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We’re in Santa Monica this week. Gayle has knee trouble, so she’s going to train with the half-marathoners. I’m on my own again. Okay. It’s a chance to meet other San Diego folk. Last week, Gayle walked with a woman named Beth, who is doing San Diego, but I start out with Renon, and Beth takes off with Anjali. Renon walks just a hair too slow for me, but I don’t feel right abandoning her to catch up with Beth, and soon Beth and Anjali are out of sight.

Our path is Clover Park down to the beach, left to the Venice Beach Pier, turn around and go all the way to the Santa Monica Pier, up the ramp to Ocean, over to California then back down the ramp, back to Ocean Park Avenue and up the big hill (two big hills!) to Clover Park. I feel like a puppy pulling on a leash, wanting to walk faster and not wanting to leave Renon. But when we hit the Venice Pier, and I beg restroom privileges at a restaurant, she keeps going, and I am suddenly alone. Unleashed, I hit my stride, catch up to her and pass her. But Renon is the EverReady Bunny; she just keeps going. For the next five miles, we’re the tortoise and the hare. I pass her up, then I stop at a restroom or to stretch, and she passes me. I last see her at the top of the Santa Monica Pier, when I stop to stretch, and she keeps going. I seem to stop and stretch a lot today.

On the beach, I run into Sally, from the Valley team. Sally’s ASA hat has writing all over the brim: the names of everyone in whose honor she walked last year. Large and center, it says MOM. She offers to help me do the same. As I’m walking away from her, it suddenly hits me, as if I’d forgotten, that I’m doing this in honor of my mother…and why. Sometimes grief comes out of nowhere.

The walk back is hard, lonely, and uphill. I’m so tired and hot; I drank too much of my water too soon. I’m thirsty.

“Yeah Deb!” I hear, and honking. Gayle and Verna heading home. The cheering helps. But it’s a steep hill.

“Okay,” I announce, to no-one in particular. “If anyone would like to help by pulling or pushing, I would most appreciate the help!”

Imagination is a wonderful thing; it almost feels like small hands are nudging me along and, yes, I crest the damn hill, and it is only a mile of flat to the parking lot. But I was a long time walking and unhappy about my time. It seems I am quite competitive. And ungracious with myself. Coach says we’re still working on endurance; speed comes later.

Surprise story: When I received the flyer in the mail and decided to do this, I immediately called two friends: Vanessa and Jess. Vanessa ran in Hawaii last year, and I sponsored Jess for a breast cancer run.

“I’m not an athlete. I’m going to walk, not run. Do you think I can do it?”

“Absolutely,” said V. “If you’re thinking about doing it at all, do it now. You’re not getting any younger.” (To which my 92-year-old friend John Seeley remarked, How very linear of her! How does she know that?)

“Absolutely,” said Jess. “Just make sure you get really good shoes.”

So I signed up, and got good shoes, and start fundraising, and training and all that. And it’s Sunday night, and we’re all at Bob’s birthday dinner, and Bob is telling everyone that I just walked 13 miles.

“More than I’ve ever done,” says Jess.

“No!” I say. “You did a marathon. I sponsored you last year.”

“No, Deb. You sponsored me for a 5K.”

One of the greatest discoveries a person makes, one of the great surprises, is to find you can do what you were afraid you couldn’t do. – Henry Ford


In 2005, I stunned myself by signing up to walk the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on behalf of the American Stroke Association. This post is one of a series of reflections and Training Tales from that time. The whole series begins here.

Photos thanks to  Jon Sullivan and Heidi Glanz.