Even up until the final seconds before the starting gun sounded on Saturday morning, as I stood shivering amongst a crowd of thousands of other cold and anxious runners, I wondered to myself why I was doing this. Did I really have to run 26.2 miles to feel the full physical and emotional benefits running has brought into my life? Did I really have to punish myself this way again to feel the accomplishment and the validation? Was all this madness really necessary?
Up until the starting gun sounded, I wasn't so sure. But several hours later, when I crossed another finish line and once again was declared a marathoner, my uncertainty changed to heartfelt conviction.
I love running marathons!
Granted, I am and probably always will be a middle-of-the-pack marathoner. But upon finishing my second marathon on Saturday, I realized the experience of my first one more than a year ago was no fluke. I love what accomplishing 26.2 miles on foot does for my heart, mind, body and soul. I love being able to run 20 miles and feel like I'm just getting in a great workout. And I love the last 10K of a marathon, when it takes every bit of physical willpower, emotional courage and mental tenacity to fight off the discomfort and exhaustion to just... keep.... going.
Instead of doing a play by play recap of my race this time, I thought I'd just hit upon some of my observations and highlights, which made for such an interesting, fun and unique experience.
- Why is it the bus ride to the starting line feels longer than the race itself? It must have something to do with the fact it's a school bus, which of course doesn't use any form of shocks or struts to cushion its ride. All I know is every single time I've ridden a school bus to the start of a race, I've had to scramble off the bus as soon as possible to hit the line to the port-a-potty, hopping up and down and crossing my legs until it's my turn. Inevitably, the more I have to go, the longer the people in front of me seem to take. Fortunately, though it was a close call, I managed to hold out... only to feel the need to go again about 30 seconds before the race started. But instead of climbing the hill to the port-a-potties again, I just told myself I'd have to stop somewhere along the way. I timed it just right at mile 14 when I only had to wait about 10 seconds for an open bathroom. I'll admit, however, for a couple miles beforehand, I was eyeing up just about every tree and tall bush along the course.
- Which brings me to another thing regarding pit stops during a race (then I'll move on, I promise): Shouldn't it be against the rules, in the sake of fairness, for men to stop literally on the side of the course and do their business in front of everyone passing by? Most of the men (and all the women) would at least find some kind of privacy, but there were a handful of guys who figured a tree ten feet away was good enough. I suppose the fact the first half of the course was through a wooded canyon gave true meaning to the call of nature, but I could've done without being witness to that over and over again. I'm just glad once we emerged from the canyon and started running through residential areas, there weren't any pit stops on manicured lawns or in bird baths or anything.
- I'm not sure the temperature at the start of the race, but let's just say it was a 'lil chilly. The organizers had set up a huge warming tent for runners to congregate in to stay warm. And congregate, they did. It was more or less packed like sardines, but we were warm sardines! As I sat in my little coveted claimed spot on the ground in the tent, I noticed in the corner two male Kenyan runners, looking cold, but poised and confident. I realized I was looking at athletes who would be running the marathon in about the time it took me to reach the halfway mark and for a bit, I was almost star-struck. What I didn't realize at the time was that the two impressive elites I was watching would be ultimately bested by eight minutes by a skinny, bespectacled white kid from Laverkin, Utah, earning himself a spot in the Olympic trials in six weeks.
- About an hour into the race, I was running up onto a scene with police cars and several officers gathering on the side of the road. As I got closer, I realized there was a runner being detained on the ground by the police, face down, hands behind his back... in the process of being arrested, it looked like. "Well, this is new", I thought. Not every race I get to see somebody get arrested. While he was on the ground struggling against the force of the officers, he was yelling things out to runners passing by. The only thing I made out was, "You all are a bunch of vegans!"
Ooo-kay.I turned to the guy running next to me, confusion plastered all over my face and asked, "what the hell was that???" He laughed and shrugged, equally as confused. I learned after the race the guy had been running behind women and grabbing them in... uhhh... sensitive areas. I guess he took offense to being apprehended for such a thing and figured heckling the runners was the next best option. I can't decide if being branded a vegan offends me or not, especially since I am, in fact, an enthusiastic meat-eater and leather-wearer. Nevertheless, it made for an entertaining stretch of run.
- 'Bout mile nine, I started feeling pain in the front of my left shin. It wasn't terrible, but it was definitely uncomfortable and I was annoyed at being bothered by pain in a location I hadn't had before in training. There wasn't much I could do about it at that point, though, so I just pressed on and did my best to ignore it. Hours later, when I crossed the finish line, a volunteer bent down to take off my ankle-wrap timing chip and upon doing so, exposed a nice, purple, circular-sized bruise on the front of my shin where the plastic chip had been pushing against my bone. I instantly rolled my eyes at myself for having endured pain that could've been easily alleviated if I'd just realized the source of it. Another reason why I much prefer the shoelace timing chips. (If only that were a good excuse for my oblivious stupidity.)
- At mile 15, I was still feeling strong, but starting to notice the effects in my legs of the 14 miles of downhill. Anticipating that would happen, I had strategically stored four 200 mgs of ibuprofen in the back pocket of my running skirt. I reached behind, unzipped the pocket and started digging for the pills. And digging some more. Good grief... how deep are they? Then I grabbed a handful of what felt like lint, pulled it out and realized my strategically stored ibuprofen was now nothing more than powdered dust. My sweat had gotten to them and rendered them useless. Another moment of brilliancy. I felt instantly deflated, having really counted on them to help me out at that point. For just a second, I considered licking my fingers but figured I ought to do what I could at that point to salvage some semblance of dignity. Of course, that last thread of dignity I salvaged was depleted a few miles later after eating an orange slice and not being able to get the extra strings unstuck out of my teeth for the remaining eight miles. Or perhaps it went when I tried to put down my fourth chocolate GU gel and smeared half of it on my cheek instead. Oh well. Dignity is overrated anyway.
- At mile 25, with the end in sight, we were running along the main road in town, lined with traffic and cheering crowds. As I had experienced in my first marathon, my mind at this point had completely shut down and my body was on auto-pilot. I knew only enough to keep running in a straight line... and sometimes I wasn't even so good at doing that. But during one of those few moments when I managed to look up and acknowledge the crowd cheering for us, I noticed a woman sitting in a wheelchair on the side of the road. She had no legs, but she was wearing the biggest smile I have ever seen. She looked at me in the eyes while holding her smile, clapping her hands and yelling for me to keep going. In my utter exhaustion, I was suddenly struck with a feeling of awe. Here was this woman, without the use of her legs for whatever reason, sitting on the side of a marathon course, cheerfully applauding runners who make a hobby of using their legs. I smiled back at her and mouthed a "thank you", feeling just a hint of new spring to my step.
I came away from Saturday's marathon surprisingly unscathed. The stiffness and achiness is there, constantly reminding me of my accomplishment, and I've got a nice little chafing burn around my bellybutton of all places. But this morning as I went on a comfortable three-mile recovery walk, I decided upon my arrival home, I would officially bookmark the website of the marathon I want to run in the late spring next year. The marathon, I've concluded, is where it's at.
I think I've created a monster.