‘This is a gift. It comes with a price.’

Armed with a packet of Honey Stinger chews and two bottles of Nuun, I headed over to a local park with a wonderful running trail to attempt a long run.

My attempt at a long run one week ago was a disaster. I’ve been overtraining, too stressed and running too fast on my easy days, which culminated in me barely being able to run 7 miles when I planned on 18. A disaster when marathon day is in five weeks.

So I took an easy week – a really easy week – and then set out to try again. Getting in that long run is so important, as all marathoners know. I’ve run a marathon when I’ve had three truncated long runs, and although I finished, went to the well to do so.

I was scared as I drove to the park, and put on a particular song to give me strength: Florence + The Machine’s “Rabbit Heart.”

“I must become a lion-hearted girl, ready for a fight”

But it was two different lines that caught my attention and stayed with me:

“This is a gift, it comes with a price.”

And thus I have my new mantra for this marathon.

The whole warrior thing hasn’t been working for me because I’ve been struggling for a year. I’ve feel like a weakened, worn out old warrior rather than one in her prime. Ironic because I’m running the freaking MARINE CORPS MARATHON. Funny, eh?

But maybe I don’t need to be a warrior.

Running is a gift. The price is pain and failure. And you know what? That is a price I have been willing to pay for 17 years, no matter how much it’s hurt. Because running is one of the greatest gifts in my life.

I kept that in mind as I set out to run 18 miles on a beautiful path around a lake. “Running is a gift. Running is a gift.” Within a mile, I knew I would run 20.

I saw four sandhill cranes standing and eating on the edge of the path. I saw swans, graceful, glide through still water that held the reflections of trees changing from green to gold and red. I stopped for a few minutes halfway through the run to watch a red-tailed hawk eat a young chipmunk. The hawk alighted on a low branch and didn’t seem to mind me standing right there, watching as it tore into that chipmunk and ate its brain, and then the rest of its entire head, whole. It was simultaneously disgusting and fascinating. I had never witnessed a wild hawk eating at such a close distance before.

For the first 11.5 miles, I ran slowly, mindful to stay at a conversational pace. As I turned to make the final 8.5 mile lap, I tore into the next several miles like I tore into the packet of Honey Stingers. Every step, every jolt, every ache was a gift and the price. I felt so alive. I was so fully aware of the breeze on my skin, of the blister forming on my toe, of the ache in my hamstrings and glutes, of the discomfort in my abdomen, of the exhilaration of running 20 miles.

The final three miles were a challenge; my whole body hurt, but it was a good hurt. The best kind for a marathoner. The hurt of relief and self-belief. The hurt that is a gift.

I finished the run with a smile and  a laugh. I just ran 20 fucking miles. The self doubt is diminished. I have two more weeks to get the best out of myself before my taper, and four more weeks to let the work sink into my muscles. Four more weeks to ensure I get good sleep and eat well and take care of myself.

Running is such a gift.

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