Plastic Cup . . .

Four weeks from now barring injury, alien abduction, or coming to senses I'll be able to safely (and uneasily) say that I have run a half marathon. The physical training has worked and the mental part is getting better . . . I think. There is something humbling and scary and exciting about the ability to make a "I've run a half marathon" statement.

I've had lots of people ask me about my training and many wondering what will happen with my "running" after the race but when people ask me about the experience after - I'll probably skip back before the day itself and focus on the same things I talk about now - the before and the during.

It is my never humble opinion that the real beauty of running a half marathon (like frosting a decorative cake or kissing the prettiest girl in school) is not in that act itself but in the preparation and the learning. I've learned a TON in these last weeks/months but one particular lesson that I learned and continue to learn from will probably always be my favorite sampling of all these runs.

What is the lesson? Picking up a plastic cup.

Let me clarify - we did an exercise at a running clinic in July where you stood one one foot and, from a standing position, you bent down and put a cup on the ground in front of you - then you stand up straight. Bend down, pick it up, stand back up. Back down putting the cup off to your left. Back up again. Back down to get the cup, back up to erect (snicker, snicker), back down with the cup being set just off to your right, back up. Switch your standing foot. Repeat the above. Oh, oh, oh . . . do it barefoot (or in socks). Oh, oh, oh . . . ONE more thing (small detail) do it with your eyes closed.

Sound easy? Sure does. I laughed (inside my head - I would never show athletic confidence outwardly) when the challenge was first presented and then I TRIED it. I was falling over myself on the first trip down with the cup. It took me a dozen attempts to figure out how to set down, stand up, and pick back up without peaking (hint - it is all about placement of the cup in a very specific spot that is logical to the fall of your arm) and many, many dozen tries before I could go through the entire rotation (and that should not imply that once I made it all the way through I've ever made it all the way through again). I've, months later, never been able to consistently make it all the way through the rotation including switching feet without losing my balance.

You (I?) get dizzy. You (I?) get confused. You (I?) get humbled over how out of shape and muscle illiterate you really are. You (I?) have a moment, in your side lawn, at 5:07 AM on a Tuesday morning when you are actually falling to the ground mid exercise and you realize the six mile run you are about to start seems "easier" than this exercise you struggling with.

And there is the lesson. That's it. You just read it. And you didn't even notice because, well, it is small and simple.

While I am NOT a "runner" (seriously - let's drop this debate once and for all, please) - running the Prairie Fire Marathon race, for me, is not about a finish line or a stupid "finisher" medal or a sense of accomplishment that results in an atrocious sticker on the back of my car. It will, instead, be about what it IS and HAS been about - pushing. Running is about a sense of learning and growing and challenging and improving. It is about seeking and finding balance. It is about repetition and memory. It is about focus and time and energy management. It is about strategy. It is about having an empty plastic cup in your hand and faith that - even with your eyes closed - you can find your way to and from the ground and that you might do it better today than yesterday AND realizing some mornings you were better yesterday and you'll need tomorrow to remedy the backslide.

It is about hitting "start" on the Garmin timer and "play" on your iPod, putting your earphones in, and striding out to run six miles at 5:10 AM on a Tuesday knowing you have a full work day and parenting ahead of you. It is about using the time to THINK or to figure out your groceries for the week or who you need to call to catch up with or why you can't seem to master even basic Hebrew.

It is about knowing that (statistically) every house you run by contains only sleeping people which technically makes them no better or worse than you but it at least enforces there are hours in the day we COULD spend doing any number of things. It is about running alone and in the dark so no one sees, talks to, or can critique you.

Most importantly - it is about (for me) that plastic cup and knowing it will still be in your lawn, in the dark, when you return from this run and knowing it will be sitting on back stoop ready to torture you again "tomorrow" - if you're ready for another round.