Birthdays, Marathon Running, and Life

This time last year I turned 49 years old – a few weeks after our youngest kid went to college and in the middle of the FORGE book tour. Immediately I started to think about what it would mean to turn 50.

In the decade between my 40th and 50th birthdays, I wrote and published six novels and three picture books. I also spent roughly one thousand days – 2.7 years travelling to schools, conferences, and on book tour. And I got divorced, remarried, moved twice, took care of dying parents, cheered from the sidelines as our first three kids navigated the shoals of high school and college, survived cancer, and read a lot of books.

I was tired.

As I hurtled towards my 50th, it was time to recover, reevaluate, and regroup. One of the first things I did was to give myself permission to exercise as much as I wanted. Shortly after that, I signed up for a marathon, something that I’ve always wanted to do.

My Beloved Husband is a born runner; he nearly qualified for States in high school, and is not all that much slower at age 53. Me? Not so much. I am a turtle. The back-of-the-pack runner. When God was handing out speed, I was in the library reading. But running does not have to be about winning. Running is best enjoyed when you stay in the moment, the child-like moment of play, heart pounding strong, hair flying, grinning from ear to ear. Zen running. It’s much like writing, when it works.

BH and I decided that we had two marathon goals: 1) to complete the darn thing, and 2) to complete it without needing medical intervention. We decided to try to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC.

We headed down to DC well before dawn last Friday. I was nervous. I had trained hard this summer, but had it been enough? I was so nervous, I ordered a big plate of fettucini Alfredo for dinner the night before the race.

I also forgot to eat or drink anything between my 3am breakfast and the 8 am start of the race. I was nervous about everything, but I was super-nervous about the Beat The Bridge rule. Anyone who didn’t make it to the bridge at Mile 20 by the cut-off time would suffer the heartbreak of having to ride the Straggler’s Bus to the finish line.

Given my natural lack of speed, this was a distinct possibility.

And of course, I was nervous about the notion of running 26.2 FREAKING MILES!

Thankfully, the race started before I collapsed from anxiety. It was cool, crisp, and sunny, perfect running weather. The first seven miles flew by, then the fettucini Alfredo kicked in. I will spare you the graphic details. Let’s just say I now hold the record for Number Of Panicked Port-A-Potty Stops During A Marathon.

But racing alongside so many soldiers and veterans, in the capital of the United States, kept my belly woes in perspective. I was surrounded by people who sacrificed more than I could even imagine. It was an honor to run alongside them.

One of the best parts of the day for me was that we shared it with two of our daughters and their partners. This is me catching my first glimpse of the whole crew around Mile 9 in Georgetown.

I ran into my family a few times on the course, which was a much-needed boost, especially between Miles 15 and 19.95 when I was having serious doubts about my ability to Beat the Bridge. But I had no idea what they had prepared for me. They had changed into these shirts….

…..pointing out that 26.2 Is The New 50. I did not start crying until I was past them. I cried because I was so happy. My blessings overflow my cup; love, family, friends, health, country, the chance to do good work, the joy of being very, very alive. I was, and am, deeply grateful.

We made it! Both my husband and I finished the race and neither of us needed medical intervention. The sight of him running down the hill to greet me as I crossed the finish line will stay with me forever.

Running a marathon felt exactly like writing a novel. I was scared. I was exhilarated. I doubted myself. I had supreme confidence. I cursed myself for a blind, arrogant fool. I leaned on my family for encouragement. I whined. I dreamed. I struggled. I took inspiration from the people around me. I laughed. I sang. I prayed. And I celebrated.

Here’s to the next fifty years!!

23 Replies to “Birthdays, Marathon Running, and Life”

  1. Oh great, get me all weepy. But I’m inspired, too – to get in shape over the winter and set some goals for hiking next year. (My Zen way of running is called walking.)

    Happy Birthday!

  2. Woo hoo! Hooray for you! Turning 50 and completing a marathon are two pretty awesome milestones. I turned 50 six years ago and am still running. My friend, Betty, is 65 and still runs faithfully almost every morning (and is nationally ranked, which I will probably never be). I know somebody who’s 91 and still runs. So keep on.

    I also wrote a blog post about marathons last year

    http://wwwstarsy.blogspot.com/2010/11/marathons.html

    Congrats, Laurie!

  3. You amaze me!!! I hope in a few years I can run a marathon too! I went skydiving for my 40th and I need to top that.

  4. This was a really great way to celebrate a jubilee showing once again that you are strong enough to go through everything that life has to offer. I can’t run even a mile although I am twice younger and you ran a whole marathon! You are an amazing woman and I hope you keep your spirit for at least 50 more years.

  5. Laurie,
    Congratulations!! What a great way to start your fifties!! I totally loved the photos, especially the last two of you and your husband both sporting that post-marathon glow!!
    🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Laurie you are such a winner! Happy, happy birthday. I did my first marathon at 43 and remember almost hyperventilating as I tried crying, and running the end metres after some sideline encouragement. I still have to achieve your marathon accomplishments of getting published, but know it will be as worth while, if not more so, as the running. Enjoy this next decade!

  7. Congratulations on finishing your marathon! Although I am not a runner (yet;) I will turn forty this year and recently finished the first draft of my first novel. I loved your comparison of running to writing. I often say I have writer’s manic depression. One day I am brimming with confidence, the next my writing sucks. Up, down, up, down. But still I write.

    Thank you for your wonderful wisdom. And your fantastic books!

  8. Laurie,

    I am so glad I saw this post! Ever since you talked about running when you came to Utah a year or so ago I knew you had to run a marathon. If only you could make time to do it. Your account is wonderful. What a decade you have had. And how gracefully you have met so many challenges, including the challenge of being successful in such a demanding crazy wonderful “job.” I gave up my annual marathon this year to meet a WIP deadline. And in a strange way it did for me what running usually does, it made me stronger by giving something up for something I wanted more. All the best to you. I hope I see you at the ALAN conference this month!

  9. Way to go! Both on the marathon, and on all that you’ve accomplished in the past decade. Here’s hoping the years between 50 and 60 hold wonderful things for you.

  10. Hi Laurie, I’ve been toying with the idea of a marathon too, but I am also a turtle. I can’t seem to get my pace below 11:50. Turtle to turtle, is there any hope for me?

      1. Thanks for the encouragement Laurie. I just signed up for the Syracuse Iron Girl. Maybe 26.2 will be next. I’m a school librarian in your neighboring city of Oswego. Maybe we’ll run into each other on the trail sometime. (Pardon the pun)

  11. Awesome! I have three girlfriends who ran MCM this year and I hope to run it before I turn 40. I finished my first marathon this summer at a turtle pace, and it was pretty amazing! Congratulations! What a decade!

  12. Happy Birthday, and many happy returns of the day!!! I enjoyed reading your post – inspiring on so many fronts.

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