Friday, April 25, 2014

The Boston Marathon:
Mile 27

Yesterday after work, I sprinted up two flights of stairs just in time to see my train pull away without me.  Apart from being mildly infuriating, it also means that my quads work again.  Which I guess also means I can talk more about the race.

The thing is, I never really find race recaps all that interesting.  I get bored reading a mile by mile analysis of a 5k (3.1 miles, if you're new); I can't imagine 23.1 more.

But I do want to mention one mile in particular of the Boston Marathon: mile 27.  They don't talk about mile 27 in any of the magazines, otherwise no one would ever sign up for another race.  Mile 27 is where you lose your soul.

Before I get into mile 27 though, I will give you just a little bit of background.  You see, the pain of Boston didn't really start until after mile 23.  Before then, even on Heartbreak Hill, I was running faster and faster splits.  The sun was shining, my arm warmers were off, and I was doing great.

But after mile 23, something switched.  Specifically, my "running capacity" switch.

Mile 24 (7:36/mile pace): "Wait a second, where have my legs gone?"  Mile 25 (7:58/mile pace): "I think my toenail just fell off.  Maybe I should stop."  Mile 26 (8:12/mile pace): "Look at all the fuzzies!  Or are those people?  Where am I?"  Last 0.2 miles (approximately 10 years/mile pace): "What is a Nicole?"

When I crossed the finish line, for a glorious 15 seconds, all I felt was sweet relief.  And then the true agony began.

My legs started tightening up and cramping to the point where I almost fell over.  I then suffered a 30 second episode of what I guess was panic-induced asthma where I literally could not get air into my chest.  Then the fuzzies and stars came back, and things started getting weird.

I knew enough to know that my mom was somewhere past the fenced-in finishing chute, so I started walking.  But about 15 yards in, I realized that it wasn't going very well and decided to abort.  I stumbled to the curb and was immediately swarmed by at least three volunteers asking me what was wrong.  ("I think it was the marathon.")

After assuring them that I probably wasn't dying and that yes, my mom was here somewhere, they left me alone with the man next to me who was also rubbing his legs and wearing one of those weird, post-race space blankets.  He sort of smiled and we pounded fists.  (It seemed appropriate at the time.)  And then I thought to explain myself and my situation a bit more, so I told him, "My legs hurt."

"Yeah, they probably will for a while."

After a few minutes to contemplate that thought, I got back up and started walking again.  From every direction, people were forcing things on me (blankets, Gatorade, medals) which I accepted, but all I kept thinking was, "Where are the damn bananas?"

Finally, I got to what felt like the end of the chute only to realize that I was just at a corner.  This realization was too much for me and I couldn't help but scream.  "HOW DO YOU GET OUT OF THIS PLACE?!"

Helpfully, another volunteer appeared out of the woodwork and told me that I had another block to go.  Sadly, I didn't have another block in me.  So I did what any reasonable caged victim would do, and slowly started sinking to the ground.  I was halfway through wriggling my way to the fence when I had the afterthought to inform him what I was doing.

"I'm just going to, like, roll out under here, okay?"

"No, you can't do that."

"I mean, really, it's fine.  My mom's meeting me at Burger King over there so I'm just going to go..."

"No, ma'am, sorry.  Please stop that."

I hadn't been prepared for this setback, so it took me another five minutes or so to recover while I formulated another plan.  Unfortunately, it seemed like my only choice was to walk another block.  So I did.  The thing was, once I finally reached the end, I had no idea where I was.  More importantly, I had no idea where my mom was.

I guess the Boston Marathon committee foresaw this problem because the next thing I knew, I was standing at an AT&T tent using the free phones made available to all the lost, delirious runners staggering around without families. Honestly, I'm not sure how much help I was when I called my mom; I had no idea where I was and too tired to figured it out.  So instead of directions, I just starting naming things around me.  ("AT&T tent.  Family meeting area.  Bank.  Tree.")

But like moms always do, she found me.  I suppose most moms don't always find their children sitting on cement blocks halfway through eating a PowerBar of still unknown origin...but I never said this was a story about the norm.

Because nothing about running a marathon, Boston or otherwise, is normal.  It's a treacherous feat only attempted by the insane and unhinged.  Which I guess is exactly why I love it.

Friday.  It always knows when we need it most.
Linking up with Sarah and Whitney.

Want more tea? Have a second cup!
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