March 1, 2009


inventory of today's sore body parts:
upper arms
right hand (my sprained thumb still has not healed completely)
lower back
right piriformis (always a problem)

yesterday my feet were also bad, because I go through periods where my toes cramp spontaneously and badly, and they're worst when I'm in the saddle. last night I couldn't flex my left foot without pain. geez! getting older sucks.

did I ever tell you about the marathon? I didn't write much after I ran the Portland Marathon in 2007. there was too much to say and I couldn't figure out how to say it. I think there is no soreness on earth -- no self-inflicted soreness, at least -- as agonizing as the day after the marathon.

I ran the PDX Marathon in 2007 with Team in Training; I raised about $1700 in honor of my childhood friend Ann, who had died of leukemia in 2005. When I signed up, I honestly didn't believe I had a marathon in me. I was a high school sprinter whose favorite, and strongest, event was the 200m. I'd never run more than a 15K, and that distance only once. Even a 10K was a stretch. I don't even know what I was thinking when I signed up, except that if I was ever going to run a marathon, it was with a giant support system behind me. I tried to do it alone in 2004 and didn't get past that 15K.

We trained all summer. Early on I made a friend, a very lanky, tall, and quick guy who had caught up with me during an 8-miler and had chatted with me for the entire run. Listen. There are few things as great as the perfect running partner. Jay was it. Faster than me, but more interested in cameraderie than speed; willing to wait if I had to stretch or use the bathroom (of course I afforded him the same benefit); talkative and tireless. We used to get together once or twice a week outside the scheduled team training sessions to grab a run together, and sometimes a burger. I'll never forget an evening run -- 8 miles -- where we got talking so animatedly about something that for probably 10 minutes I completely forgot we were running. The fact came back to me with a jolt. "Hey!" I said, amazed. "We're still running!"

In the middle of the summer he asked me out and I declined, citing a real but never discussed long-distance boyfriend.

We talked about race day a lot. It was the first marathon for both of us. Over burritos one night we made a pact. "You're the kind of person," I said, "who would stick with me if I got hurt, even if I didn't want you to. And I'm the kind of person who would leave your ass in a heartbeat if you fell. Let's promise, then, that if you get hurt, I'll stay with you, and if I get hurt and I want you to keep running, you'll leave me behind."

Training went by like a breeze. We were unstoppable. We were famous within our running group for always leading the pack and for sprinting to the finish, a habit that, no matter how far I've run, I cannot eradicate from myself. I was, in fact, the quickest girl on the team, a fact which astounded me and consistently made me feel like a superhero. We were, for the most part, without injury; I had a testy achilles and he had a grouchy knee, but both injuries were mild and rarely plagued us. We were hardly even sore after our token 20-miler, the longest training run of the season. We thought we would recover quickly from the race, maybe even in time to run a half-marathon two weeks later.

On race day I left the house at 5 AM. My car's check engine light had come on the previous day and I was terrified of being stranded and unable to run. (The car drove without a hitch, and the light went off at the end of the weekend, never to return). We met our team at a downtown hotel lobby and walked/jogged the few blocks to the starting gate. We were chilly, nervous, excited.

The first two miles blew by so easily I could hardly believe we were already in it. It wasn't until mile 4 that I even felt we were running. We high-fived fellow teammates, grinned at spectators, and watched the sun rise. It was great! We had run segments of the course a number of times, so all of it was old news. We buckled in and were fine through the 10K mark. At the 15K mark we dropped our cold-weather clothes (long sleeved shirts, gloves) at the team tent and kept going.

At the half-marathon mark Jay's knee began to act up. Going against advice, he was wearing running tights he had never worn before; they ended just below the knee. He had also taken a spill off his bike a week earlier, and had landed on his leg. As we wound our way into the hard, lonely miles between 13 and 17 -- down a long industrial road and up and over the St. Johns Bridge -- Jay's knee became a real problem. By mile 17 -- just over the bridge -- we were walking. We walked for 3 agonizing miles. I thought I would lose my mind. We watched as the 4-hour pace group passed us, and then the 4:30 pace group, their red balloons darting through the crowd. The runners gave way to walkers (distinguishable by the color of their bib).

In some ways the most difficult part of my marathon experience was staying on that course with my friend. Close to mile 20, a TNT captain from Seattle passed us and noticed Jay, who now could not even walk without difficulty. I could not imagine finishing the race at this snail's tempo. The coach advised Jay to stop at the mile 20 medical tent for assistance, and suggested that maybe it was best to let this race go: better to give up the race than to give up a knee, he said.

If at any point Jay had suggested I finish without him, I would have given him a hug and taken off without a pause. But he never did, and so I stayed. We sat at the medical tent. The nurses there suggested he call it a day. They gave him a space blanket, which we shared. In the sun, running, we were dressed appropriately for the weather. But we were in the shade, sitting in the breeze, motionless. We were freezing. An aide brought me a handful of gummi bears. I thought I would throw up. I had gone from running 3/4 of a marathon to stopping and sitting on a cold cot on the bluffs in North Portland. I could feel my legs turning to stone.

We sat at that medical tent for 45 minutes before our coaches arrived to take Jay away. "What are you going to do?" they asked me. I didn't hesitate a beat. "I'm going to finish the race," I replied. I ran off with a wave.

Starting up again was horrible, like trying to move rusted gears. It was excruciating. I thought for half a mile or so that I, too, would have to abandon the race. But I couldn't! I would have crawled across that finish line. I happened to catch up with members of our run/walk team, whose race strategy was to run a certain set number of minutes, followed by a walk break, for the course of the run. I stayed with them for a mile or so, and having that structure made it possible for my muscles to warm up and loosen up enough to get going again. I left them behind at mile 23 with a wave.

Then I flew. (Or felt like I flew. I think I hobbled). I probably passed 500 people in the next 3 miles. I was so happy to be running again that I was all smiles. I congratulated everybody I passed. My coach was taking photos at mile 24. "THAT'S the smile I'm looking for!" he said, as I grinned and ran by, and we high-fived. I ate everything anybody passed me and drank water at every rest stop.

After the last crossing of the Willamette, across the Steel Bridge, I passed the 25 mile mark and burst into tears. "I did it!" I thought. Picturing the end of a marathon was, for years, what had gotten me through long lonely runs; how amazing it would feel, and how jubilant. I still had over a mile to go but it felt like nothing. It was nothing. Nearing the last stretch, I passed one of our coaches, running with one of our veteran runners. I gunned by them and waved. They both looked stunned to see me roll idly by.

I started to sprint as soon as I made the turn into the finisher's chute, as soon as I had the finish line in sight. Looking at photos, I can tell I was in excruciating pain, but I didn't care, or even feel it. I recalled an beloved former cross-country coach, who used to tell me that if I had enough gas at the end of the race to sprint, I hadn't run the race hard enough. Wrong! I thought.

finishing the marathon

My crazy hope had been to break 4 hours; my realistic goal was to come in somewhere around 4:30. I finished the race in 5:59:52. If I hadn't sprinted to the finish it would have taken me over 6 hours.

There is absolutely no way to describe the fatigue and soreness of the day following a marathon. Laying in bed with my legs straight out, I could not bend them without using my arms. My muscles were so tired I thought I was literally going to be stuck in bed. Putting on clothes that day was a monumental task. I had taken the day following the marathon off work (it was a Monday), but still had to attend a meeting that morning for an upcoming opera. I arrived at work in time for the meeting but I was several minutes late because I couldn't walk from the entrance of the building to the meeting room any faster than at a crawl. I wore my finisher's medal under my shirt. The rest of the day Jay and I watched the Back to the Future trilogy and ate pints of ice cream.

Last year I trained for my second marathon, and got 3/4 of the way through the training when I developed a serious case of tendonitis in my left foot while running Hood to Coast. Just weeks after our 2007 marathon, Jay and I had a nasty parting of ways (after a brief and disastrous period of dating) and I was left without a running partner. Last year it wasn't the same; my heart wasn't in it. Making the decision not to run was a relief, although on race day it rained for the first time in 37 years, and secretly, in my heart, I was glad.

This year I had decided to swear off the marathon and instead focus on 10Ks and halfs. I've got a half-marathon on my calendar already. But I might have a marathon on there too.

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