I guess you can say I started this lark back in April 2000 ...just after skiing season ended. The evenings were starting to get brighter and I was beginning to completely detest sitting watching the same old rubbish on TV --- with a beautiful evening being wasted outside the window.
Friends (who are avid runners and triathletes) were egging me on to "run", so, in the evenings -- after work -- with the Wall St. Rat Race, in May, as a easy target, I quit walking and started running.
I'll be the first to admit, it was not easy at the start. I mean, who wants to come home after a day's work, grab a bite to eat, change into running gear and flounder around the local track? My God, the message your leg muscles convey, in no uncertain terms, is that you're doing something abnormal. Nonetheless, I decided to stick with it, remembering hearing something about "No Pain ...No Gain".
As I quickly found out, incorporating running into your life required a life-style change. This wasn't something that you just did off the cuff or just for the goof. Also, if you wanted to derive anything beneficial, running was something that you had to do frequently. I began, after a (long) while, to look forward to an evening's run -- physical exercise does have a way of relieving stress, increasing your appetite and making you sleep like a log!
I had timed the seven months of training so that the week before the 12th. would be, literally, a wind-down week. Frankly, although I only ran a 3-miler, it felt like a wind-up week.
The tension and anxiety leading up one's first marathon is almost overwhelming.
I made an extra effort, especially at this, the eleventh hour, to minimize the risk of incurring an injury. Case in point: the construction projects along Broadway, between where I work, in Times Square, and Penn Station ...steel plates (slippery when wet) and the multitude of ankle-busting pot-holes, etc. Although it probably wouldn't be my fault, I'd feel pretty dumb twisting an ankle, veritably hosing months of training and, literally, waving 'bye' to a life-long goal.
I think I double and triple-checked my 'gear' countless times on Friday night. My plan was to get up early, Saturday morning, drive up to Providence and just relax before the event ...in between stocking up on carbs. Unfortunately, the weather forecast did NOT look good for Race Day Sunday ...chance of rain, cold temps and a northerly wind. (Well it IS November!)
Providence, Rhode Island
>What a nice city! Arrived at the Marriott, noontime as planned, checked in and then went sightseeing. The steep inclines on the other side of the river and those around Brown University reminded me (and my calf muscles!) of San Francisco.
At around 8pm, upon the advice of friends and web sites, I ate five bagels, smothered in crunchy peanut butter, washed down with orange juice -- (I felt like Paul Newman eating those hard-boiled eggs!) -- then slid into a nice warm bath and tried to relax. When I hit the sack, though, and didn't immediately drift off I knew I was in trouble. Throughout the night I tossed and turned and, no matter how much I tried, I couldn't get a decent night's rest. I just could not get myself to fall asleep! There wasn't even anything good on HBO to 'distract' me from job #1 (GET REST) ...I can only assume I was still, way deep down, too tense and anxious.
About an hour before wake up time (6:00AM) I finally dozed off. However, at six, when the clock-radio-alarm did go off I felt like throwing a pillow at it. I had just started to fall asleep for goodness sake! ("I don't want to get up NOW!")
I took a hot shower, collected my thoughts, got dressed, ate two more bagels, drank more OJ and checked the weather channel: 40 degrees, 10--13 mph winds under cloudy but clearing skies. (:-) (Well at least it wasn't raining!)
I swabbed my toes and feet with Aloe Vera gel then put a wad of cotton wool in the space between each toe before donning my socks. In my 'fanny pack' I put; a disposable camera, the key to the hotel room, one chocolate power gel, 4 aspirin, 4 oz. jelly beans, 2 power bars and 2 large packets of M&Ms. (Dang if that thing didn't feel heavy on my waist!) I donned two T-shirts (the funny 'dress-suit one'), a discardable one then an old heavy sweater. Finally I put on the cheap pair of leggings that I'd bought at Modell's the week before then secured the electronic 'ChampionChip' (works like an EZ pass) to my left sneaker. All this 'extra' clothing I considered 'discardable' ...there only to keep me warm whilst we're all just milling around waiting for the race to start. Last but not least I hit the kimode, and whilst washing my hands, looked myself straight in the mirror and said "Well, Ger, looks like you're up to bat!"
I must admit, even though this was my first marathon, I've been in enough 'events' to be able to distinguish a poorly organized one from a well-oiled one. The Ocean State Marathon is definitely the latter. They had organized buses to transport both runners and enthusiasts to the start at CCRI (Community College Rhode Island, Warwick) and, as we headed south towards Warwick, I actually began to relax! (What is it about a bus trip that makes you think you're going on an outing?) As I struck up conversations with those around me I discovered that, for some, this was their nth marathon, and for others merely a warm-up for Boston, in March, 2001.
The scene in the gym at CCRI was one I'll never forget: folk getting their race numbers, the DJ making small talk, the speakers belting out 'Jackson Browne - Running on Empty' and the floor awash with, what I can only describe as, serious-looking-athletes. Compared to them, me, in my 'discardable' clothing, I looked like and felt like a bum. (Oh yeah! REALLY great for the morale!). "Ger, are you, like, outa your league here?", I asked myself as I made my way towards the far end, ""shouldn't you be making an about turn, right about now, jumping onto the nearest bus and heading back to the hotel ...while you still can... holding on tightly to any dignity that you still have left?"
I propped a chair up against the gym wall, sat down and closed my eyes. It was only 7:30AM and start-time was at nine, I had already done all my organizing ...so what to do? ...hmmmmm ...try to catch some sleep!
At 8:50AM, the crowd began to drift outside and I knew, deep in my heart, this was it! The overall emotion was akin to being back at college, about to sit a really important final exam, and still feeling unprepared. You KNOW the exam is coming but the realization doesn't really hit you until you discover that THAT time is ...NOW!
I gestured to the pavement edge as I passed by a group, vehemently straining and stretching, and quipped, "You do realize this building was over THERE before y'all started pushing on it!" (Laughter)
Two thousand or so runners does not a crowd make! "Was this all?", I thought as I made my way to the BACK of the bunch, now all jostling, jumping, flexing, re-checking their 'Iron Man' wristwatches and incessantly bending their heads from side to side. "Aw geez," I thought to myself, "you've gotten yourself in with a tight bunch who are ALL out to qualify for Boston and you are literally going to be ...Paddy last."
My negative waves were interrupted by the announcer, his countdown and the loud crack of the gun! By God ...we were off!
About two minutes elapsed before we, at the back, passed the same START line, the 'ChampionChip', secured to my sneaker registering my (real) start time with a muted 'beep' as I crossed. With camera in hand, I turned around and took a photo of the 'rear group' (see above) and noted that some were already nipping into the bushes for a pee! Strewth!
I had been admonished (by friendly experts) to take it real S-L-O-W at the beginning. With the crowd egging you on and other runners passing you by there's the tendency to try to keep up and exceed your normal pace. I remembered their advice and just puttered along taking a side-glance, every so often, at CCRI and the college grounds, looking like a patchwork quilt in the fall colors. I felt the pace, of this the 'rear group', was a little slow and so I picked my way through the gaps until I passed the 1st. mile marker (a guy with a stopwatch calling out the times as runners went by) at a smidge under 9 minutes. I was already starting to feel warm and so removed and discarded my topmost layer -- my Alcatraz sweatshirt. (Oh well! ...at least, old friend, you didn't end up as a dust-rag!)
Every two miles they had a water-stop and I quickly learned to grab the first cup (water), pour it over my head then grab the next cup (All Sport) and drink that. I must admit girls were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to the call of nature ...bushes and shrubs just didn't cut it so any shop or diner along the way became fair game. I also noticed I was starting to easily pass all those gear-heads who, earlier in the gym, had come across as being so formidable. As I passed each one, in turn, I remember saying to myself, "Well Ger, there's a case where the clothes don't make the man!"
The clouds had all but gone, the sky was now a deep shade of blue and temps were now inching towards the 50's. As I ran along West Shore Road, planes landing and taking off from TF Green airport became a nice distraction as they passed overhead. But for the wind it really was an excellent day for a run.
I must admit, the 10-mile marker seemed to come up very quickly. I was actually glad to see it as I was somewhat eager to gauge where-I-was versus how-I-felt. I actually felt fine; no twangs, no twinges, no stitches. The crowds of people, young, old, whole families sometimes, clapping or taking note of the 'logos' on shirts and incorporating same into their cheers, seemed to keep us 'going' and seemed, also, to keep the mood light. There didn't seem to be any aggression or sense of competition ...we were all just running. Along the way I met a group of nurses from Long Island, a guy who was doing it for his brother (who died that year from cancer) and one guy who knows he'll never, ever finish a marathon but likes entering them just so he can feel the vibes. His goal is merely to run into the low teens, stop then head home -- quite happy that he merely participated.
At the water stops, I'd entertain myself by keeping the paper cups, and, whilst everyone else would be haphazardly discarding theirs, I'd crunch mine up and try and hit the refuse bags, dead center, shouting: "He shoots ...he scores!" (With a water stop every two miles I managed to nail quite a few). This mularky caused many a volunteer to raise an eyebrow but most were glad that I saved them the trouble -- "Thanx Mister!" Also if I saw a cluster of people ahead, I'd simulate a huge frown and, just before reaching them I'd holler: "So WHO'S idea was this ...Hello?" staring and shaking my head in wonderment. THAT always seemed to result in a bout of laughter and enthusiastic clapping. (By this time I was sporting my 'funny' T-shirt which undoubtedly helped!)
I had been running alone for quite some time, now, just picking my way thru', when I distinctly heard footsteps approaching from behind. I turned around to see who had decided to use me as a pacesetter only to see a pleasant smile edging alongside. "I've been running behind you for a quite a ways, and every time you pass a group of people, they start laughing -- every time! -- I finally said to myself -- I gotta see what this guy is up to!" I confessed to my impish ways then, when I gestured towards my T-shirt, she almost tripped! Turns out Abigail (Hi Abigail!) was doing the OSM for the first time, too, and as we chatted it quickly became apparent that we both had the same running speed. I think we discussed everything from politics to Pearl Jam and back again, and, literally, both mile markers and slower runners seemed to just slip by ...almost unnoticed ...as we maintained our fast pace amidst relaxed conversation.
A memorable moment occurred, when upon leaving Cranston, we could see in the far off distance, the Providence skyline. (What a wonderful sight!) Both of us knew, deep down, these remaining eleven miles would be the toughest so we both began to consume (and share) the 'goodies' that we had stashed in our fanny packs. Abigail willingly called herself the 'Power Gel Queen' and drew on her supply like a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat. I had ONE Power Gel as part of my arsenal to combat the wall but now considered all remaining jellybeans & M&M's ...fair game.
At one point we thought we were running too fast so mutually decided to take things a lil' easy. In preparation, she had run to a max of 22 miles and I to 18. Neither of us wanted to arrive at the 'hills' --- slipped insidiously into the route so as to coincide with that time when you're bordering on the wall. As it turned out, we both discovered that it was actually harder to try and maintain a slower pace so we nixed that idea and instead focused on speed and prepping ourselves for the 'wall and hill combo' that would be lying, ambush-like, at Gano, Irving and Hillside.
At around 21 miles I decided to try that 'Power Gel', figuring it best to have my system already prepped and ready rather than having to react feverishly. "Holy Moly," I exclaimed as I squeezed out the contents, "this is like having Thanksgiving and Christmas all bundled into one!" "NOW you know!," she smiled, "Power Gels rule!"
I'll admit, the sting in this marathon's tail were the series of hills from mile twenty onwards. Abigail gritted her teeth and muttered "I am NOT walking up any of these hills!" "Dammit, woman!" I replied, "if you're not walking up them then I'm not!." :-)
From mile 22 onwards we began to pass, with increasing frequency, those who were either walking, sauntering, bent over or completely stopped, hands on their waists, panting and, seemingly, avoiding all eye contact. It's at this stage that I felt kinda 'bad' and wanted to stop in order to see if I could provide some assistance ...my remaining jelly beans for instance. But the uphill pace that Abigail was setting would, in no way shape or form, permit such an act so I refocused and thought, now, only of The Finish. We gritted our teeth, maintained the pace and soldiered on, constantly reminding each other that the end was nigh and that this end was a good thing! :-) both, though, secretly waiting for the wall. Those last few miles seemed to take on an insidious e-l-a-s-t-i-c quality and, for me personally, it took every ounce of mental strength to keep on going. (Where did I hear it before that 99% of running is mental?)
One of Abigail's friends (Eric?) met up with us towards the end and helped us maintain our pace, which I'll admit, because of the energy-sapping hills, had starting to slow markedly. We were now pretty much surrounded by 'city scene's -- not 'rural scenes' --- and every cheer, from the sidewalk, seemed to also include 'the remaining distance to the finish line' (as if knowing that would help us somewhat?). For me the last two miles were really and truly a case of "enough already... let's get this thing over with!" and so I thanked Eric for his faster pace which would undoubtedly serve to help us attain closure to this infernal business.
Off in the distance we could hear the PA system (music to one's ears!) and we verbally encouraged one other to keep going and not falter. The organizers, meanwhile, had strategically placed spotters along the course in order to relay the race-numbers of those approaching. As each runner completed the final lap the announcer would reveal the names to the cheering crowd. Supposedly my name was called out, Abigails too, but I heard nothing. All I could see, and all I could focus on, was that finish line. As I snapped a pic of the scene with my disposable camera (see below), I actually got a little choked up. Believe me, the emotion inside just pours out uncontrollably when you do realize that it IS all over.
With what little strength remained, I sprinted towards the Finish Line with unwavering determination. As I crossed the line, slowed down and finally stopped, I felt such an indescribable sense of relief that I actually had to force myself to hold back the tears. Those of you who've been there know exactly what I'm talking about, those of you about to embark and consider yourselves too aloof to tear up, consider yourselves forewarned.
As each of us, in turn, received our medals, waddled around in our mylar blankies and looked around for friends and loved ones in the throng --- it finally hit me --- I had completed my very first marathon and, yes, frankly, I was very glad that it was all over.