding indoors...staring at the black line in the bottom of the pool...listening the rhythmic hum of the treadmill. Training was rough and the race was tough, what was I thinking? It was everything I had ever dreamed of and more! My body had never experienced so much pain. I had never spent so much time with myself. There is nothing that can ever compare to coming across the finish line and hearing, "Kimberly Barnhart, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN", it was amazing, but Never Again!
It took one whole year before I starting thinking about doing another one. At this point I was starting to get comfortable with doing Half IM, in fact one of my wedding gifts that came from my coach was an entry into my favorite Half Ironman; Oceanside, that's right, the one I cried through my first time and now I have done it three times! But where in the world would I go next? Lake Placid sounded good; good enough to plaster myself to the computer the day registration opened and break into a nervous sweat and become overwhelmed with anxiety in hopes I get in before registration is filled. 11:00 a.m. registration opened, 11:10 a.m. I was confirmed, 11:20 a.m. registration closed and 3000 people where signed up. What had I done, didn't I say I would never again done another one of these?
I like to call these "never again's" moments of sanity, and these days I don't know if it’s a good or bad thing, but they are happening less and less. Before I had even raced Lake Placid (same day of my never again moment back in June) I had signed up for another, which leads me to where I am today; one week after Ironman Lake Placid 2010, taking a brief recovery before I start my next endeavor; training for Ironman Lanzarote.
Dear Ten Year Old Me
Dear 10 Year Old Me,
As we come to the beginning of a new year, I want to first congratulate you for making it this far. You have done a damn good job. I am really proud of how you stuck to all those gut feelings you had over the past few years. Your curiosity of the big world out there serves you well in your 20s, 30s and 40s. You get to see so many places, you wouldn't believe! You even live in other countries. Handling with grace at all ages, you never stress when everyone was putting the pressure on you to figure out what you wanted in life. Everything you knew from the start, you stay true to you all the way through. Not many people figure that out in their adulthood, but you knew al along. It's quite impressive and as a result your life is really amazing.
I am still enjoying all the adventures I have now days, just as I did when I was 10. There will be some ups and downs through the years, but you are prepared. I won't spoil the excitement for you, but if I were to give you one word of advice that will help, it would be this: The loneliness and isolation you have always felt, you will continue to experience your entire life. (Or at least to this point.) Know it isn't because people don't like you. In fact you are well liked. It is because you are different. You see and feel things differently than others. You will experience life in a way which isn't conventional to social standards. This is what makes you feel alone. Don't worry through these times. Spend these moments of loneliness to educate yourself and grow. You will have a few amazing friends who help you nurture the gift you have.
Most importantly, continue to always follow your instinct. Never has it mislead you and because of that you live a life of no regrets. Life is going to be good.
I love you very much.
Your 42 Year Old Me
Just my thoughts and experience on this thing called life.