Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Love and Masochism in Baltimore

I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to write today, and struggled with the title. I finally settled on something that sounds like it was written by Hunter S. Thompson. Hopefully it'll make sense... eventually.

My friend Brian had signed up to run the marathon in the Baltimore Running Festival a while ago, along with about a thousand other marathons. I ran Wineglass with him, and wrote about him before that. I had actually wanted to do Baltimore too, purely because of the ridiculously awesome medal, but I already had about a thousand back-to-back races scheduled, and hate driving.

The medal freakin' OPENS. Photo cr: Baltimore Running Festival website.
After Wineglass, Brian said he was done racing, and I foolishly believed him. But about a half hour later, he totally changed his mind. We were all very worried about him. Of course he's an epic badass, and would run a marathon through a wild cougar preserve (the toothy clawy kind, not the lecherous lady kind). But we care about him, and his lungs hate him.

Meghan signed up to run the marathon with Brian. Because she's amazing, and takes care of others even if she herself is falling apart (which was true; her hip had barely recovered, and she had a gnarly head cold all weekend). I was relieved. I had: run Lehigh Valley Marathon, done a triathlon, run a half-marathon, run Wineglass Marathon, and run Empire State Marathon. All in consecutive weekends. Without a break.

I was happy to know that Brian would have an epic friend like Meghan running with him and supporting him in yet another brutal trial. I would finally have a weekend off. My toenails were all the wrong colors, I had trouble walking up stairs (or on flat surfaces for that matter), and had just started my deadlift challenge.

And then it happened.

Geoffrey told me had signed up to run Baltimore too. He was going to go down with Meghan and surprise Brian. I stared at him dumbfounded. I quivered a bit. My organs started to pre-emptively shut down. I went upstairs and signed up too. It was the last day of online registration.

That's a lie. I didn't sign up immediately. First I txted Meghan and said I was almost tempted to go. I was hoping she'd say, "well actually, Geoffrey and I were going to double this up as a romantic getaway, and you would totally cramp our mojo." No. Instead she said, "Do it!". The rest of my vital organs quietly turned off, conserving the scraps of energy that remained in my body. Then I signed up.

That made 3 back-to-back marathons in a row, and 4 within 5 weeks of each other.

And Haiko has been there for most of my races.

Of course, as soon as I did that, I was glad. I enjoy doing stupid things and destroying my body. And it would be awesome to surprise Brian and run the marathon with him. And then there was that medal!!! We all kept the secret from him, weaving delicate webs of lies upon lies to confound him.

The drive down was long. I napped in the back seat as much as I could to fast forward through the ride. It was a bit uncomfortable, as I had brought two 70 pounds freeweights and they took up all the floor space (you didn't think I'd miss even a single day of my deadlift challenge, did you??).

We got to Baltimore, and after competing over whose directions to follow, arrived at the Convention center for the expo. We got our bibs. I picked up the bib for my friend Vadim who had signed up for the half-marathon at the last minute. That's what happens when you randomly TXT to catch up. I will invite you to run a race.

And then it was time to surprise Brian. Meghan went into the restaurant first. Geoffrey and I hid in the hallway like a pair of skulking vagrants. Unfortunately Brian was facing the door, so Meghan TXTed and told us to just waltz in. And by waltz I mean we bumbled around the restaurant like a pair of lost tourists. Brian noticed my kilt from afar (it shines like the North Star). But he was still quite surprised!

"You've got to be f@#king kidding me," he exclaimed.

We sat. We met his friends who were also running the marathon (separately). We ate most of their pizza. Brian was pretty overwhelmed, but managed to keep his $hit together. There were lots of hugs and shows of appreciation. It was nice. And we had a gorgeous view of the Inner Harbor. I'd never been to Baltimore. Wow!

We drove through some questionable neighborhoods on our way to the motel. We stopped at a questionable 7-11 to pick up some questionable contraband (er, soda). There were some questionable folks being quite boisterous in the store. I remember when I was young and used to hang out in convenience stores, before social media and smart phones ruined my social life.

We got to the motel, where Vadim had been waiting for about half an hour. I lugged my two dumbbells to our room. Geoffrey and Meghan were staying in their own room, where they could engage in all sorts of inappropriate shenanigans (I imagined). Vadim and I talked about life, the universe, and everything, and went to bed too late.

My alarm woke me up at 4:45am. I fell out of bed and did ten sets of deadlifts. I was done by the time Vadim even stirred. His half marathon started almost 2 hours after ours. He asked if I could demonstrate a deadlift. I said no. I went through the rest of the pre-race morning ritual (including 3 poops). Meghan, Geoffrey and I eventually ended up in the same parking garage near the Convention Center we'd parked in the previous night.

Post lift selfie.

We met up with Brian. It was still cold, but because it was supposed to get up to 70 during the race, I decided to leave my shirt in the car and just suffer for an hour. The four of us were somewhere on the spectrum of excited to "I'm going to die in this race." Brian in particular had about eight things wrong with his body. We swept it away like so much debris and told him (lied) that he'd be fine.

We joined the obscenely massive crowd of people near the starting line and milled around, freezing. The race was ridiculously well organized and coordinated. 4500 folks left the starting line for the 5K. I walked a few blocks trying to find a place to pee and gave up. I did spot one vacant stretch of sidewalk that looked promising, until I spotted a woman who had already laid claim.

At the starting line.

Meghan, Geoffrey, Brian and I heard the air horn. 2500 folks streamed across the starting line for the marathon, many more cheering on the sides. The mood was ecstatic! And the spectators would remain amazing throughout the entire race.

Geoffrey had planned out the race ahead of time to give Brian the best shot at finishing. Brian didn't want to do the walk breaks early on, but Geoffrey hammered on him like a drill sergeant. That didn't stop me and Brian from occasionally sneaking ahead like a pair of deviant kids, until Papa Geoffrey reined in the leashes.

The race course gave us a great tour of the city, and with our leisurely pace we had plenty of time to explore our surroundings. Early on we got to run through the zoo. The zoo! Meghan got a selfie with a penguin. This 100% happened.

Photo Cr: Meghan

We had warned Brian ahead of time that the three of us complain a lot. Even though he's the one dying a slow and terrible death, he still said at one point, "you sure do b![ch a lot!" We also talk about food a lot, but that was a no-no with Brian's sensitive stomach. But most of all, we make highly inappropriate comments about, just, everything. I even got a police officer to shake his head at me with a well-timed, "that's what she said." Oh, I remember now. The officer was telling us to, "mind the gap."


At mile 9 we passed the half-marathoners starting their race. All eight thousand of them. It took a really long time for all of them to cross the starting line. I strained my neck looking for Vadim, but it was hopeless. It was amazing passing by a crowd of over ten thousand runners and spectators.

Brian's lungs started to betray him around this point. We alternated between giving him encouraging remarks, and making terrible sexual jokes. I'm not sure which helped more. He felt guilty that we were running so slowly because of him, but we told him that was ridiculous. It was an honor for the three of us to run with such a strong individual, and we quite enjoyed the experience throughout.

Geoffrey asked me to take this photo for some reason.

Around mile 12 I tripped and did a karate roll to prevent a face plant. Brian didn't believe that that was a thing I actually did until he saw it. I'm surprised he didn't trip himself. There was a surprisingly large number of bananas scattered along the course, and if you recall from my interview with Brian, bananas are his arch-nemesis. He would point out each one like it was a ninja about to strike from the shadows.

Brian continued to struggle and the race became harder and harder for him. Geoffrey and I lent him our arms to lean on. We stopped when we needed to so he could catch some air. It was our mission to get him across the finish line, even if we had to carry him (or as Geoffrey said, drag him by his heels). And Meghan: The cold medication she'd taken (which made her hilariously loopy early on) had worn off, but she still ran up ahead several times to bring back coke for Brian. And the stores she had to go into..... Sketchy as heck.

Unbelievably, the miles ticked down. I'd say we refused to allow Brian to surrender, but the fact is that he would never surrender. We told him it was OK if he had to stop, but he never did. Brian gives us a lot of credit for helping him finish, but really, that man does not know the definition of quit. His entire body was failing him, but his will drove him onward.

At about mile 23, he seemed to get a second wind out of nowhere, and started pulling us along. A number of folks who passed us were quit impressed by his perseverance. It's an absolute inspiration to run with him. After over six and a half hours of running, and with a final epic push, we crossed the finish line together.

I frantically searched for our medals, immediately forgetting all about the marathon or Brian's health. I finally found the right person. These things were MASSIVE. Each medal weighed as much as small Volvo. And they had all these claws and pincers that got caught on just everything. Occasionally the medals would bounce off a piece of nearby furniture and break it. It was awesome.

We milled around the finishing area for a while - not because we wanted to, but because our brains weren't working anymore. Vadim was finally able to find us and we piled into his pickup truck. I rode in the back.

Riding through Baltimore in Vadim's pickup.

Brian went back to his room to get an oxygen tank. We all went to lunch. I had a crabcake sandwich and crab soup, because duh. We ate a lot of food. Finally, with many farewell hugs, tears, and genuine love and appreciation, we left. Meghan drove first and I slept. Then Geoffrey drove and I slept.

We pulled off somewhere in PA so Geoffrey could get coffee, but he was wiped out. I had slept for about 3 hours by that point and offered to drive. And immediately got us lost. With the headlights off in the dark. I finally spotted the correct on-ramp and drove through some cones to get to it. I finally turned the headlights on and we made it home more-or-less intact.

At home we ate a ton of ice cream and crashed hard.

Before I started writing this post I was thinking about why we do what we do. Brian. Geoffrey. Meghan. All of us. We push ourselves far past our breaking points. We run when we're sick. We run when we're injured. We run no matter how exhausted or sore we are. And Brian in particular runs even though it lands him in the ICU afterwards every time.

I did more deadlifts and bicycled almost 38 miles the day after the marathon. Yesterday I lifted, swam for an hour, and ran 13 miles (a half marathon). Just two days after a full marathon. There's a bunch of reasons I could come up with for why.

We want to be successful, and we train hard to be the best we can be. And the community is amazing. Our weekend at Wineglass was full of love and adventure. And our weekend in Baltimore was more of the same. And we connect over our shared passion. We know what each of us goes through in our training, and that creates a tremendous amount of respect among us.

But the real reason, I believe, is this: It's an addiction. When we don't exercise, even when we have a really really good reason for it, we hate ourselves. It's not just guilt. We beat ourselves up fiercely, emotionally, for taking a day off. At least I know I do. And yeah, that may not be the best thing. But running, and fitness, has been a massive benefit to us.

Most folks have a lot of self-doubt. A. LOT. We have fears and insecurities. A feeling that we are letting down ourselves and our loved ones. A feeling that we're not living up to our potentials, and that we're wasting the opportunities life gives us.

But when we're outside, pushing our bodies, all of that vanishes. And it really is an addiction. Because when we're "on" it, we feel amazing, but when we're "off" it, we feel terrible. But we do it because when we feel good, we feel really good. And there's just nothing else in life that compares.

And Brian.... At the risk of ending on a depressing note... There's a good chance he doesn't have much time left. But despite what everyone would say, despite what his doctors say, he knows he can run a marathon. It should be impossible for him, but he refuses to accept that. If it wasn't for running, there's a good chance he would've died when his doctors originally predicted. But he's still here, kicking ass. Running is probably the last thing he has that gives him a feeling of strength. And it gives him the love of some very supportive and dear friends.

Because otherwise he would be suffering alone.

In Baltimore, none of us were alone. We shared a powerful and close bond. We gave one another our love and generosity. We didn't obsess over our insecurities. We had a singular mission: To cross that finish line. And when we did, we were bathed in a wash of euphoria that can't be duplicated with any drug.

It was an exceptional experience. And thanks to running, it won't be the last one.

I can't believe I almost forgot about the Cheesecake Factory!!

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