On Running 26.2 Miles

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It’s the day after the race, and Natalie and I are on a train to Berlin. We said goodbye to Prague this morning and are enjoying a peaceful and lovely ride through the Czech and German countrysides. I’m still feeling a bit dehydrated, spacey, and, of course, sore – though that’s not as bad as I expected it might be. Yesterday, I was rather too brain dead and exhausted to try and write about the experience, and I’m still not sure what there is to say about it, but I’m going to try.

It feels a bit surreal, more dreamlike than anything. I mean, the aches and pains in my calves and quadriceps are keen reminders that I really did run that far. But my emotions were a lot stronger the night before the race than they are now. Now, I suppose, I’m feeling a sort of serene sense of accomplishment. It’s peaceful and pervasive rather than the sudden and overwhelming feelings I had leading up to and during the race.
 
Running that far is inevitably an intensely personal experience. For my part, I run comparatively slowly, averaging around 12 minutes per mile (the winners run at speeds averaging less than five minutes per mile – for the whole thing?!?!), so that left me with 5 hours, 30 minutes, and 40 seconds alone with my thoughts and bodily feelings. 
 
Over those 26 miles, I experienced a fair bit of physical discomfort: I think I started to get dehydrated around mile 16 and am still recovering from that today, I felt nauseous after my last energy gel at mile 22 (likely due to dehydration), and around mile 23 my body started to quietly but persistently object to what was happening. So I did a lot of walking in the last three miles, and I’m okay with that. I still hit my ideal goal time of 5:30. (6:00 had been my totally achievable, outside goal, so 5:30 is fantastic).
 
And in those five and a half hours, I also experienced a tremendous amount of joy and gratitude. What struck me most weren’t the sweet volunteers who mustered enthusiasm to run over and give me a high five after hours and hours of standing around, or the kind and diligent spectators still clapping and shouting encouragement to those of us straggling along at the end. Rather, it was the random local people stumbling upon the race in the course of their daily lives, joining in the enthusiasm without any personal investment (no friends or family members running), who really meant the most to me.
 
Somewhere in mile nine (or maybe eleven?) it had started and then stopped raining, and there was a beautiful stretch of road through the Prague suburbs. There weren’t many runners around me (since this was about two hours in and the faster folks were in the home stretch). The chaos of the race had already swept through, and now it was just the diligent plodders like myself, coming through one or two or a handful at a time. Halfway down the street, there were these two little old Czech ladies sitting at their bus stop, waiting to be taken off to the grocery store or maybe to work or to visit a friend, and they absolutely lit up when they saw me. They started clapping and cheering and calling out words of encouragement in Czech, which I couldn’t understand but still knew what they meant. And their generosity of spirit, the kindness and positive energy extended to a complete stranger, their spontaneous celebration of human effort, it brought me to tears. 
 
That happened a few more times along the way to the finish, random encouragement and kindness from strangers bringing tears to my eyes, but that one was the most poignant. And I spent the last mile mentally enumerating a list of all the things in my life I have to be grateful for, starting with the friends and family who helped to get me here. It was a long and hearty list. So I crossed the finish line feeling exuberant, albeit exhausted.
 
The jury’s still out as to whether I’ll do this (to myself) again. Training was difficult and expensive and tremendously time consuming. And I’ve apologized to Natalie for the old man noises I’ll be making every time I get up or down for the next couple days. Every time I stay in one position for too long, everything stiffens up and it hurts to move. 
 
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I’m not thrilled with my medal, either. It’s kind of bland, especially in comparison to the ones I’ve accumulated for my half marathons in the States. But a kind friend pointed out that this whole trip is sort of my “medal.” It’s of my own design and means more than the fancy chunk of metal that I’ll hang on the wall.
So I’m glad I came all this way to do this. 
 
Running 26 miles around Austin and just going home after just wouldn’t have had the same kind of transformative effect (I don’t think), not for this girl who loves theater and ritual and symbolic gestures. I want my rites of passage to be big. In traveling to Europe to run my marathon, I’ve given myself the gift of myriad new experiences and lifelong memories that will take a lot longer to fade than the memory of what happened at mile 14 or mile 6 (I’ve no idea – would have to look back at the map).

 

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