Marathoning, should you choose to take up the sport, can really hurt. And I don’t mean just the physical pain — the injuries sustained during training, the sore muscles and blisters.
When you love running, the marathon may at times bring you sheer euphoria — a feeling some of us pursue with the vigor of a junkie chasing that first high — but there’s also the risk that it will make you feel like you felt in high school when your First Love dumped you for someone cuter.
Feelings of insecurity, self loathing and misery reserved primarily for dramatic adolescents might rise to the surface, no matter how hard your reasonable and balanced adult self tries to shove them down.
Today, the roads where I have logged hundreds of hours of training now serve as a bitter reminder of my unrequited love. (‘scuse me as I power up my old Smiths album and cry into a bowl of ice cream).
Sure, other races — a mile, a cross country 5k — can hurt your feelings too, but when you choose to run a marathon you put so much of your heart and life into the preparation. You invest time and money. And when your plans, hopes and dreams go to hell, it just sucks. It sucks so bad. SO FRIGGIN BAD (that is how you crazy-scream in a blog post). And it’s not as if you can just go try another in a few weeks. It takes weeks and months to recover and give it another shot. And once you’ve had a taste of the real pain, the fear of getting back on the ol’ horse really starts to creep in.
And for me, since last year at this time, things just keep getting worse.
I’ve now run three marathons injured and despite my best efforts to fight through it, it just ain’t working. My mind knows that running a marathon on a knee that won’t bend or straighten out all the way is a VERY BAD IDEA, but I am the type of person, to my great pain and misery at times, who needs to hit bottom damn hard before she will change the pattern that is destroying her. I am pretty sure I am at my athletic bottom now.
So the sidelines it is for me for now. For at least six weeks (six weeks ago, that’s what the doc said needed to happen. “But I’m running the Philadelphia marathon,” I had bellowed, and never returned.)
And at my so-coveted Philadelphia marathon, before mile 13, a knife was sticking into my kneecap — or at least that’s what I expected to see every time I looked down at it. Tears blurred my vision as I watched the 3:20 pace group, several of my training buddies, and finally the 3:30 pace group leave my view.
Watching from the sidelines is bittersweet experience in itself. Even last weekend in Philadelphia as I ran on one good knee and struggled mightily through the last 16 miles, I had moments I will cherish. More than 15 runners from Dallas’ White Rock Running Co-op made the trip. Many of them had the race of their lives and, though I am generally self absorbed, I actually felt warm and happy seeing the looks on my friends’ faces that proved that marathoning can produce pure ecstasy as readily as it can inflict heartache.
As bad as things were personally, I felt a few moments of sweet after I crossed the finish line. It was done. My seventh marathon. And even a knife in the knee couldn’t stop me. I encountered others who had a bad day — as bad days are an integral part of the marathon business — and we comforted one another with knowing nods and and arm around the shoulder. A band of beat-up brothers.
My husband, a non-runner, joined me for the trip and even he—who can’t understand why a 3:39 marathon is much different from a 3:30 or a 3:15, for that matter—felt the electricity and the magic that happens out there. It was nice to see him experience some sort of understanding of this exercise that simultaneously tortures and enlivens me.
After the race, I had some of the best sandwiches ever, saw a fantastic movie at the historic Ritz theater (The Descendants — I highly recommend it), the Liberty Bell and the Rocky statue.
Even though the failure to reach the day’s goal will plague my thoughts and dreams for weeks — and it will — the sting will eventually fade and what remains will be memories of a battle, if not won, well fought, and an adventure.