Last year I lay defeated. I hit rock bottom and then some. Sure, September 28th is just another date and September 28th, 2014 is 365 days since September 28th, 2013. But what happened on September 28th, 2013 will always be in the back of my mind. And what happened in the 365 days since then will always blow my mind.
In theory, I understood that life could come full circle, but when it happened to me and even more importantly, what happened as that circle formed forever changed me.
The 2013 Akron Marathon was like an unstable ladder I tried climbing with a broken leg (you can read my 2013 Akron race report here). It took trying to realize that I needed major help. I dropped out at mile 18.5, shivering cold with purple lips and a heart rate over 160. I didn’t know if my goosebumps were from the cold or nerves. The first few moments in the medical tent, I considered going back out there and walking the rest of the way. But that thought only lasted moments. At that point, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue with life let alone the race.
That’s how bad it was. And it got worse from there. A week later, I went to the hospital. A couple days after that, I was on leave from work and in an intensive outpatient program for depression and anxiety. It’s hard to have any hope when you are that low. It’s also hard to understand depression as an illness. What other illness can you have where you appear fine on the outside but on the inside you are dying? I guess the best word to describe it would be empty.
Although it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, empty was a good thing. Empty meant new, like a refurbished computer wiped of its memory and resold on Amazon. I couldn’t see this perspective right away though. The only thing I could do was hold on to that tiny and slippery string of hope, trusting my higher power.
At the center of my illness was lifelong anxiety marked by the fear of death. My grandfather’s passing that June made me realize my mortality but I wasn’t ready to admit that at the time. Instead, I pretended like it didn’t happen. Denial was just what I needed to support my ever growing depression. My marathon training that summer was also just one slog after another.
The night before the 2013 race, I was a ball of nerves. I couldn’t eat. The morning of, I forced down a piece of a Powerbar. During the race, I experienced stomach issues and afterward, I had blood in my stool. I had blistered my toes and blackened the nails. This was not normal.
How do I know that? Hindsight.
I entered the 2014 Akron Marathon at the last minute with no intentions of running a fast time. Not only was it ten years since I walked/ran the same race (the one I once argued was not a “legit” performance because I didn’t run the whole way. I’m full circle from here too!) but it would also be a place to celebrate the last 365 days.
The night before this race, I was able to eat dinner. The next morning, I had a bagel with cream cheese. During the race, I did not have any stomach issues. After the race, I did not have any bloody stools, blisters, or black toenails. Sure, there was some chaffing, but I’ll chalk that up to running in new shorts. I firmly believe that all of the symptoms I suffered at last year’s race were due to anxiety and not the pounding of the pavement. This year, I ran and walked relaxed.
I entered with the mindset that I had a good amount of general fitness from running 20-40 miles a week for the last five years. I was also ok with walking. I even wore a fanny pack, one that James scored at the 1997 Revco Cleveland Marathon. It was my intention to treat the race like an adventurous hike. To my surprise, I didn’t have to do too much “hiking.” I ran the first six miles easy and then walked the next two. I decided to continue that pattern for the next 22 miles. At mile 22, I walked another two and then ran it in for the final two miles.
I took in all the sights and sounds of the streets: live music, cheers, children with their hands out, witty signs. Life.
The number one lesson in recovery is that life will never be perfect. You aren’t trying to be happy all of the time. It’s impossible. Instead, you are learning how to accept the realities of life. There will be just as much pain and suffering as there will be joy and happiness. And ultimately, there will be death.
I found the following fortune cookie quote lying on the ground one day this past summer:
“To live your life in fear of losing it is to lose the point of life.”
The 2014 Akron Marathon taught me how to live. There were times throughout the run where I thought about slowing down because I was unsure if my fitness level would be able to sustain the exertion. I let the mind and heart wrestle for a while before continuing on at the same swift pace. Many of my miles were under 9 minutes. I even finished with an 8:50 last mile and a kick.
Never would I have guessed that 365 days ago I would have finished another marathon, I would have been hospitalized, quit my job, briefly went on food stamps and Medicaid, started a successful business, began talking to my dad again, or received a gracious job offer with an excellent company. It all happened because I learned how to live. The first step? Let go.