Birmingham: Beauty and the Beast

Let’s start with the beautiful things.

Race morning dawned nearly cloudless, chilly, and void of the hideous wind that had pratically blown us over the afternoon before as we walked to the expo/packet pickup. Somehow, Cheryl and I had both slept pretty well. In fact, Cheryl dropped off nearly instantaneously, and I wanted to stand up with my hands on my hips and bellow, “You’re running your first freaking marathon in the morning!! How can you already be asleep, damn it!! Wake up and toss and turn for 8 hours like a normal person!!”

Anyway, we all arrived on time. Posed for some attractive pictures in the parking garage and beside the port-a-potties. Then we were off. Jeff was pacing Cheryl, and KOB was pacing Amy, and I just sort of hung behind, trying to keep Jeff and Cheryl in sight for at least the first half. They both looked pretty relaxed and focused, and I definitely didn’t want Cheryl knowing I was varying between 10 and 30 yards behind her. Every now and then, Jeff would look around and once even turned around and ran right past me to get some water. I’m sure he saw me, but he never said a word to Cheryl so that she wouldn’t break her focus. How awesome is that?

And then around mile 14, Jeff and Cheryl faded from my view. Not long after that The Beast part of this post begins, but let’s not go there just yet.

Let’s just point out that both my bitches ran their hearts out in Birmingham, and I’m hella proud of them. Amy has her race report over in her blog, and though it wasn’t exactly the race she’d hoped for, it was a massive nearly-20-minute PR (DAMN!) and her first sub-4. She ran through some horrific circumstances that I’m nearly certain would force some of the toughest marathoners to drop out. PRs and a lot of LOOK HOW STRONG YOU WERE! sunshine thrown at you are no consolation, I know, when you don’t get the time you want. Even so, FFS bitch. Look how strong you were.

And Cheryl? Um yeah. She qualified for Boston by nearly 8 minutes. IN HER FIRST MARATHON. Four days later, I think it’s only beginning to really sink in for her. After she finished on Sunday, she kept looking at me with a wide-eyed and baffled expression and kept mumbling, “I can’t believe it.” Sure, she was wobbling a tad and doing the Tin Man walk afterwards, but when I asked her how the final miles were, she thought for a second and said, “They weren’t easy, but they were not as hard as I thought they’d be.”

Who says that after their first marathon? Sheesh.

So, that was truly a thing of beauty. Focus, commitment, hard work, follow-through, BOOM. 3:47. Boston 2014. Congratulations, Cheryl. You crazy beautiful running monster. And one more thanks to Jeff, pacer and friend extraordinare!

As for my race, nary a speck of beauty.

I never felt great from the start, but I’ve had marathons like that before. I couldn’t really find a rhythm, but I’ve had marathons like that before, too. What I’ve never had in a marathon before was a complete and utter breakdown starting at mile 18 and dragging on in mounting stages of horror for eight fucking miles.

It began with stiffness in both (BOTH) my calves that quickly turned into cramps. I had just been mildly bragging to Cheryl not only a week earlier about how I had never gotten cramps in a race and aren’t I so great and whatever. Yeah, kharma can bite me, and apparently it did. Totally rattled and freaked, I slowed to a ridiculous crawl until the cramps calmed down. But as soon as I started running, I’d feel pain/tightness again, and then I began panicking because I couldn’t tell in my massive haze of self-absorption if it was my achilles or just cramping. Was I injuring myself? Was I being ridiculous?

Well, then began the desperation calculations of how much I could slow down and still get in under 4 hours. Around mile 23, everything really fell apart. Physical, mental, emotional, the works. I no longer knew if I was crawl jogging along more because of my calves/achilles or more because I’d hit the wall. Either way, I was a sorry, sorry sight. At mile 24, I looked up at the beautiful blue sky and thought, “Well, hell. It’s a nice day for a walk.”

Then I discreetly boo-hooed a little (Don’t judge me!) and, for the first time in 35 years of racing, I walked in order to finish a race. I was one of those people. I kind of hated myself. I entirely hated marathons.

I managed a limpy drag crawl joke of a jog for the last half mile so that I didn’t have to subject myself to the utter humiliation of walking across the finish line. I really don’t remember much more than veering over to the fence to keep from toppling. 4:15 something. A personal worst. The marathon had reduced me to a crying, wasted, puddle of hollow nothing.

After 23 marathons, I know all about respecting the distance. I have respected it and learned from it and cursed it and shaken my fist at it. But I have never been completely humbled by it like I was on Sunday. It may be the worst, emotionally, I have ever felt at the end of a race. Ever.

But Birmingham, really, was not about me. So my mood did a stupendous 180 when Cheryl told me her time. It was Celebration Central, and we’re still celebrating. Bitches get stuff done.

Moments after I finished, I had told Cheryl that I would nevah evah evah evah evah* run another fucking marathon again. But now, with the mental breathing room of a few days, I don’t know, you know? Mostly I’m incredibly angry at the marathon right now, and if it thinks it’s going to humiliate me and then make me quit, well….

Anyway, this blog is on hiatus for a while. See you all in the spring.

* Copyright, A bunch of New England Dudes at the Monkey, 2012.


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