Sunday, May 6, 2012

In The Long Run: The First Marathon

Written on Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pre-Race (happy/not hurting)
First of all, I finished. I'm a marathoner.

Second of all, a whole bunch of shit happened on that field today.

Lastly ... grab a mug of coffee: the big mug.  I've got a lot on my mind.

It's hard to know where to start.   I had moments of borderline psychosis this morning both at home and on my way to Kenosha.  I had a good night of rest (really - I was out from 10 pm to 3 am, and actually woke up an hour before my alarm went off) and I pooped - twice - before we all packed into the car for the 60-minute drive.

My psychotic outbreaks centered on 'What if I can't finish?' and  'What if I have to walk?' My moments of serenity came from a text from my coach assuring me I was ready as well as my own realization that my terror was based on not knowing what was going to happen,  partnered with the realization that I don't know what is going to happen on ANY day of my life, and that hasn't yet kept me from getting out of bed each morning.

I felt calm and happy when we parked the car and walked to the race course with 3,000 other racers. I had trained in this weather - cold, windy and with a light drizzle.  All 2,999 of the other racers were going to get the same shitty weather I was getting. It was good. I felt like this wasn't the worst decision ever.

I had written the words "Let Go" on my left hand -- a reminder that I didn't actually have a timed goal (even though I TOTALLY had one of my own in my head): all I had to do was run 26.2 miles.  It wasn't crossing the finish line that was the big deal, it was the process of running 26.2 miles that I needed to embrace (ideally with a smile on my face).

In Super Rich, Russell Simmons advises the 'Business Yogi' to let go of the results and focus on the process.  Whether you are Arjuna - of Bhagavad Gita fame - and are charged with cutting off the heads of evil people (some of whom happen to be your cousins), or you're trying to claw your way up the corporate ladder - it is your job to get lost in your work, not the result (nor to worry about if you'll be forgiven for cutting off those heads or whether or not you'll make it to the corner office with the sweeping city views).

"Once we're released from the illusion that we're somehow defined by the results of our labor, then we become free to reach our greatest heights." (Russell Simmons, Super Rich).

So, I've got that with me, right?

I made friends with a first time half marathoner in my corral.  Her name was Heather and she had herpes (one of her friends wanted to borrow her Chapstick, so she admitted to having The Herp.  Her friend didn't care: she evidently had really chapped lips.).  I told her I was going to run 11 min miles for the first 6 miles. I left her within 4 minutes of the race.

Here's where the shit gets crazy.

At Mile 1, I met a woman in her late 50s.  There was some early race chit-chat among the group and we started talking. I told her this was my first marathon. She congratulated me and responded that this was her 98th marathon and her plan is to run 100 marathons before she turns 60. A race director of the Milwaukee Full Marathon, she plans to run her 100th in Milwaukee (I asked!), either a few days before or after the actual event. She'll invite her close friends to cheer her on.

I had to ask her: "How do you do it?"

"I have no time goals," she said bluntly. "I just run."

Wild, right?

Well, it was totally wild until I met the Japanese woman in her mid- to late-60s, not too long after the Half Marathoners made their split to the finish line and the Full Marathoners had to trudge onward.  Today was her 112th marathon. She has a goal in mind (I can't remember if it was 125 marathons?) to hit before she turned 70 (and that may have been 2 years, so she's got some racing ahead of her).

Then I met an 18-year old. This was her 17th marathon and she's running one tomorrow with her dad. She needs to hit 44 marathons (I think) by the time she is 23 (I think) to have the new world record of most marathons for that age group.  That was her goal.

And at mile 25, Larry Macon ran up behind a gaggle of us who were walking, laughing, grabbing at pulled hamstrings and tight calves and generally just talking to each other through the final stretch.  Larry is 67 years old and today was his 869th marathon (I need to confirm this ... it could have been 839th or 889th ... things were pretty dicey at Mile 25, but you can rest assured that he's run more than 800 marathons).

Larry flies to Rhode Island tonight to run another marathon tomorrow.

So, you've got to understand that from the time I met Mile 1 woman until I met Larry at Mile 25, I'm in my head. I'm in my head a lot.

There is no way that meeting those four runners today was an accident.  

As much as I understand "let go," you can't just write that shit on your hand and have it be so. I've been focused ... no ... dependent on results all of my life and I can't change that shit overnight because Russell Simmons said so.  But I get it.  And I want to live it.  And clearly, these people that are not zipping across the finish line are allowing themselves to enjoy the process of running. They've let go.

Yoga and meditation are going to become a major part of my life so that I can learn to let go.  Not as a means to be a better runner, but as a journey to be a better Triple T.  I have no desire to run 869 marathons. But if I run 10 more in my lifetime, I want to enjoy the process, not the result.

Anyway...I'm not running fast. And sometimes, I'm walking. And I was with an ongoing clump of people that were in the same situation as me. And when you're at Mile 18, deep in the woods of Kenosha, it's time to make friends.

I talked to so many people today.  And found that there were so many first-timers out there just like me. We all hurt. We all wondered why this seemed like such a good idea a few months ago.  We all laughed at this ridiculous predicament we had gotten ourselves into.

Back in the woods, after about the third person I spoke to, I realized that while I was running (or walking) I actually had something to offer people: levity.  Empathy. Passing companionship.  I offer a lot of people levity every single day: I say goofy shit, some of which is self-deprecating, and I make people laugh. It's almost like that could be my Dharma -- my life's purpose.

I'm not telling you my Dharma is to be a stand-up comedian.  But I do know that everything I approach in life, even my work, is done with levity and laughter.

I kind of felt like it was my job to smile and talk and make some jokes.  The business of running 26.2 miles is fucking hard work: let's try to have a little bit of fun, right?

So I ran and chatted and told new people about the other people I had met on the way and all of their amazing goals and their passion for running. And I told them that by and large, the time it took all of those amazing marathoners to cross the finish line wasn't important. What was important was crossing the finish line. Period.

When I was at Mile 21, I knew from my Garmin that I was way slower than my longest training run (21.1 miles in 3 hr 50 min) ... by a lot. I knew I had 5.2 miles left, but it seemed like it was going to be a really shitty 5.2.  And what I had to bring with me for those 5.2 miles was more Russell Simmons' sentiment, but this time, from the chapter of Super Rich called "It's Not A Race."

Clearly, this was a race. And throughout it, I was sometimes at peace with plopping along and sometimes disappointed with plopping along. I wasn't alone -- there were people ahead of me and even some still behind me. There is no way could I tell you that I was racing through Kenosha.

But here's the thing:  "It's Not A Race" (which is actually about reaching enlightenment) suggests that "instead of getting fixated over exactly when you're going to reach your new destination, it's more helpful to simply stay focused on always heading in the right direction...Remember, everyone's transforming takes place at its own pace"

You always remember your first.
So, between a bunch of Marathon Maniacs  who are running 2 and 3 marathons per weekend and Russell Simmons and the Bhagavad Gita, by the time I crossed that finish line, I learned so much about me, much like I learned new things about me once I committed to the training program that I started (what feels like) years ago (January).

1. Letting go will take work. And meditation.  I have everything to gain by enjoying the process.

2. Embracing my Dharma is fabulous: whether it is flexing my creative muscles with a client, planning a dinner party and putting my heart and soul into it or making people smile -- on and off the race course.

3. I'm going to do more marathons.  And maybe I'll do them better, just because I've got the first one under my belt.  But I don't think I'm going to talk myself into a timed goal. I can work on racing shorter distances, like 13.1's and 5k's: but quite possibly for marathon running, I'm going to learn to let go and just enjoy the run.


I am grateful that Midlife Rambler has been so supportive of my efforts. If I've learned anything in these past few weeks it's that no matter how fast (Midlife Rambler) or how slow (me) a runner is, we have the same spirit to carry us the distance. Midlife Rambler's dedication to running - and running fast - is an inspiration. And I've found that when I have a good run, he's among the top three people (right up there with Husband and Coach) with whom I want to share my news.  I hope that someday The Rambler and I find ourselves at the same starting line. He can finish before me and save me a beer ... :)  Click here to see how Midlife Rambler fared in his first marathon ... and what he's thinking regarding his second!

Random Marathon Highlights (or lowlights?!): 

I peed at Mile 7.  I was going to go in my shorts, but I can't run and pee at the same time: I have to sit.  It probably added 3 minutes to my time.

My Zyrtec-D wasn't helpful.  I had a nose/head full of ick for 26.2 miles and when I was talking to people, I was amplified from the inside. Forgetting to tuck tissues in my arm sleeve was not cool, and snot rockets usually just make a bad situation worse for me.

I don't think I've really captured how windy it was.  At points throughout the first half of the race (which is up along the lake), you couldn't hear your own footsteps because the wind was so strong.  When it would let up, suddenly you heard voices again -- it was weird.  It was windy.

The 18-year old, world record setting hopeful I ran with off and on couldn't believe I was almost 40. She thought I was in my 20s. I heart her for that.

I didn't turn on the music until about Mile 17: I really wanted to be tuned in to the run, not insulated from it by my jams.

I took a phone call from the vet about Boyish's blood work results somewhere around Mile 17 (I had JUST turned on the music). I responded, "Hey...I'm in the middle of a marathon...can I call you back?".  I heard her laugh before she said, "yes."  (I haven't called her back yet. I don't want to hear bad news today. Boyish will be 16 years old (that's 84 in people years).  I'll call on Monday.)

Oh, Wisconsin
The people who worked the aid stations and way-finding really liked that I was 'sponsored' by Jack Daniels (I wore my 'signature' JD b-ball cap).

Some folks were in full costume, cheering us on.  One was dressed as a"Hop" (the stuff to make beer). Hops look like upside-down asparagus.  When we ran past her, someone said, "Nice asparagus" and a muffled response came from inside the suit: "I'm a Hop!".  Now you know.

My husband and kids met me at Mile 21. I cried when I saw them. They ran a little bit with me.

I saw my Coach and two training buddies around the end of Mile 23.  They looked cold (they had finished the Half Marathon decades ago and had been waiting for me).  I looked right at them and said, "I do not really like this right now."  "Keep going. If you stop, it will hurt more and take longer," advised my Coach.  I tried.

Load-bearing hug.
At Mile 26, husband ran out to get me and he ran most of the way in with me. I picked my kids up at the corner, saw my client/friend (cliend? frient?  FRIENT!) who drove from Chicago to Kenosha just to support me and I crossed the finish line with Daughter and Little Guy by my side, husband behind me and Coach and training buddies there to congratulate me.

Funny, my problematic feet weren't awful today (I was aware of them, but I never had to stop to roll my feet on the golf ball). My left hamstring, however, is trying to eat my left ass cheek.  I have a new respect for anyone ... runners and non-runners ... who deal with hammie problems.

I have never felt physically worse in my life. Nor happier.

Let me explain how bad I felt: I felt better after giving birth than I did at the end of those 26.2 miles. Yes -- I said it. Pushing a human out of my lady-bits was easier than running 26.2 miles.

I finished in just under 5 hours and 51 seconds: a full 51 to 70 minutes slower than I thought I would finish.  I still wasn't in last place.

Another marathon? For sure. When? Not this fall! I do know that the next one will HAVE to be a full 26.2 course. Watching the 13.1 runners turn around to run their final mile, while I had to move on to another 13.1 miles was a little bit of a mindfuck.

An Ultra? Yes. March 2014.

The crew.  Husband is in fact, keeping me upright

I was relieved to see my socks weren't soaked in blood when I took off my shoes. I still have all 10 toenails.


  1. I haven't even started reading yet...I just wanted to say congrats for finishing first off because I was really looking forward to reading how it went...ok now I will read your recap!!

  2. Thanks for sharing this TTT. Truly. Thank you.

  3. LOVE it! What a great recap...and how insightful you were during your race...and what luck that you met these people with a passion and soul for running. Sounds like this was meant to be your first marathon! Just taking it easy and enjoying the experience for the fun/love of running, not for the time.

    And really these people who are running 2 marathons in one weekend, how inspiring!

    I am so HAPPY for you, thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. Thank you!Having your support through this process has been amazing.

    I'm so happy to have had this experience: the training, the blogging, the actual race. Thank you for hanging in there with me throughout it all!

  5. There are so many around here who appreciate your gift of levity. Glad you got to share it with new peeps on the run. Well done, TTT.

  6. As a newbie runner, I can't tell you how much encouragement I get reading about your journey. When I'm dragging my sorry self up the hills many times I think, "If TTT can run a marathon, I can make it 3 miles!"