Tuesday, February 17, 2009

birth of a runner

Preface ~ Marathon stories are a lot like birth stories: they're only really interesting to those who share a similar experience, or those who intend to share a similar experience sometime soon. The non-runner gets lost in chip times, pacers, GU, and body glide. So, to my few but regular readers, please indulge me, and I promise I shall return to stories about country life, pictures of multicolor eggs, and adventures in organic gardening very soon.

I never really wanted to run a marathon. I signed up for Danny's Couch to 5K group after giving birth to kid number two. More specifically, after I found myself wearing maternity clothes several months after giving birth to kid number two.

When I started the program, I couldn't run an entire lap around the track. After years of ballet, swimming, nautilus, yoga -- this was depressing, to say the least. But I had never been a runner. I watched them from my car and wondered how they could just keep going. Indeed, I cursed them from my car: Good lord, why the hell are you running in the middle of the road?

Danny's program is phenomenal. Teeny tiny baby steps: Walk half, run half. Go home. Oh crap, we're jumping up to two miles today?! Take us off the track and let the creek distract us into thinking two is easy. From 5K to 10K -- why not? Hell, I ran a 10K -- wouldn't a half marathon be something? But a full -- no, I don't ever want to do a full. Those people are just crazy.

Then comes the day of the 2008 Mercedes Marathon. I sign up for the half. Everything falls into place. I sleep well, I drink enough water, I eat right, my body doesn't do anything wacky. Sure, I have to piss like a mother once I hit Valley Avenue (the 2008 course is not a double loop), but by the time I hit the full cutoff point, I think to myself, Damn. I feel great. I think I could turn off here and do the full today! I don't, of course, but I finish strong and I finally understand: They're not really as crazy as we think they are. They just know they can do it. I have a whole year to work up to the 2009 full -- why not?

So I do. A friend jokes that deciding to run a marathon is a lot like deciding to have a baby: You think to yourself, Oh, it'll be fun. It won't change things much -- we'll just carry it around in a backpack wherever we go. And suddenly you are up at 4:30am tending to its needs. You give up all other extracurricular activities. You must tend to it no matter what -- freakin' rain, shine, snow, wind chill, freakin' rain -- or it will not survive. Sure, you can enjoy a rare night out drinking with your friends after the show at WorkPlay, but no matter what time you go to bed, it is not going to let you sleep late.

After months of training, then comes the taper. Forgive the scrambled timeline of the metaphor, but the taper is a lot like the end of the third trimester. You've had your fun, and now you're just ready to get this thing over with. You wait. You get antsy. They tell you to rest. You have no idea what to expect after the first 20 miles, because training doesn't take you past the first 20 miles. You take it on faith that you can tack a 10K to your longest run to date. WTF?

Finally, it is the night before the race. Okay family, here's the deal: I am turning the lights off at 8pm. You are not disturbing me for any reason. I must sleep. The alarm is going off at 4:30am because we live in Hayden. I must sleep. Do you understand? All of which translates into: kid number two crawling into bed with you in the middle of the night, dog waking up twice to lick your face in the middle of the night, you having to pee in the middle of the night, your heart racing uncontrollably in the middle of the night because how in the hell are you going to run those last 6.2 miles on no sleep....

The morning goes well. You drink your coffee, you eat your Snickers Marathon bar, you somehow manage to shove six or seven energy gels into the small inner pocket of your shorts, you pin your bib, you attached the hell out of your chip the night before. No way that thing's coming off.

You get there an hour before it starts. You pee three times before the gun goes off: twice in the Boutwell bathrooms and once in between a sticker bush and a brick wall. You make it to mile five before having to pee again. No way -- they locked the doors to the School of Business? You mean I have to stand in line at the port-a-lets? I HATE port-a-lets. No good bushes in sight. Damn. And oh, yes, please remind me why I HATE port-a-lets. Good lord -- if my stomach had been that off I woulda just stayed in bed. I mean, seriously, I don't think I could make that much of a mess if I tried. What the hell happened in there?

After starting out strong (too strong, really -- classic mistake), that first bathroom break really puts a dent in our pace. Our = me and my running partner, Ira, who is hereafter referred to as Wonder Woman, or W2 for short. W2 saw me through all of my training. W2 is strong. And nice. And thoughtful. W2 gave me a 26.2 necklace, and a sticker for my car. I would not be here were it not for W2.

W2 and I have a deal: even though we run at about the same pace, if either of us feels like shooting ahead or lagging behind, then so be it. I consider her the stronger runner, so I don't want to hold her back when it comes down to it. She feels the same way about me. So be it.

Our first loop is fast and strong, relative to our usual pace. The spectators are fabulous, the volunteers are outstanding -- they are even playing the Ramones on Clairmont Avenue. As we near the end of the halfway point, several motorcycle cops pass us with their sirens on, instructing us to move over to the right. They are escorting the Kenyan to the finish. Before we are even halfway done. Crazy thing about being a back-of-the-packer on a double loop -- you get lapped by all of the elites.

At the halfway point, W2 asks how long we've been running. When I tell her, she gets a big grin on her face and says it is a half marathon PR for her.

At the start of the second loop, things change. There are fewer spectators, fewer volunteers (though still enough, and still outstanding), fewer runners, not as much loud music -- in short, it is a little lonely out there, and W2 and I have been running too hard to chat much. As we make our way up the hill toward the Alys Stephens Center, W2 reminds me that if she starts to slow down, I can just keep on going. I say that if she starts to slow down, I will probably want to slow down, too -- that is, if I don't do it first. I think she is just making conversation, but a little later, after walking through a water stop (a brief but necessary break in order to avoid choking), I suggest that we start running again at the nearest light post. She suggests that we wait until the second light post. Fine by me, but uncharacteristic of her. Still, I don't think much of it. Not long after that, she begins to feel queasy and needs to walk in order to avoid being sick. We think perhaps she will feel better if she does get sick, but that doesn't happen, either, so we continue to run/walk until about halfway down Cullom, when she says, Go. But wait -- the go on plan did not take sickness into consideration -- it was just a plan to accommodate the fact that we might end up running at different paces. You don't just leave your sick partner, do you? Shouldn't I stay and help -- trudge through the finish line together because that's what friends do? She never gets sick -- this is a huge blow. This is not the time for her to be alone. Is it? Go, she said. I will be mad at you if you stay. Make me proud. So I went. To be perfectly honest, I still don't feel quite right about that.

Which brings me to Phil. Phil runs marathons as part of his ongoing training schedule. No biggie. Phil is generous and kind, shares, teaches, helps -- Phil is going to help you finish your marathon, no matter what. After finishing the entire course, Phil begins to run back the other way to check up on his friends. He finds me and he asks about Ira. He is concerned when I tell him where we split up -- it is a long way back. So he keeps on running until he finds her, and he runs her all the way to the finish. Ira -- I mean, W2 -- is so Wful that she finishes only a smidgen after her goal time.

I finish strong and am happy with my time, but a little frustrated by the number of times I have to pee. Five. I even have to stop between miles 25 and 26, knowing that it will add precious minutes to my time. Okay maybe one precious minute, but still. I take a few brief walk breaks during the final 10K -- my ego is annoyed by the fact that I am walking when my friend Catherine sees me at mile 24, but she takes a goofy picture of me and that cheers me up, so I pick up the pace and am running strong by the time I see my family cheering for me at mile 25. I am kind of surprised that some of the people who are running with me at that point appear to be far fitter than I, but they aren't going any faster than I am. Others are clearly downtrodden, but they persevere. They cover the distance. They know they can do it. (Once you're past mile 20, you really have no choice but to make it back somehow or another.)

Somewhere between miles 22 and 24, I think, This is nuts. I don't think I ever need to do this again. And damn, I really shoulda gotten new shoes at the beginning of the year. But a funny thing happens once it's over. They said you could do it, and you do. And you know that you could do it again. Better.

And here's where the birth metaphor ends. Because you never think of having more kids so that you can get a better one next time (at least, I hope you don't). You don't want kid number two to be any better than kid number one. But marathon number two -- if you don't pee so much, if you don't take any walk breaks except at the water stops, if you set your Garmin to warn you when you're getting off pace, especially in the beginning, when you're feeling strong but you need to conserve, if you buy new shoes when you are supposed to.... Yes. You could. You could do it better.


Journey2thepast said...

Excellent post! It made me, a non-runner, run right alongside you and truly realize how difficult this must have been. Good job friend - my hat is off to you!!

mountainmelody said...

Wow! VERY impressive! Congratulations to you--you deserve it!

The Country Experience said...

Awesome! There is no way I could run--I've already had knee surgery and don't fancy another--but you had me completely understanding the challenge and the drive. Now I'm with you on understanding the mentality of a runner. Kudos to you, both on a great story and on your accomplishment!

(I'm in the "holy sh&t, let's just get this over with!" phase of my particular challenge-of-the-moment so it was comforting to read about yours, too.)

joy said...

I'm so proud of you!

Anthony, Lori and Cutler Turner said...

That is an awesome account of your first marathon! I hope you treasure it forever and I am so proud of you!

countrypeapie said...

Thanks HB! I know you were there in spirit!

Thank you, mountainmelody! It was a lot of hard work, but totally worth it.

Thanks TCE! Glad you could relate. I have found that if I want to keep my knees from getting screwed up with all this running, I must invest in VERY good shoes that are fitted by running shoe experts, and I must replace them every six months or so. Still, cheaper than the gym!

Thank you, Joy!

Hey Lori -- thank you!

Julia said...

Hurray for the finisher!! And loved the writing too, it didn't lose a nonrunner at all.

countrypeapie said...

Thank you, Julia! Hope y'all are able to catch up on some sleep now that you're back home!

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