Tuesday, May 31, 2016
i ran like an arrogant ass.
when people would talk about their race goals, i would feign interest. i cared that they were trying to run a marathon in under four hours. it was important that they had gotten off the couch and were going to finish their first 10k. inspiring others by run-walking in all pink for a good cause was nothing to take lightly. and yet, smug in my undertrained mileage and worn-out race flats turned into casual shoes, i would think only of how all of this related to my goal, my running, my speed, my legs. i was out of touch.
when she asked me about how i would return to running before this past marathon, i laughed and, noting my recent hit and run shoulder separation, or my recent blown attempt at the usual sub-3 goal, i told her i would wing it. i told her i would run as fast as i could until i had an out of body experience, and then i'd watch myself cross the line with whatever was left in me. stupid ass. i was out of touch, but not out of this broken body, not by a long shot. you see, there are many things that happen to a body during a marathon, and if the mind doesn't suppress all of them hard enough for long enough, they reach up and choke the mind, flood it with pain and doubts and regret-based wishes, and then the mind tumbles into every cell raging with pain or dumb slowness, and it is dragged forward by the plodding body it could not leave. it is a wagon ride in chains.
at kilometre thirty, the arrogance evaporated from my body. no longer fuelled by the vain notion that i had a chance at proving anything, i settled into this old man's body, and began a dreadful shuffle toward a finish twelve kilometres away. i would learn much in this journey, but the most important lesson was, of course, about my fellows.
my fellows are tougher than i.
it takes a lot of strength and tenacity and toughness of the mind and of the body to run a marathon in three hours. somehow, it takes a little bit more to run it in under three, but i'll only be able to write about that when i do it some day. sunday, though, i learned about the toughness it takes to run for so very much longer than three hours, for agonizing tens of minutes longer than three hours, that the pain outweighs every other feeling, including progress or reason to proceed.
the half-marathoners joined the course somewhere in my final haze, and like so many sweating, plodding, coursing fish, they carried me along in their stream, refusing to stop, refusing to give up, determined to finish this damn thing. most of them were heavier than i. all of them were harder. they were still running. they had been running for two hours. they had been plodding through heat and water tables and hoses and supersoakers wielded by well-meaning five year olds with excellent aim. they refused to walk. they refused to stop. they refused to succumb to heat or steam or sunshine or all of those demons in their minds that told them they could not do this. they sweated into their headphones and dripped all over the pavement and stepped forward again and again while their shoulders darkened in the sun. and they smiled. and they grimaced. and they drew strength from cheers and i drew strength from them. their determination pulled me along. their tenacity put my feet forward. their heaving spirits pushed me to the line.
i wanted to walk. i wanted to stop. i wanted to be done already. i had learned the lesson. couldn't we just skip these next few thousand metres and have me on my way? could i just forgo the medal that everyone gets and a stale bagel oozing in the sun and go home and curl up in an ice bath of shame? no. i could not. the lesson is not learned until the process is complete. and the process is not complete until the line is crossed. and the line, however theoretical it may be, is only the beginning. so i got there, after a long stop in the 41k porta-potty.
so i learned. i learned that people who run four hour marathons and two hour half marathons are at least twice as tough as i am. i learned that i really do love running and that there is something in it for those who dedicate to it. i learned that the beauty of the crowd is in the exchange: they cheer, i act; we do it for each other, as best we can, authentically. i learned that time does not matter as long as honesty prevails. i learned that i will always finish. i learned that the heat isn't as bad as they say it is. i learned that my body cannot run two all-out marathons in a month with four runs between them. i learned that all i want to do is run.
so tonight i'll go and see people who are also better runners than i. we will talk about that elusive three hours and how everyone has gone under it except i. we will talk about the marathon on the weekend and boston a few weekends ago and what we're doing for cross country season this year. and i will try to focus on the process, on being free from time, on becoming a runner. cheers. and a toast, to everyone who runs tougher than i: thank you.