After I signed up to run my first marathon with one of my best friends, I looked forward to every training run. I was running with purpose.
For guidance, I did as I usually do and called on another friend. Claudina is a seasoned marathon runner who was there when I ran my first 10k around Seattle’s Green Lake. She directed me towards a training plan that fit into my schedule. She helped me decide what to wear. Her running has inspired me for years. Nothing about us happens in a vacuum.
Jacquelyn and I checked in with each other after every run, our schedules and families too complicated to find a time to train together. About a week after we signed up, she was forced to put running on hold due to knee pain. Every time I hit the road in my sneakers, I was doing it for the both of us. Running without pain is its own gift.
Being the tough-as-nails woman she is, Jacquelyn was committed to getting to the start line no matter what. She put on her knee brace, swallowed some anti-inflammatories, and experimented with movement.
When I called my hotel to ask for a rollaway bed, they upgraded us to an entirely different property. A luxury resort. A good omen. A God-wink.
We drove the course the night before. It was a very long drive.
At dinner I drank a big bowl of chicken soup and by the time my handmade campanelle arrived, I was nearly full. So I ate enough to give myself a stomach ache and took the rest back with me. Just in case. I wanted to stuff myself with energy.
Before bed I took a candlelit salt bath and tried to read my book but instead scrolled alternately and nervously through social media and my playlist, listening to five-second swatches of songs on Apple Music, curating my own list. I still didn’t have enough songs when I went to bed.
I struggled to fall asleep, envious of the deep slumber James quickly fell into beside me. Why is it harder to sleep when you really need to?
When the wake up call came at 5:30, I was already wide awake. By 5:45, Jacquelyn and I were cheers-ing little mugs of Nespresso coffee. We stretched and chatted and ate and drank, happy to be doing this together. The last song I added to my playlist that morning was “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. I accidentally let it play on repeat as we finished getting ready.
Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?
When another marathon-finishing bestie of mine sent a good luck text, wishing that I find in the race EXACTLY what I was asking of it, I felt a brief panic. A disconnect. Why was I doing this?
It took me a minute.
A quiet mind. Meditation. The joy of movement. The mental journey.
And of course: the rush of doing something really hard and uncomfortable. That feeling of accomplishment that can only be found through the sacrifice of blood, sweat, and tears.
As we crossed over the start line, I said, “Oh my God. Here we go.” It must have been an incantation because a few seconds later, the unknown man in the first song of my playlist echoed my words.
Oh my God. Here we go.
Later I would listen to the song again (“Dies Irae” by Apashe & Black Prez) to make sure I hadn’t imagined anything.
I ran with the mantra, “I can and I will.”
The first 15 miles or so were fine, even occasionally enjoyable. Especially when “Dusty Trails,” by my favorite band, Lucius, came on as I was nearing mile 12, only a mile or so to the halfway point. The lyrics took on a brand new meaning:
I’m halfway to misery
Some say when you go halfway there’s still plenty of time to return
Or am I halfway to heaven
Some may say when you go halfway you only have halfway to go
Dusty trails can lead you to a golden road
With these words came a burst of energy. I was doing it.
At mile 16, I entered uncharted territory. 16 miles was my longest training run. I wasn’t feeling great that day and didn’t know how I would do another 10 on top of that. I was grumpy about it. I committed to sleeping more.
In the last third of the race, as the pain and misery and the psychotic nature of the feat began to set in, profanities started slipping out of my mouth. I quickly realized I didn’t have time for that.
“I can and I will,” I said instead. Many, many times.
When Florence and the Machine came on with “The Dog Days Are Over,” I remembered why I was there:
Run fast for your mother run fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can’t carry it with you if you want to survive
Running makes me feel good. When we feel good, our good feelings leak through to our loved ones. We are good to ourselves so that we can be good in the world.
I chose my playlist haphazardly, intuitively, with the help of others. And it was perfect. It couldn’t have been better if I tried.
Music got me through miles 18-22, and then another group of runners carried me through the last 4 miles or so. I latched onto them in my head and before long one of them motioned to me, inviting me to run next to her. I would have surely lost my pace without them.
Then she offered to hold my water bottle. It was a freebie I was planning to ditch but ended up holding onto and refilling (in addition to also taking water whenever it was offered in paper cups). I tried to politely decline her offer. But she persisted until I gave it up. And truly, I was so very grateful to her for doing that. She knew what I needed then, even if I didn’t. I am also grateful to her for showing me how to stretch out my legs when they felt like two solid bones on fire, and for smiling at me when I was hating every step.
In the last one-half or one-quarter of a mile, I pulled ahead of the group. I came to a quiet part of the course. There were no other runners or spectators around. Emotion almost took me down. I started wheezing a little, crying from the pain and the end that was close enough to feel but still out of sight.
I pulled it together and found my breath and sprinted towards the finish line, my strides impossibly long.
And when I pulled into the finish line after 4 hours 31 minutes and 19 seconds of running, I was in the middle of the last song (Notorious BIG’s Juicy) before I landed exactly where I started, with “Shallow.”
I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I had no idea how long the marathon would take me or how long my playlist was, but maybe deep down somewhere I knew I would cross the finish line with Biggie’s famous words:
You know very well who you are
Don’t let em hold you down, reach for the stars
You had a goal, but not that many
’cause you’re the only one I’ll give you good and plenty
If you don’t know, now you know.
I could hardly walk by Sunday night. I had minimal muscle soreness, but my knees were angry. I spent hours soaking in Calistoga’s healing geothermal mineral waters, alternating between hot and cold, and by Tuesday I could walk like a normal person again. I slept more that week, exhausted by 8 every night.
The verdict: I’m happy I did it, but I’m not sure I’ll do it again.