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Race report: Buffalo Marathon

There were four points on Sunday when I cried.

Well, let me start with a disclaimer -- I can cry easily. It's my natural reaction to strong emotion. I can cry when I'm happy, when I'm frustrated or when I'm so angry I really would like to punch you but instead turn on the water works. Some people aren't comfortable with that. And right now I say too bad.

Because the first marathon brings a lot of tears for a lot of reasons.

The first time I had some tears was in the Hyatt at last-chance registration. My friend Sue was volunteering there and gave me a ride over early. So I brought my iPod, found a corner and listened to my tunes because I didn't want to get caught up in anybody else's drama. I would have enough of my own, thank you.

And then I wondered: What would happen if I didn't finish in 4:30? That's what I told my family and friends was my goal (along with all of cyberspace but that wasn't my concern at the moment). Would I disappoint them? Would they tell me good job but cast knowing glances off to the side and slowly stop returning my phone calls?

As ridiculous as it sounds, this started to whirl through my head and some tears started. Sue gave me a hug, said time was just for our amusement and I went off to the start line. Amid the crowd I ran into a few people I know and started to feel better. My attention turned to just wanting to get the race started and by the time the gun went off, I had collected myself.

The second time I started to cry didn't come until mile 21. The weather was starting to get to me. While it was a beautiful day, the humidity was picking up and the sun came out and, after I've been running for three hours, the sun wasn't such a welcomed sight. I took my shot blocks and water at every aid station, still I was feeling dehydrated. At mile 13 my quads started to hurt. At mile 19 my calf muscles were cramping up.

Around 21.5 miles my friend and former co-worker Sharon set up an unofficial water stop outside her house. I got a great big cheer from her, some needed water, a calf stretch and a pep talk. I was in some pain and knew my 4:30 goal was gone. Sharon reminded me that I was close to the end, that once I hit Delaware and North it was all down hill. As a veteran marathoner, she told me the weather conditions were difficult and that I was doing fine. And who cares what anyone things about my time? It's all about my accomplishment, not anyone else's judgment of it.

And it was at her water stop that I tossed away the piece of paper I had been carrying with me the entire race.

At the suggestion of my coach I carried along a copy of a photo of myself in college -- back when I was very overweight and unhealthy. While on the surface it represented how far I've come in my fitness goals and my identity as an athlete, there were other symbolic meanings wrapped up in that piece of paper. It represented all those fears I listed in the weeks before the marathon. It was all those feelings of not being good enough, of thinking that what I had to offer fell woefully short.

But at 21.5 miles, truly, that no longer seemed to matter. The voice of the diminisher was still in my head, pointing out that people may not like me anymore without that 4:30 time, but I told him to be quiet (well, at this point I was using rather foul language to tell him to be quiet, but you get the idea). I tossed out that piece of paper because that was no longer me. Yes, I will have the diminisher with me always, but his power of me, not so much.

Because I was going to be a marathoner.

And I got tears in my eyes.

The third time I cried was at mile 25.

It was the final aid station and I walked through to take a mixture of water and gatorade. This was it. Only 1.2 miles left to go.

I was sore. I was hungry. I was bleeding through my sneakers.

But after having to run-walk portions of the second half of the course, I was not going walk the final 1.2 miles. It didn't matter how slow I was running. Didn't matter if for all practical purposes I could walk faster than I could run. I was running the final 1.2 miles.

I took it all in and tried to keep from crying. At Niagara Square my friend Karyn, who ran an awesome half marathon, found me and ran me around the circle.

"I'm trying to keep from crying," I told her.

"Hold off until the finish," Karyn said. "There it is. Take it all in. Enjoy it. It's all yours."

And that brought me to the final place I cried.

At the finish line.

I smiled during that last run down Franklin Street and while it clearly wasn't a sprint, it was what felt like to me a strong run across the timing mats. I picked up my medal from a volunteer and, frankly, had no idea what to do.

And the tears started.

I heard my dad yelling my name and turned around. I have no idea how he got in the finisher's shoot, but there he was. As I gave him a big hug I started crying.

Then came my mom, with a huge smile, a huge hug and more tears.

I don't think I really stopped crying for the next two hours or so -- with generous amounts of joy.

My final time was 5 hours and 2 minutes.

Which only means I have a goal now for next time (which there probably will be) and lots of lessons learned along the way.

But right now, time and pace are questions left only to voices that I no longer care to hear.

Marathoner is a title that can't be taken away.

Nor is it something that ever should be qualified.

And that's perhaps the biggest lesson I learned through this part of my journey ... that there are no more "yeah, butts" in life. No, "yeah I finished the marathon but I had to walk in the second half." No "yeah, I ran 26.2 miles but other people do ultra races of 50 and 100 miles."

No more qualifying accomplishments or success or finishes.

There is no living up to being good enough.

Good enough is what we already are.

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