Seconds were accumulating, and the pace was slowing. I was 23 miles into what seemed like a great idea 4 months ago: the marathon. My time, like the poor college freshman girl who falls victim to the buffet style servings of the cafeteria, was inflating, and it felt like she had jumped on my back. For 22 miles I felt very comfortable. “The halfway point of the marathon is mile 20,” I heard and repeated as my mental mantra countless times in training and during the race. At 20 miles I felt fantastic, even a mile or two past all systems were go and I was on my way to my goal; an all expenses paid vacation to an unknown destination in potentially the spring of 2016. An opportunity to tow the line with the greatest marathoners in the country at the Olympic trials. We had gone out slow but by 20 miles we had got the pace down to under 2:15, the Olympic trials “A” standard. I was extremely confident I was on my way, it was just a matter of how high I would place. Then things changed, and they changed fast. The band was on the field and I was the sorry Stanford trombone player about to get leveled.
“Why do you run?” is one of those almost existential wonderings like the meaning of life or “does a bear shit in the woods?” Or wait, I think it’s “if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound?” A bear definitely defecates in the woods but a falling tree may not necessarily make a noise, right? One reason I like it (running, not existential pontifications) is that your goals are very blunt. There’s no gray area. You did or you didn’t. I didn’t run under 2:15. When you set a time goal and it’s not accomplished there really are no excuses. It’s not like you can say “Man, I was playing really well today, but the marathon just played better. You really have to tip your hat to it.” Finishing a marathon was not some monumental unchecked box on my bucket list. I was not running to cure cancer, bring awareness to autism, or to save the endangered polk-a-dotted carnivorous tree frogs of South America. Although, those are all noble reasons (save for the last one I made up), I was running for myself.
Trying to make a living at this running thing isn’t easy. The guys and girls who “make it” are incredibly gifted and hard working individuals, and there are a lot of incredibly gifted hard working individuals not “making it.” For the past 3 years I have been fortunate enough to be supported by adidas and train in what I considered running paradise, Flagstaff, Arizona. I worked part time because I wasn’t quite “making it.” Life changes have led me to the plains (or current frozen tundra) of Oklahoma City, as of September of this year. I opted to not search for a job until after the marathon. I was putting all my eggs in this marathon basket, hell I even borrowed some eggs. Funds became insufficient and I had to ask for a loan from my parents. I was extremely frustrated. Here I was, 27 years old with a college degree, I am not a drug addict, I feel like I’ve made decent life decisions, I try to treat people right, and I was asking for handouts. I hated the feeling. The gratefulness I have for my support system cannot be overstated. My girlfriend, whose job the past year was working for Goodwill trying to place homeless people in jobs, drove this point home when she said, “You’re very lucky you have a supportive family, that’s how people end up homeless.” I see my friends, most of whom took the long way to their late 20’s not necessarily settling down, but also not wondering if they were going to be able to pay rent next month.
Although disappointed in myself for not running faster or placing higher at races to avoid this dilemma, I worked very hard to make sure this marathon would go well. Never having trained for a marathon before, I compared notes with fellow friends and teammates who had, and I was ready. Training indicated sub 2:15 was a very strong likelihood and even that a faster time, one that may attract the attention of a shoe company, was also a possibility.
My final time for 26.2 miles was 2:16:04. It could have gone much worse. By my calculations I was still on pace for sub 2:15 through 23 miles and only lost a minute the last 5k. Experienced marathoners will tell tales of encountering much more catastrophic destruction. When a race begins to go south there’s different coping mechanisms I will draw on, when its going Antarcticly south I begin to fear that the first women will catch me. Fortunately for me I was pretty sure this race I would avoid that fate, although I did miss out on the women’s world record. In a heated argument a while back with my mom about the superiority of males in athletic endeavors she accused, “Well I’m sure the fastest girls ever are faster than you!” To which prompted, “No Mom! No woman in history has ran faster than I have, EVER!” (That had to be qualified at the time to any distance from 800-10k, because anything shorter than 800 I would get smoked by lots of women, and high school girls. And now the marathon.)
Congratulations poured in. If texts, calls, Facebook posts, and “likes” were dollars, I may make rent next month. I think people genuinely recognize that although my goal was not accomplished, a lot of work still went into this effort. That doesn’t make the result any more or less disappointing though. It’s a sobering thing realizing you weren’t as good as you thought. The notion that maybe you aren’t even good enough to be disappointed with a particular result becomes a thought with the grappling ability of a mixed martial arts master.
Legs locked up and 65 extra seconds ticking on my watch put me in a state of bewilderment as I neared the line and finished, “Wait a second, what? Hold up, what just happened?!” Similar to the feeling of waking up from a night of over indulgence without the relief of realizing your phone and wallet are still on your person.
Speaking of over indulgence, the CIM people love their after party. As my Kenyan roommates and I poured liquid recovery carbs into our gullet, silver linings started to emerge. They were very complimentary of my race and even Weldon, the race’s eventual champion told me I looked very strong and that he considered me a threat despite his credentials being significantly greater than mine. As the night wore on my new Kenyan friends and I decided that it would be in my best interest for me to go to Kenya and train next summer. “You must come train in Kenya, my friend. If you come train in Kenya, 2:10,” they assured me. I do think it would be an awesome experience, and I hope to make it happen someday.
Maybe the symptoms of the marathon bug are a delayed onset type of reaction, but I’m not convinced I’ve been bitten. Maybe once the task of walking down stairs stops being as daunting as repelling down a cliff face, the marathon’s infectious bug bite will start to reveal itself. I did go under the Olympic trials B standard, and I will most likely try to go for the A again sometime in the future, but for now the only marathon I’m partaking in is a South Park one on tv. I sincerely appreciate everyone who took the time to send me some form of congratulations, it’s nice to have an effort acknowledged. It sure makes a guy feel good, but trying to figure out where those 65 seconds went will be something that pains me for some time to come. The marathon seems to be a great teacher of patience, and I’m doing my best to listen to its lessons.
Thanks for reading.