It is odd that I am having such a hard time putting the marathon into words. Words are where I feel most at home; words are how I process existence. I think that it comes down to a key tension: the event was so public, so loud, so full; and yet my experience of it was more private, quiet, internal. I expected to bubble with thoughts, and instead I am experiencing it more like a stone sinking into deep water.
downtown, near the beginning: running under the office tower that arched over the road, listening to runners whoop and holler, smiling as the sounds of excited runners echoed
signs: “Worst. Parade. Ever.”; “I’m pretty sure you’re winning”; “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”; “Your feet called. They’d like a word with you.”; “Toenails Optional”; “Your feet hurt because of all the butt you’re kickin'”; “May the course be with you.”; “Run long and Prosper”
support – cheering like I’ve never had before. Thousands of people along the course, cheering everyone who went past. Having what felt like a whole city support me, made me feel special, and that’s what I’d wanted. That’s why I picked Minneapolis.
Rainer: There, always.
trees with leaves of every colour, like fireworks
BBQ feast afterwards at Famous Dave’s: all sorts of sticky meats and cornbread. Delicious.
It was a lovely day. Warm enough overnight that we didn’t shiver as we shed our warm layers and handed them in before the wait for the start. Sun shone. People buzzed with nervous energy. I felt calmly excited. I’d had a worrying spell earlier that week, but was comforted when I realized this was really only a long run with Rainer, and I’m good at long runs with Rainer. That took the nerves out of the equation.
After we left downtown and took a right turn into the first neighborhood, the spectator support burst into life. So many people. So much cheering. Signs and cowbells and shouts of encouragement. Even though it was a hill, we all felt the energy of it. I grinned and cheered back.
A few things were odd and difficult. My toes didn’t feel right after an hour. Was I losing toenails? Was I bleeding? I decided to refuse to worry about it. I’d find out at the finish line. After two hours, my hip problem – which had largely disappeared thanks to the orthotics I’ve been wearing this summer – flared up in a new way and caused pain on the side of my knee. What to do? This was new. Was it something to stop over? An injury? Or was it simply a new annoyance to ignore the way I ignore my hip pain when it seizes up? I just kept going, but as the miles ticked by it became a constant companion. If I stopped to walk through a water station, the first 30m of running were sharp and horrid. The pain would fade back to being a 3 on a scale of 1-10 after that. So I stopped walking in water stations.
I didn’t want to complain. I didn’t want to worry Rainer. But I did talk a bit about it, and when it became something I was really working hard to work through, he started doing what he does so well: finding yet more ways to surprise me with support. He would stop at the stations to gather water for us both while I jogged ahead and then run to catch me. It meant disrupting his rhythm, doing a bit of interval work, and managing multiple cups. No, it wasn’t a huge thing, but it was so thoughtful and so unexpected. We’ve been together for 21 years now, and yet he still finds new ways to love me.
What this all meant was that by the time I reached the long, slow hill of Summit Drive, I’d already been pushing. I’d already been persistent. The hill was actually fairly easy, and my training was more than adequate. But what I remember feeling as I ran up that beautiful street with the thousands of cheering people trying to lend me their energy, was a saddness and an annoyance that my knee pain meant that I was surviving rather than thriving as my ass-kickin’ training should have let me do. Under the layer of pain, I could feel how well I was doing.
At this point – mile 22 or so – I stopped being able to spectate the spectators. I stopped looking at the houses and the trees and the crowds. I looked a few meters ahead of myself at the road and I ran. I waited for the top of that long, long incline. Because I knew that at the top there was a left turn. And that left turn would lead me to the cathedral. And that cathedral was on a hill. And right there I would see the end. The finish line.
It took forever.
There was a part of me that considered whether I’d be able to do it, or whether I would stop. “Stop?!” the rest of me wondered. “Stop? But that would mean having to train a second time and run all these miles a second time just to be able to say I’d finished my first marathon.” No. Stubbornness is a virtue sometimes.
It took forever, those miles between 22 and 25. I could feel my ability to cope, the store of persistence, crumbling. It took forever. But the cathedral did come. The capitol building did gleam white in the bright sun. The tens of thousands of spectators did shoo my doubts away.
Now the memories become like snapshots: Look for the kids and Rainer’s parents. There they were! Give a loud, “Wooot!” Blow kisses. Finish line. Finisher’s medal glinting in the sun and feeling solid around my neck. Cry on Rainer’s shoulder. Not hungry or thirsty, but he made me eat and drink a little. Walk around.
I felt happy. I felt victorious. I felt quiet.
The funny thing about my time is that as I ran toward the finish line, the clock was ticking toward 4:50 and I wondered if I could get there before then. To beat 4:50 seemed like a strong finish after all that pain. But I had nothing left with which to speed up. Fine. Finishing is the strong finish, I thought. And it was only once I was across the line and looking at my watch that I remembered that I was in the second wave of runners. That clock was showing the time the gun went off, and my timing chip would reflect the 6 minutes or so that it took to reach the start line. So that completely satisfying time of 4:44:40 was absolutely unfudged.
It’s been a week since the marathon today. Sometimes I’m sad when I think of it, regretting the fact that the mystery pain stole the run from me. The whole race could have been as much fun as the first 90 minutes. On the other hand, there’s a pride that comes from dealing with something difficult for so long. I did it. And I did it in pain.
Will I do another? Yes. I didn’t hate it at any part, during or after and I like how fit I am. But I don’t see myself doing one next year. I’m thinking every other year is a good plan. A bit of rest and maybe some fun with triathlons one year, and then another year with a marathon.
4:44:40. It really was just another long run. And yet, it was a run that changed how I see myself. I can remember being overweight and under-motivated so clearly. I never thought I’d be a runner. Then I was a runner but I never thought I’d be a long distance runner. Then I ran half-marathons and thought I’d never run marathons.
Never. What a silly word. Take it from me: Do impossible things.