I saw Beverly sitting on the curb near my house one day in October, maybe a hundred feet from a seemingly abandoned forest green cooler.
Beverly is a homeless woman in my Austin, Texas, neighborhood, a gentle woman often seen inching down the sidewalk with an overflowing grocery cart and other heavy cargo.
The neighbors love her and offer her help when she’ll take it. I’d often waved to her as I ran through the neighborhood, training for the New York City Marathon. We’d never really spoken.
But today, as I was finishing up a 14-mile run, I stopped.
“Hi, Beverly,” I greeted her. “Is that your cooler? Can I get it for you?”
Yes, it was, and no, I couldn’t, she said, glancing at the black brace on my left arm.
“How’d you do that?” she asked.
“I broke my wrist falling off my bike,” I answered.
“What was your mindset?”
I paused. “Anxious and afraid. My husband and friends were going on a bike ride and I wanted to go and be a better wife and better friend and I was in a rush.”
I don’t know why I said it. Until that day, I didn’t know a lot of things – about my running and, ultimately, myself.
For years, I hated running. But in 2018, a friend challenged me to do a half marathon, and I said yes. I didn’t know why. I hadn’t run more than a couple of minutes in probably 30 years. But that’s how I am: I try big things. I wrote a book. I biked 50 miles for charity. I raised $5,000 for an AIDS nonprofit.
Now this. I trained myself with bad shoes, vast ignorance and an online plan.
On race day, I came in sixth from last at a molasses speed of 3 hours and 35 minutes. The five people I beat were walkers.
My husband and son greeted me at the finish line with hugs. I felt like the best athlete alive.
I quickly signed up for the Austin Marathon. I now loved running. It burned off stress and calmed my anxiety.
But 26.2 miles? Why? I had no answer.
Marathon training is like a part time job. My friend Molly, who has finished dozens of races, took me under her wing. We ran in the rain, the cold, the heat, the hours before the sun rose. I got good shoes.
But it didn’t go well. Finally, after calling an Uber eight miles into a training run because of severe leg cramps, I waved the white flag.
It was my first failed attempt to get to the starting line of a marathon.
I wallowed in my defeat but kept trying. I did a few more half marathons.
Then, on a lark, I entered the 2020 New York City Marathon lottery. Less than 3 percent of lottery applicants each year win the golden ticket. I’d never get in.
I got in. Then came COVID. The race was canceled.
It wasn’t my fault, but I still took it hard. I decided to do my own at-home marathon. But depression set in that fall, and I quit running for three months. I felt broken.
But New York came calling again in 2021. The race was on.
I hired professional triathlete and coach Brandi Swicegood. I woke up at 5 a.m. for speed drills and two-hour runs. My toes hurt. My back ached. I was constantly tired.
My confidence swelled.
Then I broke my wrist. I spent two months in a hard cast and stayed fit with other exercises. My wrist healed and I started using a brace.
That’s the brace Beverly saw.
We only talked for a few minutes that day. I told her a little about my family, my failures and my wrist. I mocked my running and myself in general.
Beverly looked up at me from the curb and simply said, “You are whole and complete.”
Something clicked. That was why I did big things, why I had chased the marathon so hard. I wanted to silence the voices saying I was broken. I wanted to be whole and complete.
Beverly was telling me that I already was.
I got my race number the other day. I am runner 35940. Today, if the tides haven’t turned, I will be at the starting line of the New York City Marathon. I will take pictures. I will wave at the crowds. I will tweet updates.
And when things get hard, I will tell myself, “You are whole and complete.”