Only a Seven Mile Race by Mark Stone

November 2012. The Seattle Marathon is almost upon us, and I'm using one small episode to help me prepare mentally.

Meeting a Google+ friend face-to-face is a real treat. (Otherwise called "HIRL", aka "Hang Out in Real Life.") My first such face to face experience was with Tracie Rodriguez: speedy runner, ball of energy, and the catalyst behind our little runner's group on Google+. Her husband was in Seattle on business, she had tagged along, and so we had a chance to meet.

It's July, and as I walk in the hotel lobby I am met by that radiant smile I know so well from Google+ hangouts. "Hi Mark!" It fills me with a great, warm feeling, like connecting with that favorite niece you never get to spend enough time with. We head out for lunch, and as we sit down the conversation quickly turns to running.

We talk about a lot of things: diet, training, favorite racing distances. And I keep thinking what an odd contrast we make. I'm almost twice Tracie's age, but I've only recently returned to running, and in my 50s I am pushing into real endurance distances for the first time in my life. I have two half marathons under my belt, and I'm training hard for the Seattle Marathon in November. Tracie, on the other hand, has a number of marathons under her belt already. And yet she has that combination of enthusiasm and impatience that is both the strength and weakness of youth.

We're talking marathons, and for a moment Tracie gets uncharacteristically quiet. She says, "I think miles 13 to 20 are the hardest."

"Well, sure," I say, trying to encourage her to finish her thought. "I mean, the first 13 is just a half marathon." Mentally I'm scolding myself for the use of "just" in this context. 13 miles is a distance I had never imagined running, and I've only run competitively twice. Who am I to offer wisdom on this point?

And at the same time I keenly aware of what neither one of us is saying about the significance of Mile 13. Just two months earlier Tracie had participated in her first Boston Marathon, and in the face of unprecedented 86 degree temperatures and her own stubborn refusal to back off her pace, had dropped out at Mile 13.

Stumbling ahead to fill the conversation, I think back to one of our hangouts. "Well, you've always said that if you get to mile 20 you can finish."

She looks up, coming out of her own thoughts and back to the conversation. "Oh yeah. The crowd, the other runners, its great. You get that far, you're going to finish."

"So really," I say, my tone way more confident than I actually am, "The marathon is just a seven mile race. Because if you know you can do the first 13, and you know you can finish from 20, its just those seven miles. And any of us can run seven miles."

And now Tracie beams, that radiant smile back in full force. "That's right. Its just a seven mile race."

Its November now, and the Seattle Marathon is just a week away for me. In her very next marathon Tracie easily posted a Boston Qualifier time. I have no doubt that she and Boston have a much happier future before them. And as I ponder the daunting task of taking on my first marathon, I take comfort. I have all the positive energy of that smile to draw on, and after all... its just a seven mile race.

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