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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guest post by Carissa. twenty six point two

I have a few things I need to tell you about this post before it begins. 
1) It's by my sweet friend Carissa, who was an internet friend and is now a real-life Boston friend. She first encouraged me to start running, and today, as you read this post - we're going on a 10 miler together in Boston which feels really sweet. 
2) I decided I really wanted to run a half marathon and eventually a marathon when I realized that half/full marathon recaps are a lot like birth stories. Ya'll know how much I love some birth and I seriously feel so much regret over not having a sweet homebirth story of my own to tell (though my c-section stories are good in their own way). When I read this, I thought - "man, that is just like a good birth story." So, read it:)
3) I love you Carissa. Thank you for being awesome. 
Love ya'll, Jess
Let me start this (incredibly, apologetically long) post by saying how totally honored I am to be writing for Naptime Diaries!  I’m a big fan.  This is pretty rad.  It’s almost as rad as being asked to dance onstage at a Hanson concert.  Wait, who said that?

Once a month or so, I go to my favorite running store and see this Adidas ad:  “The 7 Stages of Marathon:  1.  Ritual.  2.  Shock.  3.  Denial.  4.  Isolation.  5.  Despair.  6.  Affirmation.  7.  Renewal.” I’ve always wondered it that’s true for everyone.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me… it’s totally true.
So, I’m not going to drag you through some long, awful drawn out process with this story.  I’m going to tell you how it ends before it even begins.  I’m doing this for two reasons:  1) I respect your time and, let’s be honest, this much 12-point font hurts anybody’s eyes, and 2) the story isn’t really about how it ends.  The story ends at 26.2.  The story happens between 21 and 23.
I ran my first marathon last month.  I finished in 5 hours flat, which is by no means a great time, but it’s faster than Katie Holmes and P Diddy, so I’m alright with it.  I finished.  I didn’t die.  I got no broken bones or ligaments, no black toenails, no muddy legs.  Wanna know what I did get?  My life.  I’m not being dramatic here.  Read on.  You’ll see.

Last summer, the oldest of my three brothers, two of whom are also runners, had the brilliant idea that we three should run our first full marathon together.  Incidentally, our hometown of Charleston, SC, was having their inaugural marathon in January.  We would each run our first marathon at Charleston’s first marathon—how cute is that?!  I think our mom started crying the day we registered.  It couldn’t be scripted better.
My oldest brother and I kept tabs on each other’s training.  We started 16 weeks before the race and used the same program.  The program was going so well until week 5, at which point I ended a 6-year relationship, packed up my entire adult life, and moved across Boston.  Did I mention I was also in my last semester of grad school?  And that I lived 1,000 miles from my family?  And that my grandmother was dying and my childhood dog was dying and that I had lost all control of every element of my life?  So, yeah, training sort of fell of the grid.  Entirely.  I went home for Thanksgiving, ran 10 miles with my sister, and didn’t put my running shoes back on until the day of the race.  7 weeks later.
Now, any fool who’s ever quickly put one foot in front of the other would guess that running 26.2 miles cold is not a fantastic idea.  The way I saw it, though, I had already paid the registration fee.  What could it hurt to try?  I could start running, trust my body, and when it hurt, I could just stop.  

Clearly, I’m not nearly as self-aware as I think I am.  You see, I am fully capable of recognizing my physical limits and respecting them.  The stronger impulse in me, however, is the need to make a metaphor out of everything.  As I said, I had lost all control of my life.  I felt like every turn in my road for two months was being navigated by someone or something else.  Some time between Christmas and New Years, however, something changed.  I started wrapping my brain around the idea that my life was mine. The consequences of all of my actions were more or less mine to bear and that was remarkable.  I threw every insecurity, self-doubt, and question mark in my soul out the window and started working through life my way:  find an objective, figure out the steps to get there, and do it.  There’s only one way to finish a marathon:  one foot in front of the other.

So despite 7 weeks without a single training run, a bout of food poisoning that had me eating a sum total of 2000 calories over the course of 5 days, and several vicious snowstorms that threatened to keep me from even getting to South Carolina, I toed that starting line with one thought in my head: one foot in front of the other.  My sweet family stationed themselves at miles 2, 8, 13 and 16 to provide cheers and support.  The first 13 miles were amazing, so I won’t bore you with the details. At mile 16, things started to get interesting.  My hip flexors were killing me, I knew I wouldn’t see my family for another 10 miles, and I was struggling to stay motivated.  At 18, I thought I had hit the infamous Wall.  My knee felt like there was a balloon under the kneecap that kept getting bigger and bigger and I was just plain tired.  One mile later, though, I entered the old navy base, where the race finished, and got a little boost from the idea that I was almostthere!  But then I did the math.  19?  Nineteen?!  I had 7.2  miles left?!  That’s more than a 10K!  Ouch.  At 20, I passed the West African drum and dance troupe that I had grown up next door to.  They were taking a break, but I begged them to give me something, anything to keep me going.  That worked for about half a mile.  Then the real Wall began…

The course was Y-shaped and on the first branch of the Y, my little brother and I passed each other with a fist bump.  I wasn’t expecting to pass him again; I was certain he would be finished when I hit the second Y.  So when I did see him, it nearly killed me.  He looked like he was in pain and I knew what I was feeling.  I had lost track of math and time, but seeing him was my reality check:  he was either a lot slower than I expected, or I had at least another hour of running.  An hour.  For half a mile I pondered the possibility that maybe I was wrong, that maybe he was slower and I was faster, until I saw my next mile marker.  
Shoot me.  In.  The face.
When I saw that sign, I screamed.  I mean, I literally cried out a sound I’m not sure I’ve ever made before and hope never to again.  I just couldn’t see myself running 5 more miles.  Could.  Not.  See it.  

Wanna know what I could finally see?  The faces of other runners.  At this point in the course, I was running against the stream of runners ahead of me.  These people had run farther than I had, faster than I had and were most certainly more tired than I was.  I was so self-absorbed that I didn’t even see most of them until I realized that they were calling out to me.  Someone shouted out how many minutes I had until the turn around.  Another runner complimented me on my running skirt (why not?  It’s totally adorable.).  Then one runner turned around and started running with me.  He touched my face and shouted “Chin up!  Don’t you quit now!  You’ve got this, keep going!”  Then he turned around and finished his race.  His words didn’t make those 5 miles seem shorter, but they did help me remember that I was not alone.  I was not the only one hurting.  My little brother was finishing his own 26.2, my older brother had asthma that kept him from running and my sweet oldest brother, whose idea it was to run this race in the first place, was stuck at the finish line waiting for me.  For 5 hours.  So I kept moving.  Sometimes walking, sometimes running, but always moving.

At the turnaround at mile 23 I did something I’ve never done in a race before:  I stopped at a Port-A-Potty.  I hadn’t stopped moving in 23 miles, so when I sat down, I honestly thought that the structure around me was swirling.  Perhaps it was me.  

I got out of the Port-A-Potty and my mp3 player did me the biggest favor it ever has: it played Florence + the Machine.  The Dog Days Are Over.  Oh, you bet your booty they are.  3 miles.  Half an hour.  Thirty minutes.  I could do this.  The next couple of miles flew.  With half a mile left, the pain in my knee started to creep in again and every step hurt.  I could see in my shadow on the ground how bad form had gotten.  Then, I saw my dad and my older brother and I lost it.  I just started sobbing and crying.  It wasn’t until I saw the fear on their faces that I realized that I was too dehydrated to produce tears.  My entire family had waited 5 hours only to watch an Edvard Munch painting come running towards them.  Bless their hearts.

I made the final turn, saw the finish line, and out of nowhere, my other two brothers appeared.  The younger on one side and the oldest on the other, my brothers flanked me for the last tenth of a mile.  I ripped out my headphones and from some place inside that I can’t identify, I pulled out enough juice to sprint down the chute.  I crossed the line at 5:00:44 and if my brothers hadn’t been on either side of me, I probably would have fallen over.  

Recovery consisted of a bowl of shrimp & grits, 2 beers, and some fish tacos.  There was also a hot shower, a foam roller, and a nap with the world’s cutest boxer pup in there.  Two awful flights, one terrible football game (come on, Pats!) and an epically wretched T ride later, I was back in Boston and ready for the rest of my life.  I had to be completely broken down in order to rebuild from the ground up.  So let’s go.  Got a challenge for me?  Bring it.  I’m serious.  Throw a monkey wrench my way.  You’ll get the horns.  You see, after 26.2 miles, everything else just feels like a walk in the park.  I think I needed to hit Stage 5 to learn that.  Sometimes I need my headphones.  Sometimes I need the faith of strangers.  Sometimes I need my brothers.  At the end of the day, though, I always need to just put one foot in front of the other.

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