27 Miles

The sound of the alarm broke the darkness of the night. 2:50am. Despite the hour, I immediately got out of bed and headed downstairs to start the coffee. I couldn’t wait to start the day.

November 4, 2017. I had been back in NM almost exactly a year. I had been running for 9 months.

Gathering my gear and layers of clothes for the chilly Fall morning, I headed out into the dark to drive to the tiny town of Cuba, NM.

Two weeks prior I had missed the marathon I had initially signed up for, a trail marathon in Colorado, when I got bronchitis and a sinus infection that ended up requiring antibiotics. It was the first time I had been sick in a year, since I moved across the country (back to NM) sick, and I was frustrated at the timing. Feeling discouraged, and ready to run through my illness so as to not miss my “redemption run”, I drove to Colorado anyway, prepared to make the call at the last possible minute.

I signed up for the marathon in August, knowing I had to work hard to get in the miles necessary in a few months, but trusting the base I had slowly built over the past 6 months.

When it was clear there was no way I could run, much less run a high-altitude trail marathon, I felt deflated. Then my friend and running buddy, an extraordinary runner herself, reached out and told me about another trail marathon in two weeks’ time. I worried that my taper and training would be ruined and I wouldn’t be able to ramp up in just two weeks, so I decided to think on it. I came back from Colorado and spent the following week on antibiotics and slowly recovering. 5 days before the run in Cuba, at the last possible deadline to sign up, I decided to sign up. This was my redemption run, my celebration of overcoming, my celebration of the scars I had acquired, and survived, my celebration of an untapped passion I never knew I had, a passion I never would have discovered had life not had it’s own plan for me, bringing me back to beautiful New Mexico.

Friday before the run, I could hardly keep water down, I was so nervous. My stomach seized and cramped any time I took a bite or sip and the entire day I found myself terrified of what I had signed up for. Terrified that my recent illness and “ruined” taper would prevent me from completing this personal challenge I had signed up for. Terrified I didn’t have what it takes.

At dinner that night, I expressed my fear to my family and said: “why am I doing this? What if I can’t do this?” and my brother-in-law replied: “because you love trail running, you love just running along trails in the mountains for hours.” This simple reminder is something I still echo any time I don’t feel like running, or doing anything else I love to do, but may not feel like doing in that moment. A simple reminder of “why am I doing this?” can help to re-center and re-motivate us when we are filled with self-doubt.

“Trust in the training, just trust in the training.” A motto my high school swim coach said to me repeatedly, any time I expressed doubt during a taper when I felt exhausted or during warm-up on race day when I felt I “didn’t have it” that day. He was always right. Trust in the training.

Despite my anxiety on Friday, when my alarm went off early Saturday morning, I felt great. I was ready to tackle the day ahead. Physical challenges, after all, are less daunting to me than emotional challenges, and seeing how far I can push my body, and then pushing past it, has always been a driving force for me.

I was ready. I had done the training, I loved what I was doing, and I was excited to celebrate my rebirth, Laura 3.0.

The sun had barely risen when the starting gun went off for the “slightly heavy marathon” (27 miles, as opposed to the usual 26.2). I fell in at the back of the pack, wary of going out too hard. The trail immediately became beautiful singletrack, my favorite, and we started down a rocky cliff into a canyon. The race director was still whooping and cheering long after we could see the spectators at the start. Now in a single-file line with 4 men, one of them said: ” and that is the last sound we will hear for miles”, “except for the sound of me gasping for breath and choking”, another guy added. We all laughed, understanding the slight masochism we all must have for choosing to endure such a painful task for fun on a Saturday morning.

After about 5 miles, I separated from all of the other runners and began what would be a total of almost 15 miles in solitude, running through the diverse biomes that make up New Mexico, a tarantula the only other life I would see for hours.

As I scrambled up and down rocky canyons, and ran through sand and on slick rock along beautiful cliff shelves, I thought about the last decade. I would be turning 30 in 9 days and had long-given up on the goal my 21-year-old self made: “I want to run a marathon before I turn 30.” My 21-year-old self did not expect to move to NYC, and certainly never thought I would fall in love with the intoxicating, addictive city the way I did. Had life events not unfolded the way they did, I never would have left NYC.

But life reveals itself in unexpected ways, has plans for us that we never would have imagined or planned for ourselves. Yet, I am learning that, if you embrace it, if you accept the good with the bad, live in the present, and face the future with positivity, life’s unexpected twists and turns can be a beautiful thing.

When my watch alerted me that I had hit 22 miles, I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions and immediately started crying. Crying for the hurt, for the betrayal, for the power and strength of the human spirit to continue on, to form scabs over wounds that may never fully heal, but that will become scars. But mostly, I was crying out of gratitude for where I now am. For what I have experienced-all of it-for it has made me who I am today and has given me greater insight into what matters to me and who I want to become. Nothing proves to us what we are capable of more than having to overcome.

I could’t believe I was actually going to finish, I think part of me thought I never would. It was at that 22 mile marker that it became real. I was going to hit my goal. In spite of everything, not just the last two weeks, but the last decade, I was going to do it. I was going to be a marathoner before 30.

Bad things do happen: how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.

~ Walter Anderson

Never, ever give up.

Run on, my friends.


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