Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Philadelphia Marathon: race report (guest post)

To most people they were just flags in the road. Some thin wicking designed with the Philadelphia logo, a rounded curve of a thing meant to mark distance. To me, they were a sign that I was still moving, that I had not yet quit. For some reason, during the longest parts of the course, these mile markers were the sentinels I will remember. But, what I’ll remember most is the generosity on display. You wouldn’t think that. If you start cynical and work back you see the shoe companies making money and the expo making money and the race management companies making money on this activity which is essentially people running around in large circles in competition. But I have yet to meet a selfish runner. And what made the day for me was this feeling that everyone, family, stranger or friend, organizer, cop or medic, was pulling for me.

Lesson #1: Generosity is at the core of the marathon.

At sunrise we parked (potentially illegally) in a lot with a bunch of other runners and everyone was concerned for each other’s cars. “But, they can’t tow all of us,” was the general mindset, solidarity with everyone in the lot. And so we, Katie and Beth and Jon, with our first bunch of new friends walked to the starting line. And this great logistical machine began. We found our friends. We peed (thousands of people in a line, no one complaining). We lined up in our corrals. No one argued. No one shoving. And we were off to do something really difficult.

Lesson #2: Never forget that a large group of like-minded people can shut down your whole city (and that we will pay for parking when we are done).

First, let me say this, Allison is amazing. She and I chatted about our plan and how fast we were going to go out. She pulled us back at times and pulled us along at times. We pointed out signs to each other, some awesome, some misspelled, some rather inappropriate. What does a woman holding an “I’ll chafe your nipples for free,” sign want? At about the 12 mile mark I could no longer keep up with Allison’s pace. I had been falling back and catching up for a few miles, and it was too much for me, so I told her to go.

Lesson #3: You have to run your own race.

Soon after that point, the race split off, HALF MARATHON to the right, MARATHON to the left (I saw that sign about 50 times from miles 11-13.1). At that point several things were supposed to happen. First, I was supposed to start speeding up. That did not happen. There was no speeding up from this point forward. Second, I was supposed to get a call from Katie on how her half went. I actually expected the call before I reached the 13 mile point because I failed to account for “getting out the corral and just wanting to sit down” time. But soon after 13 she called and told me her time. I was so proud, but wished I could have talked to her more.

Lesson #4: This is something you do by yourself, but you are not doing it alone.

My next highlight was seeing my sister, who had brought her husband and five year old son halfway across the northeast to cheer for me. I knew she was at mile 16 on the way out (23 on the way back). I was in pretty severe pain by the time I reached her. I asked her to run with me and to “lie to me and tell me I can do this, I look great and you are proud of me.” She ran with me, in boots, without asking a question and reassured me. My nephew stood on the side of the road with his toy trumpet tooting people along.

Lesson #5: Your family will be there for you when you are at your worst.

The next highlight was the 20 mile turn around. I made a promise to myself that I got to listen to music at the 20 mile mark. There was a town, and people and cheering and a beer stand. All of which passed by almost unaware. It was just a “keep going" mindset. But I did get my music. And my music always kicks me into another gear. And that gear was... I didn’t have another gear. I had whatever gear I had. Somewhere back with Allison the 3:50 pacer went by with a cadre of people. Somewhere before the 20 mile point the 4:00 pacer with by with a bigger cadre of people. Now it was just a matter of moving forward. The music helped, not my body, but it calmed my mind. At 22 Katie called again, and it was great to hear her voice. At 23 I stopped to hug my nephew. And on that long strip from 20 back into the city I saw people in pain, walking and lying on the side of the road. All of us patting each other on the back and shouting encouragement.

Lesson #6: You will get there. You will use any resource at your disposal. Just keep going. You will get there.

We finally started to hear the sounds of the city. We finally started to see signs of civilization. And I had a thought that running a marathon is like climbing an ever steepening hill. It never turned from a hill into a wall for me, but it kept getting steeper. Within the last two miles I saw the two best signs of the marathon, confirmations of the generosity at hand. The first one read, “This mile marker is further than most people will get in their entire lives.” I almost hugged the woman who wrote it, but I was still moving. The second, near the 26 mile mark, said, “This was still a good idea. And you look amazing(ish)."

Lesson #7: Our worst moments show our true nature, and we are a caring, humorous, generous people.

Katie picked me up around this point to and ran with me for as long as her blistered feet would allow. And for the first time since mile 14, I ran. I didn’t walk/run. I didn’t give in. I was going to finish this race running. For Katie, for my sister, for the woman who couldn’t get water at one of the stops, for the Korean dude lying on the side of the road, for all the people who shouted my name and “Way to go Mafia!” I told my ankles and hips and knees to shut the f* up and move. And then, I was done.



Lesson #8: The best fuel is love.

I will admit here, if you have read this far down, that it was emotional. That I felt amazing and terrible. That I felt like I had disappointed myself and others for falling apart and not executing. That my first sentient thoughts in the last three hours were not flattering. And now, looking back, I know I was harder on myself than I needed to be. Everyone congratulated me. Everyone was impressed. Even Paula Radcliff said good-job (on my Nike+ app).

Lesson #9: We are our own worst critics, even when we do something beyond what we could have possibly imagined.

After the race we found our car, which was still there. We went to dinner with my sister and nephew and brother-in-law. We drove home talking to friends on the phone. And I went to work yesterday, where more people congratulated me. And, where, many people could not fathom why I (and 39,000 of my closest friends) would do such a thing. I have thought about that a lot. Why would you run a marathon? I think I have come to this. There is no reason to do it. It is beyond the point of exercising, or staying healthy, or staying young. It is more running and a longer distance and more time than serves any reasonable purpose. And that is why we do it, because it is beyond what we need to do.

Lesson #10: We run marathons for no good reason. But for a great reason, because it is more than we think we could possibly do.

66 comments:

  1. LOVE isn't a strong enough word for how much I enjoyed this. Congratulations, Thom. I am SO proud of you!!

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  2. What great lessons! I love the video. So cute to see how excited Katie is with her arms flapping. :)
    Congrats, Thom!

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  3. Running my first full in two weeks, and this just got me TOTALLY pumped up again about it! What a GREAT post! :)

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  4. Thom, you are *most definitely* an English teacher and writer :)

    This is at the top of my list of all-time fave race reports, partly because it was so well-done, partly because I love all the lessons, partly because that's the cutest video ever, but mostly because I'm super proud of and excited for you. CONGRATS.

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  5. Congrats on your first marathon!!! You did such a great job.

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  6. Love your writing. There's so much contained within your words. HUGE CONGRATS on this real, life-affirming, serious accomplishment.

    I love the lessons you took away from it all.

    My favorite: "I think I have come to this. There is no reason to do it. It is beyond the point of exercising, or staying healthy, or staying young. It is more running and a longer distance and more time than serves any reasonable purpose. And that is why we do it, because it is beyond what we need to do."

    That's an ultrarunner talking.

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  7. I absolutely love this post!! It is beautifully written and constructed and it makes me feel like I can relate, even though my farthest distance run doesn't even begin to compare to yours! I absolutely love your last line, because that is EXACTLY why I run. Each time I push myself to a new distance, I am never 100% sure I can do it, but then I do. And I find out what I am capable of, physically. And I love those moments of discovery. They are worth every ounce of discomfort along the way.

    Congrats on finishin something incredible, and something most people will never do. I hope to join that elite club one day.

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  8. Congrats to both of you! Cutest couple ever.

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  9. Congratulations Thom! This was a beautifully written post =) Enjoy the post-marathon glow!

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  10. Beautifully said. Congratulations!

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  11. I absolutely love this, Thom. You did AMAZING... I was rooting for you from afar. And you're right--we do this because we are not sure if it's possible...and that's why it's worth giving it a shot.

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  12. Great piece - inspiring.

    Well done on finishing the race.

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  13. I was hooked in by lesson 1 and crying by 7. Thanks, Thom, and congratulations on yr marathon and a some beautiful prose.

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  14. Wow! What an amazing and thought provoking blog. I'm a runner too, so identify with all your feelings and the truth of those lessons. I've always thought a marathon was too much though, until now. You've just made it make sense.

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  15. Possibly the greatest race report I've read so far. Love it.
    Congratulations to both of you for your accomplishment and for the amazing support you show one another.

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  16. Seriously, this is a brilliant post. This one got me:

    Lesson #4: This is something you do by yourself, but you are not doing it alone.

    Summed up beautifully.

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  17. What an incredible race report to follow an amazing day. I am so, so proud of you and honored to have been part of this!

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  18. Uhhh.. Damn dude. What a race report! One of the best I've ever read.

    Anyway... that aside... CONGRATS!!!!!!

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  19. Congratulations again Thom! You have summed up this experience far better than I ever could. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to train with you and run a portion of this race with you. And since there are more marathons in your future, hopefully we can do this all again sometime soon. :)

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  20. What a great recap Thom!!! So proud of you!! I too will admit I may or may not have teared up a bit at the end and that video... You and Katie def give Spike and I a run for our money! :) <3

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  21. WELL. I know why you two are married.

    Seriously, beautiful recap. I maybe cried at little at my desk. I mean, maybe.

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  22. This is such an amazing post. Congratulations to Thom!

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  23. Perfect post. Loved it. Congratulations!

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  24. Simply amazing. Love love love this. I might have almost kinda sorta dripped a tear or two into my keyboard while reading. Congrats to both of you!

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  25. Great race report. I have to admit, it made me a little weepy at times. Congratulations on a great run!

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  26. Great insight and very well articulated. Congratulations on your finish!

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  27. This is beautiful and made me cry. Can i just sign up for the next one already?!? have you? hehe. Congrats!

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  28. What a great recap Thom. You should be so so so proud of yourself!

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  29. Awesome post! Finally a post without puppies and/or butt shots! haha

    Congratulations on your first marathon! You did awesome!

    "And that is why we do it, because it is beyond what we need to do." <--- Love this!

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  30. Great post Thom and great seeing you guys again and for the BILLIONTH time, CONGRATS!

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  31. This was fabulous! Congrats Thom!

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  32. This was quite possibly the best race report I've ever read. Terrific insight into the thoughts that go along with a marathon and terrific take away at the end.

    Congratulations!

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  33. Beautiful recap. CONGRATS on doing more than you thought you could ever do—and for learning all the important lessons that are the REAL victory of the marathon.

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  34. I really really love how you broke this up into lessons, and I ESPECIALLY love the last reason. CONGRATULATIONS!!!

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  35. Well, geeze. I want to read that ten times over. I want to print this and hand it to every person who asks "Why would you run a marathon?" or says "I just can't get behind that "Full" thing...".

    Thom, Congratulations on the accomplishment & the finish! You will learn many MANY more lessons from here on out, and it never gets old.

    P.S. holy crap, that video is cute.

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  36. Your blog has been cranky and hasn't let me comment on this. Hopefully today works!
    This is probably one of the BEST marathon recaps I've ever read. So full of heart! Congratulations Thom, and welcome to the club!

    ReplyDelete
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