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The Marathon that Kicked My Ass

2007-04-03    5:51 p.m.
I’m back from Dallas, and I’m hating life. Between the massively painful sunburn on my shoulders and neck, the nagging pain in the depths of my right knee, the sharp YOUCH coming from the ring-toe on my right foot, and my foggy memory of my brush with heat exhaustion, I don’t think I want to run another marathon again.

Things DID NOT go well.

When everything told me to stop, I haggled with myself to jog to the next course officer and assess things there. Once there, I said to go on to the next. And so on and so on.

When my knee halted any running at mile 18, I had to decide whether to continue for another eight miles with a limp just to say that I did it, or to go ahead and call it as done and hitch a ride to the end.

If I chose option #2, I knew there was no loss or shame in it. I really and truly was in bad shape. A little delirium, a bit whoozy, hot as hell, and in pain -- it just wasn’t my day for a race. It happens. Not a big deal.

But I continued on, one aid station or course officer at a time, making the assessment each time I passed. I knew that walking the entire eight miles in was a distinct possibility, and I accepted that for the time being.

Being where I was wasn’t so bad. I met several people along the course, and I helped three others along the way.

D -- normally a 4:45 marathoner -- was realizing that it just wasn’t his day when we crossed paths. His body just stopped, and he resolved to enjoy the walk. He asked if he could provide me some company, and we agreed to continue in as best we could. Nice and leisurely, we talked about business, family, future plans, and past regrets. I’d like to look him up sometime and thank him for his company.

S was lying on the ground when we approached. Wide-eyed with concern, we talked with her as she was coming to terms that this was the end for her. My water bottle provided something quick, and D and I left her with her friend as we hobbled to the next aid stop as fast as we could. We didn’t see her again, but the officer was up and along his way after we passed word to him.

I couldn’t tell you the last guy’s name, but he wasn’t looking too hot as D and I passed him. We offered encouraging words, but it’s hard to say anything that makes a difference when two people walking leisurely are beating your efforts at jogging. Every couple minutes D would turn around and give an update on “our friend back there”. As he crossed the finish line much later, we gave him handshakes and sighed relief that he made it safely. It was a legitimate concern.

Besides those three, I met several others. Three married women with the cutie pie husbands who saved me with the rag soaked in ice water. The Team in Training woman from Orange County who was just hoping to make it. The 49-year-old woman from Waco who runs eight marathons a year. The marathon charms woman who started running for one minute before taking a break, saying that she could do anything for just one minute. On and on and on.

I’ve talked with a friend once about how cars on a highway are parallel instances, where their lives momentarily move along with yours. You don’t really interact, but you’re in the same place at the same time. It’s like finding out years later that someone else attended the same concert as you. You both have the memory from the event that you can now talk about, but there was no real interception or shared experience while it occurred.

When I run marathons, it’s more than a parallel meet-up. I have actual interceptions, no matter how momentary they are.

The people working the last water stop will probably get a giggle at a later date at me using one of their cell phones to call my girl friend to let her know that I was running late. It didn’t hurt that I was in good spirits at the time, laughing while I limped, telling my friend that I’d meet up with her in three miles, and then having everyone cheer me on while she listened on.

The cop at mile 17 will likely remember asking me, “How are you doing?” because I said that I’d had better days. He laughed and said that I was looking like I was doing fine, to which I replied that I was trying to look as cute as possible as I passed him and would again be bitching and moaning once I went around the corner. A quick wink over my shoulder, and I was gone.

The photographer will upload his photos and see the one where I saw him as I came around a corner, let out a groan, to which he responded that he’d take the best picture he could. I gave him my best “who knows what went wrong” face with up-turned arms, he snapped the photo and laughed as I passed and wished him a nice rest of the day.

It’s kinda neat how in each race there’s this camaraderie between the runners. I wear my Chicago running shirt, and it never fails to spawn conversation. But even in silence, with the occasional, “You doin’ okay?” or “This hill sucks,” we’re connected.

I love it.

I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.  

Miss something?

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