It’s amazing what a few weeks will do to a runner’s short term “pain memory.” For example, I’ve already signed up for a fall marathon, yet had I gone with my feelings at mile 21 in Boston… I’m not sure that would have happened. Viewing the course photos of that day reminded me of the moments when let’s just say I was feeling “less than fine.” I’ve had these moments in every single marathon I’ve run; sometimes they’ve made appearances throughout the 26.2, others I was lucky enough to hit only one true wall. But, they’ve been there. And…even though I have no children of my own.. I liken the pain of a marathon to that of childbirth. Based on interviews of my female running friends, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that if utterances uttered at mile 21 and those said in the labor room were truly taken to heart… marathon participation would be down and there’d be a lot less children in the world.
That said, let’s examine the pain I experienced in Boston shortly after the infamous and it turns out well –named “Heartbreak Hill.” If I had been a recipe, it would have said something like, “Take one part stomach distress, mix with dehydration, and toss in a cup of general body pain. Follow with a lack of race course porta potties. Add one black, polar fleece hat which attracts the sun and retains heat on 56 degree race day. Fill legs with lactic acid, and tie right shoe too tightly so as to cause foot pain that slowly travels up and down right leg. Change gait so that right leg continues to lose function as race progresses. Continue with above until finish line.”
At mile 21 it’s safe to say I was at that point “where everything sucks.” When one reaches this point, there is only one thing to do… besides hope for natural disasters, becoming the victim of an adult kidnapping, or passing out… and that is look around for signs of hope. Signs of strength. Signs of life. And then… hope that there is enough hope, strength, and life in those signs to actually make a difference in one’s dismal condition. For most, the fans of Boston (which, for the record, are incredible) would be enough to whip the most desperate runner into shape for the last miles. Yet for me… they weren’t doin’ it. In fact, at one point, I distinctly remember repressing the urge to shout, “STOP SAYING MY NAME!!!” I held back, however, and tried to soak in their support.
I also tried to divert my attention to things around me, hoping to distract myself enough and find something to look at. There’s a problem involved in looking for mutual support at mile 21 and up… pretty much everyone around you is also either looking or feeling like crap too. That said, I started to look at the backs of shirts. There were some funny ones, but then there were some that snapped me out of my condition. One girl had a shirt with a picture of a bride and groom. There was print underneath, which intrigued me enough to step up my pace a bit to read it. I saw that she was running in honor of her husband who died shortly after the wedding photo was taken. That quieted my complaining mind for a bit. Then, I saw the familiar purple Team in Training jersey, with a “in memory of my dad” on the back. Finally, I glanced ahead to see Dick Hoyt pushing his adult son in a wheel chair.
At that point I realized that my pain, which had been everything to me just moments earlier, was suddenly nothing in the big picture. I was running a marathon, for crying out loud, a marathon which by now I well knew brought on pain… a pain that would end as soon as I crossed the finish line. These people I just came across were no doubt feeling the same pain I was, yet part of their pain would continue long after that day. Witnessing them made my “everything” turn into a whole lot of nothing.
Weeks later, as I consider this whole experience, I am more careful to take the tough moments that I think are “everything” and re-file them into a new category of “temporary pain.” This way, I can take them for what they are; temporary moments of discomfort along the way, and not forget the truly important people and events that really define everything that is important in this lifetime.