For those of you who really give a flying monkey, you may remember that I wrote a blog 2 years ago about how I would never miss a Flying Monkey Marathon (pssst…look!! Three years later, I’ve discovered how to make links in my blog!) until I was dead and how terrifically lame anyone was who said they were just running it as a “training run” because, in fact, those who said that were just great big baby scaredy cats who feared racing. Naturally, a year and a half later, I announced that I was over running marathons and would not be doing the Monkey again. Ever. This was followed shortly by signing up for two more marathons (one of them being the Monkey).
Then I went into an all-out frenzy of indecision about whether I wanted to actually race again at the Monkey, knowing that my three-year streak of winning the masters division was about to come to an abrupt end since there were actually female masters runners who were fast entered this year. I was torn between the fact that only an ass stops racing a certain race when she realizes she can no longer win it and the fact that I am an ass sometimes. I fretted and changed my mind like a trillion times.
And then one cheery summer morning, Cheryl waltzed downstairs and said, “I think I want to run the Monkey as my first marathon.”
Long pause. Deadpan expression from Cheryl indicating she wasn’t joking.
“What is wrong with you?” I finally asked.
“I thought it would be, you know, fun,” she responded merrily. “Everyone’s always talking about how fun the Monkey is.”
Fun? FUN!? Dear God in heaven, Cheryl’s lost her mind.
“‘Fun’ is a word people like to toss around with a cavalier attitude after it’s all over and they’re standing around drinking the free beer out in the field,” I explained.
“Free beer in a field sounds fun,” she countered.
This was logic I really couldn’t argue with.
And so I decided to run the Monkey with Cheryl, keeping the pace really easy for both of us and approaching it as a wretchedly long, stupid, foolish training run for the super-serious, totally not-amusing, possibly loathsome marathon we plan to race in February. And I wondered, as the Monkey loomed closer and closer, could a marathon be fun? Was a Fun Monkey a possible thing? It seemed oxymoronic. Comforting Beheading. Attractive Acne. Pleasant Gas. Fun Monkey. It wasn’t that I haven’t always loved this marathon, but it’s certainly not because it’s been a barrel-o-laughs deluxe to run.
Then a funny (GET IT?) thing happened on November 21st. Both Cheryl and I had a blast dragging ourselves up and down 26.2 miles of 3700 feet elevation gain and loss for nearly four and a half hours. This was the Monkey’s fifth year, and the weather had never been better. Bright yellow leaves still clung to many of the trees in the park, and intermittent showers of these leaves fell down on us like confetti as we ran. A huge gaggle of wild turkey stood around watching runners pass by at mile 3 and then again at mile 23 (I think they were so stunned by our foolishness that they couldn’t move all morning), and a huge buck with a nice rack (heh heh) greeted us around mile 15. Because I wasn’t constantly staring at my watch, lost in a specter of mathematical horror, I could actually watch the marathon miles unfold around me.
“From the Stone Gates to Luke Lea Heights” is a phrase that can make many an experienced Monkey runner have a colon clutch. This is the infamous mile-long climb around mile 20. There is a part of it that is so nearly vertical that you are in serious danger of toppling over backward and rolling all the way back down to the Gates in a heap of dust. I have never approached this part of the marathon with anything remotely resembling even a sliver of glee. But this year, as we slowly worked our way up the monstrosity, it was different.
“Look!” I said to Cheryl as we passed the 20-mile marker.
Cheryl had almost entered the Oh-My-God-Block-Tanya-Out zone, but then she smiled.
“Cripes. New territory,” she said.
Having never run more than 20 in a training run, this was all new to her. This was where she would become a marathoner. Naturally, I had done my best to terrify her in advance with all the cheery, “The second half of a marathon starts at mile 20!” and “Your body will begin eating itself in the final 6.2 miles!” and the ever-popular, “Hitting the wall is the closest you will ever come to feeling like you’re dying!”
But Cheryl hadn’t really bought any of it. Except for walking a bit because of a pain in her knee, she continued to motor on through, joking with the volunteers at the aid stations, trying to catch falling leaves, and having fun. (!!!) Around mile 25, she looked at her watch. We’d been running about 4 hours and 18 minutes. Only at this point did she let me in on her super-top-secret goal of wanting to…… break 4:30.
“You can do it!” I blasted. “It’s all downhill from here. Except for the uphills!!”
With that, we cranked it past the last of the paper monkeys hanging from the trees, around the chicks with the cowbells, by the Old Dude Who Gives High-Fives Near the Finish Every Year, onto the grass that leads to the finish line, around the pine tree that I always want to kiss when I finally see it, down the slope to the wacky crowd shouting, “Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!” past the clock with its big old 4:29:41 on it, and straight on into the beer corral where people from all over the country that you haven’t seen since this same time last year stand around eating and drinking until shadows grow long in the afternoon. *sigh*
The Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon. A dreaded, anticipated, mythic, stupid, glorious, homecoming of sorts. And now a strange new adjective to describe it: “fun.”
Yep. I’ll never miss running the Monkey until I’m dead.