Sunday, August 26, 2012

This post is long, like the Marathon I just ran. (Now with pictures.)

Today I ran a marathon. I'm not sure what possessed me to do it, but I did. After running for six months I walked up to the start line, arguably unprepared but as good as it was gonna get. I figured I would just run REALLY slow and get through it. I had only one goal, to finish, and they gave me 6 hours to do that. Seemed reasonable. It was not. I was about to bend over and become this Marathon's bitch, and I didn't even know it.
This is how it went. 

After a five am wake up, breakfast with other runners, the longest line to use the most disgusting port-a-potty  for a last minute tinkle, I am jogging over to the start line. I am towards the back. This is the plan. Don't get sucked into the pack and a pace I can't maintain.

The gun goes off, and Eye of the Tiger starts to play. I delay turning on my head phones so that I can jam out, imagining I'm Rocky. Only, you know, not.

In Spanish the word for jog is trotar. You all may know the word correr for to run, but that implies short fast running like in soccer. I love the word trotar, because I feel like it very accurately describes what I do. I trot.  I am trotting along, starting to leave the reach of Eye of the Tiger, and a wave of calm comes over me. I just feel good, and am having fun. I look back. There are literally four people behind me. None of them are wearing the red bib of the Marathon. I don't care.

Running blackout, cut to somewhere around 10k.

Shavon, Ginsey, and Joanna are screaming like crazy people. To be fair they are crazy people. Ginsey and Shavon have posters that I am pretty sure are made of charla paper, and Joanna is taking so many photos she could probably make a flip book of that block. I am smiling from ear to ear. "This is fun!" I yell to my girls. Then they're gone.

By this point I'm no longer dead last amongst all runners just the marathoners. Still don't care. People are dropping like flies. All the exuberant runners from twenty minutes ago, are walking. I pass my first sweaty person, meaning he at least is trying. That back of his shirt is printed with his name, it's something Ortiz. I name him Big Papi. As I pass him, I give him the official word of encouragement "FUERZA" and settle back into my run.

By this point some of the first half marathoners half hit their farthest point and are on the way back. I'm running out one side of the street and they are running back on the other. I cheer on almost all of them, but especially the ones I know. At least twenty volunteers are participating in some portion of the race. Volunteers I barely know are instantly my besties.


I'm not sure if the cheering is to help them or myself, but I am having a blast.
I pass the turnaround for the half and keep going. Shortly after the elite marathoners start coming towards me. I'm confident if I sprinted 100 meters, and they ran 100 meters at their marathon pace I would still lose.  I cheer them on still. I cheer everyone I see. I say "Hi" and "Thank you" to all the race volunteers and policemen. It's becoming clear the cheering is more for myself.

Running blackout cut to 21k.

HOLY SHIT! I'm half way! I feel fantastic! Maybe I can pick up the pace a little.

Running blackout cut to 30K

I'm alone. I remember no time before running. I can't feel my legs but know they are in pain.  Where am I? Why did I think this was a good idea. I try to get water from the aid station, I knock over seven cups in the process. I'm in trouble.

A volunteer on a bicycle pulls up alongside me.

"Do you understand Spanish well?" he says

"Yes"  I respond

"Where are you from?"

I proceed to have the same conversation I've had a million times in Paraguay. A mixture of where I'm from, why I'm in Paraguay, and questions about my family. I can answer without thinking. He talks to me from his bike for the next kilometer. He then tells me a great story with dubious credibility of a man who is either age 80 or 102 that just ran a marathon last month and it took him 8 hours to complete it. My pace picks up a little. If not my pace, at least my posture. I see what you did there, Mr. Bicycle man. Thank you.

Cut to 37k

I'm walking. My knees are screaming, and my quads feel like jello. I look up and see a pack of crazy people. Clearly, I know them.

Ginsey, Shavon and Joanna, have been joined by Julia, Kevin and Casey. I start running. I actually feel something akin to good. Not good, but not soul crushingly horrible. Julia starts running towards me. I see it. The distinctive shape of the world's best beverage. They're serving up Terrere and it's my ha (turn).  I am now running through paparazzi. Every one of them needs several photos of me drinking t-rey while running, and nibbling on some asado. Let's be honest, I need those photos too.  

I pass them, with a smile back on my face. Maybe I can run to the finish. Only 4 more kilometers. I run another half kilometer. My legs tell me they think this running idea is nice, but they have other plans. I am walking again. Exhaustion takes over. Tears fill my eyes. I just want to finish. A bus passes me with more screaming crazy people. Oh wait, same crazy people.

Then a block later I see Julia and Casey again. The crew had gotten off the bus to help me finish. They start to walk with me. "We are going to drag you across this finish line." Julia's style of support always suits me well.

We approach the finish line. In my exhaustion, I almost forgot about that part. One of the earlier finishers (aka, all of them) sees me walking on the side walk, and in Portuguese insists I get back on the road and run to the finish. I understand Portuguese now?

I start running.

Next thing I know, I am surrounded by seven or more shoeless little kids. Julia is jogging to my right and Ginsey and Shavon re-appear. I feel like Mohamed Ali only not athletically talented in anyway. (Why are all my athlete metaphors boxers?)

Then it happens. I cross the finish. 5 hours and 50 minutes. I am dead last. I love it.

Ginsey is a great friend and magically pulls out of her bag, a Stella Artois and piece of chocolate. She puts them in my hands, since grabbing something wasn't happening.  One of the little kids seeing my moment of vulnerability, takes the candy out of my hand. I couldn't even say no. I couldn't do anything but watch a piece of chocolate, carefully mulled from the states, disappear.  He will never be forgiven.

The race photographers think my finish is awesome (it is) and start taking rapid fire pictures. I am soon surrounded by photographers and a camera crew. I go from feeling like Ali to feeling like William Hung. I say a few words and keep walking.

Hydrate and stretch.
Over the next several hours my amazing friends nurse me back to health. I was in bad shape but with a shower and some pizza they patched me up.

So here I am now, writing to you all. I couldn't be more proud that I finished. I have been an athlete for twenty years, and this was the most physically taxing thing I have ever done. Even aside from the havoc wreaked on my legs, I cannot remember anytime my will was so tested. The marathon is a different beast and not to be taken lightly. I give made credit to anyone who has finished, and anyone who has attempted.

I want to give a huge thank you for all the love and support from my family, both back home and the family created here in Paraguay. Training snacks were sent from the states, and blind encouragement from both stateside and in the heart of South America. You all believed I could do it, so I believed. Not a single step would have been possible without you all.

A special shout out to Zack, Oliver, and my parents. I really wish you could have been here. Constantly asking about the race, checking up on my training, and being so interested was a large part of this process and helped keep me on track.  With you here it would have been that much more fun.  

While I am in no hurry to do another Marathon, I feel certain this wasn't my last. But next time: costumes. ;-)