This will forever be one of my favorite pictures, taken minutes after crossing the finish line at the Nike Marathon in San Francisco on October 14, 2012. Physically, mentally and emotionally WRECKED. The culmination of a really hard journey to 26.2.
I mostly love it because that “other Laura” is starting to feel like a lifetime ago. I ran a little bit my senior year in high school, and in a stunning display of foolishness I took an 8am running class my first year at A&M. Then I took a break from running for the next decade.
I started running with my coworker when I was 29, hitting up the Katy Trail most week nights. I was approaching a milestone birthday, and I was very focused on my bucket list of things I should accomplish that were way out of my comfort zone. So I decided to run a half marathon. (Waaaay outside the comfort zone of the girl who always finished last in the timed mile runs at school.)
I discovered I loved the training, and I loved the running community. So I ran a handful of half marathons and decided to go for it when my coach suggested I train for a full marathon.
All of my mental, emotional, and physical focus went into training for this marathon. All I wanted to do was just finish – could care less about how long it took. (And it took a long time. Really long. Like, “watch Titanic twice” long.) Crossing the finish line, I experienced complete euphoria for completing the task I never thought I could complete.
Then, after the race, I really struggled with what was NEXT. My fellow runners crossed the finish line and immediately plotted their next marathon. I knew I’d not be joining them. I’d finished the race before me, but just barely. One was more than enough for me. And it nearly broke me.
I started to feel a little emptiness. The good kind of emptiness that pushes you toward something else. I spent the rest of 2012 trying to figure out why I didn’t feel happier when I’d just accomplished “my life’s dream.”
Then I realized I hadn’t actually accomplished my life’s dream. I’d accomplished somebody else’s. My life’s dream was to write a book.
Whereas I had ZERO athletic ability/build to accomplish that running goal, and I had to fight against my natural state to do it, everything in my life has set me up to write. Yearbook and newspaper classes in high school, majoring in Journalism in college. Writing short stories and tag lines and poems and jingles since childhood. But tackling that dream felt way scarier than reaching for a stretch goal.
If something had happened and I was unable to complete the marathon, I could have said, “hey, what did you expect – I’m not a runner!” But I am a writer. And with the life of a writer comes many, many moments of rejection … rejections from the art to which you feel most suited.
I realized I was trying too hard to make my 30s about “becoming someone else” and “trying new things!” Those things are all fine, but at a certain point they are just an escape. A “refusal of the call,” as my friends/professors Suzanne Frank and Daniel J. Hale would say.
So I more or less hung up my running shoes and signed up for a creative writing class at SMU. If I was going to dedicate weekends and early mornings to something, I wanted it to be something I was meant to do. Not something I was doing to prove a point. And as it turned out, marathon training was the perfect mental go-to to prepare for the years it would take (and is still taking) to write a book.
That first night of class, as three hours of writing flew by faster than it ever could have running, I realized I was home. I’d run the long route to get there, but I was home.