September 11, 2010
This was my first marathon - second race ever - so I have no idea if it is normal for people to exhale, "Well done" as they pass you. I admit at one point I wondered if it weren't a general comment regarding my marathon effort, but rather a genuine appreciation for the deftness with which I veered into holly bushes (careful not to snag my crinoline) to let them pass by. Either way, it made for pleasant exchanges - without exception, me being the one on the "Thank you" end of things. "Well done" exhaled the water strider whose feet didn't even appear to touch the mud-slathered stones I was so gingerly negotiating. He disappeared among the trees like a daddy long-leg. On the flat switch back that marked the final 1.5 mile stretch of the half marathon a woman with cerebral palsy, who'd started an hour behind me and now crossing paths with only 3 miles between us, exhaled, "Well done".
According to heart, not logic, her breath filled me with energy.
Between miles 5 and 10 I'd experienced debilitating gas pains, and fell behind a woman who'd been unwittingly pacing me. It was no doubt due to the English breakfast. Yogis know better than to eat mushrooms. My body felt heavy and the sun was shining much brighter than I am accustomed to. "There is no shame in doing the half and stopping at that. After all, half is an accomplishment. Maybe accomplishment enough". I'd been talking myself down. But seeing the flags at the half-marathon finish line, the start of the second lap for the few who take the whole trip, I felt strong - not exactly invincible, but optimistic. I cut 13 minutes off my personal best for the half distance and imagined that, even with a quick 2-minute trip to the port-o-potty, I could do the whole in well under 6 hours (a half hour shy of the time limit).
So, off again over the soft grass of the vineyards, among the rows of bowed vines, through the village with its leaning timber and brick cottages and uphill on the root-tangled paths and slick mud-churned pastures.
For most of the second lap I was on my own. I was aware that I was last, but at least inconspicuous in the landscape. And, honestly, it was a surprising chance to enjoy running, the kind of mindful running I do 5 days a week. I experienced several hours of unexpected beauty.
At mile 18 I caught up with a man who was struggling, tripping over the tufts of grass. I offered him the extra gel I had in the pocket of my camelbak, but he didn't like gels. He said they made his hands sticky. He got a bottle of water from a volunteer and offered me some. I'd mentioned that the nuun were great, but too sweet for my taste. I felt like I'd spent a good deal of my precious body fluids spitting sugar. At the bottom of the hill the man stopped to talk to a volunteer. I hoped he found a carbohydrate solution of some sort - one that wouldn't make his hands sticky.
I pushed on. Uphill. Sections of the climb were too slick for me to run and I walked - counting my strides as a way to remember this was a run, though not one worth breaking bones for. 48, 49 ... run. Stretches of the trail were like my morning route. I could hear the wind rushing to catch-up with me, then passing, "Well done". And the mourning doves almost comical with their continual melancholy song. I even saw a slow worm making her way over the path. Safely now, since the crowd had passed by long ago.
I figured I was the last person running by then. I thought about all the volunteers at the water/wine stations - how, but for me, they could have packed up and gone home to dinner. I was grateful for every one of their sincere shouts of "You´re doing great!" and I jogged by. Several women who asked me where my partners were (the two wearing similar costumes). "They ran the half and are waiting for me."
The finish line. The arranger of the event was there in his Superman costume. And my friends Bjørn and Lydia and half a dozen strangers hooting. I thought I would cry and thought about how weird that was, then about how weird it was that I was thinking about how weird it was instead of just crying.
Lydia hugged me tightly and without reservation. Hugged my sweaty, sticky marathon-run body, and she asked, "How does it feel? Do you feel like crying?"
It took me just over six hours, but I did it. I followed through and that is what matters.
... and the man with the sticky hands? He made it over the finish line in time, too.
Home now after two long taxi drives and a two-hour flight. The ankle that said pop is propped up on a bag of frozen stew vegetables. And I am enjoying a glass of wine.