On Sunday, June 6, 2010, I became a marathoner.
The tapering period was a strange experience. I compare this period to sitting it out at the waiting room of a doctor’s office, except you are by yourself this time. You’ve booked your appointment, the doctor is there, but he won’t see you just yet. There’s nothing to do but WAIT, and you try to pass the time in an unfamiliar setting (the doctor’s office being the equivalent of the unfamiliarity of NOT running after months when running had been such an integral part of LIFE). After the 20 mile training run, I had been experiencing some discomfort in my knee – not the kneecap (fortunately), but the inner leg part at the knee. I tried icing it and cut down my mileage significantly over the tapering period. Still, the “pain”, which was more like a nagging discomfort which intensified as I went downhill or down the stairs, would not go away. At times, it felt like my knees were out of alignment, like the muscles were pulling in a sightly “twisting” way. So, along with the excitement and anticipation of race day, I have to say that what I felt the days prior to the marathon was nervousness, most of all. I was feeling uneasy, not knowing how this problem would manifest during the later miles of the 26.2. This was “new” to me – I’ve been running for years now (albeit the longest distances during this training period), BUT never before had I had any problem, injury, or pain.
Fast forward to the early hours of Sunday, June 6. I was feeling three things: a tad of disappointment that my body was not at its 100%, a whole lot of nervous anticipation that I was about to begin the longest run of my life ever, and an URGENCY to go to the bathroom! (I’ll spare anyone who’s reading the port-a-potty episode. I will just say that I am grateful for the deal offered by the girl in front of me in line: when she saw me squirming, she offered for me to go ahead of her in line in exchange for a Kleenex. One of those rare occasions in which I was actually prepared in the event of no toilet paper!)
The first 8 miles or so went by like a fast running river… I was trying really hard to be mindful and to take it slow (both to take in the scene and the experience and to conserve energy for the later miles). I succeeded in running at an “easy” pace, but even then, that whole time went by FAST. I have never experienced a faster 8 miles, even if in reality, it took much longer to complete this distance than it had ever taken me before, during training. The prevalent feeling over these mies was elation.
A little bit after mile 8, I had to stop and massage my knees, which were beginning to act up. It was very uncomfortable, and it made me slow down, but it was not painful yet.
Mile 13: “I’m halfway there!”
Mile 15: PAIN is what I remember, after having run a long stretch of a highway which curves over a loooong distance, and so the surface is at a steep incline. This can (and will) wreak havoc on already compromised knees. This is where I knew it was going to take me a whole lot longer to finish than my projected time. After trying to find the flattest surfaces I could toward the edge of the highway, that stretch was finally over. I went to the side and this time had to sit, stretch my legs, massage some more, and keep going. The pain was a lot worse as I slowed down, so I kept jogging at an easy pace.
The distance after Mile 20 was the trip to a place I had never been to. After the 20th mile, some runners will experience was is called “the wall”, the point where glycogen is depleted from the body, making runners feel like they cannot possibly go on. Oddly (or perhaps not so, I don’t know), I got my “second wind” at around mile 21. I knew that quitting was not an option for me, that the sun had been out for a while at this point, and that I REALLY wanted to get to the finish line. Like I told h.g. afterward: I kept running because I wanted to get to the point where I could STOP running.
That was one thought… But it was nothing short of beautiful to know that I was at that moment doing something which I had never thought possible I could do. There I was, slowly but steadily advancing through the miles. Exhilarating!
I remember one particular cheer at mile 25 and a half: “This is YOURS! You can take it home now!”
I remember throwing my arms up at the finish line. I remember hearing U2’s “Where the streets have no name.” Appropriate, for a journey to an unknown place, a place I had never before been to, the 26.2 miles – a place I want to go to again.
I completed the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon with a chip time of 4:43:32. Not the time I was hoping for, but I am happy I finished, and I know it’s not so bad, all things considered, and I hope I will beat it next time. This might sound awfully redundant, but my legs had never before felt so tired. Worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Hell, yeah! Three days later, I am already considering which will be the next one.