I had one goal returning to Marathon. I would find out whether I sucked more or less. It would be one of those. I suck less, but not in the way I expected.
Consistent, quality sleep is ever elusive, so when I woke for the race, I was not at 100%. I was still more well rested than during my summer racing, and Utah, but I was tired. And furthermore, I did not want to run. You heard me. I was in no mood to run. Yes, now would be a good time to check the Matrix. I even had a hard time eating breakfast, so I took a protein bar with me.
Then it was on to the bus and the impossibly far drive to the start. I was sitting next to people who’d never done this ride, so it was amusing hearing them realize that we were still driving down the road where we’d have to run back.
This time I didn’t meet anyone so convivial as Mark at the start. The mood wasn’t that friendly, even though I did try to start up conversations. Not a good start to the race. There seemed to be fewer people than last year, even though this was the 10th anniversary of the race (maybe around 70?).
Our race official held the start until people were done at the port-o-cans, which is something I’ll probably never see again in racing. Then we were off, and I felt a bit tired almost immediately, but at least it was not that level of fatigue tired I struggled with over the summer. But I knew I wasn’t going along at any great pace. Most people passed me, and I struggled a bit more with altitude than last year, or at Utah. It wasn’t significant, but it was noticeable. I started leap frogging with a gentleman doing run-walk, using a watch timer, and we exchanged a few pleasantries. We were going to start a conversation during his next run interval, but I told him I had to pull off behind a tree and pee. When I ran back to the road, a couple passed by, and the guy kind of chuckled at me (he’d probably seen my pee standing up move, which others find amusing), but his wife gave me the whale eye. I caught up to timer guy, which I wasn’t happy about exactly, because when you’re running in the beautiful quiet, that timer going off gets really fucking annoying.
I was not less tired, even though I’d been making good progress on my protein bar, when I saw a woman up ahead wearing a hydration pack. I’d seen her briefly at the start. She was cruising at turtle speeds like me, but I thought I could catch her. Typically a hydration pack and an easy pace on a course like this is a good indicator of someone training for an ultra or ironman. (I was right – I’d later find out she was training for her first 100 miler.) As I pulled up along side her, she smiled brightly and we immediately started talking. And that was how I met Erin, and had one of the best races of my life.
Everything changed. Erin and I were a house on fire. We laughed, and laughed, and told each other our running stories, and terrible medical history, and Erin inspired me. She runs through some serious shit too. So when my foot started to hurt, I shut up about it, because there was no way my stupid foot hurt more than Erin’s broken one. She said she was doing the same thing. And there was more laughing. We met early on the course; we couldn’t figure out exactly where, but it was between mile 2-6, and just before either of us gave up and put in our headphones earlier than we’d like.
We stopped occasionally between aid stations and ran over to Andy (her husband), who was cheering us on from their truck, and dog Mayhem, mostly to pet the dog. We started calling these Puppy Stops. Every few miles we’d kind of squeal at each other how lucky we were to have run into each other on this day, because everyone else was a big serious runner and grumpyface.
One of the most important things I took away form the day was about speed. I’ve been struggling with time cutoffs, and wanting to get faster, and failing to make much progress on that this year. Erin told me that she had the same problem, and spent the time/year once getting fast, and it didn’t make her happier. We’ll come back to this.
Nothing felt like work until around mile 22, where things started to get a little hard. Before that the miles were invisible, because I had Erin for company. The last aid stations were phenomenal, with cheering volunteers, and this year, they were well stocked with snacks. And by snack, I mean at the mile 24 aid station, they had margaritas, which Erin jumped on immediately, and so who was I to not be social? We ran along with our margaritas until we thought that we’d have a tough time running in a straight line, and we dumped the rest. The margarita made the shitty hill at the end much more tolerable. And on our final leg into town, we buddy systemed it by checking to be sure we weren’t weaving. We rock.
We finished strong, hand in hand, crossing the finish line with May in tow. It was beautiful, and I didn’t feel like I’d just run a marathon; I felt like I could keep going. I saw Erin and Andy again at the post-race party, and we laughed even more. I’d be lucky to run another race with Erin, and I hope she kills it at Rocky.
Ultimately, this race was about people. In the beginning of running, and during The Great Ordeal and soon thereafter, I was content to be solitary, to let my running carry me away from the void, to learn and know that I can conquer whatever I take on by myself. But now I know, I can. After numerous episodes of trail therapy, with Erin in this race, Jose at RPR, and most recently Jane on a Saturday Morning HATR run, I’ve learned that I’m no longer interested in being alone. As Jane and I neared the end of our first lap last week we noted how so many of us share the same experience, “I run to quiet the voices,” we said. (You can read about that here.) And sometimes, that’s still true for me. But I’ve spent a long time on this journey being and feeling alone, working so hard, so painfully, in so many ways almost no one else can understand. It’s not the quiet that I seek anymore; the voices of others in the run weave themselves into my heart and soul and carry me forward to a future without fear. And that is now why I run.