I approached a table for a free shirt. Apparently the bib was a dead giveaway to the volunteer. She yells out, "First-timer!" and a host of volunteers begin cheering. I had arrived.
They wished me luck. I walked away from the table probably more intimidated than I had approached it with. I continued to walk confusedly around the expo as everyone was hocking products from shoes to water filtration devices, from home alarm systems to humanitarian causes. Exhausted, I just wanted to get lost. Kool Aid and I found a pisser and then left. We did the afternoon separately. He went to watch a rugby match. I sat around and visited with in-laws. Sitting upright made my sciatic nerve flare so I leaned back as much as I could wherever I could. Oh, did some record shopping. Looked for some Eric Dolphy. Found nothing worth owning.
Did dinner. Went back to the Hilton where I tried to relax and sleep. I just remember beating my lovely wife back to the room as she was hitting a couple of errands on the way back from dinner. I feel asleep and she came in and kissed me and I drifted off again.
About 3:30, sleeping became futile. My body was awake. My body was urging me to get ready. I had to tell myself to relax. Close your eyes. You've gotta run 26.2 miles in about five hours. You're gonna need everything you got. About thirty minutes passed and I drifted back off. But, like Christmas morning, I was awake in another hour. Five o'clock. A familiar hour for me. I went back to sleep for thirty minutes and then I was up for good.
Runday had arrived.
It was a foggy morning. I took a shower. Ate two bagels. Two bananas. Four ibuprofen. About a pint of Gatorade. Final preparations.
Went through some final prayers before trusting directly into the madness. Recalled my goal of finishing between 4:48 and 5:00 (those be hours, homie). Said, for my last time, my affirmation:
I am a marathoner. I can run on any day, at any time, in any weather. While my body wasn't born to do this, I can train my body to do anything and nothing can hold me back. With God on my side and hell on my heels, I'm going to run my happy ass 26.2 miles.
That day had arrived. T-minus two hours.
My ride arrived at 0645 in the circle drive of the Hilton. I stood outside for a few moments and breathed the morning air. It was cool and a little thick. Perfect. The forecast had the race ending at an unseasonal 70 degrees. Not-so perfect.
When we arrived down at American Airlines Center, it was pandamonium. Kool Aid and I looked for our "corral"--the wave in which we would begin. Being that we were 11-minute milers, we would start with people of the same speed to ensure there was no trampling. After locating our corral, we headed inside to hit the bathrooms. Fundamental.
I'll put it this way: all the urinals were available. The line was for the "sitting" commodes. We stood in line.
After heading outside, I saw fella runner Sarah who was hitting the half. Wished her luck. Small-talked. Tried to get my gameface on without getting too primed. Advice was to start slow, don't get wrapped up in the hype. Pace yourself. If you rush out of the gate, you're gonna wish you had it later.
(just put in an Art Blakey record I got in Dallas...lovely)
I spent about three minutes wondering what I was going to do with my iPod. Funny the details you don't think about until you're standing at the starting line. I was concerned about wearing it on my arm for five hours. I opted to put it in my Camelbak pocket. Time counted down. I heard Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" and some cheering. I checked out at that point. All of the noises became fuzzy. I put on my headphones and listened to the official Team Root Down mix. I did it with one earphone off, though, to hear the crowd. It was loud. Cacophony. Megaphones. Confetti.
Before you knew it, we had begun and this five-hour dance with D-Town had begun.
We meandered around downtown and two miles passed quickly. Just do that 13 times and this was history. Right knee soreness began almost immediately. I thought, "I knew you were going to be here. Welcome. Take off your jacket. Stay a while. Let me show you to the bar. Have a drink."
THE LEFT CALF
We made our way through Turtle Creek. My left knee worries subsided as I just came to the realization that it wasn't going to hurt any less so I might as well just accept the pain and live with it.
Then it appeared in the left calf. This was all very familiar to me. I pushed forward without worrying too much. I knew that if my heart and my lungs could do it, I could push myself through the muscle pains. As they say, "Pain is temporary. Pride is forever." I said my affirmation again and then just decided to enjoy it from there on.
Running in the crowd proved to be challenging. It was like a big game of leapfrog as everyone pushed for position. Kool Aid and I were in no big hurry, but knew that we didn't want to surrender too much at the beginning. The crowds were troublesome. We tried to initiate a pace and it would be broken up by a turn, aid station, someone goofing around.
At about the third mile, the pace set in and the marathon had really started to expose itself. The crowd was dispersing. Spacing. Breathing room. I remember seeing my dad somewhere around mile five or six. He was standing there smiling proudly. I took off one earphone. Yelled, "How's it going?" Continued onward across Central.
The neighborhoods were especially pleasant. I always liked the neighborhoods in our training. Relaxing. They were lined with families coming out to feed us. Give us water. Some offered beer. Bloody Mary. Bagels. Most just sat and applauded as the crowds passed their lawns. They'd wave. Tell us to "go" or "run" or "do it." I'd just read their lips as I we traversed through the neighborhood. I'd smile.
Then, I came across some familiar faces. That of my lovely wife and my sister-in-law. It was "GO JEFF" or "OGFJ" as they took creative license with the signs. My brother held up a sign that said, "So easy even a caveman can do it," and a few other sentiments. Nice to have a cheering section.
Just about eight miles in, I did an inventory on my body. Everything was holding up alright. Right knee was still in pain. Left calf pain had begun to lessen as it spread throughout my left leg. Otherwise, everything felt alright. We were nearing the lake. I could feel it as we descended through the neighborhoods. I remembered that we dove down into White Rock so as we took downhill after downhill, I knew it was close. When the halfers broke off somewhere around the seventh mile, it got about five degrees cooler. We lost more than half of the runners. This was the group of the longhaulers. The marathoners.
THE LEFT ILLIOTIBIAL BAND
As the lake exposed itself, I was reminded of it's massive size. Essentially, mile nine through nineteen took place at this monstrous lake. White Rock (which my lovely wife has affectionately come to call "Dead Body Lake" because of all the murders that have gone unsolved in its depths) was covered in a dense fog. Probably better. You couldn't see how much of a huge-ass body of water this thing was. It just kinda looked like a calendar. Something from a LL Bean catalog. Coltrane came on the headphones. I took deep breaths. Enjoyed the scenary. The Coltrane.
Saw my mother-in-law in there.
As we rounded the lake, I saw Cory, Brian and my lovely wife. As Kool Aid stopped to take a piss, I headed forward and slowed down (didn't stop) for one short kiss from my lovely wife. I think I might've hit her cheek. Don't know what she hit. Maybe I just dragged my left sideburn across her face. This is what it looked like.
That kiss lasted about three more miles before we hit what is commonly referred to as "the wall." The "wall," in runners terms, is when your glycogen that has been stored is completely depleted and where most runners are reduced to their slowest speed. White Rock's wall exist at the 18th mile where it begins to make a 100-foot ascension over the course of a two mile drag. The apex of this is just after the Hooters aid station (which Kool Aid took full advantage of) and you enter what was known as Dolly Parton's Hills. As you turn the corner, you see nothing but marathoners walking uphill. Not Kool Aid and I. We pressed on. The runners on the right and us on the left. Just like a small car passing big rigs on a hillside. I asked Kool Aid if he wanted to walk (almost secretly hoping he would say "yes"). He answered, "No. I can't stop now. But don't push me either."
I kept the pace. As much as I wanted to walk, I just kept going. That climb through the neighborhood was just as I had anticipated. Which is why the mix goes over to NWA and Ice Cube for mile 19 and 20. Once we reached the top and made our way over to Swiss Ave, I spotted my brother in the distance. He dashed through the crowd and shouldered up against me and we jogged about fifty yards together. He told me that we had made it through the worst and we were on our way downhill.
Todd on the left. Kool Aid, in his excitable state, mentioned with some explicitaves, that his plan was to finish strong and give it all we had left in us as we finished line. I laughed it off thinking, "I just wanna finish at this point." Saw more family as I entered the beautiful Swiss Ave. We made our descension into downtown. I told myself that I had done six mile runs countless times. This was the easy part. It didn't get easier.
THE WHOLE LEFT LEG AND RIGHT ANKLE
In fact, the sun came out and, almost immediately, my blood temperature skyrocketed. All day, we had enjoyed the cool breeze off the lake, the soothing mist in the air that coated our skin. Now, with the sun out, there was nothing to protect us. We were at her mercy. The mist evaporated. The cool breeze disappeared. I looked for shade on the trail. Never had I run so long and so late in the day. December felt like August. I looked around though and people still had jackets and earmuffs on. To the spectators, it was still relatively cool. In fact, all the way into downtown, I could still see my breath.
Unsure of my pace and only certain of my pain, I pressed on with Kool Aid right beside me. The buildings of downtown exposed themselves above the huge oak trees. We were nearing the end.
And it couldn't come fast enough.
We rounded Central Expressway and went underneath it and the shade almost pulled me to a stop. I wanted to enjoy the shade. I didn't mind walking just for a few steps just to get a little shade in. Cool off. But we didn't. We kept jogging. As we made our way back through downtown, my body began to relieve itself (no, not that way). My muscles began to relax. I could feel my joints, my feet, my legs, my arms exhaling. I thought, "Wait, not yet!" We still had a mile and a half to go.
When we turned the corner and saw the finish line, I just put my head down and headed forward. I felt Kool Aid pushing a little from the excitement. I wasn't concerned about how my ending appeared. I had just gone through the most excrutiating and brutal physical confrontation of my life. I just wanted it to be over. Sooner the better, yes, but I didn't to stumble like that that cat who busts face while getting his diploma. Take it cool. Don't walk, but don't go so fast the only way you'll stop is with your chin.
My whole left leg was throbbing at this point and my right ankle...ah, a familiar foe. When I first started running it was my right ankle that gave me such hell. In fact, it was my right ankle that my lovely wife told me to get checked out before I actually ran a marathon. I guess we both forgot about it until Runday. That bastard came back. It was like a rodent gnawing at your foot. I didn't feel so bad I was going to stop, but it didn't feel that good. Amazing how it disappeared on the third week of training but then just came back on the last few miles to remind me, "Yeah, bro. Should've had them look at me like your lovely wife advised."
The crowds cheered as we shot toward the finish line. I watched the clock ticking from afar. The crowd cheered as I had both earphones off at this point so I could enjoy the moment.
We finished. The exact time was yet to be determined. Some guy called me "Chops" as I made my way to the finish line. That meant more to me than anyone calling me by the name that was on my bib. "Jeffrey." I remember waving to that dude over my head to salute his salutation of my ferocious sideburns.
As we finished, the medal hit my neck, the heat sheet hit my shoulders and I was pushed aside for a picture all in one continuous motion. I found my lovely wife and kissed her through the chainlinked fence. I met with family after that. Had a granola bar, a banana, two beers.
My muscles were going crazy. It was like I was getting a charlie horse every step I took. They were on absolute overdrive. My back tightened up almost immediately. My feet felt like they had exploded. Not like a flat tire, but more like the tire blew up. When I sat down in my father's car, my right calf charlied up and I looked at it in a flexed position. It was as hard as a can of green beans and I couldn't unflex it. Freakiest thing.
We did lunch with family. It was awesome. After that, I went back to the hotel and watched television. Slept for a few hours. Woke up at about 10. Fell back asleep at 11. Can barely walk today. The car ride home was torture.
I sit here thinking back to when I first had an innocent conversation with Sam Prose at a retirement party for my father. Sam Prose mentored my brother in his first marathon. He told me that the human body is not meant to run 26 miles. I would agree. But it's amazing what you can do when you're fueled by stubborn will and the fire of God. I think about my worst runs and how I could've easily just packed up and moved on like I had a million times before. For every cool thing I'm fortunate to finish, there's a thousand that I gave up on. But not this one. For six months, I put myself through absolute hell until my body accepted it. Three miles felt like one. Eight miles felt like three. 18 felt like ten.
26 felt like 50.
There's no overstating finishing a marathon. As much as my body hurts, I'd live with it for months to do what we did. I almost don't wanna go to bed because I know I'm going to have that electric pain up my leg as I walk down the hall, but that pain is your body proclaiming "I'm alive!" I think I'm about lose a toenail, but can't reach down to check it out.
Would I recommend marathoning? Absolutely. I feel like I'm 25 again and have a new appreciation for each day. When you're pushed to the limit, you have a slightly new perspective on what surrounds you. It's a solo sport. Sometimes it's completely without reward. Sometimes you feel stupid. You feel like a nincompoop chasing some moronic romantic notion that only exists in Nike commercials. But, in the process, those moments that you feel small and insignificant in God's great kingdom are irreplaceable. Some days you feel small and insignificant. Other days you feel powerful and unstoppable. Either way, you feel humbled.
Maybe I have a affinity to solo sports. It's the same gravitation that you feel when standing on a mountain overlooking the beautiful snowcapped peaks of regions nearby. It's when you're alone and pushing yourself to the brink that you learn the most of yourself. Competitive sports are only possible when there's an opposing force to drive you. Something particularly sweet when that opposing force is yourself.
Contemplating the next event. Rory said during breakfast today that he was considering doing a marathon. I told him to not even lead on lightly because I'll do it again in a second.
Here are the stats. My goal for Kool Aid and I was between 4:48 and 5:00. We finished at 4:58. Our rank at 10K was #4008. Our rank at halfway was #3815. Our time at halfway was 2:27:32. At the 20.1 mile mark, my rank was #3570. My rank at the 24-mile mark was #3442. I finished at #3434. From the 20-mile mark to the end, we passed 166 runners and were passed by only twelve. Probably 90% of those passed we did on that hellish hill at mile 19.
Our first half was at 2:27:32 and our second half was at 2:30:28. We didn't give up pace hardly at all. The perfect tortoise pace. I ran non-stop and Kool Aid did except for one bathroom break. Probably wasn't the smartest thing for me to do given that my body was screaming for a break and I didn't listen to it. But then again, maybe marathoning isn't the smartest thing in the first place.
Thanks to my lovely wife for being patient and supportive. God. My family. Bananas. Sly and Family Stone. Sleep. Ibuprofen. Nike. Vaseline. Gatorade.