(…continued from previous)

Home.

I lose it.  I sob bitterly, openly, occasionally swiping the tears from my cheeks.  I scan the crowds wishing for a friendly face.  A woman standing alone makes eye contact.  We look directly at each other as I approach.  Her face is full of empathy and she nods at me as I draw closer.  She says nothing, but I feel her encouragement as much as if she were screaming.  I stop crying, take a deep breath, and as I pass even with her I bring my hand to my lips and reach out toward her.  She smiles and reaches back in turn.

I pick up the pace.  It isn’t long before I feel the nag of tension at my diaphragm.  That isn’t good–I can’t speed up through it.  I slow again and push my fingers against the tension.  A helicopter drones overhead; I work with difficulty to steady my breath.  The helicopter turns and approaches again.  I flinch, looking toward the sky, about to hyperventilate.  I feel my eyes wide.  When Wellesley College appears to my right I initially stay away from what I assume will be a triggering throng of screaming women.  Instead I see how they’re all pressed to the barricade holding out their hands.  I check over my shoulder and head right, reaching out for a high-five and then another.  I forget the helicopter as I run down the line of smiling women with my arm out, touching all the offered hands in turn, beaming.

Drawing back toward the middle of the roadway I feel an unfamiliar pain in my left IT band and lateral knee–it shoots out of nowhere and I observe it as I continue, calmly.  Do we have another ten miles?  I ask my knee, smiling, already knowing the answer.  My quads are tight and my feet hot.  I’m feeling pain I didn’t feel in New York, high on the crowds.  They’re thinner here; this is all me.

Suddenly though, it isn’t.  Ahead the sidewalks hum with people, crowds screaming on both sides as we pull into Newton.  I gasp, choking up again–but I also smile, delighted by so much support.  The next mile flies by and then I see a sign for The Second Step, a Boston organization supporting survivors of domestic violence and there is Matthew calling my name, the only person I’ve seen during this race who knows me.  I beam and reach out for him, gasping with happiness as I feel his hand hold mine briefly.  That connection sustains me for some time.

The sun beats down and I long to take the offered orange slices and popsicles.  I salivate a little and then see a man holding a dishpan full of ice on my left.  I’m so grateful as he passes handfuls of ice to me I blurt out, breathless with glee; “I love you!”

And then I laugh because I do love the stranger with the ice; I love everyone.  I am not running this race alone–love rushes in from every offering of comfort and every cheering stranger.  Feeling profoundly connected to myself and to humanity I hold ice cubes in both hands, rubbing them over my face and arms.  The melting water flies furiously off my shoulders; I’m quite hot.  My eyes roll back in my head as I slide the ice over my abdomen and between my breasts.

I slog through the Newton hills unmoved; they’re nowhere near as steep as lots I’ve trained and raced.  I know I’m dehydrated because my ability to focus is fading.  I dig in and wait to crest a hill before taking fuel and water.

I’m not running the race I’d planned or imagined.  As I head toward Boston though, my will does not fade.  I keep trying to pick up the pace in spite of my fatigue, in spite of the heat and humidity.  Others droop around me and every time I pass a runner who’s had to stop and walk I call out encouragement–“You’ve got this!  Keep going.”

I laugh and cry intermittently.  I’m delirious, proud and exhausted, full of anguish and hope.  I keep going.  When I see the Citgo sign I know I’m nearly there.  The din of the crowd amplifies but I can barely hear it.  Determined, I put my head down and run harder.  I feel myself start to wheeze a little but I dig deep.  It isn’t fast enough to re-qualify or even make the slow end of my goal range.  Regardless, I’m giving this victory lap everything I’ve got.  My feet burn, my quadriceps scream and sweat pours from me.  I pull with my arms.  There’s a little over a mile to go.

Everything blurs around me and a cool rain begins to fall.  I am relentless heading toward the finish line.  I growl a few times against my wheezing and keep pushing.  I cry, turning onto Boylston Street knowing it’s about to be over.  With the finish line in sight I remind myself; this is my victory lap and grin through my tears, hurling myself toward the final timing mat.  My legs won’t move any faster but I try anyway, rain pelting my face.  I raise my arms as I cross the line, triumphant and exhausted.

The moment I stop running everything is excruciating.  My hands fly to my face and I begin to tremble but I stagger onward.  A volunteer places a medal around my neck.  I stand there stunned, one hand over my heart and my new hardware, lip quivering.  I attempt to walk but my legs buckle and suddenly it’s a fight to stand at all.  Another volunteer reaches out for me.

“Hey!” she coos encouragingly, “You did it!”

The world blurs around me as I sob violently on this kind stranger’s shoulder while she holds me tight.  She strokes my sweaty back and tells me I’m a hero.  My shaking intensifies and then my legs cramp so profoundly I begin to fall down.  She takes my arm and calls for a medic.  I scream as my right leg seizes.  Someone wraps me in a heat shield and tapes it around my shoulders.  The medic asks what’s cramping and I try to keep track as my muscles take turns failing to work.  After she’s prevented me falling on the ground a few times she calls for a wheelchair and I protest; “I’m sure it’s fine, I just ran over 26–OW!”

I fall into the wheelchair and stop arguing.  My legs seize so completely that another medic has to set my feet on the footrests for me.  They wheel me into the med tent where I struggle to crawl onto a cot and begin to convulse.  One medic works my toes back to stop my feet from cramping and another brings me Gatorade.  A third asks if I’m cold and then brings a special blanket that blows hot air on me.  That quiets the shaking.  I answer some questions and have my vitals taken.

Lying there beside the finish line at the Boston Marathon, I gaze at the high white ceiling of the tent.  I have a shower to take and friends to see, but there’s no rush.  I lay back and rest, peaceful.  I’m not alone, I have everything I need.

And that was one hell of a victory lap.

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