This story actually begins on the Friday before the race, in the office of the Good Doctor. I sat on her cozy couch and described how the Napa Valley Marathon held a special place for me, as well as Tom. It was the 1st marathon we ran. It was where my marathon PR was obtained. It was a race that Tom had consistently supported me at several key spots along the 26.2 mile distance. I’d be an idiot to ignore that passing these same spots could potentially be an issue.
And so, the Good Doctor and I talked strategy. It was decided that the best way to handle my passing these spots along the marathon course where I was used to seeing Tom would be to associate a memory to each location — one that I would look forward to remembering in much the same way as I look forward to seeing a friendly and familiar face on the course.
Saturday was busy with getting YaYa settled at Big Sis’ house, traveling to Napa, taking in the expo, stuffing my face with pasta, and setting out my stuff for race morning. At the end of the day, I was finally able to finish up my set of memories. I read for a few minutes before closing my eyes for the night.
Unfortunately, my eyes were closed but I did NOT sleep. I spent the night acutely aware of every sound in the room as well as the sound of rain outside. The ear plugs I’d brought, and the Tylenol PM that I’d taken, did nothing to bring sleep. By the time 4 am arrived, I was somewhere between finally sleeping and nearly dreaming…and the alarm went off.
Outside, the rain was coming down hard but the temperature was somewhere around 50 degrees. My roommates (Joann & Angie) opted for shorts, while I selected my capri tights in lieu of my full-length tights. On top, I layered up with a thin long-sleeved running shirt followed by a thicker one. I grabbed my rain jacket, a garbage bag with holes pre-cut for my head and arms, and lighter but less ventilated jacket. I ate a banana and a healthy portion of the M&J‘s power snacks I’d brought with me. The coffee pot was not conducive the my using the beans I’d brought with me (I’d forgotten my filter holder) so I went without. We were out the door in no time and heading for the busses.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t muster any amount of enthusiasm for the task at hand. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths as the bus traveled in the darkness towards Calistoga. By the time we arrived at the start, and realizing that the only way back to Napa was to run, I decided the make the best of it. There would be no BQ attempt, there would not be a sub-4 hour attempt, BUT there might be a better than Nike attempt. I re-engaged in the event, making small talk with the guy beside me as well as my roommates who sat in the seat in front. After changing my mind no less than 3 times on what to bring along with me, I ditched my small camelbak, epi-pen, and jacket and made my way to the start.
The Race (finally)
Joann, Angie, and I all lined up together. Theoretically, we all could have ran together. Realistically, Angie’s verbal plan to run a 4 hour marathon was highly unlikely. I consulted with Ms. Garminia when Angie offered to pace me to my BQ. We were moving at an 8 minute per mile pace and my left glut was yelping already (though I hoped it would ease up in a mile or two). To boot, my trip to the port-a-potty confirmed that the stomach cramps I was feeling was more than a bad case of nervousness. I thanked Angie and told her that I just wasn’t the right day for that. Angie’s finish time was 3:20.
I began accessing the 1st of my memories of Tom around mile 6. By the time I arrived at Lodi Lane, I realized that wasn’t the spot. I moved along, scanning the crowd as if to see a familiar face. There was nobody. I held the memory for a bit and then let it go some where between there and the next port-a-potty. Further up the road, I was suddenly surprised to find a bungee cord lying in the street — similar to the ones from our wedding day humor. A wave of emotions hit me like a freight truck. Aware that I could not afford to waste fluid on crying, I regained my composure and moved onward — the “spot” was just ahead at Pope Street.
I began looking for baseballs in street as I neared mile 16 (Oakville Cross Road). Silly me; there weren’t any to be seen. I gave high-fives to the kids. Then, much to my surprise, Big Sis’ friends (Jen & Jenny) called out my name. I stopped for hugs and, once again, got moving. Continuing on, the memory came of the pitching mound Tom and BoBo had built up in the dirt lot beside our old home. BoBo and Tom spent hours out there during baseball season. I missed having them with me, but I was happy to remember how special that time was. BoBo was so passionate about baseball then. We must have watched For Love of the Game before every one of his games that year. He was Billy Chapel and, many a time, Tom played Gus Sinski for him. BoBo is no longer pitching, but Tom sure would have been so proud that he made the cut for his school’s varsity baseball team this year. I know I am.
The memory of BoBo and Tom didn’t entertain me for very long. The lingering pain in my left glut was getting my attention more often than not. Instead of looking for baseballs, I was now looking for discarded garbage bags. There weren’t any. I struggled to think of the memory I’d written down about YaYa and Tom. I guess, since I wasn’t at the spot I’d allocated to that memory, I could not think of it. I hadn’t come up with any particular memory of him and me, but that was what was assigned to mile 18 (Yountville Crossing). I tried to simply appreciate Tom having been at my races, standing out there for hours only for me to stop a few seconds to say hello. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated it until then. Sadness followed.
Fortunately, TNT Coach (Tim) was there to give me encouragement. Once again, he let me wipe tears and snot on his shoulder. We slowly jogged a short bit together before was on my own again, and all fixed up. I could see the hill ahead of me. That was when I thought how much Tom believed in me and my ability to BQ. I think he believe in me more than I did. And I remembered the sound of Tom cheering “Come on, Julie it’s in you, it’s in you; dig deep baby. You know, I took that hill…and the next. In no time, I was at mile 20.
At the next aid station, the Medical Staff stopped to question me on seeing me limping while walking through with my cup of Gatorade. I stretched (again), answered a couple of questions, and assured him that I was fine to proceed. The section between there and the turn seemed endless. I tried to stay motivated by thinking about how Tom and taken YaYa to see a play at Easter one year. It was a crucifixion and the conversation that followed between Tom and his son would be one that YaYa would access when trying to figure out Tom’s death. He didn’t expect Tom to rise from the dead, but he sure did have a lot of questions about heaven vs. reincarnation.
At mile 23, a sudden burst of “JULS!” saved me from the doom and gloom I was fighting off. It was the TNT Run Girls. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see them. Dianne ran along side of me telling me that I was looking good. She snapped a picture to prove it.
I was out of memories for fuel. It was now time to run toward the future — where BoBo, YaYa, DD, and I are all doing well once more. The vision is not contingent on me having a man by my side (although there might be). It is one where the family is whole again and our “togetherness” is more of the bond we have while each of the family members is successfully getting their lives back on track.
Take it from me, running toward the finish line, my symbolic “future,” was not easy but I was determined. I was hurting. I picked up the pace ever so slightly and began passing people right and left. Breaking into as much of a sprint as I could muster, I turned it on at the final turn, finishing in 4:18:10.
As I hobbled through the crowd, watching as people greeted each of the other runners with hugs and praise, I realizing that no one would be there to give me a hug. I gasped for air as my throat seized up on me. There was not stopping the tears now. I finished the race but my journey is not over yet. And although that is good — let’s face it, the alternative is not an option — I know that the big events (i.e. graduations, weddings, etc) are going to be a mix of happiness and sorrow. I’m going to have to come up with a strategy for handling them too.