As I tentatively promised in my last article, last weekend I successfully ran a marathon. After months of training and sacrifice, it’s all over but the limping and the omnipresent justification about eating everything in sight. Now I’ve got a t-shirt, a medal and a whole lot of memories.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being in the presence of someone who recently ran a marathon, you’ll notice that they can’t stop talking about it. I’m no different. On the rare occasion that I run into someone who volitionally engages me on the subject, they always ask me the same question: Don’t you get bored running by yourself for that long?
I don’t. I have plenty of things to think about. Here are some:
When I start the race, I usually have two alternating trains of thought barreling through my head. “Oh my god, I am so nervous. Am I actually going to be able to finish this thing?” But then I try to calm myself down by repeating a mantra: Trust your training. For months I’ve been preparing for this one morning, waking up early every Saturday and painfully increasing my mileage every week. I’ve done the homework, now it’s time to ace the test. (But in this case, everyone who crosses the finish line gets an A.)
I could never do this alone. You just can’t run a marathon without support from other people, and during this race I had tons of support. My brother and boyfriend planned their own route the night before the race to see me the maximum amount of times. My sister joined me at mile 12 and kept me company with conversation and Gatorade. My cousins made signs and helped my grandfather see me. My dad and stepmother took photos everywhere, and my mom was the first to hug me when the race ended. I never ran more than a couple miles without seeing someone I knew and loved.
This marathon weaved its way through the area where I was raised. I literally passed by the homes where I grew up, and I saw neighbors and friends. I ran the very same routes I practiced when I was on my high school cross country team. I passed my elementary school, my favorite bar to get Buffalo Wings and where I had my Senior Prom. I never felt alone on a course so laden with memories.
I have to run my own race. It doesn’t matter who passes me. Whenever I think these things to myself, it never fails that an elderly man or woman runs right past me. Perspective.
I usually start fantasizing about food somewhere about halfway through the race. These fantasies usually involve delicacies that are salty, cheesy and full of carbohydrates. I don’t just want to eat them; I want to bury myself in them. In many ways, this doesn’t differ from my every day life.
In both marathons I’ve run, I’ve experienced the same phenomenon. I reach Mile 21 and think to myself: Wow, things are going really well! Then a couple minutes later, I hit the proverbial wall. The best way to describe this feeling is that you’re suddenly granted understanding of every part of your body that’s hurting. It’s an awareness that amounts to the opposite of Zen. Like the mature athlete I am, I handle the situation by thinking about how I am never, ever going to run a marathon again. This is how I feel until I finish.
From that point on I think to myself that I hope I can run marathons forever. I don’t often get sentimental, but nothing makes me more emotionally vulnerable than robbing my body of all its necessary resources. Can you imagine being so healthy, blessed and lucky that you pay a hefty amount for the right to push yourself to the limit? The original runner of the first marathon dropped dead at the end of 26.2 miles. Surrounded by loved ones at the end of this marathon, I can say I’ve rarely felt more alive.