The Church Brew Works handed out beer. It was the best beer ever in the whole history of the world. I helped myself to 2. They were small.
The underground train whisked me through the dim belly of the airport, quickly, too quickly, away from my family and friends. Just hours ago I had laughed with and hugged them. I was suspended in between, neither in one place or another; I belonged no where.
In the middle between two homes, two places of rest, I was alone and lonely. Missing both groups and anxious to be anywhere but where I was. On this train with harried strangers, eating airport food and drinking coffee out of paper cups. None of it was homey or home, none of it anything other than a convenient way to ingest and endure during our disparate travels.
After I finished running my first ever full marathon—because I’m a long distance athlete like that—I tried to explain to the women I heralded in this post.
I told them the marathon was not a story of two halves, which others have experienced. It was a story in three parts: the starting line, hell, and the triumph of the finish. The bookends of excitement and victory are obvious, expected even, but this middle space took me by surprise, and knocked me around a bit.
At the 11 mile mark, the half marathon runners peeled off back into town while the rest of us ran around a bend, and up a hill. A remarkably long, slowly inclining hill that kicked me in the teeth. Here I began to question my sanity and my ability. That hill was the beginning of the middle space of doubt and hurt and torment. (I wish that were hyperbole.)
The middle space. The thrill of the start is a vagueness I couldn’t quite recall. I was far enough into the course that turning around was illogical. The promised glory of the finish line became a hope quickly fading. The middle space is where we get stuck, or where I got stuck.
The only thing to be done about the middle space is the middle space. It simply must be done.
In the middle space, there was no fanfare. In the middle space, my reward for not peeling off was the ragged sound of my breath echoing through my body. In the middle space, quitting was tempting. I entertained a fantasy about stopping in an aid station, but I did not trust myself to start again. The middle space was where the only thoughts that gained a purchase told me I did not belong here. That I was not going to make it. That I should just drop out.
The middle space is lonely. I do not like the middle space. I kicked the middle space back in the teeth.
Throttling through space in the tube, I was again in that dreaded, isolated space. I was not surrounded by forever friends in warm memories, caught in the glee of reunion. Neither was I home in the embrace of my kids who would remember that they missed me when I walked in the door. I was not Jen, but another nameless passenger. Traveling away from one and toward another is that middle space where I am not known. Where I am isolated. Where I do not belong.
And then everything changed. I made it. I made it to a place where the doubt died and the hope pushed me. When I realized that hell yes, I was going to finish, running and on my feet and on my own terms.
The final plane landed, a few minutes ahead of schedule. My running buddy and darling friend met me in the terminal and hugged me and looked at me and knew me. She whisked me home, where I pushed open the front door. My son tackled me and I was surrounded by people who know me by name.