I like to KICK! And stretch! I’M FIFTY!! FIFTY YEARS OLD!!
So, Cheryl and I were supposed to run the Mardi Gras Marathon down in New Orleans (duh!) for my 50th. It was going to be her first “real” marathon (because the Monkey is totally unreal) and it was going to be my last competitive marathon. Oh, stop yelling at me. I’ve been through this before, and I don’t have the energy to go over all the reasons again. Plus, I’ve found that the more staunchly I defend my reasons for not wanting to run a marathon, the more quickly I trot right out and sign up for another one. So stop. STOP!
Anyway, training was cranking right along for both of us until a 20-mile long run in early January. We were supposed to start out slowly together, and then I was going to pick it up while Cheryl stayed at her pace. Alas. You know those little “5-Hour Energy!” things? The things you apparently drink in the morning because making coffee is just too utterly exhausting and time-consuming? Well, we enjoyed one of those prior to our run and, ka-BOOM!, energy for days! (Well, 5 hours, anyway). At mile 6 or so when Cheryl should have backed off a bit, she announced how GREAT she felt. In all my zingy-ness and bad judgment, I said, “GREAT! Just crank it until you feel like slowing down!”
(Note the idiot runner totally running off the top of the mountain)
Twenty miles later, Cheryl had run the entire thing about 30 seconds faster a mile than was a good idea at that point in her training. A mere 48 hours later, she said, “My butt hurts.” Curse that stupid energy drink with its wretched-ass flavors! Curse my gargantuan error as a coach! So, it turned out to be a high hamstring strain…An injury that can become a serious and chronic pain in the ass (hardy har har) if you don’t let it heal. The final weeks of training for New Orleans, then, were out of the question for Cheryl. What to do? After much tearing of hair and wringing of hands, we decided to stay close to home and just drive down to the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama instead. I’d do the marathon, and if Cheryl’s butt got over itself by then, she’d do the half.
I’ll admit it. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to running another marathon. After the debacle last year at the Country Music Mary, I was pretty sure I could live and die happily without ever hurtling myself along 26.2 miles again. I’d still find joy in life without having to to wear myself into a frazzled nub of a shell of a human during week 10 of training. I wouldn’t fall into depths of sorrow if I never had to run doubles, endure hellish feet, carbo load, be cranky, hydrate-0-rama, calculate splits in my sleep, lose sleep, check my heart rate at 3 a.m., then get up at 4:30 a.m. to run all over hell and back, go through 3 billion pairs of shoes, taper, bloat up like the Hindenburg, experience phantom pains, and put vaseline on my groinal region ever ever ever again.
And yet, there I was at the Mercedes Marathon on February 13, all geeky and happy to be there. The weather was total perfection on a bun: 30s at the start, clear, and fairly windless. The crowd was big enough to be exciting (about 6000) and small enough to avoid the Jog Parade Syndrome. Everything from hotel check-in to packet pickup to parking to peeing had gone exceptionally well. To top it off, Cheryl said, “My butt is remarakably pain free!” as we walked to the starting line. Yes, it was going to be a great day.
Sometimes everything is fairly effortless for a long time in a marathon. Not very often, but sometimes. The miles just tick off and you get that strange sense of being transported in some kind of streamlined machine that moves you along, and all you have to do is keep the balance in the machine. Keeping the balance is harder than the actual running…hard to explain. But if you can calm down, think in terms of now instead of later, and stay light, the machine just keeps on rolling. This was how it was for me until about mile 22. As always, I went out a bit fast, but instead of either beating myself up or deluding myself into thinking I could maintain that pace, I just sort of settled in and thought, “This will do.”
And it did. Birmingham is not what I would call a pretty city, and the course is notably unremarkable, but I loved that marathon that day. As always, I don’t have a lot of specific memories and commentary to turn this into a 2000-word race report that will make your eyes glaze over and fall out, but it was a good day. Spectators seemed happy and genuinely glad to cheer the runners. Or maybe I was just genuinely glad to be there. I do remember some guy running right into the back of me at a water stop and huffing really loudly as if to imply that it was my fault (please note that I have impeccable race etiquette and politely stopped at the very last water bearer), but even that couldn’t harsh my mellow. I just merrily breezed past him at mile 21 and let him huff away into oblivion.
I knew by mile 22 that my time would not be a master’s pr, but I cannot convey to you how little I cared. It was still going to be sub 3:45 by a pretty good chunk, and I was feeling good. That’s almost ( I said almost) better than a pr. At mile 25 there was a polka band underneath an overpass and the chick playing the accordion yelled, “YOU JUST RAN A FUCKING MARATHON!” at me. For whatever reason, this kind of choked me up. The most unexpected oddball things can make you emotional at mile 25. Some years ago, I got a little misty seeing a billboard at mile 25 for Little Debbie Snack Cakes that featured a child on a swing.
Approaching the park and the finish chute and the crowds, I was running practically alone. No one was around me. I have no idea how this happened, aside from the fact that this was apparently Tanya’s Perfect Day. There was Cheryl with the camera, and here was the announcer gloriously mispronouncing my name, and suddenly everyone was cheering because I was waving like I was somebody important (is anyone else picturing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?), and then the finish line and me clapping like a big old idiot, and 3:43:33.
But wait, there’s more. The after-party across the street had all the beer and chocolate cake you could consume. Need I say any more? Yes, I think I need. Somehow I managed to win 2nd in my age group which was ultra-sweet since I was only hours away from moving on into a different age group. Ironically, I would have only placed 3rd in my new age group (hideous, competitive old hags!). Cheryl had taken it easy on the half and still managed a 1:51. Adding to the en fuego-osity of the whole day, she and I had run our respective races at the exact same pace. To the very second! Good grief!
Later on that day, amidst champagne, I thought about it all. The race, all these years of running, turning 50. I don’t tend to enjoy getting sentimental and dramatic about running. After all, running is stupid. But I thought of how running has always been the thread, the sanity, and the constant. It is far from the most important thing in my life, but it has always done some pretty important things for me. Like now. As I turn an age that most people, women in particular, seriously dread, I find myself looking forward to it because of running. I get to start over. I get to be a grandmaster, which sounds totally superior. Admit it.
So, yeah, it was a great 50th. It was almost marvelous enough to make me sign up for a fall marathon since, come to think of it, I get to start all over with all new grandmasters prs now.