Spoiler alert: This article contains warm-fuzzy commentary. If warm-fuzzy isn’t your thing, consider yourself warned.
My two youngest kids recently travelled with me to Italy so I could run my first marathon in Rome.
Well, I’m not a runner but I’ve long been intrigued both by Italy and the concept of doing a marathon. So the idea of combining the two seemed like a winning idea. I also hoped people would be more interested in the Rome part of the story than the running part so I could create a smoke screen to mask my lack of running skills. So far, my strategy is working brilliantly.
To help with the logistics of registering for a race in a foreign country and book hotel accommodations near the starting point I joined a tour group with other American runners. I hoped the group might attract some other first-timers like myself and provide me some potential running buddies to tackle the 26-mile course.
We met the other members of the group on a morning tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Our tour guide, Paulo, was hard to hear so a lot of us spent time breaking away in one-on-one chats with each other when we should have been learning about gladiators and ancient temples. I quickly figured out that I was way out of my league. Many of these unassuming sightseers I was walking around with were seasoned
marathoners with multiple races under their belts. One woman ran marathons as part of her training for her real passion, ultra-cross-country skiing competitions. One of the guys was running the race in a forty pound gladiator costume. It would be his eighth time doing so. Geez! While Paulo was talking about vestal virgins, one of the other runners pointed out to everyone that I was the group’s virgin marathoner.
I sensed a sacrifice was in my future.
This dream trip was suddenly not very fun. And, I spent the next two days picturing myself being lion chow.
“This is a monumental mistake,” I thought to myself on the morning of the race as I stood in a sea of thousands of Italians preparing to start the race.
I wasn’t focusing on the brilliance of the Colosseum to my left, standing guard over the runners like a protective fortress. I wasn’t in awe of the distant silhouette of the Roman Forum, the unintelligible chanting of the crowd, or the echoing thunder of the three helicopters over us broadcasting live throughout Italy.
I was only thinking about a hip giving out. Or a knee swelling to the size of a jumbo calzone.
I was thinking about my kids who would be waiting for me at a few strategic venues along the way, with intentions of cheering me on with words of encouragement. I imagined their faces as they saw me hobbling towards them, pitifully injured. I felt the embarrassment of having to tell them that I couldn’t finish. I could see myself sitting on the long plane trip home. No medal hanging around my neck.
“You need to relax!” I faintly heard as my daydreaming now had me being trampled by a stampede of horse-drawn chariots.
Those words were from Bob, our group’s most seasoned runner. He was pushing his fortieth marathon and, at sixty-something, usually finished near the top of his age-group. Bob and his running partner, Wayne, had a lifetime of running memories they logged together, one city at a time. In fact, I think they were on their way to run yet another marathon in London.
“Here’s what I tell all first-timers,” Bob continued. “Your hard work is done. You know you can do this. Today is all about having fun and celebrating your training. Enjoy it.”
I swore I heard trumpets sounding in the sky. It was as if I had just been handed a scroll with words of wisdom from the ancient gods.
That day was meant to be a celebration. I had already taken the test. I stood there, at the starting line, having been given — and earned– a spectacular gift. I suddenly, instantly was excited.
And, it was Bob’s simple, yet profound, words that carried me through the next several hours.
As my sore, flat-footed feet plopped through piazzas with families having their mid-day lunch and as I shuffled down cobblestone streets lined with shoppers from near and far, it registered with me that those same words of wisdom are the root of the universal lesson parents everywhere try to teach their children.
Work hard. Prepare well. Do your best. Celebrate your efforts.
I got my medal that day. But better than that I ran by Trevi Fountain with my kids at my side. I high-fived a group of Italians at the Spanish Steps. I stopped at the Vatican to record the majesty of St. Peter’s. That evening I ate the biggest cup of gelato with my kids in Piazza Navona. And, with the sorest quads ever, I fell asleep that n
ight knowing what it meant when people said things like, “Gee, I feel like I just ran a marathon!”
It was a perfect celebration. And the benefit of being a slow runner was that it lasted a long, long time.