Sweetness Follows

After 26.2 miles through five boroughs, I should have some storytelling for you: some message, some moral, something. But I can’t seem to find the words, the message, the moral, or anything. I’m just tired.

The Marathon is the penultimate race of the year for me. All of ’em — the half marathons, all the triathlons, the training runs — are just practice. There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing more exhilarating, or annihilating.

I never really planned on even running one until Chris and I stood on First Avenue some eight years ago watching out cousin Roxane run it in pouring rain. As 30,000 runners, all fighting their own private battles passed us by, we said, “We could do this.”

And I have, five times now. It is anything but routine, though it has become familiar. And every year I fight the same battle — to keep running when every part of me says to stop — and every year there is a new one.

Yesterday I was racing against the disgrace of last year’s 18th mile defeat. I was out to beat my personal best from ’02 of 3:56:00. But by mile 18, I was toast. I was forced to walk a few miles and even duck into a corner store for a Coca Cola sugar boost. And so, as I stood silent at the start yesterday, every inch of me was focused on not repeating that embarrassment.

Within the first mile, high atop the Verrazano Bridge, I though to myself, “There’s no way I can do this.” It was hot, I was already sore, and I felt weak. And that’s it in a nutshell. The first reaction is, “No way.” The second is, “Way.”

I trained for this year’s marathon with my friend Alyssa, who sadly had to bow out due to injury. My mantra to her was “2%.” I was constantly encouraging her early in the race to save 2% for later. “You can always use what’s left, but you can never get back what’s gone.” And so, through Brooklyn, Queens, and up over the 59th Street Bridge, I reminded myself over and over, “2% … 2% … 2%…”

Because I know the course so well, I was able to keep myself going. I know what is around each bend. “Just get to the Willis Avenue Bridge. Just get to Marcus Garvey. Just get to Central Park.” I was bolstered by support from my friends Jen and Ilene, and especially my nephew Ethan who, though dazed by the sudden appearance of his uncle amidst 35,000 runners, was still the happiest sight of the day.

Little things mean a lot during the marathon. My mom gave me and ice cold Poland Spring at mile 22 that, along with four pretzels and two Jolly Ranchers from an unknown bystander, sustained me for the remainder of the race.

In the end, though, I’ll never really know what sustains me through the bone crushing pain of the marathon. It is difficult to explain. There’s no reason for it, really. I mean, there’s no real reason for doing it. Except that, for me, it is so f’ing difficult, it is so beyond explanation, that the mere completion of it is enough to remind me that, though life will continue to throw seemingly insurmountable and incomprehensible challenges my way, I will persist. It’s what I’m made to do.

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