by Bob Schwartz
My watch alarm went off promptly at 6:30a.m. and only served to reveal my marathon naivete. I confess to having operated under the ludicrous belief I'd actually get a normal night's sleep. I failed to appreciate how the twin cousins of anxiety and adrenaline would visit and keep my eyes prodded wide open.
Now, the day of the race, I've stored up on a grand total of 46 minutes of cumulative sleep for the night. I've had my race number pinned on my shirt since 2:00a.m. and been to the bathroom 12 times since 4:00a.m. (Wish I'd never read that article on proper hydration as I now tried to memorize the exact location of every port-a-john on the course).
I've had my feet vaselined since 4:00a.m. and spent the last two hours trying, unsuccessfully, to get the chorus of My Sharona stricken from the playback position of my memory bank (shouldn't have started watching VH1 Flashback at 3:00a.m.). It's not the kind of motivating music I envisioned drawing from at mile 21.
By 7:00a.m. I decided to leave the womb of my hotel room. The last 12 hours of bright eyed confinement had provided me time to conclude that 30 minutes goes by painfully slow when watching an infomercial of a combination juicer/breadmaker/portable treadmill.
I began the 1/2 mile walk to the starting line all the while engaging in the profound internal debate of whether my shoe laces were too tight, singlet vs. T-shirt and whether I'd really done enough long training runs. The ever-present thoughts of Marathon Man Walking.
I place myself near the sign that has my anticipated per mile pace. The combination of nerves and inadequate caffeine consumption lead me to unconsciously do something I haven't done since high school. I stretch. I try, to no avail, to reacquaint my toes to my fingertips after twenty years of distance between them. The attempted reunion stops at my knees.
The announcer states 5 minutes until the start and I frantically glance at the bathroom line that revealed my turn would arrive about the time the winners cross the finish line. I casually glanced around for the nearest large tree but the start countdown had begun.
The gun went off, followed instantaneously by the cacophony of 3,000 beeps from runners' watches. The first mile arrived quickly and the split time provided me with good news/bad news. Good news was I was 20 seconds ahead of my PR pace. The bad news was I was 20 seconds ahead of my PR pace. Marathon myopia had begun.
I tried to slow down and realized I didn't have a firm grasp on the concept of pace. I had two speeds - all out or slow shuffle. Apparently, that in the middle thing must be called proper marathon pace. I tried to convince myself I was engaging in the racing tactic of elite runners. I was surging. Yeah right.
I was doing everything to completely guarantee a rendezvous with that bastion of brutality otherwise know as the wall. Negative splits were clearly a concept I hadn't grasped. More like banana splits as a relatively comfortable marathon was slipping away.
By eleven miles I'm engaging in the mathematical Olympics of just what percentage of the 26 miles is now over. I surveyed the shoe attire of those runners surrounding me and still failed to fully appreciate that my present running companions were in a different league. I was in the uncharted territory (for me) of running with those in racing flats!
Like clockwork, around twenty miles, I began to feel heaviness creep into my legs as my stride became a shuffle and I was, for all intent and purpose, exhausted. I don't mean tired like gee, I better slow down a little too feel better. If I'd tried to go slower I'd be going backwards. I was sufficiently enervated that completing the last six miles was tantamount, in my mind, to completing the Western States 100.
Continuing to employ my present creed of violating all time-honored marathon advice, I ignored aid stations for fear that by stopping to drink my legs would immediately take root and I'd never move again. I plodded on.
Ultimately, I crossed the finish line in sort of a somnolent shuffle. I sat down and didn't move (not that I could if I wanted). My family supplied me with food and drink and I actually resuscitated somewhat quickly. Then the mind warp, which besets repeat marathoners, crept into my conscience.
Apparently, in attempting to rid my body of lactic acid buildup, my short-term memory was being removed as well. I began to have strange thoughts. Visions of rhythmic running filled my head. Contemplation of my next marathon had already begun. I was clearly afflicted with the madness of the marathon mind.
This story and more in Bob Schwartz's New book: I Run, Therefore I Am - NUTS!