One week from today I am running my first marathon. Everything after about 11:30 a.m., October 9 is a black hole – I have absolutely no idea what to expect from myself following the race. So, rather than assume that I’ll feel like doing the traditional postmortem (though I hope at some point I will), I thought I’d at least document where my head and my legs are at now, pre-race. And technically, it’s actually everything after 10:30 a.m. next Sunday – roughly the time that I expect to pass mile marker 20 – that is a black hole. 20 miles is the longest I’ve ever run, so those last 6.2 and I will be getting to know each other for the very first time.
I am ready for this. Know how I’m sure? My toenail came off the other night. The second toenail on my right foot has been threatening to jump ship for two or three years now. A casualty of the miles, it grows up in a really painful way that makes it necessary for me to keep it super short. I kept thinking it was ready to fall off entirely, but it has clung to life like a hospice patient. I assumed that it would finally lose the battle during the marathon, but two nights ago, the little guy gave up. Particularly talented pedicurists have been able to get the tiniest bit of color on the nail, but now there really is nothing left. A pedicure would require putting nail polish on skin, sort of like those baby girls with bows pasted on their bald heads. Um, wow. I just realized that I have compared my toenail to a baby on hospice. That’s probably not cool. Anyway… Marathon training.
The early part of training for this race was rough. The June heaviness in my legs stretched into July and I panicked every time 3 miles felt like 13. It was awful and had me worried that I had not only lost my race mojo, but my running mojo entirely. And then, incrementally and without fanfare, it got better. By the time Hood to Coast rolled around I wasn’t exactly feeling fast, but I felt sure that I could cover more miles without dying. And it’s just gotten better from there. The peak of my training program came two weeks ago during my 20 miler. It was spectacular. It went so well – I felt ready to run 26.2 the very next weekend – that I had to remind myself I had three weeks to go and needed to chill out a bit. To keep the momentum going, I started reading more about other people’s marathon experiences and advice and have come across some things that I hope will be helpful next Sunday.
“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” – Mike Fanelli, running club coach
I’ve also read that it’s helpful to break the marathon up into three separate races, to make it more manageable. I’ll run the first 13 miles with my head. The half marathon distance that I’ve done so many times already is the part I’m going to try and run smart – focused on pace and breathing and other runnerly things that I never thought I’d care so much about. Around mile 12 is the first place that I’ve asked friends to come out and support me. I figure that seeing some of my favorite faces will be a nice transition into the seven mile “personality” portion of the race. 13ish-20 is probably going to be tough. Not awful, but I expect to rely a lot on spectator support – both the ones I know and the complete strangers – to propel me through. It is the final 6.2 miles – the heart part – that I can’t predict. In all of my running-themed internet perusing the last few weeks, I came across an idea for the final miles from this neato chick’s running blog. She suggests – based on something her mom did during her first marathon – running the last 6 miles for people in your life. Because, as she (Emily, the blogger) puts it, “Obviously, you can’t quit the race when you’re running a mile FOR someone. How would it feel to have to call one of the most special people in your life after the race and tell him you quit the race on his mile?”
The inspiration for my final 6 miles? The ones I’m going to run with my heart? Well that’s a no-brainer.
Mile 21: Mom. I’m giving her the first of the last stretch because as my most cautious – yet fully supportive – fan, I want to ease her mind as much as possible. I’m guessing that I won’t totally hate everyone and everything at 21, so that seems like the best mile for Mom.
Mile 22: Dad. When I was getting serious about running several years ago, the man put on shoes and attempted a run with me at the beach for the first time in probably 20 years. He spends tons of time biking, swimming and skiing, but hadn’t run in years after an injury. The fact that he even wanted to try was so sweet. Also, the bike to runner handoff that we shared during the triathlon relay we did together 6 years ago remains one of my favorite race memories of all time.
Mile 23: Jeff. Dr. Brother ran his first marathon last December, training for it while working crazy resident hours. If he can do that, I can definitely finish this. Jeff and I rarely get to run together anymore, but we had one great run together when he was in town for a visit this past April – a nice, slow jog for three merciful miles, before he took off ahead of me. Maybe I’ll spend mile 23 visualizing catching up to him.
Mile 24: Christie. Sister-in-law extraordinaire. The Creep is the only person in my entire life that I have consistently enjoyed running with. Before she moved to New York to be with Jeff, we lived in the same neighborhood and she was a frequent running buddy. She ran her first marathon last year and killed it. She is one of the strongest runners I know and when I was in Sacramento earlier this summer visiting them, I realized how much a part of her running is. Creep was putting on her running shoes for the first time since giving birth to my niece, Avery and the look on her face was pure joy. We weren’t even running – just going for a walk around the neighborhood – but she was so happy to be putting the shoes back on.
Mile 25: David. Baby Brother is superhuman. The kid ran a 50K race (that’s 31 miles) last Sunday then turned around and ran a full marathon yesterday. Cycling, skiing, running, swimming – I don’t think he has met a sport yet that he couldn’t master. I expect mile 25 to be less than the most fun thing ever. Almost the end, but still with another full mile to go – it’ll probably feel like a weird, running purgatory. If running that mile for the best athlete I know doesn’t motivate me, I’m going to be in trouble.
Mile 26: Avery. Obviously. The last 1.2 miles of the marathon are going to be a lot of things. I expect to feel pain, fatigue, fear that I will collapse before the very end and hopefully some measure of elation. It’s probably going to be a whole mess of emotions, so who better to run it for than the tiny person who has inspired so much emotion in me this year?
This is going to be so scary. And so good.
“There will be days you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have.” – Unknown