The weather was perfect, the course tough and repetitive, and the company enjoyable. Of the 85 or so people that showed up to run a 5k, 10k, Half-Marathon, or Marathon… 6 ran the full – and so the prophecy was fulfilled … you were pretty much guaranteed a win place or show. Even in the other races, 85 competitors competing for 288 awards – your odds were pretty good. I imagine most people walked away with a medal.
Now if this marathon had been rated on somewhere like marathonguide.com – I can only imagine the slew of complaints and disdain that would be showered on this abomination of a marathon. For me, and likely the rest that ran it – we knew this going in and won’t fault it on its many, many short-comings.
To be fair this is the first small marathon I’ve run, and quite
possibly probably one of the smallest ever. It was nothing like a ‘normal’ marathon by any stretch of the imagination. It was an afterthought.
We hurriedly made for the starting line at 7:59:20 to then promptly start at 8:00:00 — and as most people were still lining up the gun was sounded and everyone departed for parts unknown*.
The race started with my friend and I, Tad, cruising along at an easy pace if a little hurried. We cruised to the first hill, which is a monster and ran up the darn thing despite the fact. We hit the first aid station 1.5 miles into it… (the 5k turnaround) and watch several people trekking back. Cruising along the mountain a little while later the 10kers are turning around as well.
I was running with my friend and conversation went back and forth with pleasantries, and we began to talk about a few deeper things. Somehow, a fairly innocent question of mine sparked an enormous tale from my friend… one that would take me from mile 4 to mile 21. A marathon is an epic event, and the tale I listened to was no less epic in scale and feeling.
I listen now, as I write this, to a song describing a desperate and epic landscape… one that isn’t a radio hit but a haunting rendition of realization synapses exploding like fireworks. A swirling and ethereal cloud of musical fusion that your head can be dipped into as if into a bucket of water – below the surface you have a new reality – one with new rules, new sounds, new sights, new dangers, new realizations and sensations. If I were to piece my friend’s tale together in a movie, this would be the soundtrack. A tragic and beautiful tale of a solitary American life. At times I could could scarcely believe what I was hearing… it was just too fantastical, but it wasn’t — it was all too real. Too real, infinitely tragic.
In a joke – the marathon we were running would easily wield the same adjectives… too real and infinitely tragic. We ran to the half turn-around and made our way back to the start line. We passed a few people going, but not too many… it was clear the vast majority were currently partying with free beer and trinkets at the finish while we lived and died on the course.
A quick diversion here, and an annoying one – coming down the huge hill (to be known henceforth as, Murderest) I saw a sign – an arrow quite plainly pointing directly right. There was a suggestion of left, but the sign was unmistakable… a sign that CLEARLY pointed right. I will admit 100% on this one… I saw the sign, pointed it out and went right. We knew soon that things were wrong. We saw a person — he told us he had seen another person going this way – yes – specifically with a running number attached, but we were highly skeptical. In no time we located the authorities (I flagged them down as they approached) and we verified, yes, that we had missed the turn. We turned around and ran back, and I was somewhat justified in now seeing the sign correctly. It was now corrected. It was an arrow sign positioned on an orange traffic cone in such a way that it was freely able to swivel 360 degrees around it. A fine design in a vacuum to be sure, but not so much in Kansas. The sign I viewed earlier had been blown about and showed the wrong way. It now showed the right way because it had been adjusted by the previously mentioned authorities just prior to our arrival. No matter all of the rabble – point is… I led my friend and I .4 miles off the course, which when doubled is – you guessed it… .8 miles off course! Nearly one mile astray is highly annoying. I beat myself up for a couple miles after this mess.
But. What can you do. We doubled back, found the right track and went to the turn around. When we got to the finish it was a party. I spied several people drinking what I knew was free Annie’s Amber Ale. There was jubilation. People cheered whenever anyone crossed the finish line. There were provisions aplenty. We only viewed such activities for a second. We just spun on our heels and proceeded to do what we just did, again.
My friend’s story persisted, and so did I. I will confess, at mile 15, heading back up Murderest, I wanted to quit. That was it for me… it was done. Just 15 miles and it was time to be done. Somehow though, Tad was bounding up the hill, and so I followed.
From here out I was quite sore and tired and wanting to quit constantly, but was also sort of on that rare second plane in which pain doesn’t really matter and I can just continue on no matter what. I debated about turning around early to make the finish line a 26.2 instead of 27.something but in the end decided to just run the whole thing.
About mile 20.5 Tad urges me to continue on my own. I grudgingly concede. From there on out I listened to the same tunes I am now. The ones I spoke of which convey so much depth and feeling. It was heartening to be listening to music and absolutely adrenaline pumping when it swelled, but it was also already a day done, a soul taxed, a will stretched – so I only floated along in half belief. On hills I walked. On flats I madly slammed the asphalt. On downhills I let gravity take over.
The hills were insurmountable, but I ran and walked them. I hit my watch at a 26.2 split at 4:27. I crossed the finish at 4:35. There was no one there. Ok – there was one person that took my ankle bracelet. I walked up the hill to the starting area. I saw the free beer lady packing up… she gave me a friendly and subtlety inquisitive acknowledgement… she looked like she knew I’d been through the wringer and back, and could use a beer, but conveyed a sense of sadness that she was packed up and done. Did I just read all of that in a 1 second glance? Yes I did. And am I confident of that dissection? 87%.
Well it was done. There was hardly anything left. I had to read the timekeeper the time off my watch. If I’d done it again, I could have told him anytime within about a 10 minute window and could have gotten away with it, I was quite tempted to actually — after my blunder off course… but… it was what it was. I still finished 1st in my age group… by default. Yes that’s right, (and you’ll never hear it in those terms again) I placed FIRST in a MARATHON in my age group. Well that was my goal and now goal accomplished. My medal says, Marathon, 30-34, FIRST PLACE. How’s that? Fine.
My friend finished a little while after and we both congratulated each other, chit chatted with the 3-4 people left there, and went on our way. What a day.