Wrtier's Stormy Marathon Journey

Contributing Writer Rebekah HoffmannMarch 7, 2013 

The rain descended in billowing sheets, buffeted by the high winds near Sacramento, Calif., early one Sunday in December. Inside the shuttle bus, I awaited the start of the California International Marathon.

Tuning out the rain pounding on the metal roof and the vehicle swaying from the strong wind, I was lost in my internal storm. “How did I ever get here?” The obvious answer was that I had signed up for the 26.2 mile endurance test - my first marathon - soon after my 52nd birthday and had been training in the months since.

But signing up for the event had hardly been the start of my long journey from where I was five years ago -- overweight, sedentary and experiencing increasing health problems-- to present-day, down over 60 pounds and living an active, fitness-focused life.

My 40s had been a downward spiral as I dealt with the loss of my parents and sought to rein in headstrong teenagers at home. I packed on pounds and felt worse by the day. Finally, in summer 2007, I committed to getting healthy and fit. For me, that started with walking my dog Toby and learning more about nutrition.

The starting line

I realized that runners around me were starting to exit the bus, bringing me back to marathon day. The typhoon-like storm was not going to delay the race start. Thousands of runners were emerging from the near darkness and converging at the starting line, many with raingear improvised from trash bags.

I made my way with my husband Dale, a veteran runner, who was also entered in the event. As we prepared to part to find our appropriate running pace groups, he said, “Look for all the weird things you’re bound to see along the way. And, remember, just put one foot in front of the other.”

One foot in front of the other

There were plenty of things to notice in those early miles - the nearby runner who fell after getting tripped up by her own rain poncho, someone who was already walking up the first hill (huh?) and another, apparently “running” late, headed back toward the starting line in a full sprint to activate his timing chip. A few miles later, there was a man running barefoot and a guy opting to run shirtless in the frigid downpour while others heeded nature’s call behind nearby trees when there were no porta-potties available.

But mainly there were dozens of rain-slick trash bags, which had been discarded by runners ahead on the course. These were scattered about the roadway like banana peels for anyone careless enough to step on one.

As I ticked off the miles, though, there were fewer and fewer things to provide welcome distraction from the thousands of steps to the finish line, one foot in front of the other.

Getting healthy, though, was not a fast process either. I never found any shortcuts, just stayed with it day after day, stepping up my efforts as my body became stronger.

I moved from walking to exercise videos and finally joined a gym where I began strength-training and discovered a fondness for the elliptical machine. At the same time, I added tons of fruits and vegetables and other fiber-rich foods to my diet while drastically cutting back on fatty meats and sugary and processed foods. I reached my initial weight loss goal - 45 pounds - in about 6 months, an average loss of one to two pounds per week.

Pain and self-doubt

I was ahead of my projected pace when I crossed the half-marathon (13.1 miles) mark in two hours 22 minutes. And my body still felt strong. Then, around mile 18, things abruptly changed. Both my calves began to spasm, and I was forced to take a short walking break. I was very discouraged, and self-doubt began to creep in.

Self-doubt and I are no strangers. Constantly setting new goals and facing new challenges, though, has helped me keep self-doubt at bay and stay motivated to live a healthy life.

One of my first challenges was running. I wanted to run a 5K. For someone like me who had never before run a mile, it was a huge undertaking. In recent years there have been other challenges: cycling across Missouri on the Katy Trail (approximately 250 miles), climbing Pike’s Peak, backpacking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, becoming a certified Spinning instructor and, recently, dabbling in yoga and boxing.

Goal achieved

The last miles seemed to go on forever as my muscles screamed for relief. The sun came out as I reached mile 22 -- and so did the spectators. They all seemed to say the same thing: “You’re almost there.” But I didn’t believe it; I couldn’t see the finish line. Then, suddenly, as I rounded a corner, there it was -- only a block away.

Twenty-six point two miles. Finished in just under five hours. “How did I get here?!” The answer is kind of complicated, but I’m so grateful I did.

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