Nobody is required to read all of this. I accidentally murdered my internal editor somewhere between mile 23 and mile 25. I will never test you on the below novel.
I woke up at 6:30 this morning -- about 4 hours after I finally fell asleep. I was in bed looong before that, but it's hard to get comfortable when your body thinks it's been put through a meat grinder.
I'm not going to lie -- this current situation is not pretty. Every muscle hurts. In fact, I can't tell the difference between muscles, tendons, bones and even skin. There is a generalized pain that reminds me of what it's like to have a high fever. When my lungs expand, like, for breathing, muscles in my back hurt. My sinuses hurt. I'm sunburned. Lowering myself onto a toilet seat is an activity preceded by the gathering of courage; getting back up tests the construction of my towel rack.
If you are lucky, you will get to go through this one day, too, if you haven't already.
So, I started out in high spirits. I showed up to the start more than an hour earlier than necessary. I was excited, but there was definitely a healthy dose of "we better do this before I change my mind."
The Team in Training coaches were fantastic from the start. They answered questions and promised to find us on the route. That would matter a lot in a few hours.
The start cannon for my wave (the slowbies) was delayed by a medical emergency
that took place within the first half mile. Ominous.
The hardest part of the first 13 miles was forcing myself to take the walk breaks. After every 4 minutes of running, I had to remind myself that the one-minute walk breaks were non-negotiable, even if I wasn't tired. I skipped two or three, but was pretty loyal to them overall.
Fifteen miles flew by. The crowd was fun and loud and silly. Chatting among my fellow runners was easy and noncommittal. Two guys who ran near me throughout the race carried giant American and Marine flags. Batman and Captain America were also close by.
I saw all my friends between the 10 and 15 mile markers. Some ran with me for a bit, but most just cheered and some sipped cocktails. (I ran up to Katy, Ryan and Sarah and said "do you have anything to drink?" Katy said,"Yes!" and moved toward her backpack. Then she looked sad. "Oh, I only have mimosas." I waited for the water stop.)
The route then headed to Haines Point, which was the beginning of the end for me. Not in a good way.
Emergency vehicles were blaring past us, and marines with fake cheer directed us around flurry of activity to our right. I looked back to see a man lying on the ground. I couldn't see the paddles, but I saw his chest jump as they tried to bring him back. We all ran quietly for a while. I learned when I got home that the man died
Haines Point was very flat, boring and windy. I could feel the shin splints in both legs, blisters were accumulating on my toes and I was beginning to feel fatigue. Now, I was living for the walk breaks. I made a deal with myself not to mess with my 4:1 ratio until I hit the 14th Street Bridge, which begins at mile 20.
I don't think it ever occurred to me to quit moving, but my mind was spinning, trying to come up with a way to make the pain less. I tried leaning forward, shuffling my feet, swinging my arms more, looking down, and about a dozen other brands of running voodoo. I tried every mental trick that I had studied, but I couldn't focus well enough to get through a mantra.
At mile 19, Coach John appeared. He asked how I was, and I realized I was about to sob, so I closed my mouth. He got the point, and talked to me like a was a retarded monkey on the brink of suicide, which was the exact appropriate way to deal with me. He described the rest of the route, told me how much I had already done, told me how soon it would be over. He said "if it was easy, everybody would do it," then he was off to help other struggling TNTers.
With Coach John gone, I had to get my breathing back in check. Turns out crying, or trying not to cry, constricts your lungs. I worried that I was close to hyperventilating. Focusing on that -- breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out -- got me through another couple of miles.
On the bridge I had an internal debate about whether I had promised myself to stick with 4:1 to
the bridge or through
I compromised. When I was nearly over it, I skipped a whole 4 minute run. It was the one and only time I did that.
The next six miles were excruciating. My new system was that I would begin running every time my watch told me the four minutes was beginning again, and kept running until I couldn't anymore (that could take a minute and a half, or could take the full four minutes). The ratio went out the window, but the new system ensured that I didn't give up on running.
Around mile 22, I caught up to a guy who had a music player that was loud enough for those around him to hear. We ran together briefly and chatted a little, and then I pushed ahead.
A mile and a half before the finish, I just felt tapped out. I couldn't begin to think about how great it would be to cross the finish line -- that just seemed too remote, too far in the future. I didn't know if I could get back up to a run.
That's when music guy ran up next to me. "C'mon, we're going to finish this together," he said. This guy, John, totally saved me. This was his fourth marathon, and he had that suicidal-retarded-monkey way of talking me through it. He talked away, chatting about what it will be like to cross that finish line.
When I saw the finish line, I stopped thinking about the running and thought instead about not crying. If I had started, I don't know if I would have stopped. John and I crossed over, and cute marines placed medals around our necks.
My marine asked how I was, and I told him I was trying not to cry. He said "Oh, everybody's crying. Cry!" That made me laugh.
I had finished! For 5 hours and 39 minutes, I fought for that moment. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. As I write this, it's still overwhelming. To reach that point, where you think you have nothing more, and then dig just slightly deeper -- I think that's what keeps making my chest tighten when I think of the race. Or maybe it's just the searing muscle pain.
If you have ever considered a marathon, I would love to be the one to peer pressure you into it. Nobody ever regrets running a marathon.