Friday, November 11, 2011
Sitting and resting was the order of the week following the race, just to give my tired and sore achilles tendon another healthy dose of non-vigorous function. My brain and the rest of my musculature weren't too enchanted with all that rest. I think I just did one Pilates routine all week and besides some stretching and the usual routine of demonstrating client exercises, that was really all. My brain function and my sleep patterns are certainly much better in the presence of vigorous activity.
Prior to all that sitting and resting there was a spectacle beyond all imagination! About 20,000 excited, chilled runners made it to the start line on Saturday, November 5. The energy was high and buzzing and wonderful! Nerves were jangling, flash bulbs popping, folks hanging out the hotel windows cheering, what a party atmosphere! The half marathon was like that from start to finish, densely packed runners having a terrific time, dancing to the music, high-fiving folks standing streetside to cheer us on, what a super fun scene! I am definitely wearing a boa for next year's race.
Amazingly perky, goofy, wonderful co-coach of the morning marathon CREW, Carol Ann, made up a couple of cheering pom-poms on broomstick handles for the two of us to carry so our CREW-mates could find us before the start in our designated corral. Her pom, with a little help from our friends, made it the entire length of the marathon. My pom made it to about the 5 mile mark, when I handed it off to a couple of little boys and their dad to enjoy. Turns out they were spotted several times along the marathon course cheering with it... scored with that handoff!
Each and every one of our half-marathon and marathon trainees who made it to the start line made it across the finish line on race day. What a great day for them! And a great day for us coaches, we were absolutely bursting with pride for their efforts. As difficult as it was for me to watch my comrades peel off at Anderson Street to head south for the full marathon route (we were having so darn much fun together!) it was beyond thrilling to watch them charging toward the finish line a couple of hours later.
Once I finished the half, had a snack, took a hot shower, and iced my feet, I had to get on my bike and head back out on the course to cheer on my CREW-mates. My achilles would not have been happy if I stood at the finish line waiting for them, and they were all quite used to me biking along with them on their training runs, so why not do it again? And here's what I knew ahead of time: The Truman Parkway section of the course, being miles 21 through 24, was going to suck. Suck is too tame a word for it, but that's as far as I'll take it in writing. Marathons are hard, we all know that. But honestly, putting THE WALL together with a desolate stretch of highway with no cheering friends/residents and no shade was just the stupidest idea ever. Really, ever. Weather, you can't control. Highway? At Mile 21? That you can fix.
So across the barren highway I rode in search of glycogen-depleted CREW runners. A runner at that point in a marathon is either riding the edge, or up to their armpits, in a blood sugar crater. Any shred of energy, any glimmer of a hopeful, happy face will help. So I helped. (HINT HINT You can help, too. Anyone can. Just be there :-) I cheered for all the runners, but especially the CREW-mates.
Here are the things you curse when you hit THE WALL in an endurance event at mile number (---), maybe it's 10 or 15 or 18 or 22 -- you curse the landscaping in the park you just went through. You curse the color of the bricks on the houses you can barely see through your wavering and/or tunneled vision. You curse the friends and family you told about the race, who are all now expecting you to finish the darn thing when they haven't the slightest notion of how much it hurts to do! You curse yourself, "Why did I think I could do this? This is hell, why did I want to put myself through hell?"
Then there's the friends who are with you, who have trained with you and encouraged you all along the way, and the writers in "Runners' World" who said you could do it, they get cursed too. And the volunteers who keep yelling, "You're almost there!" You try not to curse them out loud, but for heavens' sakes, you can't see the finish line nor cross it at that precise moment -- so you're not almost there -- and almost isn't really good enough dammit -- you want to BE DONE NOW -- and you're not! You see, THE WALL is a nutty, not nice place.
This is what happens when we runners tap out the body's energy stores -- we lose our minds. Energy blocks and gels and sports drinks are supposed to prevent this but most of us get a taste of it anyway. Then we get a second wind, or a third or fourth wind, some little sliver of hope to cling to. Maybe the music from one of the bands gets through the evil voices in our heads long enough to cheer us up. Hearing the finish line crowd a mile or so back... that's very energizing.
Some struggled mightily, some walked almost as much as they ran, some sailed through the finish line all smiles and pumping arms, but they all put one foot in front of the other for either 13.1 or 26.2 miles and accomplished something very few people ever even attempt. All the people who came out cheering in Savannah that day, especially those of you who didn't know a single runner, thank you so much for being there and sharing your energy with us! Next time, Gordonston, please make enough bloody mary's and mimosa's to go around.
Crossing the finish line is an incomparable, ecstatic experience when you have endured so much. Once across the finish line you say, "That was so fantastic!" You are just a few hundred meters away from where you lost your mind and your glycogen, and harbored the most heinous thoughts ever to have crossed your mind, but it's such a different perspective from the "done" side of the finish line. Maybe you gather with your friends after the finish and start planning the next one! It's extraordinary how quickly you can let go of all that misery. It has been compared to planning your next pregnancy right after having given birth.