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Marathon is about so much more than just the miles

Melissa Oliverio-Gilbert of Rockville Centre near the finish

Melissa Oliverio-Gilbert of Rockville Centre near the finish line of the Long Island Marathon on Sunday, May 3, 2015. Credit: Michael F. Oliverio

Running a full marathon requires ridiculous amounts of many different kinds of things I never thought I had enough of.

I made a pact with myself. I was going to run the Long Island Marathon last May, check it off my bucket list. I had run half marathons before, but these full ones were a totally different animal.

Making the mental and physical commitment was not difficult; that is just what I do. I say I am going to do something, set my mind to it, train, study for it, and then, I just do it. I have always been like that.

What I found to be an obstacle was the emotional commitment. The journey of getting to the point of actually running the marathon was more of a herculean task than actually running the race itself.

Not that I did not look forward to the actual experience of running it. I did. I visualized myself crossing the finish line, tasted the completion of task, felt the gratification of accomplishment. I reveled in all of those moments.

The emotional piece of this race, though, was very complicated.

Things bubbled to the surface. I regularly battled with myself as the training runs became longer. I swallowed lumps in my throat, cried, was angry, laughed out loud, day dreamed, hallucinated, fell, picked rocks out from underneath my skin. You name it -- the voyage getting to the starting line was NO JOKE.

Partly holding me back was "why" I wanted to do this. I did figure that out. I ran for myself, to prove that I could, simply, just do it. I also ran for my little lamb chops at home, James and Kate, to model anything is possible. You cannot give up, no matter how difficult something is, you have to follow through with what you start, finish it off, close the deal.

Giving up, stopping, self-doubt, all of those voices in my head screaming, "Oh no, Missy, you most certainly can't," were pretty powerful. Just as powerful, was digging deeper, listening to the other little voices that maybe were not chanting as loudly, but hearing them root, saying, "Oh yes, Missy, you most certainly can."

Two people ran with me. They joined me on every training run longer than 12 miles, where slight delirium set in, when I felt sort of unwound, a little off my rocker. Many times I felt I could not take one more breath, put one foot in front of the other or even just move.

Mario, that warm, guiding beacon father of mine, trotted alongside of me. I thought about all of the breaths, the steps, the movements he ceased making long ago. I spoke with him; I told him what he had missed, how I wished he was here, and how I just wanted to STOP. Ever so gently, I'd feel his arm slip under my elbow, lifting me, pushing me forward. He whispered, "Come on, Missy, you're already doing this, there is no stopping now." So, I kept running. I mourned the loss of my father all over again on these runs.

Dora, that very seasoned, flavorful mother of mine, kept pace with me, too. I did not speak with her though. I thought about her. When I argued with myself to quit, when I had enough, when I said I did not have to succeed, I thought about her. I thought about all of the times she had failed in life. All of her relapses, all of her falls. She is quite miraculous, that 80-year-old immigrant woman. What stood out most is not how many times she had fallen down, but how many times she had stood right back up. Every, single time. She climbed back up onto her horse, grabbed the reins and said, "OK, now, let me try living life, all over again." So, I kept running. I recognized the gutsy desire my mother continues to have to rebuild her life from scratch on those runs.

Mental, physical, emotional commitments are so intricately connected, complex. I found the adventure of reaching the marathon starting line was more than half of this story. I realized I was not concerned with a finishing time. All I knew was that I wanted to finish.

I unearthed that I had the ridiculous amounts of the many different kinds of things I never thought that I had enough of, and I had my parents' complete support, as they ran alongside me and crossed that finish line.

Melissa Oliverio-Gilbert,
Rockville Centre

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