Beyond Belief: Love and 26.2 Miles

For two weeks leading up to the Portland (Maine) Marathon, I tried to diminish every well-wisher’s expectations. Conversations went something like this:

Well-wisher 1: Oh, wow! You’re running a marathon? That’s great!
Me: If it rains, I’m only doing the half.


Well-wisher 2: Hey, when’s your marathon?
Me: September 30. But if it rains, I’m only running the half.


Well-wisher 3: How long is a marathon?
Me: 26.2. But if it rains, I’m only running the half.

…and so on. Make no mistake: even on a good day I am rarely sanguine or gung ho. You know how Emily Dickinson dwells in the possible? I don’t even visit that neighborhood. I consider the cloud perched over my head a fetching accessory to my daily ensemble. Several years ago, when discussing the moral necessity of giving blood, Jay laughed uproariously when he found out my blood type was A+.

“A-positive?” he said. “A-positive? Shouldn’t that be A-cynical?” Yep: he’s hysterical.

My point with all of this? The ambivalence about the marathon went beyond my normal persnicketies. I was in full-on Eyeore mode.

See, this bout of marathon training was fraught with a series of mishaps. Early on, I was worried about my abilities and my stamina: it had been eleven years since I ran my last (and fastest) marathon. I was younger and fitter then and I had a very well organized running partner with whom I ran every day. She had each day’s workouts planned, she kept assiduous time with her whiz-bang-y watch, and she logged our splits in a spiral notebook (this was before the era real-time on-line running data management). I, on the other hand, and am a very low-tech runner. I have a watch that I use to tell time, but I never use it to record anything. I have shoes, but they aren’t synched to a computer or an iPod. Heck, I don’t even run with an iPod. I have no Fuel Belt or compression socks or fancy tools to stretch my Achilles. Basically, I have legs, a bottle of water that I carry (sometimes), and safety pins with which I attach packets of gel to the waistband of my shorts. Sometimes I don’t even have that, so I’ll shove a couple of sweaty dollar bills into a random pocket (or my running bra) and just hope that I don’t skeeve out the convenience store clerk too much. In other words, I did not come into this year’s training with a terrifically organized personal plan*.

(*I ran this marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training to raise money for blood cancer research and patient/family support. My eldest brother, Mike, recently had a bone marrow transplant as treatment for Multiple Myeloma, a type of blood cancer. Team in Training provides its runners with a detailed training plan and coaching support; because of my schedule I couldn’t take part in the coaching sessions, although I did loosely follow the weekly mileage goals. NB: Team in Training is an excellent resource; any lack of preparedness for this marathon was entirely due to my own negligence and IN NO WAY reflective of their superb organization! Got that? Good.)

About mid-way through my training, I found out I was anemic. In a way, it was a relief: I finally had something to point to as the reason for my overwhelming fatigue and inability to breathe. Over the next two weeks, I also sliced off the end my thumb (hello, emergency room!), cracked a tooth, ripped the skin off the bottom of one foot, and lost sheets of skin off my face due to an overly aggressive facial. No lie: I was pretty much a mess. Then I ran my slowest half-marathon to date. Things were not boding well for a successful marathon.

I decided, therefore, to continue to train for the full marathon, but to keep the possibility of downgrading to the half in my back pocket. Pretty soon, the idea moved to my front pocket, and then to my breast pocket, and then it became the refrain that spewed forth from my mouth at each opportunity.

If it rains, I’m only doing the half.

I continued doing my long runs. 16 miles, 19 miles, 22 miles. And I kept watching the long-term forecast for Portland. To be quite frank, once or twice I prayed for rain, because I was pretty sure I couldn’t finish this marathon and I wanted a good excuse to bow out. The weather looked clear. Then it looked rainy.

On race morning at 5:00 AM, I checked the weather: cloudy, but no rain. 50 degrees. Pretty much perfect marathon running weather. Ten minutes pre-gun, I lined up with the other 4000 runners (3000 of whom were doing the half, the bastards), all taut with anticipation.

And then it started to rain. And it rained and rained and rained. At 6.5 miles I had to make the decision to either take the turn back for the half or keep going for the full. I surveyed my own status: was I soaked? Yes. Could I get much wetter? Probably not. I decided to go on.

Immediately the IBSC (aka, Itty Bitty Shitty Committee, sometimes just “The Committee”) in my head started jabbering. Was that a twinge you just felt in your knee? Is your breathing irregular? I think your bladder may be full. You can’t run twenty miles on a full bladder.

At about mile 11, I met a lovely woman from Brooklyn, Rachel Karlin, who shall henceforth be referred to as “Rachel Karlin, Guardian Angel, Gift from God, Lady of Mitzvah, New Best Friend” (RKGAGfGLoMNBF for short). RKGAGfGLoMNBF and I ran together in the pouring rain for the next 15 miles, chatting profusely along the way. Her sweet demeanor and encouragement kept me in the game and pushed my soggy, dragging ass across the finish line.

I know I had a lot of people praying for me on race day, and believe me: I felt it. I thank each and every person who sent a good thought my way!

Major shout outs to:

  • Everyone who contributed to my Team in Training fund-raising campaign. I continue to be humbled by the generosity and kindness of my family and friends.
  • Alex and Kayde from Team in Training for handling all of the administrative details for the race and for their tireless efforts on behalf of blood cancer patients and their families.
  • Sally, whose sweet and generous nature got me through many difficult miles during my training. Her companionship is a true blessing.
  • Eva, whose last minute words of wisdom gave me some much-needed peace.
  • RKGAGfGLoMNBF for her simultaneous angelic and bad-ass qualities.
  • Melody, whose massages hurt like  hell, but kept everything in working order.
  • Jay, who, despite his own misgivings, put up with my weeks of training, general bitchiness, and fatigue with great equanimity and love.
  • And most importantly: my brother Mike, whose strength and courage is an example to me and whose ability to love inspires me. I had his picture in my pocket and his name on my shirt; he’s pretty damn delightful and I want to keep him around.

I sang two songs over and over in my head during this marathon. The Elvis is a given; “Beyond Belief” is one of my favorite songs. The other? Well, even a cynic can get a little mushy sometimes.

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3 Responses to Beyond Belief: Love and 26.2 Miles

  1. Louis Bourbon says:

    Your writing is surprisingly coherent, considering the overwhelming evidence (running 26 miles?!) that you are not completely sane.

  2. Rachel says:

    Truly amazing!!! Beyond touched and so overcome with emotions. All I can come up with right now is I love you!

  3. You have brought a cynical hard-ass woman to tears. Thank you.

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