Yesterday, I finished a marathon.
I won’t bury the gruesome details: I finished in 4 hours and 58 minutes, a solid 50 minutes slower than what my training told me I was capable of. I started throwing up at mile 10 (reason unknown) and continued to puke right through the finish, and nearly onto the feet of the medics at the finish line (sorry, guys.) I fought off near-constant gagging, this horrible acid feeling in my throat, stomach cramps, and, most heart-breakingly, the knowledge that I was was capable of doing better.
I’m not going to give you splits and bore you with the play-by-play, because I haven’t looked at my splits yet. I’m not ready to see them. And the mile-by-mile details involve a lot of stop, vomit, run, repeat. That was my fate for 16.2 miles.
What I will tell you is that I started out on track, with my head in a great place. I was confident, but not cocky. Ready. Excited, but grounded. I’ve never felt more mentally prepared for a race. I hit the 10k mark a few seconds per mile on the conservative side of my 4:10ish goal, and I felt incredible about it. I knew I was running smart, within my means.
To clear up any questions you might have, my sickness wasn’t from nerves. I was rock solid Sunday morning. And I ate a nearly ritualistic replication of what I did before my 20-milers (which both went wonderfully) so I’m really not sure what the culprit behind my ordeal was. What I do know, and have accepted, is that I wasn’t meant to run a 4:10 yesterday.
I’ve cried so very many tears since crossing the finish line yesterday, and they’ve all been for the same reasons: shame, disappointment, frustration, anger, etc. I mean, how does a 1:56 half marathoner struggle to get to the marathon finish line in 5 hours? NOT FREAKING FAIR, right?
But it is fair. And here’s why: I fought harder yesterday than I ever have in my entire life, for anything, ever. I never, ever, not one time considered quitting. And I didn’t know I had that in me. That’s something I never would have discovered otherwise.
As soon as I started throwing up, it was like I went into auto-pilot. I remember telling myself, “Ok, we did this in Fargo. It’s not new.” And surprisingly, I stayed calm. Puke. Run. Repeat. I was living one of my very worst nightmares, but somehow, I was able to accept it immediately.
At mile 12 I went into survival mode. I cut my pace back because I knew I was struggling. I distinctly remember thinking at one point while I was hunched over hurling that I didn’t care if I had to close the course down. There was no way in hell I wasn’t finishing.
The things that matter:
I told Amy I’d run 17-20 for her. I’m sure you all know that her MCM experience wasn’t what she’d hoped for, and she hit a particularly rough spot around 19. When I hit 17, I thought of her and started crying, because I knew I wasn’t running my race plan anymore. Slow pace notwithstanding, knowing that I had promised these miles to someone meant something. I never dreamed I’d be re-living her nightmare-race experience, but somehow, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
At 18, Janelle (my college roommate who lives in Philadelphia) jumped out and ran with me. Every time someone yelled my name, she’d put an arm around me or grab my hand and yell “They’re cheering for you! Because you’re running a MARATHON!” I couldn’t fully appreciate her enthusiasm at the time, but wow did that help me. I kept apologizing for how slow I was going, but never once did she allow me to get down on myself. Janelle, you saved me.
After a particularly rough spot around 23.5, I was walking off the burn of another puking-up-stomach-acid episode, when a guy I’ve never met before ran by me, grabbed me by the arm, and simply said “Come on.” I was about to protest, that I needed a minute, but I thought, hell, why not? So I went with him.
When I slowed, he pulled me. When we needed to pass other runners, he silently pointed me to which side to go to. I wasn’t thinking. I had nothing left.
As we neared the finish, I learned his name was Juan, from the cheers that erupted for the two of us as we made our way through the final stretch. We never spoke. As the cheers grew louder and louder and the crowds became heavier, I knew we were finally, FINALLY almost there. He picked up the pace, and so did I. Silently, we ran on together while the spectators’ words rang through my ears. I swallowed over and over to hold back the next wave of puking that I knew was inevitable.
I have no idea how fast I was going at the end. I remember raising my hands above my head as I crossed the line, and smiling through my tears. I had always said all along that my goal was to finish the marathon with a smile on my face, and I tried my best to muster one.
I had to stop and throw up again at the finish line, and by the time I had gotten back on my feet, Juan was nowhere to be found. I looked for him, but never found him. If somehow you’re reading this, Juan, thank you. I promise if I ever get the chance, I’ll pay forward what you did for me yesterday.
Just a couple hours ago I finally got to a place where I can tell you I’m damn proud of what I did yesterday. No, I’m not happy with my time, but if numbers on a clock are the only thing I can take away from a race, then why the hell am I a runner? As Amy pointed out to me, some races show us how fast we can run, and others show us what we’re made of as humans. And I can tell you I’m made of something tougher and gutsier than I ever imagined.
My boss pointed out to me today during one of the eight million times I burst into tears that it was okay to feel the way I did–that I was grieving. I thought it sounded crazy at first, but she’s right. I’ve nurtured this amazing thing for MONTHS, let it take over my life, and now it’s over. I’m mourning the loss of something. I’m not training for a marathon anymore.
What I AM, though, is a marathoner. A MARATHONER! I’m crying as I type these words because I’ve never had to fight so hard for anything. I’ve never had to put aside my pride and accept the hand I was dealt quite like I am now. But I did it. I crossed that line.
Once I get the itch, I’m looking forward to spending some time on the road without my Garmin. After months of exact paces and obsessing over splits, I just don’t give a damn anymore. It’s time to run because I love to run. Never again will I look at your time and compare it to my own. Everyone’s journey to that line is different.
So goodbye Jenn who thought time was the true measure of strength. Goodbye Jenn who wasn’t a runner just 7 months ago. Goodbye Jenn who didn’t know if she had what it takes to finish a marathon. Goodbye agonizing mile 22. Goodbye self-doubt. Goodbye fear. Goodbye shameful, frustrated, angry tears.
Goodbye old me.