The following was originally posted on Facebook, here.
Sick of my marathon posts yet? Ok last one. Saved this for last: the ‘Thank You’ post.
It’s rare, at least for me, that one salient truth rings out above the rest. There wasn’t a morning when I said, “self, let’s run 26 point 2 effin’ miles”. Instead there were many small moments. There was a script for high blood pressure, someone else’s cancer journey, the discovery of my own competitiveness, and some lofty thinking about the general human condition. Those things, apparently, go into a blender and come out as the goal to run a marathon. Although, I have a confession —when I signed up for training, I didn’t think I’d actually do it. Then again, it is kind of a dumb thing to do… 23 point 2 effin’ miles.
Yesterday was amazing. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. The start was almost a non-event. Michelle Muse walked us to broad street. We pushed our way through the crowd and someone suggested we hold hand like a line of kindergartners. So…we did.
There was no gun shot or otherwise ceremonial start. We just sorta started jogging (pronounced with a soft j, like yogging). Suzanne Spiller set the pace [Thank you Suzanne!], “are we doing this? We’re running a marathon.” Yep. We were.
[But, we were also in ‘missing man’ formation. “Where’s Pat?… How’s seen Pat?… I texted him last night, I know he’s running…” We were a man down, and we knew it.]
At mile 2, Mary Ellen Kinser snuck up from behind. By the way, we’re you doing a scuba dive later? Mary Ellen helped us get our nervous heart rates down. We were cool by mile 3, which is where we passed Jennifer Lemons-Driskill. Thanks Jen for being out there _every_ week, manning the SAGs, always saying “hi” and for looking after my favorite running jacket.
What is it they say? Don’t do anything new on race day? Yeah, about that. I dropped my longstanding armband carrier for my iPhone (and various apps) and opted instead to try my Pebble watch. The Pebble is a so-called smart watch, which isn’t a watch at all, but rather a second display for your phone. For most of my run, it was perfect, showing me milage and pace from the RunKeeper app. But I didn’t expect a very wonderful side effect. Every time a friend like Olivia, Bryan, Marc, Dana or Dennis tweeted, texted or Facebook’ed, my watch vibrated and showed me their virtual cheer. Boom. Speed up!
Jessie and Mallary – wow. You two are my personal MVPs! From mile 2 – 12 we were like finely tuned diesel engine. Speedy, and we turned over the miles one after the other like it was nothing. Every few minutes one of us checked in, “how we doin’? Good pace? Yep!” Monument turned into Westmorland (ah-hum, Ryan Smartt!!!), which turned into Grove, then Maple. We debated, restroom break? Nahhh line’s too long. So we kept going. And we kept going all the way down Lee’s Revenge, across a foggy but beautiful Huguenot Bridge and down towards Pony Pasture; all the while checking in with, “how we doin’? Good pace?”
The three of us trucked up Riverside Drive together. We caught up with Gail Schechter who was having a fantastic 2nd marathon.
The three of us —Jessie, Mallary and I, pressed on. As we crested the hill and turned on to Forest Hill Ave I confessed, “this is where I started to unravel on my 20 mile training run.” But, thanks to them, we kept on keeping on. Milestone #1, done!
About mile 12.5, I saw my pooch, Ippa, and connected via leash, my dad, George. Never underestimate the huge burst of energy you get from seeing your family! Dad, I’m sorry, but I think I blurted, “that’s my dog!….oh, and my dad!”. The order wasn’t significant. #OxygenDeprivation
We first saw Sue Miyashita at mile 13. Then again at mile 14. “I’m adjusting my music,” she said, “everything from Metallica to P!nk.” Rock on Sue! That’s when we saddled up next to Jersey Boy Ray. Ray’s a machine, keeping amazingly consistent pace. “I’m doing this!” I was excited with him, even if he admitted, during a slough of a training run, to not bleeding Springsteen blood. And that’s when we saw the blue shoes.
At mile 15 we found our de facto leader Pat. If our Blue Bandits had a secretary of state, Pat would be it. Every run, every mile, he knew everyone. “Hey Marcos! Hi Paula…” Pat is the ambassador of MTT. He’s also the leader of our gang, a mishmosh group of newbies, vets, blistered and subsiding on Aleve. So it was that Mallary, Pat and I crossed my nemesis, the Lee Bridge, without my even noticing.
The Lee Bridge ends with a slight uphill,which was fortunate; it positioned my head upwards. That’s how I picked out Andrew in the crowd. But I didn’t expect my friend, the semipro triathlete, to jump into the road. Boom! We took off. My 9:50/mile pace dropped a good 20 seconds in the 1/2 mile we ran together. I think I complained about running out of gel packs. The rest is a haze. Thank you Andrew for kicking my 2nd half into over drive – negative splits, here we come!
I caught Sue again around mile 16. I’m not sure how. I think she had some kind of dark magic that allowed her to keep skipping ahead. Regardles, she shared the secret of the Cold Towels. “Oh, its the Boy Scouts,” she shouted. “Tell me…” I panted, “about these towels…you…speak of?” We were rewarded with what I described, at the time, as ‘the greatest thing that ever happened.’ Cool, wet wash cloths. Wow!
Coach Chris appeared out of nowhere. “Doin’ ok?” “We’re great,” Sue responded. I flashed a thumbs up. And, like that, he was gone. Boom, another burst of speed.
We passed Postbellum where my parents and I ate the night before. Kit and Caitlin passed. “How’s your run going?” “We’re doing this!”
I’m on the boulevard, ‘how’d that happen?’ I’m passing people. I hear Pat’s expression: ‘everyone you pass is a kill, keep hunting them down.’ I pass my old apartment, #215 and wonder, ‘is the ‘Echo Chamber’ still there?’ [don’t ask…]
Suddenly, I’m alone among a stream of people. I’m two blocks from my current house, on streets I walk every day, and I’m alone. My team, my crew, is gone. My current pace is unsustainable, except I’m still running it. Boulevard crosses Broad. There’s Dad and Ippa, “you are speeding up, do you mean to be?” “Yes!” (‘but do I really?’).
I look down at my watch. ‘If I can keep this up… If I _could_ keep this pace… if I could run THIS 10k in under an hour, I’d be below 4:30. Insane! Put that thought out of your mind and s l o w d o w n.’
There’s the hill, Milestone #2. Whomever thought this was a good location for a billboard of a bacon breakfast sandwich should be beaten with a rubber hose. That, from a person who practices nonviolence. Rubber. Hose!
The Megans. I see The Megans. Two runners, both named Megan, both alluding me for the entire run. Another kill.
Lost a contact lens!
“…And boom, like that a coach appears!” He said that. Out loud. I’m too tired to fake niceties. “What?” “I’m coach Greg, I’m the technical coach!” He’s too chipper. “Ok, then talk to me about form.” “You’re doing great! Just keep going forward. Even last week as I was running another marathon and next week when I run another…. His voice trailed off. This dude had so little body fat, I started to fear he was looking at me as a source of fuel. I decided to cling on to my spare tire, least he source me for his unyielding appetite for asphalt and portly runners like me that he must consume like so many gu packs.
Mile 20. The Pope Arches. Milestone #3, ‘The Most Beautiful Street You Don’t Know In Richmond.’ At least that’s how I wanted it to be. “Beware of the camber…” That’s the last thing I heard from Greg. 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3… my mantra when things start breaking down. Maintain cadence. 1 2 3. 1…2…3.. ‘you can walk at the next water stop…’ 1…2…3.
22 miles. ‘Didn’t Kevin say he always walks, even if its to the water station, in every marathon? I’m going to walk…’ 1 2 3. Watch says I’m not slowing down. I’m trying to slow down. Didn’t walk.
Mile 23. People, but can’t see their faces. Greg, a different, non precious body fat as nourishment coveting Greg, appears in the median. “Heeeyyy Greg!”
Slight, but imperceptible burst of energy.
Next runner in front is 100 feet ahead. Not going to be a kill. Alone.
Coke and junk food station. ‘What a miserable idea.’
Beer. “We’ve got beer!” ‘What the F, it’s going to be a PR anyway, right?’ “Hey, is that Natty Light?” “You know it brother!” “Beer me!”
‘I’m drinking beer… on a marathon… I’m drinking beer!’
1 2 3, 1 2 3… ‘going to walk at that next block.’ Didn’t walk. ‘I must be slowing down, need to slow down, ok to slow down…”
My watch battery died. Technologically alone.
‘This road won’t end. Where are we anyway? What’s her shirt say? This damn contact!’
That’s when I see Tony, the golden deer of the Blue Bandits. Tony is THE most consistent runner in our guild. He’s the stuff of legend. I once saw him sprint up a hill, duck behind a gas station for a rest stop, and then pass me again 2 miles later. “Hey man, we going to do this together?” “I’m cramping, but I’m finishing!” He swallowed some salt and a glugg of water before insisting I go on.
‘I don’t sweat, I sparkle,’ If I read her shirt one more time… 1 2 3… 1 2 3… ‘I never noticed how much open land there is over here… I can’t take much more of this!’
The back of his shirt had a swath of tape with ‘Danielle’s Husband’ and my first thought was, ‘is he sweating enough to be Adam?’ I didn’t feel guilty about the thought, its how he introduced himself, or at least how Danielle introduced him on our first 9 mile training run. “How’s your run going man?” “I’m hanging in… she’s up there somewhere…this is cool!” We cut through the round-a-bout and head toward Broad Street.
‘Not sure I can keep this up…’
‘Holy shit! I’m going to run a marathon today!’ Tears. 1 2 3. 1 2 3. ‘I’m….going to run… a marathon today!’
My mind goes back to running. ‘Is that a cramp?’ My right quad is tight. I’ve never cramped up. It’s the stuff of legend. Not now. Not going to happen. ‘Kinda wanna stop’.
“NANCY!” “Hey Nick!!” She cheers me on, two steaming cups in hand. “Did you bring me a coffee too?” My faux incredulity might have been lost my gasping for air. “Really, you want a sip?” “No, just kidding!” Boom, speed! ‘Where’d that come from?’
Mile 25. There are more folks cheering. The street is maybe more narrow? Or am I shutting down? A homeless man —maybe? —is giving high-fives. I make a point to swerve to catch him and just barely make contact with his gloved hand. “Thanks brother!”
I start to think, maybe too much, about it all. Life, the universe and everything. ‘I’m going to run an ‘effin’ marathon today!’ Tears. I start thinking about what’s been on my mind – homelessness. ‘This is my next thing, the next thing after public health that I want to understand and try to affect.’
Another man, seemingly homeless, is cheering, “one more mile! You can do it!” And, I want to know him and how he has anything to give, like a cheer, to me, a total stranger. I hold up a finger, and gasp “one more mile.”
This, at this most improbable of times, feels very right. ‘How can I be clear about something so important right now? And…is that… the “The Final Countdown” ‘?
Someone is playing Europe’s ‘Final Countdown’. I resist the urge to reenact G.O.B. Buth. Barely. Seriously.
We turn, everyone turns. Tall buildings. ‘I’m going to run a marathon today!’ 1 2 3, 1 2 3.
Kevin appears. Wow. Kevin. In June Kevin opened our first run honestly, “I’m not going to lie and tell you this is going to be easy and that you’ll feel great…. is isn’t and you won’t.” He never stopped pulling punches. Trust me, don’t ever make a wrong turn on a training run, you won’t live it down. “You got this,” he said, head turned starring at me. I keep focused straight ahead. “Say it! Say, ‘I got this this’”. “I go this!” “Say it again!” I’m kinda choked up…I got this!” “You are going to finish a marathon, say it!” “I’m going to finish….a…marathon!” “Good, now make this turn, and you are done.”
We turned. One last time.
Silence and cheering. Signs. People. Slow-mo clapping. There was no more pain. There was no cramp. There was nothing but speed. I went from breaking down to Ferrari (or reasonably facsimile) in a split second.
Time sped back up. Normal. Then double time. I’m passing people left and right. “Look at that guy go!” Kill. Kill. 123, 123, 123. “He’s taking off!”
I pass Valorie, cheering.
‘Move your arms, keep in control.”
‘This road is wet, don’t fall’ We’re barreling straight down hill. ‘Knees, check in. Reporting for duty sir! Then give me 110%!”
“You got this!” I see Andrew from the corner of my eye.
Camera crane. ‘Try to smile, don’t fall’.
‘Knees? Yes captain, we’re going to 120%. Clear for 120% sir!’
My arms start to windmill.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s cheer him on…” but the announcer’s voice isn’t for me. An older runner has fallen at the finish line. They bring a wheel chair out onto the finish line.
“Folks, he’s going to finish…” and the crowd erupts as the fallen runner climbs to his feet.
‘I had plans, crossing the finish…what where they? Sing some song? Yell something? What was it?’
There it is, a nothing line. A radio sensor of a marker.
And its done.
“Here’s your blanket”
‘I’m going to stop, put my hands on my knees and give a primal scream!’
But I didn’t. I was a normal citizen again. Whatever super powers I may have acquired start to fade away. But, I am changed. I am a marathoner, and that’s pretty effin cool!
My parents came running to great me. “Hey hey, way to go!”
“Ive got to keep walking, or moving…” I hobbled next to the railing where another finisher was beaming.
“I just ran my first marathon! I didn’t think I could, but look at me, here I am!” She had on a NBMA jersey. I recognized her. “I know you ran it, I followed you for the first 5 miles, way to go!”
There’s no secret handshake. It’s a look in the eye. We knew we were both members of the club.
I meandered for a while, taking in the sights. I got to talk to Don and Scott, who both had awesome runs. Patrick and I reconnected and spent a good hour talking about the race, our training and what it means to be a runner.
Later, after the crowds died, I went to crash the party of dear old friends Rachel Michael Brown. Nothing like showing up at a brunswick stew party as the only guy in running cloths.
“Oh this medal? Yeah, I ran the full…” My friends, that phrase does not get old!
Thank you to all our coaches, friends and family. What a life changing experience this has been!
Next stop: Paris, April 2014!