There are days when I hear my grandmother's voice.
It does't happen often and it doesn't happen in big ways. But every now and then when I'm on a long workout, I distinctly hear her voice reverberate in my head.
I wish she had a bit more wisdom to offer me than to question my mental health. Trust me, I can question my sanity very well all on my own. Then again, maybe that's part of the legacy she left me.
My maternal grandmother died in 2001 so she never got the chance to see me compete athletically. And I've been thinking about her during this taper week leading to the marathon.
Actually, I've been thinking about a number of friends and family members who won't be here to share this momentous occasion with me.
While cleaning up my email, I found an amazing note from former Buffalo News sportswriter Tom Borrelli. Tom died this past winter after injuries he sustained from falling from the press box at All High Stadium.
Not a week goes by that I don't think of him.
Now, gratefully, I have the power of his words that can remain with me.
Tom wrote me an email about this time last year as I was preparing for my first sprint triathlon at Keuka, praising both my training and my writing.
"I know you will be a captain of the sun," he wrote. "What I've dared, I've willed; and what I've willed, I'll do!"
Those words will come in handy, right around mile 14.
My friend and former teammate Joy passed away a few years ago from a rare cancer and I know she's as pumped for my marathon as she ever was for any basketball game she played or coached in. She had a way of encouraging you that made you feel like you could own the universe. Joy was amazing in herself and one of her many gifts was the ability to convince others just how amazing they are, too. Those doubts of "good enough" and issues of "worthiness" can fade quickly if I listen for Joy's voice reminding me that I already am all that I need to be.
This will come in handy when the initial wave of panic hits around mile 8.
Then there's my grandmother and her all-purpose response, "You're nuts."
Change was not something she tolerated well and she was forever skeptical of new ideas and new ventures. Sometimes, her skepticism was eerily accurate. Sometimes, it was just resistance, a desire to stay with the familiar and what you know rather than taking a leap into risk where hurt and failure were options.
She would be interested in my bike riding as family folk lore said that we had an uncle who rode his bike in the Olympics for Italy. Which is curious, since my mother's family is Polish. But then again, that's part of the charm of family folk lore.
Running 5Ks might be OK, but the triathlon and the marathon? Surely as the sun will rise and set my grandmother would think that was crazy and immediately begin to worry about all sorts of things that could go wrong (including, I am sure, being concerned that I'm getting too thin.)
But something tells me there would be a sense of pride in her "you're nuts" statement/accusation.
Perhaps it would have opened the door to talking about her childhood at the Polish Falcons where, I'm told, she was a pretty decent gymnast. My mother said she was very proud of her gymnastic days but I never got to hear those stories.
I only heard the ones about her being a dunce in school or her tearful confession that she had to drop out of high school just short of graduation to get a job to help the family.
I would much rather have heard her brag about her Polish Falcon gymnastic days. I would have much rather celebrated all that she did accomplish in her life rather than examine the areas in which she felt she fell short.
A rather important life lesson as I head into my first marathon. Because part of me will try to diminish the achievement. I'll say that I didn't run as fast as I'm capable. I'll say that while I ran 26.2 miles there are others who run ultra marathons and race 50 and 100 miles.
At the end of the day, that's just a bunch of crud.
Because it doesn't matter how fast or slow I run. Doesn't matter that others run more. In fact, most people run less, or not at all.
What matters is that this is my accomplishment. It's my marathon. It's my day. It's my celebration for my reasons.
My grandmother would get that. Perhaps not for herself, but for me.
Indeed I am. And all the positives that go with that will come out around mile 20, just when I'll need a good smile.