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American Stroke AssociationIt’s 5:00 a.m., and I am up and moving without any hesitation, which is amazing because I got almost no sleep last night. We’ve been packing all week into the evening. Dad and I finally gave up around eight, but I couldn’t settle down to sleep until nearly midnight. Then, at two a.m., someone was starting and stopping and idling a truck in the alley. Barefoot, bathrobe flying, cell phone in hand, pre-dialed to 911 in case I was coming across very noisy thieves (yes, I know this is crazy, but I needed the noise to stop so I could sleep), I stormed down the backstairs into the alley and into the face of a hapless 30-year-old guy.

“It’s two a.m.!” I exclaimed. “Everything in this alley echoes!”

“I just realized that,” he said apologetically. “I’m leaving now.”

So back upstairs I went, heart racing at 80 mph, with only three hours to get myself back to sleep and up again.

But it’s 5:00 a.m., pitch black outside, and I am moving without hesitation, with purpose and clarity. PJs off. Sunscreen on. Pants, sports bra, t-shirt. Boil water for oatmeal. Assemble the rest of breakfast. Assemble my pack. Brush teeth. Brush hair. Ponytail and baseball cap. Stretch. And I’m looking in the mirror and thinking, Who is this woman? It’s like a submerged unknown self arises on Saturdays and takes over my body.Marathon Woman. And I wonder, how can I invite her into the rest of my life? And now it’s 6:30 a.m. The birds are starting choir practice, and I am out the door.

We’re back in the South Bay, starting at Polliwog Park. The course is a couple of miles down to the Strand, then right to the Manhattan Beach Tanks, turn around and head back past the Hermosa Beach Pier all the way to the wall, back to the Tanks, the Wall, and then back to the park. We are finally five strong and excited about walking together. We’re maintaining a good pace, but not racing. We’ve never gone 18 miles before, and this is about endurance (as if we’d ever gone 10 or 13 or 16 before we did. The number keeps growing, and it’s all about endurance). We’re not strolling either. Beth and I have San Diegoto contend with. At some point, in punchy exhaustion, V starts singing a song I don’t know: “From the window to the wall, all you bitches crawl.” It becomes our giddy anthem. “From the tank to the wall… “

This is LONG walking. And hard. My left foot hurts along the sole. Somehow 18 miles feels so much longer than 16. And it is a threshold. Before we left the park, Bert (the walking coach), said, “This is the day we separate the men from the boys.” It caused a mix of hoots & laughs since there are so many more women training for this than men, and, for the record, most of us are over 40.

His comment reminded me of a story a friend told about his time in the army, in jump school: The first week, they separate the men from the boys. The second week, they separate the men from the idiots. The third week, the idiots jump.  That’s us, I thought. June 5 (and 16 for Kona), the idiots walk 26.2 miles.

A commercial for Gu.  At about mile 14, we are so tired that we’re not walking, we’re weaving. Truly. I bump into Gayle, then I bump into Beth. It’s the kind of tired where you start losing language.

“Last week I took the wrong way home,” I tell someone. “I should have taken the beach route. There was so much traffic around the….the…you know…the place with the airplanes.”

That kind of tired. Weaving. Staggering. All of us. Then, one by one, we take our Gu. We’ve been saving it for this point, to gear up for the last big hill. And, one by one, our posture lifts, our energy lifts, and we are suddenly walking five across, like a high school marching band. It’s the Gu walkin’.

Of course, half way up the hill, we are falling apart again. The worst thing is that we keep hitting lights, and it’s not the walking that’s painful, it’s the stopping. As soon as you stop moving, everything starts to seize up. But we do it. Six more blocks, five more, four, three, where did they move the park to? Oh, there it is. And yes, we are back at Polliwog Park and, surprise, we did NOT just walk 18 miles. We walked 19.1.

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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.