Nearly three years ago, when I chose to put aside the words “impossible” and “cannot” and begin training for my first marathon with Team in Training, I was emerging from a sad, dark time in my life. Training for the Arizona Rock & Roll Marathon was part of how I healed myself, how I hastened the regeneration of my spirit. That first time, I trained myself out of the bleakness; this time, I am training through it and despite it.
What is it that keeps us going through months of poor performance, through race times that make us shudder, through feeling like we are always on the brink of injury and never well-rested? A full answer to that question is a longer essay; and indeed we each have our own answer, which may change with the seasons. But for this season, for this month, my answer is: I train for Dan.
About three weeks ago I began sending out my fundraising letters and emails. As you may recall, I got my bib for the Flora London Marathon through Team Fox, which sends runners to all five World Marathon Majors races in exchange for our fundraising for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease Research. Dan, my college professor, mentor, and dear friend, has Parkinson’s Disease. The letters were sent to the names & addresses his wife Ilona (also a dear friend) had transcribed from their address book and given to me on one of my recent visits to Baltimore. The emails went out to my personal contacts: running buddies, TNT alums, Loyola College alums, and randomly assorted family members and friends who have stuck by me.
This weekend, when my pace run took me uphill, I couldn’t help it: I thought of Dan. Together, Dan, we’re going to make it up this hill, and we’re not slowing down. And when Sunday’s long run felt too long, when my sneakers felt like weights, I thought, Together, Dan, we’re going to get our feet through this mile.
The response to my invitation to donate in honor of Dan and/or in support of my marathon efforts was immediate, and a bit overwhelming. I think I had modest expectations, given the recession, and the fact that I’ve already tapped many friends & family twice over the past three years for the LLS. But, I found myself blinking away tears of gratitude as all manner of people from my circle gave $1000 collectively, in 48 hours. A few days later, Husband came running when he heard me crying–the first check donation had arrived, for $500. People I hardly know, people I haven’t seen or spoken to since college graduation, giving hundreds of dollars. Perhaps I am betraying my middle class status, but these sums make me tremble with thankfulness.
I have two thoughts. First, I should have done this years ago. And second, if some other student of Dan’s were to send me a letter asking for money to find a cure for his disease, I too would smash the piggy bank or skip a fancy dinner (or nine) to write a fat check.
Once a week, I take ten minutes to make a list of the things I am grateful for. I’ve been doing this every Tuesday for over a year now. Some days it feels like a fruitless exercise, that either there’s too much and I can never get it all down on paper or that my bitterness has locked my heart against the intangibles. But lately, simply because I have asked friends and strangers Will you help? I slosh around in a little puddle of gratitude all the time. Gratitude for Dan, and for those who love enough to donate in his honor, or simply because I’ve told them it would mean a lot to me if they did.
Dan is who keeps me training, and unexpected generosity is what gets me to work, to interact, to want to be Sunshine instead of a little gray cloud. If it weren’t for this fundraising in honor of Dan, would I still be training? But if I weren’t a marathoner, would I be fundraising as a part of Team Fox? These questions, however, I don’t need to answer.