A First Marathon Story - Page 5
Through the Gates of Hell
At the 16 mile mark everything began to fall apart rapidly. This time I couldn't help but stop at the port-a-potty. I had to go. It felt very good not to move for a minute, but I now found it was difficult to get myself going again. Joe was now so far ahead there was no way I could (or should) catch up to him. Some of the water stations had orange slices and Clif Shots, but I had my supply of fig newtons. Every other mile I'd try to eat one. I wasn't hungry, but I was trying to fuel my body. The uncharted territory was hostile. The motivational aspects of the mileage signs were now starting to elude me. It was getting difficult to concentrate on anything except focusing on the road in front of me. In fact I think the sayings were starting to mock me.
Just before the 18 mile mark came the dreaded hill. Yesterday in the car it looked difficult. Now it looked impossible. I wouldn't have been surprised to see mountain climbers in full gear at either side of the road attempting to scale it. I didn't even try to jog it. I went into my hiking race walk and even at that, it was getting me out of breath. Yet I was amazed that some were actually jogging up this 20% grade. Starting up the run after this hill was again extremely difficult and how I wished I was approaching the 20 mile mark rather than the 18. For the entire run I'd wondered what I'd be feeling like at mile 18, hoping I wouldn't be too spent because the tough part of any marathon run would follow. In my mind I was telling myself you should try to run all the way to 20 miles, but by mile 19 a cycle of walking and jogging began. I knew I was in real trouble and with so many miles to go: surely this must be the worst part a marathon. Over the remaining distance the walking would become ever more frequent as the jogging would be ever more infrequent. When I walked it was a race walk, but it wasn't fast enough to keep up with those who were still running. The aid stations were such godsends, I wished they had them every quarter mile! And as for the motivation sayings, I'm not finding them at all inspirational.
The 20 mile mark was magical in that there was only 10K to go. In my mind I started calculating the route near my house that would take me that distance. 6.2 miles should be relatively easy, but not after you've already run 20 miles. My legs had now gone from lean running machines to a set of legs you find on any baby. They move around but they don't support any real weight. They were essentially numb. They didn't want to move and it took a lot of concentration to make them. In the movies this is a point where you should have flashbacks. I might have thought of the road that took me here; the road that started last May; how I was going to kill the idiot (oh, that would be me) responsible for getting me into this mess. But there was none of that because my mind was focusing on simply putting one foot in front of the other. The running was simply no longer automatic, it now took real effort and concentration.
There was only one genuine thought that I can remember and I told myself over and over: you've worked very hard to get this far. Yes, this is tough but you've made it this far. You must continue! Do you ever want to run this far again? I will readily admit that I probably stood no chance if this was the first time I'd experienced this numbness. I've had it on the trails at Squaw Peak and had it on the trails of the Grand Canyon. I knew I could go further - a lot further, but could I make it the entire way? There were now a lot of people along the course and the cheering still continued, "Good job. You're looking great!" Okay, I'm really thinking these people are not being honest. I can't be looking great. I feel awful! It was getting hard to even acknowledge these people and I always wanted to smile, wave back, and tell them thank you. More and more I'm thinking, "Never again."
Every mile marker was now a real victory. 21 miles. Well, I actually have no memory of passing 21, but I must have! Then 22, then 23. I can't remember them, either. I can't even remember passing the water stations! I can't remember how many times I said to myself, "Never again!" I was trying to walk fast, but those running seemed to be passing me easily. It seemed like a lot of people were passing me. I wasn't so irritated that they were passing; it was irritating that they seemed to be going so slow and they were passing! But the further I went, the more I spotted walkers. This gave me a perverse pleasure knowing I wasn't the only one experiencing difficulty! Misery had a lot of company. There's very little else I remember specifically about this section, but besides the "Never again!" I also started bargaining with myself. "If I can just finish this marathon, I promise I'll never do this again!" The landscape seemed entirely unfamiliar, even though we'd driven it the day before.
I couldn't exactly remember where Gene Autry Park was, but now I knew I was there because there were my parents at the side of the road! I'm sure this is a sight that I'm never going to forget. For just a brief moment I realized I had this whole other life. I stopped and gave my Mom a hug saying I'm really tired. I couldn't say much more. I should have told them I'm really starting to go slow so they should warn Cindy it might be some time before I make it to the finish. Slow? Any slower I'd be at a dead halt. It was a big relief to have spotted them because I was worried about it for the past several miles. Near this same point Megan ran by and gave me words of encouragement. I think they were along the lines of, "Gene! You're doing fine. Keep going!" It was definitely not, "You're looking great!" I can't even remember what I said to her in response. I can't even remember if I was able to acknowledge her. I was happy, however, to see her doing well. Maybe she would make her 4 hour goal!
|It is good to have family and friends cheering you on.|
Somewhere between mile 23 and 24 the numbness in my legs was replaced with genuine pain. "Never again!" Not every step was painful, but an increasing number of them were. Then there was pain in my thighs, then pain in my toes, and then pain in my back. Surely I had arrived at hell's door step. Why do I just not stop? Why do not flag down a car and get a ride back to the stadium where Cindy is waiting and is probably starting to worry. There is a very thin line between the bravery of continuing and the pure stupidity of it. No since wondering about it: I passed that thin line many miles back...
There were even more people lining the course at certain spots. Some were still yelling and clapping, "You're looking good!" Okay, I know these spectators are just plain lying. I must look like hell. If I died right now my family would have a hard time identifying the corpse. Probably they're cheering because they're grateful they didn't decide to run a marathon. They must be wondering why anyone would do this voluntarily. They must conclude we hadn't; we all committed heinous crimes against mankind and this is our punishment. I was still able to do some simple math so I could continuously calculate the miles of woe ahead. More complex math like figuring out my pace was now impossible. Ask what year it was or what was the first president, I wouldn't have had a clue. At the 24 mile mark it was hard to fathom just two more miles. I should be celebrating, "Only two more miles!" and start a happy dance, if only in my mind. But the hell continued and I was very certain this was simply not worth it. I should stop. "Never again!" I would take a few more steps and, "Never again!" But Cindy and my parents were waiting for me at the stadium. I guess I should just keep walking, but why should walking be this painful? The race was now a nightmare! Maybe if I could just wake myself up...
|It is bad to have family and friends at your marathon.|
Was this the worst part of the marathon? You'd think so and I'd agree if I could remember much of anything. But it's hard to think of anything (and I assure you hard to remember anything) when you have to summon every last bit of your mental being just to put one foot in front of the other. Because if you don't you'll stop. Between the concentration of simply putting one foot in front of the other and the almost continuous mantra of "Never again!" I had two other thoughts. When will this nightmare be over and this is surely the most stupidest thing I have ever done! I hadn't a clue as to why I thought it was important to complete this ridiculous, impossible, distance. Now finishing was only thing I had left. I simply must finish!
Just past the 24 mile mark was a 11 mile sign! What? For a moment I thought I was hallucinating. At this point in the course the half marathon had merged with the marathon again. Now I knew there would also be a 12 mile mark just past the 25 mile mark. Oh, how nice it would be to be a that point, but that was still many painful steps ahead. Along the side the road I could no longer hear any cheering whatsoever. Now I dared not make eye contact as they had all donned grim reaper costumes. Or were they costumes? I didn't look up to see the circling vultures, either!
Every so often I would glance at my watch seeing the time ticking away. Earlier in the race I frequently checked, but now what did it matter? With 2 miles I can vaguely remember it was 3:52:00. The mental exercise of keeping going could not let me calculate how many minutes per mile. I remember thinking 4 hours was completely out of reach and maybe even 4:15 was out of the question. Why should I even care at this point what time it was? It was my last shred of competitive instinct coming to the surface. I was now mostly walking and only briefly now and then would attempt to break into a slow painful jog. The 25 mile marker had the last water station, but I had no need for anything. Earlier I had thought that maybe I could run this last mile, but no deal. It was still mostly a walk and with the pain even my walking pace had to be slowed. There was a section of street at this point from our drive the day before and there were a number of speed humps. I have no memory of any speed bumps, but I must have crossed them!
I would always run when I was crossing traffic. These good police were there to stop traffic whenever we had to cross and it seemed rude of me to just walk. When I would clear the traffic it was back to the painful walk. The pain was now constant in my legs, my hips began to hurt, and my shoes felt like they were tied too tight. My body was really screaming at me to stop, but I was now so close. That last mile was starting to feel good only because I was so near. The stadium lights were now in view and any amount of hydration left I would have cried at the sight. A half mile ahead I would cross Brown Drive and I would be on the school grounds and torture would be over. Oh, no! Suddenly just in front of me was a marathon photographer. They are there to take pictures during the event and then you can buy these later on. I have to run a little, but it was excruciatingly difficult and I stopped rather quickly. The photographer must have had a lot of experience with my brief jog since he said, "Don't worry. I got you running!" Wow, running? He was being very generous since I don't think you could have even described it as a jog. However, that really did give a good feeling, if only for a moment. Nearing Brown Drive with an unbelievable number of spectators suddenly watching I dug deep and mustered every last bit of remaining strength I had and started to jog and vowed to continue until I crossed the finish line. I would not walk across the finish line!
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