Monday, October 25, 2010

Pace yourself.

It has been just over two weeks since the Chicago Marathon. I popped my last, most disgusting blister a few nights ago (so epic). I started physical therapy for my bum knee. And yesterday, for the first time in 14 days, I went for a run. A surprisingly speedy run, albeit a considerably shorter one than recent runs. Life goes on. We continue with our everyday motions because they are what we know and what we are comfortable with. We fold up our yesterdays and past excitements and put them on a shelf with mothballs, air them out every once in a while for nostalgia's sake. Sometimes, though, something - some event or idea or person - comes along and jars our complacency all out of whack. Anyway, that's what happened to me.

Two weeks ago, I finished my first marathon. Finishing, however, was absolutely nothing like I expected it to be - hence the out of whackness. I have honestly spent the past two weeks in a weird post-marathon funk/depression, partly because, well, it's over..., but also because I have been beating myself up a bit about the whole thing, wondering where I go from here and how do I improve? Instead of feeling proud of my accomplishment, satisfaction at having completed a goal I have had for almost 10 years, I feel frustrated. I feel somewhat that I let myself down here. And I also feel strangely unsettled.

The race itself was sensory overload: People Everywhere, smells (I swear there was chocolate somewhere right outside of the Loop), screaming spectators and signs ("Your feet hurt because you're kicking butt!"), bystanders with hoses spraying shockingly cold water on runners dehydrating in the 84 degree heat. My story is that I was doing super well. On pace for the entire first half. I hit the 13-mile clock exactly where I wanted to be. Sadly, that is just about also when the pain in my left knee became nearly unbearable. I started walking. And I did not stop walking until about maybe 100 meters from the finish line, when I started jogging again just so I could cross that stupid line "running."

So my frustration stems from the fact that I walked basically the last 10 miles of the marathon. One of my coaches, to whom I will be forever grateful, joined me at mile 16. I'm sure he saw the look of absolute dejection on my sweat-stained face, noticed my slogging limp as I tried to keep moving forward. He stayed with me to the end. I don't think I would have given up if it hadn't been for his help, but who knows... Around mile 18, I sure as hell wanted to stop. A curb on a Gatorade-cup-strewn street in downtown Chicago had never looked more comfortable. Yet I shoved the "oh God; there are still eight more miles to go?!" thought to the back of my brain and focused, instead, on my breathing. Interestingly, deep, concentrated breaths actually diminished the pain in my leg a bit, added just a little bit more range of motion to my hips. That, or it was just helpful to try and shift my focus off my leg.

Some time later, I trotted across the wide FINISH line, stumbled down to where smiling volunteers were putting medals around finishers' necks, grabbed a HeatSheet for posterity (it was already warm enough outside), walked another quarter mile to the gear check, got my stuff, and flopped onto an empty patch of grass to take off my sneakers and call my friends. And that was it. I found my jubilant friends waiting for me by Buckingham Fountain; they were a huge reason I got myself to the finish. We walked back to the Team in Training tent where I did not have a beer but did have a fantastic cinnamon roll an amazing friend thought to bring me. Seriously. Best post-race snack ever.

And here we are: my world has been shifted because I Finished the Chicago Marathon, but I did not do well. I want to do better; I know I can do better. One year ago, when I decided to train for and run this race, it was for so many different reasons. This marathon because this is the city in which I received the most hellacious parts of my cancer treatment. This race because if I could run 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago, I could literally and figuratively run down my cancer demons. This year because I was back living in Chicago, and I needed something to work towards. Needed a tangible goal to shoot for because otherwise, I would just be right back home in the suburbs with only a vague plan to get out of here as soon as possible. So I did it! Running has, once again in my life, become one of the most important facets of who I am.

My hitherto unspoken expectation that completing this race would be the absolute end of my relationship with Chicago has proven unrealistic. I am definitely still here, still don't have any definite plan to get out of here. And running certainly did not usher cancer out of my life forever. But I want to do better. I want to run far again, and soon. Instead of being a cap, a tidy end to an extremely untidy past four years, I am confronted with a wide-open path or trail or whatever this race has led me to. This is not the end of anything, really. It is the beginning of an overwhelming desire to keep pushing myself, to actually run the whole 26.2 miles of a marathon, although probably not Chicago again any time soon.

No, I am not satisfied with merely finishing a marathon. I get that it is a big deal; I get that a whole lot of people cannot fathom running any distance anyway. But I also feel that I am more than just finishing and putting my medal in a sock drawer of stories to tell. I am stuck, now, with this running thing, but like I said, it is a question of where to go from here. My world was shaken up when my life-expectations were, per usual, trounced. Nothing ever turns out how we expect it to, apparently.

So what's next? Who will employ me somewhere far away from here? What races will next I run? I've started slowly, haven't yet burnt out. There have been setbacks, injuries and whatnot, but I'm working them out and will not give up. Not yet. There is still too much ahead of me to give up. I turned 24 three weeks ago; I have so much to experience! So much I need to do with my life, not the least of which is run long distances. But anyway, that's my marathon story. Good story, right? I have a 15K race in two weeks and a new Photo Project on the internets. And I can't help but get excited about the possibilities approaching, even if I don't know what they are yet. Like I said, I can only get better. Right on long posts!. Peace.