I swear I never wanted to run a marathon.
As far as I was concerned, running a marathon was one of those things you can always do if you find your life too boring: train real hard for several months, push yourself to new levels of exertion and discover something worthwhile about yourself in the process of resolving the underlying boredom or lameness complex. I’d always put it in the same category as fasting for a week, or stranding myself in a jungle for a while. Honestly, I never wanted things to get that desperate.
I’m not really sure what changed in me, or even if anything did. I’m starting to think that my personal weakness, the deficiency that now has me leaning on all of the handrails I come across, was a simple inability to say no, rather than a need for meaning expressed through Masochism. But who knows?
My friend Adam Wilson ’02 had run in the Boston Marathon several years ago with a group of about five from Dartmouth. He’s tried each of the last two years to get people to go again, and a lot of people have talked about going with him but they’ve all found excuses.
I told him I’d be up for running some time during the winter, assuming that I’d either bail or train for it, as I had to do one or the other, right? But, like many people here, I have enough work and day-to-day activities to allow me to ignore, rather than worry, about impending doom.
I didn’t want to train hard, and as time passed it got to be too late to bail. Adam was telling lots of people that I was running with him in the marathon, so I’d really need a good reason to not run. Such an opportunity never came up; on Sunday night, I blitzed my profs that I wouldn’t be in class on Monday, and it was on.
Adam was my tour guide for the project; he knew where to go, what to eat, how to jump into the race and where to meet at the end. Basically, how to do this and survive. As for me, I wore a tanktop that my brother had given me for my birthday with a stick-drawing of a train car, and, at the recommendation of several other friends, I brought some duct tape in my pocket in case of skin chafe. That was a good call.
Adam and I each ate about a pound of rice in the car beforehand, which seemed like a questionable call at the time, but how else are you going to pass three hours in a car with a pail full of rice? When I’m nervous I eat food. Besides, Adam said the biggest mistake he’d made two years ago was running on an empty stomach. And so we ate.
The race attracts some of the elite athletes of the world; nearly 17,000 people were registered, and just to be eligible you have to have run another marathon real fast. For my age group, I’d have to run the whole thing in an average of 7:15 per mile. Yeah, right. Like I’m going to run two marathons.
The event also draws thousands of “bandits” like me, masquerading as marathon runners but not wearing numbers on our chests. I am not even a runner; I jog, but have never run in a race longer than 5K, didn’t run cross-country in high school and have never gone out for a jog of more than 12 miles. Even that involved walking.
I do all of the loops that people do in the Hanover/Norwich metropolis and recently started doing some road biking (which constituted the bulk of my “training”). Basically, there was potential for failure and I knew it, but I told myself that if things were going badly, I’d stop before my heart did. I could always take the train to the meeting spot in downtown Boston.
Adam and I jumped the fence right after the shotgun, and I soon found myself running faster than I could realistically maintain. Adam is fast, so I didn’t try to keep up with him, and even after he disappeared I still was running too hard, just trying to save face. Everyone was flying by me! People who run in the Boston Marathon are fast! But I eventually settled in with the appropriate part of the pack, and the miles went by surprisingly quickly; with 1.5 million spectators, there are people cheering every step of the way. Surrounded by fast, efficient runners, it seemed like swimming with the current.
As I was wondering when pain would start to hit me, I thought that it would be a good idea to run fast for a while — the pain will come from the amount of time spent slamming feet onto pavement, and therefore should not be worsened by running faster, I reasoned. I ran a seven- minute mile about halfway through, and when I was planning on slowing back down for a bit, we arrived in Wellesley. This is one of the points on the run that everyone talks about; there’s Wellesley and Heartbreak Hill and the finish line. And Wellesley was dramatic.
In front of all the girls screaming on the sidelines, all the males in the race started hauling. I passed hundreds of people — I was sprinting and I didn’t even think about it. I finished the half-marathon (13.1 miles) at 1:46 and was still feeling as strong as I had at the start. But as soon as we left Wellesley, it got rough.
For the next 10 miles, with each getting longer than the last, I struggled just to maintain a basic jogging speed. The more pertinent challenge was perpetually keeping myself distracted from what I was doing. I felt no pain as long as I was thinking about something else. People around me were hurting too; I heard spectators yelling out the same names for 10 miles. There was one girl named Kate, another named Pinky and a guy with Nads written on his chest so people would yell out “Go Nads!” My name tag fell off at the fifth mile, unfortunately, so I didn’t get any glory.
Heartbreak Hill was nothing; I didn’t even know when it passed. In retrospect, I remember seeing a poster with a heart drawn on it, so I guess that was the hill. But it was less steep than Main Street, Hanover, and not all that long.
With one mile to go, I knew I had a little more left in me. I started really running again, completely aware that I was destroying myself, but hey, that’s why I’m here, right? I crossed the line at 3:51:18. It was about as exhilarating as I thought it would be, for five seconds.
Then the pain kicked in. The race now seemed minor, easy, compared to walking away from the finish line. Every muscle cramped up and my feet hurt, and all I could think was that I had to meet Adam so we could go to the car and eat food. We were supposed to meet at a church near the finish line. When I got there after a 30-minute walk of a few blocks, he wasn’t there. I almost cried.
It turns out he was at a different church, further down the street; there were a number of churches near the finish line. A nice touch for those who find themselves to be finished, and want to say their prayers. It’s a neat event like that: everybody pushes themselves beyond any rational limit, the slow runners as well as the fast ones.
Adam and I eventually met up and made our way back to the car. He was all modest, but his time was 3:10, fast enough to have officially qualified. And I’m sure he will some day, because he actually likes those things! But me, I’ve had my fill. Until I get bored, at any rate.