Thursday, November 10, 2011


It was the billboards advertising the 24th Venice Marathon that caught my attention.  While I had definitely glamorized the notion of women in my life who had trained for and "given themselves the gift of running a marathon for their 40th birthdays," I also definitely did not aspire to that myself.

But in Venice...   Well, that's different

And when we realized on my birthday this year that the 26th Venice Marathon was almost exactly six months away, well it just made sense to register and begin training right away.

Some of the most inspiring weeks of training came during my cousin's visit this summer as she stayed with us between two different music festivals.  I love being around self-disciplined people.  I want what they have.  I crave that kind of single-mindedness.  Especially when they're devoted to mastering an art, principles, character.  My cousin, Kristen...

Ah!  What I have learned about myself is that I must apply an inordinate amount of just-do-itevness in order to follow through on anything.  Kristen... she persisted in making me commit.  It went like this, "I have an idea!"  (I'm a gifted, excessively talented dreamer. smile.)  To which she would reply, "And when will this idea happen?  What time should I be ready?  When are we leaving?"  And she would patiently, albeit determinedly, wait for my committed reply.  Which freaked me out.  But I learned that committing to something and following through is... wildly. fun!  Wildly rewarding! 

Thanks to her we went on a grand adventure on the Italian Riviera, explored a bit of Tuscany, did our part in attempting to right the Leaning Tower of Pisa!  We attended Zumba classes, ran on the treadmills at the gym, picnicked on the grass at the foot of towering castle ruins, perused the grand hallways of Château de Pierrefonds (with friends from Spokane!), and took in Paris atop Montmartre. 

Spending time with someone who lives with tremendous conviction...  to witness the fruit of their labors...  it is this living with conviction, determination, commitment that I do aspire to!  And so, I "signed up" for a "class" on learning such a lifestyle.  Hence, the Venice Marathon.

There's so much to share about the training and the actual race itself.  The immense disappointment of not finishing the race taught me that it's just as important to know what I'm training for...  (as in I trained to finish... not by six hours... just however long it took me... you know me, I'll get there eventually... right?)

I caused a huge spectacle when I arrived at 19.5 miles only to be greeted with fire trucks and police cars blocking the street.  Confused, but deliriously happy to be jogging/walking my way through the outskirts of Venice, I approached two men holding up laminated signs, one in English, the other in Italian.  The man holding the English sign was a bear of a man and his page read in bright red bold words, "This is the end of the course."  I don't remember what the rest  of it said -- something to the gist of requiring my removal from the course.  All I remember is that my heartbeat quickened.

He wasn't patient.  "I'm sorry, mam, but you didn't cross the 30 km line in the required four hours."  Or did he say 32 km?  I'm still not sure.  All I know is that I looked down at my watch.  I had been running four hours and ten minutes.  I looked past them, trying to see evidence of the course still laid out.  Just beyond the flashing lights I noticed the blue marker announcing the 32 km mark.

The next several moments live in my brain like a movie scene.  Perhaps I have some Italian in me?  I don't know but that I caused a ruckus, my arms motioned wildly, my voice elevating to talk over their elevated voices, "Um, no; This is definitely not the end of the course!  I still have six more miles to go!  I feel great!  I'm strong!  I'm going to the finish line... and this is definitely not the finish line!"  All this with their thick Italian accents yelling over me and me trying to explain to them that I did not come this far to quit at the 32 km mark.  Of course, they're Italian.  So they are in my face, in my space, their eyes wide, stubborn, arms motioning wildly in tandem with mine.

And I will forever wonder why on earth I didn't just finally smile, wave friendly, and keep on running.  Why I allowed myself to be coaxed into the ambulance, the woman's thick Italian every-syllable-enunciated-emphatically, "Mam, I'm sorry.  But you have to get into the ambulance. right. now."  My appalled, "The ambulance?!  But there's nothing wrong with me!  I'm fine!  I need to finish this race!"  And her, leaning toward me, eyes wild with a mix of sympathy and exasperation, "I'm sorry, mam, you are out. of. time."  Then my one last effort, "But my family is waiting for me at the finish line," my mind flashed to where I envisioned my people smiling and cheering for me at the finish, "I have to run to the finish line..."

With that, I climbed into the ambulance.  She directed me where to sit.  She handed me a foil blanket to wrap around myself.  She added insult to injury when she told me to give her my timing chip.  She should have left it at that.  Left me to process the fact that I was being kidnapped in an ambulance in Venice.  But no.  She offered me a water.  Which sent me into the whole long tirade all over again, belligerently explaining that I didn't need a water -- I needed to finish running the race!  That they stopped me short of the finish line and that I was able to finish this thing and...   But the ambulance was already driving off to take me to a first aid station a half kilometer away where I would sit with seven other runners, (all injured!), until they could take us to the back side of the finish line.  By boat.

And although I was thoroughly and completely engulfed in sadness and disappointment...  I'd be lying if I didn't admit to you that I found romance and beauty and adventure and a great storyline in even this.  It was just two weeks before that LeRoy and I worked out with Tony Horton and his crew, Tony's statement at the end, "Go out and try something you have to push yourself at; if it doesn't work out, well at least you have a story to tell."  And my precious friend, Larry's advice, "Remember, failure isn't fatal."  Even what feels like an epic fail.

I'm smiling now as I type the story.  There's a lot more to write.  Like how the grace and the hugs and the "I'm soooo PROUD of you, Mom!" embraced me and flowed over me when I found my family in the stands, their heads turned toward runners approaching the finish line, expectant, waiting for me to come into sight... while I approached them from behind.  It was one of the most disappointing and simultaneously grace-filled moments of my life.  To be loved this. much.

So I'm starting over; or should I say, I'm signing up for another "class" on self-discipline, commitment, determination.  I want the freedom that is the fruit of a self-disciplined life.  I'm beginning the training process over again.  This time more slowly to avoid injury.  More consistently -- as in, it's a really, really bad idea to take three weeks off to tour Europe during the peak training weeks.  I'm implementing lessons I learned in "class" and applying them to this next season.

I'm not registered for another marathon.  yet.  Though I'm considering a couple of different ones.  There's a half marathon in Paris in March.  And there's a mini marathon in Luxembourg that Israel wants to run, (she's already started training), on her birthday in May, (which includes a night marathon on the same date). 

Funny thing is, while standing at the Starting Line that brisk October morning, I thought to myself, this is great... this one time... I think I'll just soak up this experience and call it good... one marathon in a person's lifetime is plenty...   But then... at about the 8 km mark, I reconsidered... actually, I think I'd like to do this again someday.  Maybe it was the fact that everyone -- and I mean every one, (which is another blog post for another day) -- was passing me and I was falling woefully behind and thinking, well, shoot, I think I can do better next time... why, yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe I'll give this little marathon thing another shot!  Of course, when I didn't get to finish... well, that sorta sealed the deal.  But then I can see my cousin's face, that look, (her dogged determination to commitment and single mindedness that inspires me), as I "sorta" kinda, dreamily think about it...  {sigh} 

I'll keep you posted...


  1. Ah, Sharon! I love your big romantic ideas and your willingness to try anything! Just could soon be a participant in a marathon in another beautiful European city, that's awesome! You're such an inspiration! Miss you all, and congrats on the amazing 19.5 miles!

  2. Sharon, I think you're one of the mostly wonderfully passionate, soak-up-and-live-everything-this-moment-has-to-offer people I know. My heart just sank when I read your story, but then you scooped me back up with your perspective. I hope that you do choose to try again--I'll be cheering you on!

  3. I love this post, with all the exhilarating triumph and defeat and "romance and beauty and adventure."