Last week as we were watching the Olympics, I conveniently remembered that I had actually run a marathon in Vancouver nearly twenty years ago. It was convenient, because then I got to talk about myself and reminisce away about a marathon I barely even remember. I went into great detail about the flora and fauna of Stanley Island and how nice Vancouverites are and which mountains to scale and so forth.
Not four days later, I was rummaging through a box of ancient pictures looking for the most hideous photos I could find of a friend who was turning 50 and who had requested that friends bring “nice memories” to her party. Anyway, after lingering over some snapshots of truly remarkable hairdos I sported in the 80s, I came across a few pictures from that marathon in Vancouver. In one, I’m standing around at the finish looking dazed. No watch, a cotton shirt, and groovy Frank Shorter shorts. When I put my reading glasses on, I shamefully noticed that I was actually wearing the race shirt (OMG).
There were a couple other random shots of me drinking water (exciting) and looking baffled (typical). Then I came across a photo that was surprising, aggravating, and awesome. It was a picture of me crossing the finish line. I was actually laughing, running fast, and waving to someone (who, incidentally, was totally not waving back)…..And above me was the finish clock. It read 3:2???? The question marks take the place of some guy’s big old balloon head that blocked the final minutes and seconds on the clock.
I looked at this picture for a long time. I have a vague recollection of keeping it simply because it was a decent picture, as opposed to my typical Somebody Shoot Me, Please race pics. I don’t have the slightest idea what my time was in that marathon, and, apparently, I wasn’t all that concerned on that day. It was a small marathon and I think I placed 2nd or 3rd overall, but I only remember that because of another picture of the 3 of us standing together looking superior. Perhaps my most vivid memory from that race is the fact that I had to sleep on the floor of the hotel room the night before because all the beds were taken and that, nonethless, I slept like a rock. I could not have cared less about the race the next day.
Not long after that, I ran the New York City Marathon with such utter nonchalance that it never even occurred to me that my clock time, 3:38, was not my real time. With the time elapsed between the starting gun and when I crossed the starting line, I could have shampooed my rug and knitted a doily. Naturally, I wasn’t wearing a watch. What did I care?
All of this former marathon indifference seems astounding to me now. I don’t remember training specifically for my first few marathons…It seems that I ran more than usual, sometimes, and made lackluster attempts to get excited over “long runs.” I ate a little more and kept Gatorade around to look important and marathon-y. Maybe I watched Chariots of Fire. I had no goal time. I didn’t know what BQ meant, and gel was something I used in my hair (hardy har har). It wasn’t that running wasn’t important to me back then–I worried, pulled my hair out, lost sleep, cried, got drunk, and ranted over 5ks and 10ks. I memorized charts and graphs of paces and spent undue time analyzing the possibility of the .1’s pace of the 5k based on splits, course, and harrowing untangibles.
But the marathon? Who cared? Mostly, I felt that racing was racing, and the marathon was something else. I liked to run fast for 3 or 6 miles, not moderately for 26.2. That wasn’t a competition of speed; it was a competition of endurance. And I’ll admit it. I still feel that way to some extent. Part of it (okay, most of it), of course, has something to do with the fact that I suck at the marathon distance. But there’s a reason why a lot of decent marathoners avoid 5ks and 10ks. Twenty years ago, the marathon seemed like a different sport altogether to me. Today, with its bandwagon appeal and its circus atmosphere, it still seems like a different sport.
Anyway, debating the merits and pitfalls of marathoning is lovely, but let’s bring this back to me, shall we?
The deep, dark, secret, shameful upshot of all this is that I’ll never know what my marathon PR is. In a Marathon Parade World where everyone and his fat Aunt Agnes in a Camelbak and negative ion necklace has memorized and immortalized his or her marathon PR time in a lovely wall hanging or a tasteful lower-back tattoo, I have nothing. NOTHING. My own annoying arrogance about racing versus marathoning has cost me the right to be annoyingly arrogant. Isn’t that ironical-like and stuff?
So, this leaves me several options.
When asked what my marathon PR is, I can:
A) Say, “I don’t know,” leaving the asker confounded and, most importantly, leading him or her to ask me more questions which, in turn, would allow me to blather on and on and ON about myself and my running.
B) Say, “3:20-something” which is so vague on so many levels that the mere audacity of being that obtuse about something SO IMPORTANT would likely garner instant admiration.
C) Say, “3:38 at New York. But that was before chip timing and we had to wait just forever and a day to cross the line,” which would only lead to tedious instructions about personal timekeeping responsibilities and whatnot, leading me to make unnecessarily critical comments about marathoning in general, leading the original questioner to think I’m an ass.
D) Simply say, “3:38” and leave it at that.
Most recently, option D is my favorite. Why? Because my masters PR is 3:40, and if I can beat 3:38 this April, I can stomp around for days on end in a paroxysm of hubris broadcasting that I just ran an ALL-TIME marathon PR! Granted, this blog would have to disappear, and that picture from 20 years ago would have to meet with an “unfortunate accident,” but think of the unparalleled glory I could bask in!
On the other hand, if I can never get under 3:38 again, I can always comfortably return to my (only moderately feigned) marathon indifference. A 3:39 this spring? What do I care? It’s not like a marathon is a “race” or anything.