Running is about training, goals and journeys. What we do to get to a place where we hopefully get to something we hoped to do. We train the best we can to run the best we can. We plan and chronicle. We set A goals and B goals and even C goals. You know, what a great day looks like, what a good day looks like and what’s a day I can live with looks like. We talk about adjusting expectations depending on the conditions, how we slept and many other factors. In other words, a marathon, say Boston, can occur in many ways. We do all we can and pray for a little gift from the gods that today will be a very good day.
My day and this post is not about the before nor the after of my marathon but the during. I am talking about the moment in the race when you realize that after a few miles of downhills, where pacing is still uncertain and you haven’t quite settled into your race, that today will not be your day at all and your A,B and even C goals have gone out the window. This won’t even be a familiar hang in there till 35 km and then it turns into a death march kind of marathon. The kind you used to run before you got “good” at it. This is something else. There are lots of reasons this Boston went sideways and I will talk about none of them for they are all too familiar to all of us. They are not important. There needs to be no post-race autopsy of why this happened.
Mile 3, my legs are very heavy, bags of potatoes soon to be sacks of concrete. I purposely slow down and tell my heart, not today. It is folly to chase time now. I allow myself some hope that it might not be too bad. Mile 5, slowing more and getting passed by many where I usually am working my way through the folks who went out too fast and who fell under the spell of the early downhills. My time is not too bad but the race is already long over. I know what a death march marathon feels like. Run, walk, run a mile and walk a minute, run to the next water station and then a brief walk. The runs get slower and shorter while the walks get longer. Soon it is run to the next stoplight then walk to the one after that. We have all been there and suffered through it. We often have solace and comfort that we are not the only ones so afflicted. This kind of marathon I know but I don’t know what this one will feel like. Mile 10, I am suffering significantly. I know the smaller hills loom ahead and the Newton Hills beyond those. I wonder how I might get through all of that. Mile 12, I feel the need to walk. I think, how is this possible. I am not even halfway. Hang on to halfway I tell myself. 13.1 miles, for the past few miles I have drifted to the side of the road. I am the runner who is going too slow and would impede others if I stayed in the middle. I have lost connection with the others in the race. I am on my own out here. Somewhere there are cheering crowds and there is a race going on but I am over here, part of neither. Mile 16, each mile has become harder and slower. One goal has solidified in my mind over the past 7 or 8 miles, you will run the whole race without walking. Not for a step will I walk, I will run no matter what the pace or pain. Mile 21, I am through the uphills but the downhills are not much better. My quads shake and cramp continuously. Hips and feet protest too, it is a complete rebellion. Mile 22, I always say the last mile of any race is free. Anyone can endure the last mile knowing the finish is near. I tell myself this is so and has always been so therefore I have only 3 miles not 4 to go. I am so wrong but I am still running. Walk, I think, just for a minute, who cares and I hurt so bad. I watch others walking and I think not me. Mile 24, Things are very grim and I very uncertain that I can keep the faith. Steps are getting harder and the uphill before the Citgo sign is a killer. Mile 25 and then 1 mile to go, I fear the part of the course that goes under the bridge before the turn onto Hereford. I continue to scream in my head but now I look for my daughter, Kate. She will be at the turn onto Boyleston. She will give me strength. A runner to my right cramps severely and goes down horribly. I veer to help but someone closer and more able than I is there first. I am running but barely. I make the final turn and then it is not a run to the finish for that is too far away yet but a run from flag to flag and banner to banner. I close upon the the finish line and finally I am there. 26.2 miles run and not a step more but all of it run. I collapse happy and without disappointment in any way. This was my day, my day to do this.