Monday, May 25, 2009

I Ran Two Marathons Today: Idiot Edition


I realize I have not written in a long time, and I am working on a real post. But, in the mean time, I want to create a permanent record of the pain created by a repeated act of hubris which I like to consider my second and last marathon. Last year I wrote an overly romantic recollection of my first marathon. I say overly romantic because I forgot to mention the pain. Now, as I walk about my house with the gait of my 93 year old grandmother, I remember being told human beings have no recollection of pain. I'm told it is an evolutionary thing. If women remembered the pain of child birth, they wouldn't do it again. Having seen child birth first hand, I can confidently say my pain is nothing like it and there is no part of the marathon that involved anything big coming out of a not so big place, but my calves hurt a lot. You see, marathons are like surgery, you feel great going in and like shit coming out. Had I written this last year, I could have read it and avoided this pain.

Last year I wanted to finish in less than four hours. Had I done it, I would have had a quite Memorial Day and perhaps enjoyed a barbeque with friends. Instead, I convinced myself my 4 hour 30 minute time last year was the result of my wrong adjustment of my ankle brace and I had to run again to get my time down below 4 hours. Once I did it, I would never have to do it again. This line of reasoning is how I can proudly say I am a scratch golfer. When I was in college I took some golf lessons. After a few weeks on the driving range the pro took me on the course. The first hole was a downhill par 3 and I shot par. Having done that, I put the clubs down and never picked them up again. I had nothing left to prove and I am a scratch golfer. If my first marathon was sub 4 hours, I could have said I was a sub 4 hour marathoner and quit.

Even though I ran it in 3 hours 57 minutes today, unless I run another 30 marathons - not going to happen - my average will remain above 4 hours. I will have to settle on a slightly sub 4 hour personal best. I was on course to getting my average pretty close to 4, but it just didn't happen. When I got to the starting line noticed signs sticking up with different finish times on them. These people were assisting everyone in keeping a pace. They started at 3 hours and worked their way up in 20 minute increments through 5 hours. I wanted to be sub 4, so I lined up at 3:40 thinking this would give me plenty of room to fall behind in case I had pee, or slow down.

The race horn sounded and we started to move like cattle down the too narrow street to the starting line. The pace people were there so people would be able to line up based on their capabilities, creating a clear path everyone. Unfortunately, many of the runners did not get the memo. I tried to pick up to a run as I crossed the start line, but instead I found myself in an uncanny simulation of the 1982 Stanford/Berkely football game when the band ran on the field. People were everywhere. Big ones, little ones, smelly ones - coming from all angles. My pacing man was getting away and I hardly even started.

After the first mile the road widened and I closed the gap. I was running right behind the 3:40 pace guy and started to bond with him. He was great - not that I talked with him or anything - but he was there for me. He held up his sign and ran and a steady pace. The right pace. At each mile marker he would signal water and and gatorade on the sides and run over himself to grab some. Turning his head sideways, he was able to squish the cup just right to drink without losing the pace. He knew he couldn't lose the pace - he had a responsibility to us, his minions. Sure, others were trying to suck up to him, running along side and talking to him, and one woman ran directly behind - even to the water holders - with the tenacity of a bulldog. I chose to keep my distance. Let him be - until the end of the race.

I didn't think I was going to keep up with him, but the miles seemed to go by much easier than last year. With each passing mile, my appreciation grew. At mile 3 I was thinking about a heartfelt thank you and a hand shake. By mile 14 I was ready to invite him over for a passover seder. Then, he betrayed me. This year's revised course was mostly flat for the first 14 miles, and then mostly uphill for the last 14. You would think Mr. Pace Setter Pants would take this into consideration - slow down for us. Especially after the bond we built over the last 14 miles. But, no. Shortly after mile 14, this asshole yelled "big hill after the turn," turned left and ran uphill at exactly the same pace. No consideration whatsoever for those of us who don't run a marathon every weekend. I probably don't have to tell you, not only did he abandon me at the intersection, but he increased the distance between us for the balance of the race.

Sure this was a great disappointment, but I was able to get over it and complete the race. Each mile marker was a welcome pat on the back for trudging, rudderless, through the race. Around mile 19 the 3:50 pace setter came up behind me and I picked it up a bit to hang with them. The pace was good - he was much more considerate than Mr. 3:40 - but I really had to pee. I ducked into an outhouse at mile 20, and when I came out, Mr. 3:50 and his minions were gone. Once again, I was on my own. As I approached the mile 25 marker, the race clock read 3:49:30. I was perilously close to not making the last 1.2 miles in time and wasting this opportunity to beat 4 hours. As I crossed mile 25 I kicked on my power song, this year was Matisyahu, King Without a Crown - try it, it works - and dug in. There was no way I was going to let this get away, and I was certainly not going to do it again. I looked down at the iPod and say was moving at about an 8:30 mile. This would get me there, but not with a great margin. As the song moved into the guitar riff, I looked down again and saw myself running at a 7:21 pace. Then, the song ended and the race did not. After using Freebird as a power song last year, I miscalculated the button push I was in front of the Staples center, and I had half a mile to go. I pressed firmly on the center button, kicked the song in again and dug down to move my ass. I turned the corner and saw the 26th mile marker and the finish line just after that. I looked at the stop watch I started at the beginning of the race and it was rolling over 3:57. I had to make it. I did not spend the last four hours running to miss it by seconds. The guitar riff kicked in again, the crowd started to cheer, and my legs started to move. I crossed the mile marker and had 2 tenths of a mile to go and the official race clock next the finish line was reading 3:58 and change. Just enough time. I crossed the line at a clock time of 3:59.17 and a chip time of 3:57:39. After spending over a year with a finish photo bearing a clock time of 4:32:54, the 43 seconds came is a welcome relief. No 4's this time, and no more marathons.