March 11, 2014
It is just shy of a month since the marathon, and I am finally sitting down and processing what happened during those 4 hours, 4 minutes and 34 seconds.
I registered for the Austin Marathon back in August 2013. At that time in my life I was just not running. I woke up one day last spring and thought “I just do not want to run anymore.” If you do not know me well, then you are probably thinking “Alright, well why is that significant? I do not run, and I am fine.”
I have been a runner for over 10 years now. During those 10 years, there has never been a time when I was just not running. Not running was like not eating. I ended relationships over running. If you could not deal with me getting up at 6am (sometimes 5am!) to run, then forget it. Running is my Zen time. Running is when I think about a wide variety of things from what I want to buy at the HEB to “Should I wear the dress that makes my ass look good tonight?” to “My mom just had a major stroke and might die, how do I feel about this? (more complicated than it sounds)” So yeah, Mary taking 4 months off running was a sign that something was not right.
After registering for the marathon I knew I could not do it alone. So, I joined a little (but awesome) running group called Team Spiridon. If you are thinking of running a long race, I highly recommend joining a group. The bonding that happens on 15 mile runs, in 27 F weather, when your pony tail literally freezes is something that you cannot fabricate any other way. Everyone in the group pushed me to be a better runner. And unbeknownst to most of them, they weaved the rope that helped me climb out of a hole that just kept getting deeper.
So back to the race. I was nervous. Duh. During our last training long run (20 miles) I rolled my ankle at mile 6, so my longest run was 18 miles. You might be thinking, “18 miles? That is close enough to 26.2, right?” Well, if you are a marathon runner, you know that something special (and terrible) happens around mile 20. You hit a wall. You get to the point where your legs are done and you must rely on your brain to get you through the last 6.2 miles, which seem more like 20 miles.
I started off running the first 15 miles of the race like a bad ass. Sub 9 minute miles. I was feeling great. I knew that I needed to start slow, but in my head I was KING. At about mile 16 that “oh shit” moment happened. I guess it was the wall? It was definitely something I had never felt before. I got really scared, because for the first time I was not sure if I was going to make it to the end.
I could walk… Walk? What the hell does that word even mean? Plus my friend Devon was at mile 17, and there is no way I was going to let her see me walk. So I mustered a smile for her as I passed mile 17. Then Jess was at mile 19, and I also did not want her to see me walking. So I ran past her smiling, muttering something to the tune of “Who the fuck thought this was a good idea? Worst idea of my life.”
I was struggling.
At mile 19.5 I finally threw my arms up and started to walk. I saw a few friends run past me and throw some encouraging words my way, but it was no use. My shoes might as well have been made of concrete. But just as I started walking something magical happened. It was a marathon miracle really. This woman Maria (probably in her 50’s, a total stranger and running her 49th marathon) came up from behind and said to me “Mary, do not stop. Keep going. We are going to finish this together.” I looked at this woman that I had never met in my life and said “OK Maria. Let’s do this.”
She saved me. Maria represents the spirit of the marathon... and all things good in humanity. She saw me struggling and knew I could do it. And as we inched towards the end of the race, every passing mile she would say “OK, let’s take this one mile at a time.”
Let me tell you, I have never been in so much pain in my life. Everything from my waist down was on fire. Every step hurt. But I kept going because I was not going to let Maria down.
At some point, maybe around mile 25, I left Maria behind. Everything around that time is a bit fuzzy, similar to a night of drinking a bit too much and people have to remind you that you danced on the bar and made out with some old dude. But I made it. Maria finished about 6 minutes later. She found me. We hugged. And I will probably never see her again. But I will never forget her.