I ran the Life Time Miami Marathon Sunday, February 2nd, 2014. It was my first marathon. Here are ten things I learned between mile 1 and mile 26.2. Other runners have written similar things, countless times. Now it's my turn.
10. The body is resilient (AKA Pain is Manipulative): Whether you've trained for a marathon or not, you know the conventional wisdom to listen to your body for signals of pain. During a marathon, sometimes you get signals from parts of your body you didn't know existed. A tiny spot on the inside of your calf will start singing the national anthem. The bottom of your foot will pulse like it's being electrocuted Green Mile-style. The funny thing about these signals is that sometimes they go away if you wait a few minutes, like the sirens in the Odyssey. In other words, don't let pain seduce you into stopping. Keep going. It might just be in your head. Unless, of course, you're actually injured. I was fortunate that the pain in my feet was controllable by the off-switch in my head. (If it doesn't stop, call an ambulance.) The above paragraph is not medical advice. Consult a physician before getting out of bed in the morning. Don't run a marathon if you're one of those trigger-happy sue-everyone types. Results will vary horribly.
9. Break in your shoes (AKA Have intelligence): I was injured the week before the race, which turned out perfectly because it forced me to taper. For any non-runners, tapering isn't just a travesty that happened to Levy's jeans in the early 1980's. Tapering for a race means reducing your mileage so that your muscles can recover fully prior to the start line. (Fresh muscles + bagels and Gu gel = faster race time and better race endurance.)
My old shoes were worn flat out, and I needed a new pair prior to the race. But because of the injury to my knee, I couldn't run enough to break in the shoes. As a result, the balls of my feet felt like they were being roasted over an open flame. It was nothing but flames in my shoes from mile 2 to mile 26.2. Break in your shoes. Break in everything. Don't have new anything the day of the race. Not even a new boyfriend. Not even a new car. Not in a house, not with a mouse.
8. You can set aside pain (AKA Step inside the drum beat): When there are flames in your shoes (see point 9 above), you have two choices. (1.) Stop drop and roll, take your shoes off and cry like a baby until the medical staff escorts you back to the beer tent where you drown your flame-footed sorrows in Michelob Ultra or (2.) Set aside the pain and keep running. I chose number (2), and after about 45 minutes, setting aside the pain worked. I stopped imagining that the bottoms of my feet looked like charred sandpaper roasting over orange coals and decided that, like Roadrunner, my feet were burning because I'm just that fast. Then I started to ignore the pain. Each time I passed a loud drum-line, a row of cheerleaders, a stereo speaker blasting Calvin Harris, or a crowd of cheering fans, my feet stopped burning. It's all about where you place your focus.
7. Gu gel is crucial (AKA let the experts do their jobs): I was one of those beginner runners that rejected the idea of squirting a packet of non-food-like sugarcarb-chemicalgoo into my mouth during long runs and races. I was willing to try any alternative, and in the past four weeks, I did. Here are all the alternatives I tried: honey packets, gummy bears, miniature boxes of raisins, jelly beans, bananas, Cheerios (shutup), plain Gatorade, an apple, and of course nothing. None of these alternatives, especially "nothing," worked nearly as well as Gu Gel. That's because I need to shut up and trust that the people who design these sports products know what the F they're talking about. They have it nailed. I Gu'ed roughly every 45 to 60 minutes, as instructed, an hour into the race, and I never felt like I was out of gas. The stuff works. Save your honey and organic chia seed granola ethanol eco mix for the yoga retreat.
6. The people at water stations are your friends (AKA Say thank you and then say it again):
They're covered in overflow splash and sticky from Gatorade flying everywhere. They're soaked with rain. They're sunburned. Yet, they scream "WATER!" when they see you coming. They hold out cups, they open jugs and fill your bottle as fast as they can, like it's their race time depending on it. Who are these glorious people? Where do they come from? The lesson I learned was to thank them every chance, every stop, lots of them. Just say thank you so much. You're awesome. It has to get hard after several hours of runners moving through and leaving behind an apocalypse of smashed water cups on the ground. It must feel like getting stampeded by messy horses. Thank them. Countless runners have written about this. I'm writing about it again.
5. Hours are a Human Invention (AKA Time is Relative): I've taken a five hour standardized test. I've worked a five hour restaurant shift. I've gone to the DMV. I watched The 300. But running for 4 to 5 hours straight is like a miniature lifetime. It's not that it feels like forever -- it goes by fast. But the diversity of emotions and states-of-mind that cycle through your being make that five hours feel like every second means something. At the finish, I couldn't believe the start was earlier that morning. When they say you cross the finish line a different person, they're right. You are. You've experienced more in several hours than you've likely experienced in the past year, resilience-wise. Funny how they're always right.
4. More Glory and More Suck Always Lie Ahead (AKA Everything is Temporary)
Pain, the taste of sugar, cloud-cover, the guy running next to you complaining about rain, the guy running on the other side who looks like Cillian Murphy....it's all temporary. It will end. The rain-guy will shut up and grab a Snickers, the pain will cease and desist, and Cillian Murphy will run away because he's faster than you and looks better from behind anyway. (Lesson 4.5 - rationalize when necessary.) So what I learned from running a marathon: If it sucks, ride it out. If it's glorious, remember that it's okay to wave goodbye. Glory is self-replicating. More glory and more suck always lie ahead. Be ready. Get excited.
3. People run all kinds of races (AKA heart is about your own definition of greatness):
There are 2:30 marathon finishers with Flo Jo legs and Prefontaine shorts. There are 75-year-olds who run at a 9:00 pace, and there are kids with tiny Camelbaks puffing up the bridge like little engines that could. There are groups of ladies power-walking, arm in arm; there are police-force teams, family units, girls in ballet skirts, men who look like Cillian Murphy. The marathon has everyone, especially the Life Time Miami Marathon and Half Marathon and it's 25,000 registered runners.
Yet, it's not everybody. Not everybody gets out there and does this thing that is hard and beautiful and a total treat and total torture at the same time. While you see all walks of life at a marathon, everyone has this special thing in common. Either we're all bat-funk crazy or we all know or want to know what true accomplishment tastes like sandwiched between drive and fortitude, with a side of buttered hopefulness washed down by a tall glass of slight derangement. It's like a big clan where everyone has one little mitochondria in one cell that is exactly the same. The rest is varied.
2. My friends love me (AKA I'm crying right now.)
I don't know if we all do this, but I go through those dark moments when I feel like I have no one. They pass quickly, but they happen. If there's anything I learned from running a marathon, it's that my friends love me, and they show up for me.
My friend Gord left his house at 4:15 AM to drive to traffic-ridden downtown Miami to see me start the race. He hung out with my dad all day until I finished the race four hours and 59 minutes (and not a minute more) later.
My dad got on a plane Saturday at 7 a.m. and flew to Miami, booked a hotel, and woke up at 4:30 AM to watch me go through the chute. He stood in the heat all day so that he could high-five at mile 12 and watch me cross the finish. He ate a hot dog for breakfast because there was nothing else, and then he missed the Super Bowl because he was on an airplane.
My friends Karen and Maria and Linda made posters and stood between mile 11 and 12 in the hot sun to cheer for me and many others. When I saw them, I lost my mind with happiness. (Lesson 2.5: Never underestimate the power of a familiar face.)
My friend Kevin ran across four lanes of closed traffic to give me a hug and a "Keep going" in the middle of the marathon that we were both currently running. He also started Hollywood Run Club, the true catalyst for me running a marathon.
My friends Ralph and Graciela took a train into downtown Miami after doing a 20 mile run so they could watch us cross the finish line, deliver our official race times, and go out to celebrate.
So many people showed support from afar on Facebook, via text message, voicemails, Gmail... There are way more people to thank for pushing me forward, and I could go on and on. (I sort of did on Facebook and probably got deleted a few feeds...) But my friends love me, and I have a support system. I have a running family. They hug you when you have more sweat on you than clothes. They make sure you have a banana when you need it. They care how you're feeling physically and mentally. It's enough love to fill your heart forever, twice. If you run, and you don't have a running family yet, build one. Join a run club. Join us.
If it doesn't change your life, I'll give you your time back from reading this post.
1. People in the World Are Good.
The number one thing I learned from running a marathon is that people in the world are good. I saw more people do amazing, kind, loving things in five hours of running a marathon than I've seen in five years. Maybe in my lifetime. People set up lawn chairs in their driveways and cheered as we ran by. Others parked under bridges with giant coolers and handed out orange slices. These people were not even affiliated with the race. Shop owners played music, stood outside and clapped. The traffic cops...oh my goodness. They high-fived, they smiled, they said things like, "You got this. You look good." People sitting in their cars gridlocked in the one open lane rolled down their windows and whistled, clapped, yelled "Keep going!" There were hilarious signs, spectators in banana costumes, fans handing out leis and Mardi Gras beads. Girls did choreographed dances in their driveways in Coconut Grove. They looked at your race bib and yelled your name when you passed. One man, at mile 26, saw the look on my face -- tears brewing in my eyes from the heat and exhaustion, determined to climb the seemingly insurmountable "hill" on Brickell Avenue (hill size = 34AA) and he looked me square in the eye and said, "You've got it. You've come this far. It's right around the corner. Go." It's like he knew I needed to hear that. I burst into tears. Thank god Cillian Murphy was not nearby.
The point is....This is one mad world full of beautiful people filled with the propensity to love and lift one another. We've all witnessed the human capacity to tear each other down. I just didn't see that Sunday. For five straight hours. What I saw was a snowballing tidal wave of love, support, and inspiration. Crossing the finish line takes a close second to that accumulation of moments along the way. I hobbled away with a deep respect for people, for the sport of running, and for those forces which are bigger than us that seem to capture the human spirit and spread like flames. It's enough to make you want to do a little dance, once you can actually walk again.
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