I went alone. I didn't tell anyone I knew running it I would be watching. I didn't have a plan once I got to the race. It was a rainy morning and staying home in my pajamas with my coffee, and a book sounded pretty nice! Staying where I was comfortable was very tempting. But I thought, why not? I love marathon day! The energy is contagious and the day is full of hope. Recently, I ventured into the city for the Chicago Marathon. With five marathons under my soles, (1 LA and 4 Chicago for charity), it was the first time I was a curb-side participant cheering on a world of runners.
While standing in the rain, I decided that watching and running a marathon are entirely two different things! As a runner, I had my training schedule which my family worked around. Marathon volunteers and charity road crew treated me like a princess in running shoes from guiding me to the start line, to handing me food and drink, shouting out my name as I passed by, making sure I was holding up ok, and crowning me with marathon armor and warmth at the finish line. A plethora of people cheered me on with encouraging words, music, and dancing every step of the way. If I were lucky, my family would spot me as they hopped the city to see me at different mile markers. Sometimes I have been ultra lucky surprised by a friend who was tracking me and met me on the course. The strangers I have met at mile 24 (always mile 24) where we have decided to remain together to carry each other through past the finish line have been remarkable moments embedded in my memory.
This year as an excited spectator, I was mesmerized at the runners' perseverance through the rain while I was standing still in it getting cold. As I cheered on individual runners by yelling out the names and countries written on their personalized t-shirts, their smiles, winks, and waves filled me with joy. When my friend Jenny spotted me on the curb before I spotted her, I think I was the one more excited as the adrenaline of the marathon pushed me to run along the sidewalk with her until she blended into the movement once again. Although I cheered on many charity runners, I couldn't help but notice the AlzStars members running for the Alzheimer Association as they were aplenty.
All in all, I was most moved near mile marker 14 as I walked back to Union Station nearly 5 hours after the 1st wave crossed the start line and when many runners had undoubtedly crossed the finish. The sidewalks had cleared of many spectators and the marathon runners at this point were running at a slow pace if not walking. They were running a quieter and different speed than the runners from the previous several hours. The scene moved me in a way that being in the thick of the noise earlier did not. Determination flooded the streets despite many bystanders having left.
While encouraging them onward, I received another phone call from my mother. She had been calling me all morning. (Several, and I mean several, phone calls daily is the norm). A thought came over me. Caring for someone with Alzheimer's is like a marathon, both running it and watching it; both when you feel you are surrounded by people and when you are feeling alone. I often remember the jobs I had in my 20's working at a skilled nursing facility for five years as a CNA coordinator and in the physical and occupational therapy departments as an aide. My titles might not have been grand but the experience I received working closely with the seniors provided me with the training I have needed and compassion to help my mom in her older years.
Currently, in any given week, the training schedule is quite like Hal Higdon's marathon training. We have a few rest days where my mom is calm, content, full of giggles and all is well. A few days exist where the mileage down this Alzheimer's path increases with all sorts of mind challenging things that occur-anxiety, forgetfulness, paranoia, agitation, nostalgia, anger to name some. It all builds up to a day (some weeks more than one and some weeks none at all) that is like a long training run, especially a 20 miler. Due to the Alzheimer's, mood swings can change by the hour, by the minute, or by the second. With patience, hope, and prayers for grace to fly in and take over, I have to be fully present and available to help my mom through the miles and miles of this fascinating and complicated disease that has taken over her life.
The whole situation, which no one can ever have any idea of what is involved unless they come live with me or my mom for several weeks, could be the greatest marathon of my life. During other marathons when I have been able to run my own pace, this one is different. To run a good race, to run a personal best, to be content at the finish line with no regrets, I have had to let go of my pace and adjust to the pace of the pacesetter, my mom. She is the one moving along each day holding a sign high up in the air that reads, "My Pace." To have the endurance to keep up with her pace, the pace of the effects of Alzheimer's, is a training in itself. There is no fast. (Good thing I have never run for speed!) Patience is the balm for rough days. The willingness to adjust to my mom's life rather than making her fit into mine is the nourishment for a race without injury. My mission to expand my knowledge about the disease has helped me support my mom in ways she will never realize or understand. I am her cheerleader who has stepped off the curb and joined her on the course. And I have done this not because we are best friends or similar. As I say all the time, my mom and I are quite different, but together we make a full-flavored limoncello!
I'm not sure what mile we are running right now in this long-distance run that some days seems eternal, but I do know the medal at the finish line will be knowing that I did everything possible to help her through her disease because I did not stay where I was comfortable. Nope. I have stepped into the torrential rain where I have been drenched in love, hope, and peaceful encouragement by those who are carrying me through or who have run this race before me. With this gratitude, maybe one day, I'll decide to run another marathon as an AlzStars charity team member. Time will tell, but if I do, I sure do hope it's a sunny day!