Just Keep Going

What a great day I had last Saturday! My first full marathon of the year and only my second full marathon ever. I won’t say I was worried about, but I did wonder what I am now capable of, since my last attempt. I’ve run a handful of half marathons this fall, and was quite pleased with my results, but wondered about the sustainability (LINK) of my new, faster, half marathon pace for twice the distance.

The race was organized by cartoonist and author “The Oatmeal” and was called “Beat the Blerch”, Blerch being one of the oft featured cartoon characters. The marathon was in Sacramento, it started, technically, in West Sacramento, one block and one short river crossing from downtown “SacTown”, as I fondly refer to it. I live about an hour west and planned my departure time and arrival time, and my related alarm clock setting, appropriately. I didn’t pick up my jersey and my bib the day before, just because of the extra round trip drive, so, I had to arrive in enough time before the start of the race to acquire these necessities. Of course, since I always allow for unexpected traffic or unexpected road work, and as there was neither, I arrived very early. I’m much happier with a little extra time at my destination, whether a marathon, an airport, a restaurant, or a meeting.

When the gates opened, I was among the first in line for my bib and swag. I found myself in line with a young woman, she was friendly and talkative and we chatted a bit . She asked if it was my first marathon, I told her it was my second. It was her first, though she appeared quite fit and looked like a “runner, not that there is really a stereotypical “runner” type; we come in all shapes and sizes, some very unlikely shapes and sizes, even.

The young woman asked if I had any advice for her. I told her to just keep going. Just keep going. She shared that she’d been training with a coach and it sounded like she was exceedingly well-prepared. We talked further of family, she a young mother of two and me a mother of two, probably not too fa, in years, from her age.

After we accumulated our respective things, she went one way, I another. I ran back to my car to deposit all the extra swag and saw the young woman again, just outside the gates, with her husband, two young daughters, and new puppy. We exchanged a quick smile and a wave.

My marathon couldn’t have gone much better, I am very, very pleased with my accomplishment and with my results. My first goal was to just finish, which when you run 26.2 mile races, is always in question. I accomplished that. My second goal was to beat my last marathon time. I accomplished that. My third goal was to finish in less than five hours. I accomplished that. My next goal was to beat Oprah. I read once, but haven’t actually confirmed, that the one and only marathon Oprah ever ran, while in a relationship with a personal trainer, she completed in less than four and a half ours. My ultimate goal is to be able to consistently finish marathons in less than four hours.

I ran strong and I ran at a fairly steady pace. I’d done the math, and to reach my most realistic goal, I needed to maintain an average pace of eleven minute miles, including any walk breaks or potty stops, for the entire race. But I was uncomfortable at that pace and I kept finding myself running about thirty to sixty seconds faster. I’ve been training with my club at the eleven minute pace. I’ve considered moving up a pace group, but have been struggling a bit, lately, with fatigue and knee pain after long runs, anything in excess of about ten miles.

Ten miles came and went during the race, and no pain, and definitely no fatigue. The way the course was designed, there was a “dog leg” from about mile nine to twenty, meaning you ran out, then ran back. It was at mile eleven that I saw the race leader running back towards the finish in the opposite direction. I cheered him on. From that point on, countless runners before me passed by, and, for each, I cheered. Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader. But, I found in the distraction of cheering others on, I just kept going and paid very little mind to my own race.

Another couple of miles and the young woman I met in line at the stadium before the race passed in the other direction. We waved and cheered each other on. She looked strong, she was going to just keep going, like I advised, I was certain.

Marathoners often talk of “the wall”, it usually occurs at about twenty miles; you feel you just can’t go on. There was a running jersey for sale at this race, on the back it said, “I don’t believe in the wall”, on the front, “I believe in the Blerch”.

I’ve hit the wall. I hit the wall in my first marathon, shortly after mile twenty. I will never forget mile twenty, though. It was at mile twenty that I acknowledged “the wall” and sort of scanned my sense of well-being for symptoms of having hit said wall. I was fine, tired, but still chugging away. But, just the thought of the wall seemed to change my psychological outlook for the rest of the race. I glanced to my left, beyond the pylons separating the runners from the traffic. The bus, for those who’ve struck the wall hard enough to give up, was cruising nearly alongside me, door open. It was going very, very, very, very slowly. The driver was matching my pace, it seemed, in an effort to encourage me to leap into the beckoning doorway. I resisted. In fact, I was a little myphed that I may have, in any way, resembled a wall-struck soul.

This further messed with my head. At about mile twenty two, I was upon the wall. I forced myself to keep going, 4.2 miles after 22 is really, truly, nothing. I hurt and I was uncomfortable and I was tired. I was taking stock of all of these sensations when I was passed, by a woman, running, energetically. She had two prosthetic legs. I felt like a boob. And, I just kept going.

I finished that first marathon, nearly two years ago, in five hours, fifteen minutes and twenty seconds. My goal had been, first, to finish, and second, within six hours. My ultimate goal was to finish in less than five and a half hours. I just kept going. I did it.

In last Saturday’s race, I ran right past the twenty mile mark, and the twenty two mile mark. I was, yes, a little tired, but not at all sore. My pace time was actually increasing with each mile. I tried to temper it, concerned I may expend all of my energy short of the finish line.

The wall manifested at about mile 24.98746. I had less than two miles to go and had told myself I was going to just keep going, even when my walk alarm sounded, I was going to run it in and run it in strong. And, somehow, I found myself walking. Walking. At mile 24.98746 of 26.2, I was walking. I walked a little longer than my maximum allowable minute. I’d been taking thirty to forty-five second walk breaks every six to twelve minutes throughout the race, so a minute seemed an eternity. I did finally find a way to make my legs move faster for the last mile, and I just kept going, and I finished strong. My time was 4:35:40. If I had kept going a little more, a little faster at the beginning of the race, in those bits where I was trying to make myself go slow, if I had just kept going at mile 24.98746, if I had wolfed down my quarter of a peanut butter and honey sandwich while running instead of full on stopping to eat it, if I had just kept going, I’d have beat not only the Blerch, but Oprah, too!

I am proud of myself and I am fairly certain I will lay Oprah to waste in a few weeks when I make my second run at the California International Marathon. I will just keep going.

I always reward myself after an admirable feat of exertion, with food and beverage. As I used to live in the Sacramento area, I have a smattering of friends here. Of all my friends in Sacramento, there is only one that I’ve known long enough that I was reasonably assured she wouldn’t be too offended by my post-race appearance, or, worse yet, aroma. We arranged to meet for a late lunch, and, for me, a beer, too. This friend, I have known since the third grade. We were close in grade school, not quite as close in middle school, but we were in the same, tight, core group of friends in high school. We were also college roommates for a few years. We go so far back, in fact, that her mother was my Girl Scout leader and is probably a significant contributing factor to how I found myself begin a Girl Scout leader and loving the outdoors as and singing silly songs in rounds as much as I do.

The two of us chatted so intently that the poor waiter came back to our table about a dozen times before we’d managed to glance at the menu long enough to decide on food. We talked about everything. Everything. We had much to catch up on, we were, in fact, having a hard time pinpointing when, exactly, our previous visit had been. Certainly within the year, but still, obviously, far too long. The topic of conversation turned to our mothers, both still alive, both very elderly. We compared notes. My mom is older by a few years, but has been inactive for many and is, presently, quite miserable. My Girl Scout leader is still working and was still hiking and walking regularly until a knee surgery a couple of years ago. She hasn’t quite healed, which, is exactly what rendered my mom less mobile, only her knee surgery was a couple of decades ago. Since being less able to walk and hike and maintain an active lifestyle, my Girl Scout leader has aged considerably and is, well, kind of miserable.

 

My friend and I finished our meals, slowly, chatted some more, paid our bill, performing painstaking mathematical calisthenics to precisely account for our separate meals, tax, tip, and all (at her insistence). As we walked to our cars we laid plans to visit, again, with some of the other gals, over Thanksgiving weekend when she’ll be “home” in Napa. I told her to tell her mom hello for me, and she returned the sentiment. In our parting, we shared one last observation, as evidenced by our moms in their present states of low level misery and declining vigor; you just have to keep going.

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