Philly Race Report: Skydiver, Your Pants Are on Fire

First, the last of the dinner pics.

No one would mistake me for a marathoner.

I am not one of those women upon whom one's gaze falls admiringly, instantly assessing a high level of ability, skill, or ease of movement. My friend D., perhaps, with her lean, athletic build and explosive energy and trim waist - and her self-coached Ironman debut (around 14 hours, to boot). Or my co-worker, M., who, even when running, cannot hide the grace and confidence in her leggy, gazelle-like movements (and who was once dissapointed that, after taking a year-long hiatus from racing, she was able to manage *only* a 10-minute mile). They are the type of women at whom people would nod appreciatively, remarking, somewhat awstruck, "Now she's a marathoner."

But not me.

I am short, with bulky, overdeveloped gymnast's legs, and tiny hands, and an abundance of curves - not all of them in the right places. My speech, my laughter, my gestures are all clumsy, staccato, and spontaneous.

No one would mistake me for a marathoner.

But I am.

And it is not for those other people that I am a marathoner. And, certainly, no one else will ever be a marathoner for me. As I struggled through the last 10k of the Philadelphia Marathon, I was unable to contain my (unsurprisingly) spontaneous bursts of tears when the last of the volunteers and spectators offered an encouraging, "Good job, marathoner! You're almost there."
I looked behind me to see who they were talking to. The gap between me and the other stragglers was very wide. There was no one else in sight.

Did she just call me "marathoner"?

I could call Philadelphia "The Marathon That Almost Wasn't." I could bite Stephen's title and say it was "A Tale of Two Halves," because I moved quickly and easily (for me) through the first half and then completely disintegrated during the second. But it's more appropriate to share some of the lyrics to the Buck 65 song that was running through my head from miles 19-26, because it pretty accurately states how I felt for those few hours. Let's just say they were . . . surreal. When I say I was BOPpin' through Philly, I mean strictly Back-of-Packin' it. Not dancing.

Skydiver, your pants are on fire
And the rest of your clothes is glowin'
And, for some strange reason, your nose is growin, my skin is crawlin'
Everybody's chin is fallin'
Jaws are droppin' left and right
Lost cause, you came like a thief in the night
With nice white teeth and a tight ass
And long conversation
Fascinating feeling to spend months in your company
I never felt uncomfortable, not even with my clothes off
Chillin so hard, my ass almost froze off
Everybody shows off and wants to look presentable
But the fact of the matter is accidents are preventable

They are. Could I have waited for a shorter porta-potty line so that I wouldn't lose, and then waste my energy trying to catch, the friends I'd made in the 5:30 pace group? Definitely. Could I have eaten more - which I should have learned by now from my later-half struggles at other long races? Yep. Could I have worn tights like my instincts suggested? Sure. Could I have stopped at some point? Uh-huh. Could I have taken my medicine before the race? Yes. Would it would have made me sleepy? You betcha. Would it have prevented some other issues? Possibly. But even when I felt, looked and sounded like I was on the Death March, even when my breath was failing me because the congestion was clogging my lungs and my dizzy spells were coming on so strong that I was staggering as I wrapped myelf in the foil blanket so kindly handed to me by a volunteer, I didn't stop. I don't know what kept me going, because I already felt like a loser. Maybe it was determination. Maybe it was defeat. Maybe it was shame. Maybe it was insanity. Maybe it was a little of all of them. But as the busses kept coming by me, dragging off the DNF'ers, I kept saying "no," to their offers to take me in.

A little voice inside my head told me, don't you even think about leaving this course unless someone has to carry you off against your will. Another little voice argued, you're going down, just deal with it. Better to go down in a warm bus than on asphalt. Concussions ain't pretty.

A volunteer walked up on his bike with a 13-year-old who was doing his first marathon, also walking, struggling. I couldn't even do what you're doing, he told me. I can't even tell you how much respect I have for people who can.

Maybe it helped. At mile 26, I tossed off the foil blanket. Even though I had taken a picture with it at mile 24 - me, always with the self-deprecating humor, even while on the Death March, paused to pose, hold out my foil blanket like a cape and fake a cheesy smile. I didn't want that blanket in my finish photo. From out of somewhere way down inside me I kicked up a last little bit of energy I didn't know I had, and I ran the last 2/10 of a mile into the finish - and at a remarkably strong pace. Which made me wonder, where the f%*$& was that energy when I needed it? I could have finished 2 hours ago.

06:48:46. Hardly a time to be proud of. I had been crying off and on since Manayunk, but only at mile 26 did it turn into a full-on sobfest, except for those few moments when they put the medal around my neck and I had to pull it together for appearance's sake. But, once I passed them, I had to stop several times on the way to the food tent and pull out of people's way because I was bawling, hiding my face in my jacket, leaning against a fence for support. I wasn't sure if I was crying because I was so dissapointed in myself or so relieved that I finished. The volunteer that walked his bike in with me and the 13-year-old came over to give me a high five. I think what you did was amazing.

But I didn't feel amazing.

I walked in the freezing rain to catch a cab - no way was I walking the extra distance for the train. His fare was ludicrous, because I was staying near the airport, and it meant I had to run upstairs to get him more money, which I could barely do, since I could barely move. I turned the heat on high in my room, and it took me 20 minutes of boiling my fingers, literally, under water too hot for the rest of me to stand in, just to feel the tips of them again. It was 5pm before I could feel my heels and toes. I had a raging fever, had yet to eat anything but bananas, my pretzel, and Boost, and only the $100 change fee and the thought of forfeiting my first-class seat pushed me to crawl out of bed and get to my flight.

Oddly enough . . .

All of this is not enough to scare me away. Even as I am thinking of those last few horrible miles, I am mentally celebrating the huge PR that undoubtedly awaits me at my next few marathons. Unlike my half-marathon debut, 2:45, which I have yet to beat, my marathon time will only get better as my training gets more advanced and my triathlons also get longer. I'm thinking about how I can't wait to get out of Orlando, how nice it will be to have the season changes and the elevation changes and to be able to train in different weather besides 90 degrees or greater with 80 percent humidity or greater. I am sitting at home, wondering why it's not acceptable to go out in public in pajamas, especially for the test I must study for and take tonight - and then drag myself to class afterwards - boy, am I going to bomb that test! I'm visiting the doctor tomorrow to make sure I didn't develop bronchitis, hypothermia, pneumonia (or some other -itis or -ia I haven't heard of).

My legs are a little sore, but much less than after my Oly. Actually, what hurts worst are my ankles, achilles and feet. Weird. No, that's not true. What hurts the worst is my pride. Because I thought I was better. Faster. Stronger. And I wasn't.

But I am a marathoner.

5 tidbits of wizdom:

Duane said...

Hey Miss Marathon!

Meggan said...

Congrats! Way to go!

FunFitandHappy said...

Take it easy on just accomplished something that most people wouldn't even dream of doing......

Congrats marathoner!!

And to quote Hal - don't start thinking about your next marathon until your body has forgotten about the last one :)

CCP said...

You finished! That in itself is fricken awesome! You kept going when others would have stopped. Powered through and kicked the course's butt all while battling a raging cold and a myriad of other things! You're strong, amazing, and you are a MARATHONER!

Ace said...

Hats off to you!! I, myself, could have NEVER done that...not in a million years! Only perhaps on a mountain bike! None the less, one heck of an achievement and very admirable! Lookin real good in the pics too! ;)