A First Marathon Story - Page 6 of 6
The Final Mile
I never saw the 26 mile sign, but I knew that Brown Drive marked the 26 mile mark. The end was now very near. This was extremely neat to finish on a track in the stadium; it reminded me of the Olympics when those marathon runners enter the stadium and do a lap and a half to finish in front of the cheering crowd. I jogged down the road still lined with red cones and a lady shouted to me that I was to turn right. As tired as I was I couldn't imagine needing this direction. Directly in front of me was a mass of people so you had to turn left or right. Right was into the stadium and left was into the parking lot! There were people everywhere. As I entered the stadium and made the right turn onto the track, I had a genuine moment of deja vu which resulted in an unbelievably bad anxiety attack. The reason is I ran track in high school (never mind how many years ago that was) and I've run a lot of 400 meter distances (the length of one full lap of the track) and knew how far it can be. That distance is so long I knew I couldn't make it running!! I briefly admonished myself for starting the final run too early. But the feeling instantly subsided as I looked over to the welcome sight of a finish line on just the other side of the track! I only had about 180 meters to go.
Before me was the big white banner and I can't even begin to describe what a beautiful sight it was. Suddenly I wasn't tired. I could see the digital time of 04:18 with some odd seconds. I looked up into the stands to see if I could spot Cindy or my parents, but they could not be seen. As I neared the banner the flash of a camera directly ahead caught my eye and it was Cindy taking a picture. As I crossed the red carpet I instinctively raised my hands in victory with a big smile and slowed a bit waiting for the flash of the camera to take the final picture. I wish I could say I was euphoric. I should have felt that way, overjoyed that I had really done it. But it was simply relief the ordeal was finally over. Yes, it was over, yes, I had really done it, and yes, I'd never do it again.
They then turned me to the left to enter a tent where a volunteer cut off the timing chip and then another volunteer put the finishing metal over my head. You only receive the metal if you finish! Cindy was then able to join me and suggested I take a bottle of water. I really wasn't thirsty and I definitely wasn't hungry. At first I wanted to keep moving, but soon I really wanted to sit down. I was becoming sick to my stomach and I found a seat to rest for a few minutes and I immediately felt a lot better. It felt so hot! Megan came by to offer congratulations, but I was really out of it. More conscious I realized that I hadn't seen my mom so I got up and walked over to the stands, but Cindy thought that was a bad idea because it was even hotter up there. My parents had come down, however, and I wanted to thank them for coming. It was more deja vu. In high school my parents came to many track and field meets.
Ron and Nicole were no where to be found. Cindy had seen both of them (she missed Ron coming into the stadium 40 minutes earlier) and she thought they were getting something to eat. She remembers Ron saying, "I'm hungry." I wish I was. They had a tent stocked with bananas, oranges, bagels, for us, but none of it looked appetizing. As I stood I was now feeling sick again and had to sit down and then lie down. When I lied down I would immediately feel better so Cindy said we should get to the car and head home. I couldn't even make it to the car. I've just gone 26 miles and now I can't go 100 feet without resting. I had to sit down at the curb and Cindy went to get the car. It was so hot it was hard to imagine I could have run in this heat. As we drove away from the stadium we followed part of the course and I was amazed to see so many contestants still running. Ron finally called when we were heading home saying he'd grabbed a bite to eat. He was back at the stadium and wondering how I'd done and whether I had finished. I told him it was pretty bad that last 8 miles, but I was now well. I'd save the ordeal story for later.
Ron ran the event in 3:39. This was an unfathomable time to me, but a disappointing time for him. This was his 11th marathon and he is still working for a 3:10 which would qualify him for the Boston Marathon.
A few days later I wrote to Megan and found
she crossed the finishing banner just after 4 hours, missing her
goal by less than a minute! She was just sick about it. But
that's not what I'd seen in the finishing times. There it was
listed as 3:59!! Ah, the beauty of the chip. It had taken her
over a minute to get to the starting line and I had now been the
one to give her the news that she had actually made her goal. Later that
year she did finish the half Ironman Triathlon in an amazing time of
Would I do it again?
Are you kidding? What kind of cruel question is that? Did you not just read this escape from the depths of hell? After over 6 miles of "Never again!"? After 4 hours and 18 minutes and knowing exactly what Philippides must have felt like just before he keeled over?
It was just 9 months later! On September 22nd I started training for a marathon on December 7th. From the start this marathon was going to be very different from my first. This time I would know what 26.2 miles feels like and specifically how bad it could feel near the end. So you can see it took less than 7 months to forget that last 10 miles of mostly "Never again!" That marathon came about largely due to simple serendipity. To repeat the marathon (and not repeat the experience) I was determined to be fully prepared and vowed that if I wasn't, I wouldn't go through with it. After all, what was there to prove since I had made it across the finish line the first try? Since then I've read a line recited by several marathoners that really resonates with me. "It's not getting to the finish line that's tough, it's getting to the starting line." I'm pretty sure they're speaking of the difficult training over many months, but I'd add that it's equally difficult deciding to go to the starting line once you really know what you're in for: like uttering, "Never again!" for nearly ten straight miles.
And prepared as I thought I was (almost 400 miles in 11 weeks), I hit the wall even earlier this time! But training did make a difference as I was able to at least jog for almost the entire way, doing maybe 40 yards of walking every mile starting at mile 13. I finished in 3:53:48.
And then less than 2 months after that I entered the Las Vegas Marathon: 3:37:57. My time would have been a lot better but 15 miles into the race, we hit 25MPH headwinds with gusts to nearly 40. Up until that point I had visions of a 3:30.
And will I do another? Up to this point I've always said, "I'm really not a runner." But now having completed 3 marathons (I have to keep saying that because I still find it hard to believe) I'm going to have a hard time selling that line. I really would like to finish in 3:30 which would allow me to qualify for the granddaddy of all marathons: Boston. So in a perverse way I'm really saying I want to run 2 more marathons!
And what about the Valley of the Sun Marathon? Though I had absolutely no desire to repeat this marathon, I did return. This time volunteering at one of the water stations! I manned the Mile 12 station and I was happy to return the favor for what was for me a very special marathon. I hope I showed the appreciation of the water people when I was running as these runners were to me. Marathon runners are among the best! As you can see from the photo above, I did get a look at one of those motivational sayings on the mile marker.
And finally, what about Dr. Larry?
I have added #564 to the stupid list: Disparage the Marathon run. "A classic case of writing about something you know nothing about. It's not 26.2 miles of pain. At most it's 6 miles and maybe 2 hours of discomfort and a lifetime to savor the accomplishment."
I ran 26 miles, 385 yards, got completely drained, sick, and all I got was this lousy medal! Well ... I also got this story. :)