“You’re running on guts. On fumes. Your muscles twitch. You throw up. You’re delirious. But you keep running because there’s no way out of this hell you’re in, because there’s no way you’re not crossing the finish line. It’s a misery that non-runners don’t understand.”
A few weeks ago, I ran my 13th marathon. To answer related questions… No, I’m not crazy. Yes, I really do enjoy this. As for how many more…I’ll do marathons as long as I am physically able.
Some people understand why I run (and *mostly* enjoy) marathons. Others don’t. I’m okay with that.
Therefore, having a few races under my belt, I can usually tell in the first miles if the 26.2 miles will be a good experience or a complete nightmare. For example, when my Achille’s seemed to break loose at mile 2 of Grandma’s Marathon, I knew I was in for a nightmare. Sunny day, no injuries, and hometown crowd at last year’s Lakefront Marathon- good experience. Each run is a different ballgame.
That said, one thing is consistent in every marathon. I always feel bad around mile 22. To this, most will reply, “Of course you feel bad, you’re at MILE 22.” Others challenge, “Yeah, isn’t that called The Wall?” To both, I would simply reply, “You’ve got a point.” However, there is something deeper that goes on with me at mile 22. Indeed, I feel bad physically… but I also feel emotionally and mentally spent. As in, I want to cry. Sometimes, I have cried. Once, while crying, I was relieved to see that the girl who was just ahead of me was also crying.
This last marathon was actually pointing towards “an overall good experience.” Then, like clockwork, at Mile 22 I felt an overwhelming emotional, mental, and physical tide brewing. I wondered then if I was a victim of marathon induced Pavlovian thinking.
After evaluating my situation on that particular day, I decided the near tears were due to a number of factors. My feet hurt- actually felt like someone had ripped them open and covered them with battery acid. On top of this, my legs felt like the natural human contents had been replaced with lead. I was also freezing cold, and had to use the bathroom. In addition to all of this, or perhaps because of it, I was overcome with an emotional hurricane that made me just sad about everything. Medical diagnosis: I was a head case. However, I was so bent out of shape and miserable that I couldn’t cry. I realized this wouldn’t have done much good anyway, since then I would have to add, “I have 4.2 miles to go AND I’m crying” to my list of ailments.
All I could do was keep running. And this fact made me just more sad and angry, because what I really longed to do was stop running. However, if I did stop, I’d be at some random point on a marathon course that I didn’t know, in a city where I didn’t live. I’d still have to get to the finish somehow. Plus, deep down, I knew I didn’t really want to quit – I just wanted to fast forward time to the moment I reached the finish.
The only way to do that was to keep moving. So I did, hoping for a burst of energy or a burst of something to give me the mental fortitude to kick my own butt. As I was doing this, I saw the Mile 23 water stop ahead. A note: this particular marathon’s “thing” was to have the volunteers at the water stops dress up as different characters. (Hippies, rockers, etc.) From a distance, it looked like Mile 23’s theme was The Wizard of Oz. Instead of amusing me, this annoyed me, because I thought of the scene where Glinda told Dorothy that she didn’t need her ruby slippers, she had the power inside of her all the time. I paralleled that to my “having the power” to make it to the finish. I distinctively remember saying to myself, “That is such a load of horse—-.”
Yet, I kept moving, until I was at the Wizard-themed water stop. Dorothy was handing out the water, which I was all ready to angrily accept – until I saw that Dorothy was actually a man. A hairy legged Dorothy, in a blue plaid dress and ribbons. This, and perhaps this alone, snapped me out of my misery.
Just like that, as if in fact I had found my inner power and didn’t need my ruby slippers/Brooks Adrenaline’s after all, I felt better.
Okay, not really better-better… but I felt like I could go on. I still was tired and sore and emotionally spent. Yet, I had a “glimpse” of something good and funny, that reminded me that even in a marathon’s darkest moment, there is still humor and fun, and signs of a finish line ahead. Plugging along, to see what would come next was the only way to get… to what was next.
Here’s the thing – Mile 22 isn’t exclusive to marathons. It hits each and every one of us many times throughout our lives. And maybe it lasts a mile… maybe it lasts 22 miles. Heck, maybe it lasts 22 months. Or more. All we know is that it’s inevitable that we will all hit some form of Mile 22 multiple times in our lives. Similarly, all we can hope for is great people in our lives to help us break through the walls, like Dorothy did for me at that most miserable moment of my run.
So if we remember what Glinda told Dorothy – that we actually do hold the power to get through those rough times… we’ll have the strength and clarity to recognize the Dorothy’s that enter our lives to rescue us and get us to the finish line safely and in one piece.
That way, we’ll be all set for the next marathon, and the next. Because, after all, if we don’t keep running, then what is this really all about?
by Abbey Algiers