Posted tagged ‘marathon’

26.2

December 29, 2013
Here I am, still standing after my first official marathon.

Here I am, still standing after my first official marathon.

It’s a clear, cool, sunny day in October.  I am in Hartford CT, as ready as I am ever going to be for my first official marathon.  I stand in line to pee one more time, although I know damn right well this will not be the last, and pray that there are lots of chances to go again on the route. I also pray that there will not be lines like this one, which is ridiculously long.  I notice there are tons of people not dressed to run but waiting to go and I wish that there were separate bathrooms for the runners.  I am nervous.  Not nervous about the race, but about reaching the start line on time.  I have just a few minutes left before the race begins and my support team, Bill, stands steadfast and strong beside me, knowing just how itchy I am to run.

I carry a water bottle in my right hand.  It’s the kind of bottle that has a strap so that my hand does not have to do any actual work while I run.  I am dressed in my favorite capri running bottoms and a soft, comfy long sleeved tech shirt.  On my feet I wear the oldest sneakers I own—Nike Free 3.  The pair I was planning to wear became saturated on my final long training run and changed shape so much that they are unfit for running.  These sneakers are worn on the bottom to the point where I can almost see my socks through the soles under the balls of my feet, and my toes poke out of the tops like tiny, sharp gophers in a prairie.  They fit, though, and I feel great.  I could do this barefoot.  I think.

I finally pee and we hustle over to the starting line.  I am so late that I am at the very end of the runners waiting for the start gun.  I don’t care at all; in fact I am happy to be at the end.  That means I will be able to pass lots of other runners at the beginning, which always pumps me up, even though it’s not really a competitive feeling.  It’s more of a personal challenge. I don’t care who wins or how I place.  I just want to finish.  And finish running.  26.2 miles is a long distance to run.  I am prepared.  Bill takes a couple of pre-race photos and I smile for him, and for me.  This is it.

The race begins and I find my pace early on.  The route takes us through the city for a few miles, then out into the suburbs.  I run easy, listening to my favorite playlist.  As I cross the bridge that leaves the city and leads to the bulk of the distance, I see Bill.  He is leaning precariously over the rail of the bridge, phone in hand, ready to capture the image of me on this day where one of my dreams is coming true.  I work my way over from the middle of the street so that I am almost close enough to touch his hand as I run past.  I can feel the smile spread over my face as I see his; he takes the photo as I run by him and then I am on my own.  Through the race, I periodically think of him, and how he must have hustled to reach the bridge from the start line to watch me run by.

About seven or eight miles in, a man runs up beside me and asks if he might join me for a while.  He tells me I have been his pacer for the past couple of miles, and that he chose me because I am the only runner in sight who is not breathing heavily or panting.  His name is Brian.  I smile and agree to the company, as he is smiling sweetly and seems to be at my level of fitness.  We talk and talk while we run, and I learn that he is married, has three children, and loves to run as much as I do.  I learn that this is his first marathon, too.  He asks how I know how to pace myself, and I tell him that it is easy to keep going if you run at a pace where it is easy to talk.  And so we do.

We run over the tracker that proves we have completed the 15 mile marker distance, and loop around for the last part of the race.  We drink at some of the stops; we pee at others.  Some little girl hands me a banana and my gratitude is immense—I cannot stomach gels or GU packs, or any of that special race food that is handed out freely during long races.  I hold the banana for a couple of miles, then eat the whole thing, tossing the skin into a wooded area we pass.  My new running friend Brian is getting tired, and I encourage him to keep going.  We both know that running with someone else can be salvation if the running gets tough.  I remind him that if we slow our pace a bit, we will still be able to finish in four hours, which is a pretty good time to finish.

Then, at mile 20, something happens to me.  I feel a sharp muscle spasm in my low back on the left, and my IT band on the right squeezes up tight.  My right knee feels like it is going to collapse.

“Brian.  I have to stop and stretch.  You go ahead.  I’ll catch up with you.”

“Are you kidding?  I’ll stop and stretch, too.  I’ll wait for you.”

“You don’t have to.  I’m okay.  I want you to finish.”

I know he sees the pain on my face, the wincing as I try to run again.

“I am going to finish.  With you.  You got me through all of the parts that were hard for me.  Now I am going to get you through this.”

I feel tears spring to my eyes, knowing this stranger who has become my friend while running a marathon means exactly what he says.  So I allow it.  I stop and stretch every quarter-mile or so.  The pain in my back is excruciating, making me sick to my stomach.  Because there is someone with me, I am able to keep going.  We pass the candy station that is just a couple of miles from the finish line.  I cannot imagine eating candy at this point; Brian, too , passes on the stop and we run on, steady and slow.

I can hear the finish line crowd and music, see the gate we will run through, my heart soars and at last, we cross the finish.  I turn and hug my new friend, feeling a gratitude that makes my heart swell with a love that exists only among those who experience this kind of camaraderie.  And then Bill is beside me, gathering me into his arms, congratulating me, hugging me, and Brian’s family is there, his children grinning proudly at their dad, whisking him off for photos and congratulations.  A volunteer hands me a Mylar blanket which I take and them shed immediately as the pain in my back intensifies.   Someone else hands me a bag with snacks and a medal for finishing.  Bill helps me to the side and off the finish line area and I try to bend over to remove my sneakers.  I cannot, so he kneels down to help me.  We walk—or Bill walks and I hobble—past the food tents and drink tents and trinkets—directly to the massage tent.  I am afraid someone is going to stuff me into an ambulance, but I hobble directly to the front of the line.

“How long is the wait to see someone?  I have a terrible muscle spasm and I don’t think I can wait long.”

The woman behind the make-shift desk looks at me for a few seconds, assessing me.

“Come in right now.  Come in, honey.”

And then I am in a chair with an icepack on my back.  Bill paces around outside the tent. I know he is worried, but he will have to wait.  Soon, someone comes to get me and brings me to a massage table.  The masseuse is a young man, and as he listens to me telling him what is wrong, I can sense apprehension in his approach.  I allow him to work on my back for a little while, and soon realize there will be nothing he can do to help me today.  I wince as I roll off the table and stagger to my feet.

“Thank you.  Thank you so much.  I am sure this will feel better soon.”

I exit the tent and find Bill, who is still pacing around.  The concern on his face makes me glad I am not near a mirror.

We head back to the hotel, me gingerly putting one foot in front of the other, leaning heavily on Bill’s arm.  At some point, he wraps his arm right around me and I rest as much of my weight on him as I can without actually letting him carry me.  We take breaks from walking and I stretch a bit.  I am grateful for the longish walk back to the hotel, knowing that if I stop moving, my muscles will seize up even more and I will be defeated by my own body after making my goal.

A couple of hours later, after a long hot shower, four or five ibuprofen and more stretching, I find myself at a table in a restaurant, eating house special miso soup with mushrooms and rolls of vegan sushi.  Plates of vegetables and noodles crowd the table in the corner and I eat and eat and eat until my belly is full.  We walk together back to the car and I fall into the front seat, spent from the run, the dinner, the excitement and the success.  I did it!

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The Bad, The Good, and the Ugly

October 21, 2011

I’m in my kickboxing class, the only class I take.  Training numerous clients all week is fun, but I have discovered that hitting an 800 pound bag or boxing pads held by a strong sparring partner lets off steam and releases anger and frustration I never knew I had—or at least had never been in touch with before.  My teacher is a pretty, tiny woman whose husband owns their fitness business.  She is a certified boxing and kickboxing instructor who is good at what she does.  She takes time to demonstrate the left-hand version of everything; more than half of us in the class are lefties!  We talk in between rounds; she knows I am a personal trainer and respects my level of fitness.  She tries to find challenges for me during the core training segments of our class.  She makes comments about my muscle definition that make me feel great about my body.  I trust her.

One. I jab, straight out in front, with my shoulder rolled and my right fist curled tightly in my glove.   One, two.  I  jab again with my right fist, then pivot on my back leg and punch across with my left fist. One, two, hook— the same one-two, then I pivot back, bringing my bent right arm in front of and across my body, elbow high, the fist cutting the air with a whoosh.  Front kick, two, upper cut, that punch powered by a fast, shallow squat with my right fist pushing up and out, clipping someone’s imaginary jaw.  A fine glaze of moisture forms on my brow and she smiles at me.

“You’re mist-ified!”

Mist-ified.  That makes me grin.  I love the feel of sweat running down my back and down my shins as I throw each fist forward, punching the heavy black bag, dancing around it as if I am in the ring with a relentless partner.

“I’m thinking of running that marathon that’s starting in Rockport on October 23.  Haven’t run one before, but I feel pretty ready.”

“You should talk to Aldo about it.”

Aldo, her husband, has been a trainer for 14 years.  He has run marathons, boxed professionally, works his clients as though it’s his (and their) last day on earth.  I don’t know him, but I see him in passing when boxing class begins, and sometimes when he starts a session with a client at the end of our boxing class.

“Well, I guess I could.  My running partner thinks I’m ready.  She’s run more than her fair share of marathons.  I feel comfortable with her input.”

“I still think you should talk to Aldo.”

But I don’t.  I run by the sign advertising the marathon every morning and know I will go online and register.  I run 17 miles one day.  I get home, eat a pile of food, shower, then go out with my husband and spend the rest of the day shopping.  If I can do that, surely I can run 26 miles.

Back in class, my instructor looks closely at my face.

“Aldo doesn’t think you should do it.  He doesn’t think you are ready.”

“Really?”

I shove the words aside and punch harder than usual, wondering how he could possibly assess my readiness without looking at my training log, without watching me run.  Yet I begin to feel doubt.

Another week goes by.  I run mile after mile, throw punch after punch.  I do plyometric drills.  I throw the P90X DVD in and do the Ab Ripper segment. I can do the entire segment straight through.  Then I go out for another run.  I think about the marathon.  I do not register.

“So!  Are you going to run that marathon?”

“No, I don’t think so.”  No I am not.

I run with my friend Eric another day and we run 11 miles.  It’s easy for both of us—in fact, he tracks our pace, trying to keep us to 9:30′ miles, and we struggle to go that slowly.  We talk about his upcoming half marathon in Newburyport and somewhere during the run, he mentions not having a cheering section and running alone.  I get ready to hint that I would like to run it with him.  Before I can finish, he says it would be great to run it together.  A rush of relief washes over me.  If I’m not going to do the marathon, at least on that day I will have a race—a race I can easily do.  A race with a friend.  We run the 11 miles in a figure 8, and on the second loop, we keep trying to back off, to slow down so we can complete the distance and when we are finished, he sends me an email saying maybe a better goal for the half marathon would be 9:10′ per mile.  I go online and register right away.

So, that’s the bad and the good.  Now for the ugly.

I let someone who doesn’t even know me influence my decision to run my first marathon.  That’s not like me at all—just ask my mom, my husband, or my kids how often I take their advice.  I appreciate their advice, yes, but I make my own decisions.  Why would I let anyone plant a seed of doubt in my mind, let alone allow it to grow into an invasive vine of questions that overgrow my trust in myself?  That is the ultimate ugliness, far worse than not finishing my first marathon, or limping pathetically over the finish line.  I am in the best shape of my life.  I know that.  How could I have let that knowledge be smothered?

For now, I will toss that ugliness aside.  I an thrilled to be running the Green Stride Newburyport Half Marathon this Sunday morning with Eric.  We will keep each other company, cheer each other on, and finish proudly.  This will be my second half, so when I see the next advertisement for a full marathon, I will keep my sense of self intact and sign up to run.