It didn't sink in until yesterday, nearly 24 hours after the event. We did it. We really did. What started as an idea to get a lot of unfit, overweight, unhealthy folks to reach way outside their comfort zones and train for a year to walk an unsanctioned, unsponsored, "just for us" half marathon became a reality on Saturday, January 12th.
The cars started pulling into the parking lot at Lady Bird Johnson Park at 7:30. By 7:45 the small lot was full and cars were starting to park around the circular meadow. We had confirmed in advance that there would be 13 walkers/bike riders and 5 volunteers, including our photographer, but you know how events go, someone ALWAYS is a no-show, right? But suddenly it dawned on me that we were getting more than expected. Everyone showed up and then some! Five unexpected walkers! One of those surprises was RINLYN (Emily), who is still recovering from a major leg injury and has NEVER walked with us before. Terry, another of our regular walkers, had two friends join in (and I'm so sorry I cannot remember their names!) who were able to put in 6 miles and felt pretty great about it. At some point JELAWTON3's lovely wife Michelle joined us. My biggest surprise participant was Joseph. He's my "adopted" son, my youngest daughter's high school sweetheart. Joseph is the kind of kid who is so naturally loveable that even after a break up he is still part of the family. Nearly six years later, he's still around and I still treat him like my own. He had joked with me the day before that he was going to come walk the whole 13 miles with me after a night of partying. I just laughed him off and said, "yeah, right!". But there he was, bleary-eyed and looking pretty ragged, but determined to prove to "mom" he could do it.
Our volunteers included two lovely ladies we had never met before, LADY_SHEPPARD and her sister RHONIEGWENN. Sherry and Rhonda graciously manned the refreshment table at the start and finish point. Lots of us chipped in with water, bananas, snack crackers, nuts, gatorade, juice, homemade breads, and oranges to get all the participants through well hydrated and nourished. My daughter Carly and her boyfriend Colin manned the station a few miles up the trail at Tobin Park. My grandson David "helped". Carly and Colin are always so supportive of me and my training. Colin even came out and walked with us on his day off last week, just ...because. He's a pretty great guy and I'm so glad he is in Carly and David's lives. My sister-in-law Sarah did the photography for us at both the start/finish and at the Tobin site. She also wrote a wonderful article on Salado (named for the trail we train on), the chow mix dog who "adopted" JELAWTON3 on the trail several months ago and who became a Half Sparkathon participant as well as our two other four legged athletes Kiera and Shadow, owned by NANNBIRD. Here's a link to that article: www.examiner.com/article
Here's a couple shots of us all at the beginning; one "normal" shot and one "silly" shot. Hard to figure out which is which, right?
We started on our way and within moments realized that the first corner we had to turn was going to present an obstacle. Salado creek floods after heavy rains, which we had the day before. The water had receeded over the first bridge, but the mud had not. We had to hold onto each other and the sides of the bridge as our shoes and bike tires were sucked into the slippery goo, but we all got through unscathed. From there on the biggest obstacle was the muggy humidity that made breathing a bit of a struggle for my weak lungs, but at least it wasn't cold nor rainy! After we passed that first bridge and were on flat terrain things went pretty well. It was after grabbing a quick snack at the Tobin station that Suzanne (SFLORES16) our local Spark team Triathlete, whizzed by on her bike. Suzanne had promised me early on in training that even though she wasn't training with us, she would be with me on the BIG DAY and she kept her promise. Poor LIVESTRONG2010 wanted to be with us so badly, but the flu bug finally took her out of commission. She was sorely missed. Anyway, as Suzanne flew past us people started pointing at her back. My eyes teared up as I read the words plastered on her back. She had taped white duct tape to the back of her bike jersey and had written on it "MJ SHE BEAST, YOU GOT THIS!"
Things proceeded well until the 3 mile mark. My pain levels were about average for the distance, my back was only at a dull throb thanks to the lidoderm numbing patches and the stronger pain meds I only take when absolutely necessary (and I figured today of all days they were absolutely necessary!) My foot was burning and aching from the stress fractures, but nothing could be done for that until I was finished with training and the event was completed because as long as I was still walking I would keep injuring it over and over. I had taped my foot to help protect it but just before we hit Oakwell park I felt that kind of pop in my foot that was almost audible. I know without a shadow of a doubt that the crack in one of the bones either got bigger or a different bone broke at that moment. I nearly went to my knees as I fell against and grabbed at Joseph for support. We had to stop at Oakwell for a few minutes while some of us went to the portapotty and while I got my bearings about me and took another pain pill.
Quite honestly, a lot of the rest of the walk is a blur for me. At between 4.5 and 5 miles Suzanne joined us, walking her bike and giving me encouragement. We made jokes at Joseph's expense as his long night of partying and just how long 13.1 miles really was began to take root in his brain and body. He was a walking zombie for most of the last half of the journey, but then again, so was I, sort of, at times.
My dad was doing pretty darn good for a 78 year old man who can't walk but can ride his three wheeler for miles and miles. He would ride ahead to a park, curve, or mile marker and park and wait for us to catch up in case we needed water or some nuts or juice. Couldn't have made it without him.
My sister Donna was pretty darn amazing, too. She is a diabetic with neuropathy in her feet. She doesn't feel the ground beneath her, so walking is quite a balancing act for her. She showed up for nearly every weekly training meet, walked her neighborhood and treadmill in between and honestly would have finished faster than me if I hadn't had to stop for quite a few 15-30 second breaks to catch my breath. Here is a picture of Donna with us at the Tobin refreshment stop. She's standing on the left. That's my daughter Carly in David's stroller (silly girl), Colin, Heidi with her back to the camera, and me. The second picture is of my husband Charles and grandson David. David ran to greet us as we got to the refreshment table.
Everyone walking with me would have finished faster, but loving me kept them walking with me. My small group consisted of my wonderful, slender, athletic husband Charles, my sister Donna, Joseph, and HEIDIJUNEBUG, who before event day had never walked further than 7 miles with us once during training. Dad is part of our group but as I said he rides ahead and waits. Joseph had never walked with us before. Suzanne rode off to check on others and then would ride back and walk with us some more.
The next two pictures are of Me and Heidi (I'm hiding her face, sorry!) and me and Suzanne.
We saw so many of the team mates heading back to finish ahead of us. I'm so proud of them all. I was really proud of Amanda (POOKASLUAGH) for running 10K of the half marathon. I think James (JELAWTON3) ran part of it as well. Terry ran over 2 miles with Amanda after having not run in months. Cindy with her little furry sweethearts walked fast and furious. Carol (CAROL5250) had a personal best. Barb (BARB4RICK) and her sweetheart of a husband Rick finished right in the middle. Barb cracked me up with a couple comments she wrote on our team page yesterday: "I had no intentions of completing the thing, but if MJ can, I had to do it! HA!" and "MJ, you had to take a zillion more steps than I did!! HA! You were fabulouso!!!" Gee, do you think Barb was referring to my short little legs?
Amanda and Terry running!
James and Salado!
Barb and Rick!
Carol's personal best finish!
Amanda finishes triumphant! Cindy and her babies Kiera and Shadow are finishing on the left of the picture!
From left, Terry, James, Cindy, and the furry companions after a great fast finish!
Everyone we passed coming and going shouted out encouragement and good, positive vibes. At the last 6 miles we picked up David in his stroller while Carly and Colin packed up their refreshment area as we were the last group that would be passing them. After they drove back to the start/finish area, they left their car and ran/walked to meet us and finish with us. Suzanne put up her bike and did the same. That was a lovely feeling, knowing they wanted to be with me at the end. James also met us on the trail after he had finished and grabbed some pictures. I don't know how I finished, or how I could have finished, without knowing and feeling all of the support. So many times on those last 4 miles I got dizzy, sick, and the pain got so intense I really felt I was going to pass out. Then that last quarter mile it started dawning on me that we were so close, so very close to the end. I felt strength well up inside me and despite the feelings of sickness and the pain I felt euphoric and shored up against the tide that threatened to wash me away.
In this picture we are in sight of the finish line, I raised my eyes to Heaven and said a quick Thank You!
We crossed the finish line to cheers. My husband raised my arm as we crossed. We shouted "THIRTEEN POINT FREAKING ONE!" as I had promised a friend I would do. It felt surreal and didn't really even sink in, as I said at the start of this blog, until yesterday. My husband kept saying to me Saturday night, "You did it, you realize that, right? You did it!", but even then it didn't feel real. Yesterday, seeing the congratulations, the messages, the goodies, the spark page notes, facebook accolades, the very personal and loving words telling ME, who is inspired by so many of you, telling ME that I am an inspiration...it hit me. I freaking walked over 13 miles with my broken down, heavy, weak lunged, diseased and failing body and NO ONE, NEVER, ANYWHERE, ANY WAY, ANY HOW can EVER take that from me. I didn't give up. I didn't give in. I won not only the battle...I won the flipping war. I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that nearly anyone can do this, if they want it enough. No able-bodied person can ever look me in the eye and say with any hope of me believing them that they can't do something like this. This She Beast is scarred, but she won. We all did. I was last...but NEVER was I least.
This is a picture taken after the event of one of the Half Sparkathon bibs we wore. Like all of us, it got a little scruffy and beat up...but hold so many memories and represents so much to each and every one of us. We didn't give up. We didn't give in. We did it!
Here is what I posted to my fellow participants on the Half Sparkathon thread on our team page today, but I want all of you who have encouraged me and supported me this whole year to know it is directed to you as well:
I'm going to say this now to all of you....everyone who participated in a big way, a small way, through it all from the beginning or starting in the middle or not until the very end...It has been a PRIVILEGE to get to know you all, to watch you progress and to see you soar. I've watched pounds drop from many of you, seen athletes emerge from couch potatoes. I've seen habits formed, records beaten, and excitement build. I'm so honored you came on this journey with me, that you allowed your leadership team to dictate a schedule, an idea, a dream to reach for and you excelled and exceeded beyond what was expected. Because of you staying the course, I was able to stay the course. Because of you pushing yourselves, I was compelled to push myself beyond what I would have without such great participation. Because you succeeded, I succeeded. My heart is very full because of what you all brought to the event and through this whole last year. We will always have the Half Sparkathon as a shared victory and I will always feel pride in what we did as a team. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You are MY champions. I will never forget. Thank you!
Never give up. Never give in. As always, I love you all.