Turning 40 was a big deal for me. Somewhere along the way of crappy jobs and stay-at-home mothering, I lost my identity. I was ready for a challenge, something that would be give me a sense of purpose as I crossed the threshold into my 40s.
I had a sad little bucket list that included activities like “go out for dim sum.” Usually I added to the list after I had done something, simply for the joy of crossing it off. My girlfriends and I would commiserate over lemon drop cocktails, espresso and chocolate croissants. At one of our more candid complaining sessions, we started discussing goals. It turned out I wasn’t alone in my need to find one, so my friends and I landed on the idea of running a 5K together. Then we took it another step; a 5K seemed awfully insignificant for a goal commemorating a new decade of life. Instead, we opted for a full 26.2-mile marathon.
Bear in mind, the closest I had ever gotten to a marathon before then was that time in fourth grade at my school’s jog-a-thon. I think I made two laps around the school gym before calling it good. I realize listing a marathon on a bucket list is a far cry from swimming with dolphins or throwing a dart at a map and traveling wherever it lands. However, for a girl who counted passing geology in college a triumph, I considered this a big deal, especially for someone on the cusp of her 40s.
We had 10 months to train and so began what would be the hardest physical endeavor I have ever attempted. Nevertheless, I had agreed to it, and I wasn’t planning on being the loser who dropped out. Our training increased each week as we added miles. It wasn’t long before we were meeting at 6 a.m. and training until 2 p.m. in 90-degree weather. We all dropped weight and built calf muscles and toned arms. We fueled ourselves with creepy electrolyte gel, iced mochas and peanut M&M’s. My family life suffered, and life basically went on hold as I grew more and more dedicated to completing my goal. We cried, laughed, told jokes about sex, let out some of our deepest secrets and shared our marital woes.
Somewhere along the line, as a result of being in the trenches together for hours at a time, we formed an inexplicable bond of determination and friendship. In the midst of our journey, my marriage was unraveling at a rapid pace. Working toward a marathon became a way to deal with the chaos, and I found myself hyper-focusing on my goal rather than my relationship. At the time, it was the only thing that made sense in my life.
We greeted the day of the marathon with much trepidation. This was it. It was bittersweet, because my friends and I knew this was the last day we would train together. Our moments of bonding over chafed armpits and blisters were coming to a close. It truly remains the most difficult challenge I have ever attempted. Yes, I cried. Yes, I considered stopping. Yes, I ran out of water. Yes: My toenails turned black.
But I made it. I crossed the finish line hand in hand with the girls who had turned into my family. We hugged, downed shots and accepted our medals with pride. Then I vomited.
Completing a marathon was life-transforming. It didn’t solve any of my problems, but it revealed a power in me I didn’t know existed. It gave me strength in the midst of one of the darkest times in my life, and I will never forget the incredible impact it made on me as I entered my 40s. I was changed. I was stronger, determined and more independent. I finally realized what it was like to believe in myself and my capabilities. For me, it was the best way to welcome my new season of life. Despite the incredible adversity, I will always remain grateful, because it allowed my true spirit to shine.
I can’t think of a better gift than that.