five years after my first marathon, cinco de mayo, again
It’s been two months since Provo, and I have not written the race report. But it has been with me all this time.
I thought it would be an easy one. The course was downhill to flat, the weather pleasant to cool. I had trained with serenity, eaten the right way, made myself ready. I felt light, in shape, full of energy. I thought I would run this with sprezzatura, the quality Italians associate with princely flair, with exquisite ease.
And it did start out this way. We were bussed to the start line in Provo Canyon fairly early. It was chilly in the hills, and beautiful. The few campfires warmed only the people gathered close around it. A lot of girls walked around in pink race-shirts, shivering with the cold. We were all impatient to go.
I started out at an even pace, almost holding myself back. Soon enough the half-marathoners who left 15 minutes after us starting passing me, a long, winding stream advancing on the narrow path. I felt I was running a bit faster than intended, but I didn’t let it bother me. I had not run a marathon in a year and a half, and I was happy. I held inside this deep feeling of content, this attunement with my own power. I thought I had run five or six miles when we started to come out of the canyon, which meant it was more like nine or ten.
Even without counting miles, I recognized the half-point, since it was downtown, where the finish line would be as well. This is how I know when the pain started – somewhere after mile 13. That insidious pain that had crept in during the last two long runs, coming from my right buttock, down through the thigh, toward the knee. It was vague for a short while, and then it kicked in full-force. By mile 14 I was dragging my leg a bit. By mile 15 I was limping. All of a sudden I was counting miles. All of a sudden it was way too warm.
Okay, so I didn’t fool myself for too long. I still had the longest miles ahead of me. I still had thousands of steps to take, and each step would hurt. This was awfully early in the race, and running wouldn’t make it any better. Maybe it would be best to DNF.
I do not think a did-not-finish is a tragedy. Under certain circumstances it must be the sane thing to do. It’s not the worst thing that can happen – that is a did-not-start. DNS is the worst. When life is waiting and you don’t even show up.
So I did consider it. I would stop before I damaged by knee somehow. I would go home, figure out what happened, rest, stretch, heal. I would run another marathon, another time. It sounded sane.
I looked at the perfect day, the sky clear, the air fresh, the morning still young. I imagined how it would be - taking the sidewalk, returning to the hotel, letting the race unfold without me. I looked at me, looking at the empty day.
I kept going.
It hurt of course, but it hurt less than quitting. I simply focused on moving forward, on taking another step, on staying in the present. I never checked the time. I did pretend, as much as I could, that I could go on forever. I did, like always, come in strong over the finish line. To my surprise, the whole race took me five hours and a few minutes, which is my average. I thought that limping for twelve miles would have slowed me down some more.
Days later, on IM with my sister, I sent her the link to the pictures taken by the official photographers at the finish. She was shocked to see my face. “All this suffering,” she said, “why did you keep going? I don’t like pain.”
Neither do I. But I am, by nature, perseverant. I don’t have speed. I don’t have nonchalance. I have tenacity. I felt that if I give up, I lose something of myself. So I kept going.
Once more, I did not finish with sprezzatura. I finished though. This is what we went there for.