As I enter my final weeks of marathon training, the number 26 is constantly looming overhead. Yet when I hear the number 26, my very first, knee-jerk thought is still of abortion. For most people I train with, hearing "26" would immediately conjure up the miles of sweat, pain, and tears that will constitute their marathon. But for me, even after two and a half years of being a runner and training for this marathon goal, 26 still reminds me of the last moment a woman can legally obtain an abortion in Georgia. Why? I lived in Georgia for ten years and was extremely active in pro-choice activism and also worked for two years at an abortion clinic. Our clinic had doctors trained and licensed to provide abortions up until 26 weeks, and we probably saw on average one woman per week who was 26 weeks into her pregnancy.
Training for a marathon is a painfully solo endeavor. Every step that a runner takes is deliberate and intentional. I can make the decision to stop at any moment and it won't affect anyone else. Even when I am running with teammates or friends I have to rely on my own determination to get through a run and to not quit early. In an ideal world pregnancy would also be intentional and chosen freely, but this is often not the case.
The first race I ever trained for was a half-marathon that I completed through Team in Training, a fundraising team for leukemia and lymphoma. Every week at our team runs, we were reminded of why we were fundraising and training, and that our participation would fund treatment for cancer patients and research that would lead to a cure. We met cancer survivors and children currently going through treatment--constant reminders of the parallels between our journey to a race and their journey to a cure. My difficulties were not physical but mental, and I had to constantly talk myself into continuing, convince myself that I could finish. There were many times where I reminded myself that what I was going through was very minor compared to the challenges confronted by people living with cancer. This might seem a bit dramatic, but for some reason it worked. It kept things in perspective for me and made the pain and misery go away. I felt selfish for complaining about running: if that was my biggest complaint then I should consider myself lucky. I started changing my attitude and found myself coming to appreciate what my body could take on. I won't say that my first half-marathon was easy--it certainly was not. For the last five miles I was pretty unhappy and just wanted it to be over.
A combination of factors has led me to enjoy this marathon training much more than last time. I have been a runner for 2.5 years now, so I had a much better base to start from. I also decided to listen to the entire library of Dan Savage's "Savage Love" podcast, which provides humorous sex and dating advice—that definitely makes the time fly by. Most importantly, my outlook has changed. I have seen so many runners get injured and I myself have had bouts of injuries through the years. I appreciate running for what it is in my life right now and never take it for granted. I thank my body for transforming into an experienced runner and responding well to the process of training.
I no longer think about cancer when I run--I think about abortion. A few weeks into my training, the whole connection between 26-week abortion limits in Georgia and 26 miles of running just hit me like a truck. These two things that are both so instrumental in shaping who I am have this undeniable link and I realize I am the woman who I am today because of abortion and running. Abortion has changed my views on the entire world. It brought things onto my radar I never knew about and it allowed me to appreciate my body and the control I have over it and how it is not something to take for granted. Once I could be thankful for that, I was finally able to take on running and marathon training and have it be a meaningful and whole experience. Ever since noticing this pair of twenty-sixes, I have used my runs to think about the challenges we all face in life and how insurmountable they appear. It is rare that people, especially women, can tackle these huge challenges. Too many barriers exist for women who are trying to seek an abortion. The women who are able to terminate a pregnancy at 26 weeks are some of the most determined, resourceful, and dedicated women I have ever seen. Most women who seek abortions are less than ten weeks pregnant, however there are a tiny percentage who choose to terminate later in the second trimester. Their stories and reasons are varied, but they are never decisions made lightly. I I think about what women go through to obtain an abortion and it makes my marathon training seem trite. And to be honest, although I haven't struggled too much this go-round, I know that come October 9th there will be times I want to quit. I know myself pretty well and I can't imagine that I will give up, but that option will be there constantly dangling in front of me.
Women seeking abortions often give up. Not for lack of trying. They simply can't get the money together, can't get time off of work, can't find an adult to serve as their driver, can't find childcare, their insurance denies them coverage at the last minute, or they are a minor and can't get a parent's permission. There are dozens of other reasons. These women end up with an unwanted child. There are just too many things going against them. For these women it is not about attitude or determination, rather it is institutional barriers preventing them from controlling their own bodies. When I think about all the women who can not obtain an abortion due to cost, or timing or the inability to find childcare for their existing children it is really utterly depressing. And then I think about how blessed I am to have such control over my own body. I feel blessed and then I feel shitty right after. I have the luxury of training for a marathon and not worrying about having an unwanted child.