“The Other Half” half marathon in Moab, Utah was a special one for me. Not because I’m fast (I profess to you that I.am.a.turtle.of.a.runner), but because of what I learned from the people I ran with that day.
Nick and I are lucky in that we have a strong network of friends and family who surround and support us. We also happen to have a few friends and family members who are crazy enough (ahem, enthusiastic enough?) not just to cheer us on from the sidelines of this deployment, but to run alongside me as I complete this insanity I’ve dubbed “Running Through Deployment”.
When I mentioned “The Other Half” half marathon to Nick’s family and to my runner friends, I never expected so many people to join me in Moab, nor did I realize now many races I’d run while he was deployed.
As it turned out, Nick’s parents drove from Phoenix and one of my best friends flew in from San Francisco. Two of her Bay-area friends also came to town, so we had a group of six people from three states running this — my 17th race of Running Through Deployment — together.
We spent the weekend hiking national parks, drinking local beer, eating well, and enjoying the incredible landscapes of Moab and its surrounding countryside. When Sunday morning arrived, we woke up before the sun and caught shuttles to the start of the race, nearly 30 miles north of Moab, on the Colorado River.
The course wound its way between canyon walls that glowed beautifully red and orange with the rising sun, following the river for most of the race. The views along the course were unforgettably magnificent, and the course organizers ensured a fun post-race party as well, with beer (complete with take-home pint glasses) from Moab Brewery, and plenty of fruit, Gatorade, chocolate milk (!!!), and water.
The weekend had been a blast, so it caught me completely off guard when — after finishing the race — I had a complete emotional meltdown. Maybe I pushed myself so hard physically that day that I pushed past a physical wall to an emotional wall underneath. Or maybe having so many friends and my in-laws there with me simply made me miss Nick more than usual.
Let’s be honest; seeing the person in front of me in the beer line get the very last beer from the tap certainly didn’t help matters. Just as that tap went dry, a well of tears humiliatingly betrayed me, pouring full-force from my eyes.
Whether it was the run, the company, or the empty pint glass in my hand, I melted. And I melted. And I melted.
There were snotty sniffles and hiccups and red eyes and sobs. But more importantly, there was a mother-in-law who stood by me and a girlfriend who sat under a shade tree with me for an hour or more; listening, comforting, and — after eight months of practicing strength and discipline — allowing me to completely fall apart.
If you’ve ever “shopped till you drop” you might relate when I say that I didn’t realize how completely emotionally and physically run-down I was until I stopped running after that race…
For months, it had been perpetual motion; working long hours, running lots of miles, sending care packages, and staying up late at night to talk with Nick online. For whatever reason — maybe because we were finally over the deployment hill, so to speak — the race in Moab was a tipping point for me.
Ever since then, I think I’ve found myself exploring a balance between vulnerability and strength; two virtues that may seem to be opposites but, in fact, are especially powerful (and feminine) when worn together. Consider them to be great shoes and a beautiful necklace; they look good on any woman.
What I learned in Utah is that being strong isn’t enough. Strong women still break, and they still need a support system. The trick is to be strong enough that when you do break (and if you’re in the midst of a deployment, you will feel like you’re breaking at times) the people who love you can get you back onto you feet.
It’s taken me weeks to find the insight I needed to write about this race. Now, in this month of giving thanks for the good things in our lives, I realize that this post took me so long to write because it wasn’t the race itself that made The Other Half meaningful to me; it was the affirmation and support I felt when the race was finished, the tears began, and two very important women in my life stood firmly by my side. Today, I’m thankful for strength, vulnerability, and the amazing women who love and support me.