26.2

The man on my left was wearing a garbage bag.  He called it Kentucky Gore Tex.  He told me that this would be an experience like no other.  In just a few minutes, he would run in his 21st marathon.  I was about to run in my first.  I was scared to death.

I was standing in the middle of a group of people, some of whom had never run in a marathon before and some who looked like extras from Schinlder’s List.  There was a man at the front of the group called a pacer, holding a sign that said 4:25.  This meant that if we all stuck with this guy, our finish time would be somewhere around four and a half hours.  That sounded like a good enough time to me so I figured that this was the group of people I’d be spending the next four hours and 25 minutes with.  That is, until the pacer man pointed out that he was wearing a skirt.

I quickly decided that I didn’t want to spend my morning running behind a dude in a skirt so I secretly abandoned my 4:25 group.  I was going solo.  A maverick.

The race started with a loud cannon blast.  Apparently the blast did something to the threatening clouds overhead because the rain that had been holding off came quickly after the race began.  This was going to be a long morning but at least I wasn’t wearing a garbage bag.  Or a skirt.

Although I had decided to ditch my 4:25 group I was still running with them because for the first mile or so of a race like this you can’t really decide where to run.  You just kind of follow the herd for a while.  One of the guys in the group was having a bad morning.  Within the first two minutes of the race, I was able to notice several things that were working against him.

1.  He forgot his deodorant.

2.  He dropped something.

The something he dropped must have been important because he turned around to run head on into a crowd of a hundred or so marathoners, stopped, and bent over to pick it up.  Maybe it was Speed Stick.  Doubtful.

3.  He ran into a barrel.

This barrel was large and orange.  It’s the kind of barrel one would see on an interstate construction site.  Several hundred people ran by these barrels without a problem.  Not this man.  I had to get away from him as quickly as possible.

Eventually I was able to break off from my 4:25 group.  No more men in skirts or men tripping over barrels.  I was finally finding my groove.  The rain was still coming down pretty hard and there were a few flashes of lightening.  I was wearing an ipod but I could still hear a very loud noise and a man’s voice.  I joked with a guy running next to me that it was probably the tornado siren.

It was.

“Attention!  Please seek shelter immediately.  Attention!  Please seek shelter immediately.”

I would hear this sentence and a tornado siren for the next 10 minutes or so.  When I signed up to run 26.2 miles I knew there was a good chance that I would die during the race.  I didn’t know that a tornado would be involved.  But at the moment, continuing to run seemed like the best option.  It was either that or hiding out in one of the many nearby budget motels.  You know the kind.  Boards all over the windows, knee high grass and a 1978 Chevy Silverado with a wolf painted on the side parked out front.  It says a lot about an establishment when you’d rather run outside through tornadic conditions than to seek shelter in said establishment.

The race went on and the weather finally settled down.  The rain never went away but the sirens did.  As I continued running I noticed a few of the people I met before the race started.  My friend in the garbage bag shed his Kentucky Gore Tex and was doing well.  He gave me some advice as I ran along side him.

“What happened to your group?”

“I decided to move on without them.”

“Good.  Run your own race.”

“Yeah, but they might be running by me a little later on.”

“So what.  Just finish.”

And with that I moved on to another guy that broke out of the 4:25 group.

This guy was about my age, was wearing old school headphones and I think he may have been the mayor of the town our race was in.  He spent most of the race a few strides in front of me and every time we ran by a group of spectators they went nuts cheering for him.  By the time I came around they had their hands in their pockets.  I made it a point to beat this man.  This man’s fans had to be taught a lesson.

The spectators that were cheering for the rest of us made the four and a half hours of running a little more tolerable.  I ran by one corner that had a very high concentration of creative signs.

“This is the worst parade ever!”

“You guys are really good at exercising.”

And a third sign read, “Hola racers!”

For some reason I really connected with this sign so I decided to respond to the lady holding it by repeating what the sign said.

I shouted, “Holla!!”

The hispanic woman holding the sign shouted back at me, “Vamanos!”

Why did she say the Spanish word for go when I said holla?  That doesn’t make any sense.

Oh wait.  Her sign didn’t say holla.  It said hola.  She was telling us hello in Spanish not the urban slang word for holler.  Idiot.

But there was one thing working for me.  The mayor stopped to use the bathroom.  He usually stopped whenever there was a fueling station but he would always catch up.  This time,  he didn’t catch up.  Take that fans.  Holla!

As our course snaked its way through neighborhoods and the crowds got a little smaller there was more time for just me and my thoughts.

Few smells in the world can compete with that of an active dryer vent.

I wonder what Rob Base is up to now.

I can’t feel my toes.  Is that normal?

Why is Whitesnake on my ipod?

A marathon is 26.2 miles long.  With each mile of this race, there was a mile marker informing runners of how far they’ve gone.  For the first 20 miles, these markers seemed like they were 50 feet apart.  For the last six miles I thought some kid had played a really cruel joke on us.  Where is that 26?  It’s got to be around here somewhere!

Everything within me wanted to quit running and walk those last few miles but I knew that if I stopped running I’d probably fall over and have to be carried away to some medical tent. I also wanted to stay ahead of the 4:25 group I abandoned at the beginning of the race.

And then the man in a skirt ran by me.  All but one of the people in our original group left him but he was still going strong.  I just got passed by a man wearing a skirt.  What would my grandfather say about this?  An hour or so ago I got passed by a man that looked like a bloated Willie Nelson in a cut off T-shirt but this was worse.  Come on, a skirt!

At least I was still ahead of the mayor and the finish line was only three or four miles away.

And then the mayor ran by me.

I was falling apart.  At this point, my only goal was to finish.  Who cares what my time is or who finishes in front of me.  Listen to the man in the Kentucky Gore Tex.  Just finish.

And because God willed and the Creek didn’t rise, I did finish my first marathon, about ten minutes after a man wearing a skirt and another man who must have been the mayor.  But I did finish.

Running a marathon is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It was a long, interesting day indeed.  But crossing the finish line was one of the weirdest feelings of the whole experience.  Suddenly walking after running for the previous four and a half hours does a number on your body and apparently one race official noticed.

“Do you need medical attention?”

“No.”

“We’ll see you at next year’s race.”

“No.”