One Step at a Time

I’m in Medford, MA on an air mattress in my friend Tracy’s living room. It’s 7:30. Somehow, daylight has managed to find its way into the room through the sliding glass door, but before that through a looming and massive sheet of puffy, charcoal-grey clouds. It’s pouring outside.

Today is Patriot’s Day.

I think of my friends out there, Zara and Mike and Laura and Sam and Sarah. I hope Teal is staying warm and dry. I imagine Des sitting in an SUV somewhere 28 miles southwest of me, sipping water, maybe checking the radar while she waits for a break in the rain to dash toward a tent. Are they laughing about the rain? Are they staying relaxed? Are they looking forward to 11:00 when the weather breaks?

One step at a time, right? This is just one day, one hour, one moment in the process.

I have to get up. I need to get in the shower and start putting a little pressure on my friends to get out there; I know they’ll drag their feet because of the rain. We’re not going far. We’ll be at mile 20, cheering and passing out beer to any runners who might take it. We don’t need to be there until the rain breaks, probably. But I want to see Des. Mile 20 is a great place to watch how Sarah Sellers and Jordan Hasay are doing. And how Des is doing. I want her to win so bad. I remember sitting in a café with her in 2017, how she looked when Boston came up. I almost cried when it didn’t happen for her that year, and last year when it happened in the cold and rain I thought, “Of course.” The thunder rumbles. Today could be her day again. But it’s supposed to be hot, so we’ll see. 

I have to get up. Not the way the runners do, but I do. I have butterflies for them all. One step at a time.

Marathons are hard on you in so many ways. Physically it’s a challenge, of course, and obviously the mental hurdles are huge, but I think the appeal of racing the marathon for me is the emotion. It’s so dramatic to push yourself so hard for so long! The very concept is mind boggling to those who’ve never done it, and overwhelming to many who have. The wins are so much greater and the losses are so much more crushing when you’ve poured your heart and soul into these few hours for the last four months or four training cycles or four years. The buildup is massive. The feelings of joy and agony are easily confused when experienced solely as a swelling of the chest, knots in the stomach and tears streaming freely down your cheeks.

We all go through stuff. Hard stuff. Big stuff. Stuff that is wonderful but nonetheless exasperates and exhausts us. The marathon is the perfect allegory, a long road that looks insurmountable to many and feels huge while you’re staring at it from the start. But when you’re there, when you’re in it, the best way to proceed is to take it in small bites: just this next 5k, just get through the next mile, make it to the next water stop, catch the green shirt guy, one step at a time.

And it can feel lonely. Those long stretches the spectators forgot are real. It’s all up to you, right? Nobody else can do this, you have to do it alone. But then… then you see a little kid, hand outstretched for a high five. All you have to do is reach out, and suddenly you’re not alone anymore. Someone cheers the name on your bib or your shirt and you feel even better. You have support. People believe in you. They can’t move your legs, no, but neither are you completely alone. It gets easier.

We’ve got this. We can make it through the tough times and cheer for each other so we know we’re not alone. We can laugh when it gets hard and scream into the joy and breathe, and breathe, and breathe, and step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step, one foot at a time until we get there.

Here we go, gals.

Cinnamon made Salty Running, works on movies and TV and drinks lots of coffee. She is on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is an eclectic mix of finding wholeness as an average runner, celebrating her faster peers, curious reactions, satirical humor and more.

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8 comments

  1. Handing out the beer was amazing! The lady next to me was double fisting it as we both walked :). We both appreciated you guys!

    1. You’re so welcome! The local hash is there every year, and it’s always a blast to do it. I’m so glad you enjoyed it (and took advantage in the heat)!

  2. This is getting me all teary! Wish I would have know you were at mile 20! I was so disconnected from my phone all weekend. Was trying to soak it all in. What a whirlwind weekend!