At the risk of alienating all two people in this blog's readership (I'm optimistic that perhaps there is one person out there other than my boyfriend who is interested in reading this, but if in fact that is not the case, I am not too proud to count myself as one of my readers), today's post is about The Marathon.
Okay, okay, I know the joke:
Q. : How do you know if someone is running a marathon?
A. : They'll tell you.
There's a part of me that doesn't want to talk about it. That's the shy part of me, the one that is sure you've heard it all before, that in fact you have run a thousand marathons back-to-back and at twice my speed, that my mountain of an accomplishment is a molehill in the grand scheme of things. That's the same part of me that also doesn't want to come across as too self-involved (yes, I am aware that I have three blogs and am at work on a memoir, but still...).
But then I'm reminded of the Marianne Williamson quote:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Your playing small does not serve the world. Man, doesn't that just hit you in the gut? Time to toot the horn then, so to speak, right?
This quote reminds me of a core feeling I've had since I was a little girl. It doesn't matter that I am not a religious person, I have long felt a distinction between the sacred and the profane. To me, there is a type of blasphemy that has nothing to do with taking deities' names in vain or saying bad words. It has to do with not celebrating this finite time we have. It has to do with wasting this precious gift of life.
These 70-, 80-, or 90- years we get will run out one day. Already they may be half gone or more, and what have I got to show for it? That question inspires me more than anything else to rise to challenge, to reach past my personal comfort zone to find the edges of my potential. It reminds me to appreciate people, nature, and moments. It's a brand of spirituality not tied to infinity, omnipresence, and endlessness, but rather to imperfection, brevity, loss. I know that sounds like a downer, but it's not to me. If I will never be perfect, I am more willing to try, stumble, get up, and enjoy the process as I try harder again. If life is brief, I will embrace it with all that I have, to love it so hard that at the end I know I lived every drop I was given. If I will one day lose everything that I have and cherish, I want to appreciate it to the upmost now, the easy and the hard, the happy and the sad, and I want to shower the people I love with love, show them the way that I feel (thank you, JT).
Besides, over the shy voice there's a slightly louder voice in my head that says, "Even so, given all the other things we each hope to achieve in our lifetimes, a marathon is not nothing. This is something."
And there is a beating heart and a joyful place in me that joins the chorus with that slightly louder voice, singing, "YES. You ran a full marathon on Sunday, and it was amazing, and this is Very Meaningful to you, and so you should write about it because, perhaps, even though you have been talking about it for days now, the two people in your readership will still want to know. Will want to remember this. And in any case, if you want to write it, you must."
And so, here it is:
I ran a full marathon on Sunday.
It was my first, and this is the story of my experience.
First, one thing you should know is that for the past month I have been concerned about what I call "The Knee Issue". The pain began during the 18-mile Door to the Shore run on April 27 (which I have been remiss in recounting for my two-person-readership, perhaps because we were both there), and since then has hurt in every run over five miles. In my attempt at healing The Knee Issue, in the four weeks between D2S and M2B, this was my training:
week 1: Two 5-milers, one 2.5-miler. Spin classes and yoga.
week 2: A 16-mile run/walk. Spin and yoga. Two shorter runs.
week 3: An 8-mile run. An easy Sunday afternoon bike ride with my man. Two spins, and yoga.
week 4: The Marathon.
Translation: I ain't been running much, duckie. In fact, my miles this month only come up to around 75, about 25 fewer than last month, and that's with the 26.2 from the marathon.
The week before the race, I didn't run at all. I iced my knee, I took Advil, I popped vitamins, I foam rolled, I did yoga, I walked, I went to spin, I ate, I hydrated. But I did not run. Not even a step.
One more thing: I didn't follow any particular training schedule. In fact, I only signed up for this marathon four weeks ago, just after I completed the Door the the Shore run. Once I did those 18 miles relatively injury-free (besides The Knee Issue, which I hoped would resolve quickly), I realized I was ready to try for 26.2. I looked around, found the sold-out Mountains 2 Beach race, thought it looked nice, and found someone who was happy to sell me her registration.
DAY BEFORE THE RACE
On Saturday the kidlets and my man offered to go hang with a friend so I could nap. Finding myself suddenly in a quiet house all to myself, instead of napping I made a peach pie, kale chips, chocolate and coconut-dipped bananas, and popsicles, and rehearsed for an upcoming gig.
I promised myself that at least I would get to bed early. I laid out my race clothes, packed my bag, got directions, futzed around on Facebook, freaked out, calmed down, and then finally laid down at 10. This is how I spent the next hours:
10:15 pm: "I love you, sweet man."
10:30 pm: wrestled with my pillow
10:45 pm: flipped over
11:00 pm: listened to the mockingbird
11:15 pm: used the bathroom
11:30 pm: got some water
11:45 pm: "breathe, breathe, breathe"
Midnight: "one, two, three, four, five, six..."
1:00 am: checked the clock
1:30 am: checked the clock
2:00 am: the alarm went off
Translation: No sleep.
I poured myself a mug of coffee, dressed, kissed my man good-bye (he couldn't sleep either), and then at 2:20 am headed out the door. In the dark driveway of my house is where I met Strange Man #1.
Okay, scroll back for a moment. There are a ton of compelling reasons to carpool, right? I think we can all agree on that. For me the tops were:
1) Middle-of-the-night road trips are better with company
2) After the race someone else could drive back and I could rest my little legs
3) Gas $
The race was located about 90 minutes north. I didn't want to go alone. In lieu of that, I opted to meet up with two men I'd never before met in the middle of a dark, deserted, desolate Los Angeles night. Given the two choices, wouldn't you?
Rono (Strange Man #1) and I met Strange Man #2 (Ijaz) at the empty Pierce College Metro parking lot at 3 am.
As it turned out, neither of them are psycho killers.
In fact, even better, Rono and Ijaz were a hoot. They were the perfect companions for a short road trip up to Ojai - good natured, upbeat, chilled out. I drove and chatted with Ijaz while Rono dozed in the back seat. We hit no traffic (of course - it was 3am) and got to the finish line area by around 4am. We found parking, I ate a quick breakfast of rice krispies and soy milk, Ijaz took some photos, and then we found green vinyl bench seats in the school bus shuttles and headed for the start line.
It was dark and chilly, around 52 degrees, when we arrived at the waiting area near the start line at the top of the point-to-point course. The almost-full moon was brilliant and high in the sky. Down below it, in the parking lot, we made small talk. Laughter, last minute bananas, gear check, and port-o-potties. Then 2500 runners headed to the start.
There were three corrals which were to be staggered through the start with two minutes between each. My memory is a little dim on how we were broken up, but I think it was "Under 3:30", "Between 3:30 and 4:30", and "Over 4:30". Ijaz took the first or second corral - he was anticipating a sub-4 race. Rono and I settled into the last corral. I knew I wouldn't be the last person through the finish line, but even if I subscribed to magical thinking, I knew it would take me at least 4:30 to run the course. There were some Boston Marathon race shirts scattered about (mostly in the faster corrals) and a jolly couple next to me taking funny-faced photos of themselves.
There was a calmness all around that felt lovely, much different from the three half-marathons that I've run in Los Angeles. The air in Ojai was crisp, the sky was lightening over the mountains and fields, and it was quiet. There were no bands playing, no energy-pumping DJ, no frilly costumes, no first-timer chaos. It was peaceful and beautiful, and when our corral began to run, it was just a quiet pitter patter of feet on the asphalt like a gentle rain.
I was not nervous, I was not concerned, I was not thinking about the finish line or time. I was smiling. I said good morning to the sleepy-eyed coffee drinkers standing in their driveways to wave us on. I felt immensely grateful to be moving my body in such a beautiful location on such a peaceful morning.
At the Mile 1 marker, a friendly paint-splattered sign in the shape of a surf-board, I thought, "That felt good. I just need to do that 25 more times." And I felt sure that I could.
At the Mile 2 marker I thought, "I still feel good. I can do this 24 more times."
At the Mile 3 marker I thought, "I am starting to feel the effort, but that's fine. It's a beautiful day."
As the sun rose, there was the silhouette of distant mountains beyond the ones that encircled our immediate area. Between us were fields, gilded with the brightening light. Birds sang from branches. Every house had a swing hanging from the front yard trees. There were horses stabled amid golden hay, and two runners slowly caught up to me, talking about the horse trails, and then continued their conversation as they passed me, leaving me with the quiet pitter patter of running feet.
Within the first 8 miles there were two small hills - barely hills compared with the one I usually train on. It felt good to climb a little, and then settle into the net-downhill course.
At Mile 5 or 6, The Knee Issue arose. I was already going slower than my usual 9-minute/mile, but I slowed some more and pulled out two Advil that I'd tucked into my fuel belt the night before. I ate a few Sport Beans and, in a first, took out my iPod. Once, a few weeks ago, I tried listening to music while I ran and found that I preferred the environmental sounds to any songs, but in anticipating The Knee Issue I'd decided to bring my iPod along with some NPR podcasts in the hopes of drawing my focus off of my knee. It worked. I listened to This American Life for about half an hour. When I put it away, my knee felt fine.
At Mile 8 the course veered off the loop that we'd been on, and began following the Ventura River. By then most of the runners in my area had spread out. I could see a few ahead of me, but for the most part we each were running our own race, with our own thoughts. Here the course was on a paved bike path mostly surrounded by trees, with occasional peeks into backyards. I listened to the roosters beyond the trail, rustling of leaves overhead, and bird calls. I had the sense of feeling continually blessed, so appreciative of my body that was capable of carrying me through such a beautiful place.
I didn't realize when the half-marathoners joined us around Mile 14, but saw their Mile 1 marker and laughed out loud, thinking, "wow, that was the longest 1 mile ever...".
Around Mile 15 or 16 I heard music for the first time. The Bangles. A white pickup truck was parked along the parallel road with a couple cheering us on as they blasted "Walk Like An Egyptian". The upbeat song infused me with energy - hard to believe now that I'd been running for so many miles by then - and I danced as I ran past them.
Soon we were running in a more industrial-looking area. There were graffitied concrete structures, and oil pumps closer than I'd ever seen. At this point I was filling my water bottle at every-other station and eating Sport Beans whenever I remembered. I also started texting my boyfriend at every mile marker. 16! 17! 18! His texts back kept me buoyed up in joy.
Mile 19 marked the furthest distance I had ever run. We had descended from the mountains in Ojai and were now in Ventura, approaching the beach. I felt a sob arise in my throat which immediately choked my breathing into shallow asthmatic gulps. I swallowed my sobs with some water and brought my breathing back to normal. Seeing the Mile 19 and 20 markers made me realize, with no question, that I would finish this race. My knee felt fine, and while I was tired, I was passing other runners.
Mile 21 I felt a surge of energy. Perhaps it was the salty air. The scenery at the point was totally changed - we were parallel to the Pacific Ocean, and there were a hundred or more surfers laying belly-down on their boards awaiting a wave. I wondered if I could pick up my pace, and then I did and felt strong and amazing.
At Mile 22 there were two runners ahead of me. The man was energetically leaping over the orange traffic cones that divided the race route from the actual road that we were following. I laughed out loud as he leapt over another. The woman called back to me, "He's not running, he's my support pacer." We all laughed together, and grabbed some pretzels from a woman cheering us on from the sidelines.
Mile 23. This was where it got hard for me. I wouldn't call it "the wall". I've heard runners talk about that, but this was not quite what I imagined it felt like. My knee started really hurting at this point, and I worried that I was doing some real damage. Then I grabbed some of the electrolyte drink from the next station and felt it hit my stomach. I slowed to a crawl and just told myself I could run as slowly as I wanted, but I had to keep running. I looked at my watch. I didn't know how fast I was going, but I figured somewhere around 10 or 12 minutes per mile. I took it in 10 minute chunks, just willing myself to get through the next small increment of time.
I kept texting my boyfriend: 23 24 25. These miles seemed endless, I couldn't even punch in the exclamation point in my texts. The 10 or 12 minute chunks of time crawled by, and my running was more like a shuffle. The scenery was not as pretty, we were in full sun, running along the bike path with other beach-goers. I started to see the finishers, walking by with their medals. They clapped and cheered, and I leaned into their enthusiasm knowing that if they were here, the finish line couldn't be far away.
I don't know when I passed Mile 26. I don't think there was a marker, but there was a woman. Vanessa was my 2-hour pacer for the Hollywood Half Marathon back in April, and as I passed her she cheered me on, "Just another quarter mile! You've got this, girl! You're doing great!"
And then I saw it, the white banner with the bold word FINISH, hanging in the distance. I kept my eye on that sign. I ran, and when I got close to the magnetic strip that clocked our times, I raised my arms in the air once again and sailed through the 26.2 end.
Out of 2500 runners, I was 1089. Four hours, 51 minutes, 38.9 seconds.
Translation: A Mountains 2 Beach marathon finisher. My first full marathon.
Namaste, my friends.