Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Run for the Red Marathon (Almost Killed Me)

My last three posts led up to this race. One on overtraining, one on tapering, and one on anticipation. A pretty standard pattern when it comes to marathons. Maybe I should've also written a post about race weekend overeating, because holy cheesecake did I gorge myself. And I'd like to say all that hard work, stress, and madness resulted in an epic race.

It was epic. Just not in the way I was hoping for.

But let me start from the beginning.

We were happy. Before we ran.

I left work early on Friday so that I would have plenty of time to get down to the hotel in the Poconos. I hate reserving hotels. Actually, I suck at pretty much any "real life" things. Normal folks are organized. They plan far ahead and get everything out of the way so they can read a book and drink some wine, content in their own "adult-ness". I had scanned through the list of suggested hotels on the race website and picked the one whose name I recognized. I didn't even check how close it was to the start, or if it was even in the right state.

After successfully reserving my hotel, I had thought, "that wasn't so bad; I could totally be a functional adult." That is until a week later when some a$$hole stole my credit card number and started buying USB hard drives like the dollar had collapsed and computer peripherals were the new currency. That tapped me out on being an adult.

Adulting is hard.

Anyway, when I got home from work, I didn't pack, or do anything useful. I just lay in bed for about an hour. Then when Geoffrey got home from work, I went to dinner with him, his kids, and Meghan. She was visiting for the weekend, making sure to be there for my marathon. Awesome lady.

The restaurant somehow kept messing up our order, so that our one order of calamari turned into three. And I ate almost all of them, on top of whatever else I ordered. Oh, and I should mention that I had eaten a tub of ice cream the previous night, after an absolutely terrible 4 mile run. I don't screw around when it comes to carb loading. I don't even remember how far over budget I was. The calorie counter in my app spun like the national deficit.

The drive down was easy enough. I listened to This American Life podcast. In the first episode, Ira Glass' voice was hoarse with a cold. In the next one, someone covered for him because he was sick. I found that funny for some reason. I got to the hotel at about 9pm. I immediately went to the hotel restaurant and had a few beers while listening to really terrible karaoke. I did not sing.

I got to my room and exploded my bag all over the floor. Then I watched commercials for about an hour. The only time I watch cable TV anymore is in hotel rooms. There are no actual shows or movies. Just commercials. On all 80 channels. I went to sleep.

My kokeshi doll looks out the window.

I got up at 9:30 the next morning, which I think is the latest I've slept in since the New Year. I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. There was no karaoke. Just a single excessively friendly waiter who seemed very excited about me and my omelet. After that I went to the marathon Expo at the high school in Stroudsburg. I got my packet, and signed Geoffrey up for the half marathon.

All expos look the same, really.

He didn't know he was running the half until the day before. At dinner, I had told him that I would pay for him to run and he didn't have a choice. And after two pitchers of beer, he was powerless to refuse. Races are no fun unless your friends suffer too. I walked around the expo, bought some stuff I didn't need, and then ran 2 easy miles around the high school.

I had lunch at a really nice pub across the street from the hotel ("The Original Pocono Pub"). That was the only place I ate for the rest of the weekend. The waitress called me "sweetie" and brought me lots of beer, coffee, and greasy food, and I loved her for it. When I went back to my hotel room, I considered doing something useful on my laptop. I finally gave up and alternated between napping and watching more commercials on the TV.


Meghan and Geoffrey arrived at around 6:30 and we immediately went to dinner at the same place. Nothing new here: Just a f@#kton more food and booze. I briefly worried that the extra ten pounds in mu gut would impact my race performance. Then I drowned my worries with more alcohol. We had a great time.

I showed them the hotel restaurant so they could keep drinking, and then I went to bed before 9. I was woken up a couple hours later when they returned, quite buzzed. Meghan immediately fell comatose in bed. Geoffrey and I stayed up for another hour, drinking wine out of paper cups, taking photos of ourselves, and just generally making fools of ourselves. We went to bed way too drunk and way too late.

The night before a marathon is the best night to party.

My alarm woke me up at 4:20am. I did my usual pre-race ritual. I was oddly blasé about the fact that I was going to be running a marathon in less than three hours. Maybe I was still drunk. Geoffrey certainly was. We left the room, an apocalyptic warzone of all our belongings, at about 5:40. Thankfully we had a late checkout. The "do not disturb" sign had been hanging on the door since I'd gotten there.

Me? Still drunk the next day? Naaaah

Meghan wished me luck, made out copiously with Geoffrey, and then went home. Because real life. He and I arrived at Pocono Mountain West High School (quite the mouthful) by 6. We always give ourselves at least an hour before a race to do whatever we need to do. But other than hitting the bathroom as many times as humanly possible, we didn't have much to do except loiter. We ran into a couple of cool runners who knew us by way of a mutual acquaintance. They were both way faster than me.

Welcome... to your doooooom.

Shortly before the race started, I took off my shirt. It was 40 degrees. Everyone else was shivering, despite being dressed appropriately. I looked like I was about to charge across a battlefield screaming my head off. Which maybe I was.

The Marathon.

My goal for the race was to qualify for Boston. This meant I had to run it in 3 hours and ten minutes. But qualifying wasn't enough to guarantee one an entry. So I really had to run it in like 3:07 to be sure. I had picked Run for the Red because it has a huge net downhill, and I thought that meant I would run it super fast and totally meet my goal. I had fantasies dancing in my head of running it in under three hours!

I was very wrong.

Running downhill is great for a few miles, up to a half marathon. But what it does beyond that is it destroys your legs. But the other thing, and the thing you totally couldn't tell by looking at the elevation profile, was that the race had about a thousand little hills, and at least a handful of not-so-tiny hills.

You almost never ran flat. You were either running way too fast, blasting your legs down a huge decline, or you were struggling up a hill. You never got a rhythm going. Your pace and heart rate bounced around like a yoyo hanging off a bumblebee.


The first half felt good. Great even. I flew down the declines, and devoured the hills like they were sweet sweet doughnuts. By halfway, I had set both a personal PR for a half marathon (1:31:31) and a personal 10K PR (42:34). I looked like I was on track. I did spend a few seconds gazing longingly at the half marathon finish as I ran past it. Geoffrey would be crossing that line soon.

I ran solid up until mile 15. And then that was it. My legs were done. What I hadn't noticed before was that most of the big downhills were in the first half, the half I ran fast. The second half had a TON of rolling hills. And my legs were completely and utterly trashed. My quads hurt. My hammies hurt. My glutes hurt. And my calves were nightmares.

Pace went down. Heart rate went up.

I kept telling myself it was just pain, and it meant nothing. I would just push myself and heroically finish despite my suffering. But my legs simply refused to go any faster. At around mile 20 a hail storm passed through, slamming me with wind and ice. I didn't have a shirt on remember.

26.2 miles of pain.

It wasn't all bad. Probably the biggest thing that kept me from sinking into a bottomless depression was the sheer volume of fans and spectators who yelled at me.

"Nice kilt!"

"Nice dress!"


And yes, I yelled that last one back after they did, much to their joy. I pumped my fists to everyone who cheered me on. Despite how awful my body felt, the folks on the sides really kept me going. Making me feel that at least I looked tough, even if I didn't feel it.

By mile 22 I decided that I was going to be an inconsolable depressive black hole for the rest of the day. That I would quit running and sulk for months. Then at mile 24 I decided, "screw you douche. You don't get to wallow in misery. You don't get that luxury. You are going to destroy yourself today, be glad for it, and then go back to running the next day."

Wallowing in misery doesn't hurt you. It hurts your friends. It hurts the people who care about you. It's selfish. And there's no point to it.

This doesn't belong here, but I ran out of room above.

I kept telling myself that I was going to sprint the last few miles. Then the last couple. Then just the last one. I don't know where I thought I was going to get the strength from. My legs weren't cooperating. I did sprint the last 1000 feet, but only because the 3:15 pacer had caught up to me and there was no way I was going to let him beat me.

I crossed the finish line in 3:14:26. I beat my previous PR (set at Wineglass) by........... 4 seconds. After months of training, I had shaved off 4 seconds. A nice woman offered me a space blanket at the end. I said no but she kept holding on to me. I was like, why won't this woman let me go?! She asked, "are you OK?", and that's when I realized that I was weaving around like a blind drunk. I escaped her overly-caring clutches.

Geoffrey was there. He had cheered me on near the end. After he'd finished his half, he'd taken the shuttle back to my car, and driven it to the end so he could watch me finish. An amazing friend, that. He had rushed to get there in time. The walk back to the car was the hardest and most painful walk I've ever had. Geoffrey offered to drive and I agreed by collapsing in the passenger seat.

We ate lunch again at the Pocono Pub. Superb. The same waitress was there again, calling us "sweetie" and graciously smiling as we whined about how hard the race was. A woman at the bar asked, "oh did you run a 10K today?" I said, "no, I ran a marathon. 26.2 miles." I said it nonchalantly, as if it wasn't a challenge just to stand.

Every now and then I have to enjoy a moment of smugness. Why else do we run? Self-improvement? Ha! It's so that a couple times a year, we can feel slightly superior to mere mortals. The rest of the time we just hurt.

Afterwards we each took baths. Geoffrey took a nap. I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling in anguish. Then we packed and left. I set the car in cruise control, curled up into a ball in the driver's seat, and steered with one finger.

So much of this. So so much.

We stopped by Galaxy Brewing in Binghamton, one of the best breweries of all time. We tried every single one of their 13 beers. We ate more food. I was delirious with happiness as I jammed my body with heavenly high-gravity beer and brussel sprouts (cooked in yet more beer, it tasted like).

This is how I sign all my receipts. True story.

Then we drove the rest of the way home and quietly died.

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