On Finish Lines and 39

In the picture, I am 18, running in a crowd across a giant finish line, one sneaker striking the first “L” in Honolulu Marathon. I look both jubilant and exhausted, like I belong in a crowd of runners and like I might be a spectator, stealing onto the road for a photo op. I’m wearing cutoff yoga pants and a pair of yellow submarine socks, my race number pinned over my Team in Training jersey.

What you can’t see in the photo is that my skin is chafed in places I didn’t even know it was possible to chafe, having been running for over six hours through Hawaiian humidity and the gentle spray of garden hoses offered by cheering neighbors along the route. What you don’t see is the community of runners and walkers I’ve been training with for the past six months, some with multiple marathons and PRs under their belts and some, like me, who’ve never run a race before in their life.

Truthfully, though, I remember very little of this moment, this grand conclusion of a goal I’d been working toward for half a year. Instead, I remember a row of roadside spider webs strung with beads of dew, on the run when I first felt what they call a “runner’s high.” I remember watching the spire of the tiny white church dip and rise as I rounded the UCSC track far above town, putting in my five miles after class each day. I remember Amy picking me up at dawn on Saturdays for long runs all over the Bay area, both of us warming our cold hands on the dashboard heaters, and how we’d both be so sleepy on the drive down, so energized on the drive back.

The girl in the photo is just beginning to discover who she is, and how that differs from the girl she’s been. She wants to be a writer, and she thinks that means she can’t be a mother, something she can’t yet admit she also wants. I’m a little in awe of her, this 18-year-old-me. She is running with arms open toward the next chapter of her life, even though she has no clue what it holds.

Today is my 39th birthday, and I’m beginning it the way I begin most weekdays: with a two-mile run around the athletic track near our house, greeting the dawn that stays dim with rain-soaked clouds long after the sun is, technically, up. I’m working toward running a 5k in March with my three closest friends, all mothers and writers, like me.

It’s the first day of the last year of my thirties, and culture would have me look at my looming 40th birthday as a finish line of sorts: the end of young adulthood, the beginning of middle age. There are so many things we’re told we must do by 40. Where did 18-year-old me imagine I’d be?

I thought it would be cool to run another marathon at 36 (I didn’t). I wanted to have published a few books (I have, though they’re smaller projects than I’d pictured at 18). I’d never have guessed that I’d be halfway through a program to become a community acupuncturist, or that I’d have three children and sometimes wish for more. I hoped to fall in love (check) and live somewhere beautiful, with enough land for a garden and chickens, like the home I’d grown up in.

If this is the beginning of middle age, then I like being in the middle of things– half-finished projects I’m excited to pick up, a baby underfoot and learning to walk, a three-year-old who wants to read and a six-year-old with loose teeth and so many good questions. A partner who geeks out on the same things I do but still surprises me daily, a book to write, and so much more to learn about meridian theory, healing, and the body.

I’m grateful I’m still running, and in no hurry to get anywhere.

This post is part of a blog hop with other runner-mother-creatives. Click here to view the next post in this series on running, mothering, and making.

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