Every day, nearly 800 women and girls in the US and around the world die due to complications around pregnancy and childbirth—303,000 women every year. That’s one woman every 2 minutes. Up to 90% of these deaths are preventable.
Every Mother Counts raises funds and awareness through running to support their work to bring healthcare to women who otherwise would go without. Founder Christy Turlington chose running as the metaphor for the distance that some women have to travel, often walking, to get quality healthcare.
My own running has always been private. This work inspired me to take my running public and commit to running a 26.2 mile marathon. I was more than a little bit terrified. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I didn’t finish and was found in a heap at the side of the road? What would I tell the people who had contributed funds? The fiction writer in me had all kinds of creative narratives created—just in case.
A combination of inspiration to contribute to the work of Every Mother Counts and sheer terror of public humiliation spurred me forward throughout my training. I ran in the early morning hours before work, my headlamp bobbed in the darkness and bounced off the glow-in-the-dark leash of my dog and running partner, Clyde.
Three months later, it was time to head to Tucson for the marathon. I packed my running bag…
…and painted my toes, the 26.2 reminder to finish.
We left frozen Santa Fe to arrive to blooming bougainvillea in glorious Tucson.
I decorated the drop bag to make it easier to find. Plus, when in doubt, add calavera skulls. Works for all occasions.
I woke the morning of the race to this beautiful haiku poem:
feet pound, lungs burn
frost silvers arroyo
earth turns toward dawn
Off we went. Noé dropped me off at the buses to take us to the starting point.
I sat amidst runners discussing in-depth their caloric intake planned per mile. They had cut up energy bars into bite-size pieces and planned the exact miles they would eat throughout the race. Stress mounted. What?! Was I supposed to do that?! I had eaten a handful of nuts in the car on the way to the bus and not given it a second thought.
I moved seats and called Noé, who has run three marathons. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just make sure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.”
An hour later, the announcer counted down, and we were off. With each step, through each mile, I thought of the women I ran for, the blessings in my own life, the beauty of the surrounding Sonoran desert, and back to the women and girls who walked this distance for basic health care. I imagined the feeling of galloping horseback through the desert. The miles slipped by.
Prince’s song “Little Red Corvette” came into my mind. I sang along. I timed my mileage and kept each mile under my goal of 11-minute miles. Mile markers 7, 8, and 9 passed behind me. My calf which had been bothering me acted up. I popped Advil like Pez candy. I didn’t care if I had to put that leg in a sling and tie it around my neck and hop across the finish line, I was going to finish. More thoughts of women and girls, blessings, and the chorus of Little Red Corvette.
Mile 22 appeared. Only 4.2 more miles! As a runner, you always hear about The Wall that hits around mile 23. Wall, what wall? I felt great. My son, Luke, joined me as planned.
We ran. Luke told me all about his classes, his friends, anything.
Then it hit. It hit hard. The Wall. Mile 25. The last five miles of the Tucson Marathon are uphill. I looked up the hill ahead of us, stopped, and bent over. I could not move my legs. I thought of everything that inspired me—blessings in my life, the women and girls who walked this distance while pregnant, the beauty of the desert, galloping horseback, every Prince and 80’s song I could think of… I dug deep. Nothing. I could not move.
“Mom,” Luke asked, “Where does it hurt?”
Luke got down, stuck his face in mine, and bellowed, “THIS IS WHAT YOU TRAINED FOR, MARINE! YOU PAID FOR THIS PAIN. YOU GET YOUR ASS UP THIS HILL!”
It worked. I laughed. I ran.
100 yards from the finish line I grabbed Luke’s hand. We ran the final stretch and across the finish line holding hands. As we approached the Finish line, tears ran down my cheeks.
I did not let go of Luke’s hand. Not when we crossed the Finish line. Not when they draped the medal around my neck. Not when I threw up and he held the medal out of the way. Love this guy.
Love a medal with a skull.
I had wanted to run a marathon for more than 25 years. Every Mother Counts and their work inspired me to do so. As I ran miles in the early morning darkness and cold, imagining all kinds of scenarios in which I did not finish, I thought again and again of Eleanor Roosevelt who taught us, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
I want to give special thanks and love to generous friends and family who donated. Together we raised nearly $1,500.00 to provide accessible healthcare to save the lives of women and girls giving birth in the US and around the world.
I realize that on the global scale, this is a drop in the bucket. Yet each drop represents lives. If we each add a drop, we can fill many buckets.
I’m already thinking about my next marathon…