01 May 2012

The marathon, two

A quarter of a mile matters.

I woke up on Sunday morning and it was raining. Not British rain, not the sort of rain that you can walk in and not really get wet, but the sort of rain that would compel you to bring an umbrella. I ate an apple and a bagel, and then another apple and another bagel and Yoko, the woman I love, taped up my right foot.

Yoko, the woman I love. It's strange to me what times in marriage you suddenly realise how much you love someone, how much you need them. When your wife tapes up your foot for a race—this is love. Yoko had the girls make signs and a medal for me too: this is love. A deep, abiding, intense love that is so sufficient.

I worried about the silly things that you come to worry about before running—about going to the toilet and what precisely is the best thing to wear.

Yoko and the girls dropped me off at 8:30 at the stadium. I decided to wear my jacket and run with it until the third mile when Yoko and the girls would meet me and I would give it to them. I walked through the rain into the stadium, having a brief moment a panic that I didn't have a photo ID on me, but was assured that it didn't matter.

In the Stadium concourse, I paced and paced, buying cookies from a charity bake sale a couple of times and checking my watch again and again. I sat down next to a guy on the cement. He had a number close to mine and the same name. We started talking and he turned out to be running the marathon because he was turning 30 this year as well. He was a foreigner too, like me, from Australia.

I set out for the start line at about 9:15 and it took about 20 minutes to get there because there were so many people. I was, however, one of the first people in my corral, which was a bit silly as it was wicked cold outside. I jumped up and down for a while until more and more people showed up and the heat of all the bodies made standing outside much more bearable.

And then it started. No gunshot, no nothing, we were all suddenly just running. And getting passed, I think the whole corral behind me went past me, but I was determined to have a slow first mile. Too slow, it turned out, I ran the first mile in about 9 minutes, and I was, for the rest of the race, painfully close to breaking 3:30, but not quite there. Not quite close enough.

Yoko and the girls met me at Mile 3 and I pulled off my coat, but it got caught up on my watch. I struggled to get it off and when I got running again, I noticed that the stopwatch had been switched. I toggled through and it was stopped at 25 minutes some seconds. Shit. I reset it and started again. 25 minutes at Mile 3, I thought, okay, I just gotta add 25 minutes to whatever time I have.

It was uneventful from there: lots of rain, lots of puddles, running around some in the grass. I didn't notice it at the time, but the race was rerouted an extra .25 miles between Miles 7 and 8 when I got to the first hour, I looked at my watch and realised I was at least 3 minutes behind hitting 3:30. No way I would make that up I thought. Still, the time was good enough. Not bad.

The trails were really tight between Miles 6 and 11ish, I think. You spent a lot of time close to other runners, which was comforting in a strange way. What I mentioned below about the sense of running in a pack. 

I passed Mile 13 and felt good through Mile 14 when I first started to feel my hamstrings hurting: a good hurt. When you run, you learn to recognise good hurt from bad hurt. Bad hurt leads to injury, good hurt is from working hard. But it hurt, none-the-less, and I began to say my mantra to myself: I run to find the void. I was saying it outloud, I realised, and the guy in front of me looked back at me.

15, 16, 17 were nothing I remember.  Few guys starting to drop out to stretch.

18, 19. I realised that I hadn't needed to use the toilet. I felt a bit like I might have to throw up, but not seriously.

20. This was supposed to be the wall I thought, but there was nothing there.

21, 22. This went right by our house. I had run all these paths before.

23. Nothing.

24. The bottom of the hill behind the hospital. I stopped looking at my watch and focused on getting to the top of the hill without stopping. I run to find the void. People were walking at this point, but I pushed on and on.

25. From here on out, you could see the end. It was an odd feeling. I am going to make it. I am going to have run the whole thing. I will not have done it in 3:30. I came down the hill into the stadium feeling an odd sense. At this point I could have kept running another half hour. You reach a point where you can't run any faster, but you can continue at your same pace without any problem. I entered the stadium, looking for Yoko and the girls, and saw the gun time just clip past 3:37:00 and I sprinted to the end.

And it was done. You had to walk around the stadium to the end, and up to the concourse. I was feeling okay, and got up to the concourse to take off my shorts and try to call Yoko. They had gotten stuck trying to park and I went to meet them in the parking lot, but I was realising that my body temperature was dropping very, very quickly. There were no blankets at the finish and I was very, very wet still. I found Yoko and the girls and Yoko had a blanket for me. I sat in the car, warming up.

A quarter of a mile matters. Afterwards there was a lot of talk on the FB page about the length of the race. It doesn't matter to my time in the end, even if it hadn't been re-routed, I would have been above 3:30. But you would have run differently, you would have broken it, you would have, you would have Another part of me says.

I met a former professor of mine in London yesterday, and she asked how my time was. If you don't follow marathon running, it's hard to really describe times. Murakami talks about this: you only run against yourself. It didn't matter to me what place I was. It didn't matter if I beat anyone. All that mattered was my own time. Was it good? I smiled, 'B-plus,' I said. 'I've always been a B-plus student.' She smiled too, 'Sounds more like A-minus to me.'

My body feels mostly recovered today. I am still swollen up: my jeans don't fit and I haven't gotten control of my eating again. But I am a marathoner now. I have a Personal Best time. I really, really enjoyed the race. What else matters.