When non runner people hear that I’m a runner, usually the conversation goes something like this:
Them: “You ran HOW many miles?”
Me: “22” (or insert any distance over 10 miles, depending on the weekend)
Them: “On purpose?”
Me: “Well, yes…”
Usually, when the word “why” comes out of their mouths, they have a look that depicts absolute disbelief mixed with a “bitch be crazy” smirk and a sprinkle of awestruck. I have, more often than not, found myself at cocktail parties, gatherings or in social circles having to explain WHY I do “this” (read: running ungodly long distances) to myself. I stand there, trying to explain what it feels like to cross the finish line after 26 long miles and the jubilation at the realization that you still have all your toenails. I try to explain what it feels like to train for six months, make it to that last mile and know that you are actually going to finish and not be found dead on the road at mile 24. Most times, I just try to answer the “Why?” with “Why not?”.
Here’s the thing, though: after this weekend’s marathon, I’m not quite sure myself anymore.
This weekend, I embarked on my 4th marathon. Yes, my FOURTH. As I’ve discussed before, I am your average, run of the mill, never gonna qualify for Boston but still willing to pretend that maybe I will runner. But, I’m nothing if not dedicated and determined to see myself across the finish line when I’ve set my goal. I’m not the fastest in the pack but I’ve never been last at a race yet so I just keep showing up to the start lines. And, frankly, I’m too cheap to forfeit the race fee so once I hit “submit”, that race is getting run and I’m getting my $75 worth of marathon swag.
This weekend’s race was the Pocono Run for the Red and it benefited the American Red Cross (huge shout out to all the work they are doing in OK….woot, ARC!). After obsessively studying the weather like Al Roker on steroids all week, I was discouraged to find that it was a balmy 59 degrees, raining and windy when I arrived at Pocono Raceway for the start. Not to be deterred, I proudly donned my Super Ply Hefty garbage bag as a poncho and marched myself to the starting line. And as I stood there amidst my running gal pals, nervous giggling and resisting the urge to just pack up and go for pancakes, the SWAT vehicle and huge police presence did not go unnoticed and I felt vaguely unsettled. As I visited the porta potty for the umpteenth time, I reminded myself that beer was at the finish line. Oh, and my husband and kids. That, too. The national anthem was sung, the gun went off and we were off for 26.2 miles. In a row.
Now, it’s a widely known fact that the Poconos are MOUNTAINS and that mountains, as defined by Google, are “a large natural elevation of the earth’s surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level: a large steep hill”. When the word ABRUPT can used to describe a topographical location you are about to run on, it should be one’s first clue that a road race *might* be a little tricky. That, and the fact that the race director kept using words like “net elevation descent” and “fast downhills” probably should have tipped me off to the fact that my relationship with my quadriceps muscles was about to change significantly. But, in true “why not?” spirit, I left the start line hopeful and only moderately nauseous.
Things were going swimmingly for the first 6 miles. I was on pace, I had conquered “rolling hills” and my bladder was holding up like a champ. The rain was my friend, keeping me cool, and the fact that my running shorts were plastered to my legs only made me push harder to get to my dry clothes at the finish. When I encountered a lovely gentleman named Mike who was leading the 4:45 pace group while belting out the song “Feeling Groovy”, I settled in for the long haul and dreamed of my PR finishing time (for those not in the know, a PR is a Personal Record. Which is not to be confused with a BQ: Boston Qualify. Or a DNF: Did Not Finish. But I digress….). I was in the zone.
And then, The Downhill came a little into Mile 6. From Miles 6-10, The Downhill came at me like a Mack truck doing Mach 10 on the Autobahn. Fast and furiously, my quads were subjected to constant, excruciating pounding for four straight miles. Even Pace Guy Mike’s rendition of Porgy and Bess’ “Summertime” did nothing to distract me from the fact that my quads were screaming for mercy. I tried everything from leaning backwards to longer strides to bargaining with The Man Upstairs to make the pain less intense. By Mile 10, I knew my quads were never, ever going to forgive me and that I’d quite possibly be limping until October.
Mile 13 found me swearing like a sailor because the incline was akin to Mt. Everest and Mile 16 found me attempting to use a porta potty because my bladder had had it. It’s the *one* time in my life that I considered actually just sitting down on the porta potty seat because the act of squatting made me want to pass out. The nurse in me forced myself to suck it up and squat but I’m not going to lie: it was a close one. Mile 20 found me pleasantly surprised that I had not yet hit “The Wall”, which, for those non marathoner types, is the stage of the marathon where your body suddenly decides that it’s had enough, it’s taking it’s toys and it’s going the hell home. I was no longer in the zone but I was at least still alive.
Enter Mile 23. Mile 23 was a slow, steady, grinding, masochistic, game changer of a hill. Mile 23 is where I had a discussion with myself about the stupidity of marathoning. Mile 23 is where I realized that I’d probably not be wearing sandals this summer because my toenails were blistering and purple. Mile 23 heard it’s fair share of expletives from me and I’m fairly certain the gentleman slogging up the hill with me was having an active heart attack (okay, he wasn’t really but he sounded like it…). Mile 23 is where I cried “Uncle”.
Miles 24-26.2 were a blur of dizziness, hazy vision, and a tiny bit of vomiting. I have vague recollections of a blue haired pace guy holding the 5:00 pace sign sailing by me, taking with him my 4:40 PR goal. During a walk break from whatever form of running I was doing at that point, I texted my husband “I want to die” and he, being the good cyber cheerleader that he is, texted “Not today, dear”. As I rounded the corner to the stadium where the madness would end, all I could think of was that I had to just keep putting one foot in front of the other because my kids were watching. I finished, not dead and not last, but by the skin of my teeth.
As I sit here, recovering and making ridiculous noises every time I attempt to get up off the couch, I can say that I don’t have a good answer to why I put myself through the rigors of a marathon. Some days I love the challenge, other days, like today, it feels like lunacy to keep it up. But, as I’m creating fake toenails with nail polish until they grow back and popping Motrin like candy, I know in my heart of hearts, I’ll do it again. If for no other reason other than I get a T shirt…..I wonder what the 2013 NYC Marathon shirts look like?