Sunday, November 13, 2011

Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons……
Did I tell you that my first marathon was hard?  It was hard!  I have never been closer to something so impossible that turned out possible. Okay, except maybe that day I had 45 minutes to catch a flight at JKF from 61st and Madison, but that was luck – no angels making things happen in that cab! But the marathon was all about angels – five of them - and one powerful demon.
When you are going to run a marathon, you worry about what you are going to wear, you worry about getting to the start line on time, you worry about whether or not your training was sufficient, you worry about what to eat and what kind of relationship that will cause you to have or not have with the porta-potties! And, of course, you worry about getting to the finish line. But you don’t really think that you’ll have to worry about getting to 12 different finish lines! Two rookie mistakes and two unforeseen circumstances put me in that position.
Mistake  – Spend the day before the marathon on your feet – at the expo, walking back and forth from your hotel to the shuttle, visiting downtown Disney…..I spent ALL DAY on my feet!  I did the ice bath thing before the event!  I slept in my compression pants! My legs were so tired I should have qualified for the Goofy! (Those are the crazy people that do the half-marathon on Sat and the full on Sunday.) By mile five I knew that this had been my biggest mistake.
Mistake – Lose your focus and let your nutrition slide.
Unforeseen Circumstance – Spend 10 minutes in the porta-potty line at mile 2….when you gotta go, you gotta go!
Unforeseen Circumstance – Start in the last corral. I was two corrals ahead of my TNT teammates. Naturally I wanted to be with them so I moved to the last corral. You know who is at the back of the last corral?  The sweeper – the pace master – the balloon lady – DEMON – and I’m sure she had a few other names as well. (For those non runners you have to stay ahead of the pacer or you get pulled from the course.)
At about mile 8 my hip started to bother me, my legs were tired, and so my form was very sloppy – probably leading to the quarter size blister that was forming on my heal. This is no big thing in a marathon right?  You hurt, you keep moving, and you push through…..that’s what a marathon is! So I think “I’ll be fine.” Trust the training. Left, Right, Repeat. Sing. Count your steps. Recite your mantra. You’ve got this.  Keep moving forward. That got me to mile 14. From that point on, I would have a not-so-normal marathon experience.
At the mile 14 water stop I met my first angel. She came up behind me and introduced herself…Buffy or Muffy or Duffy or something like that, a Team in Training coach from another chapter.  She started to ask me how I was, what my name was, why I was running for TNT………and I think “REALLY?? YOU WANT TO MAKE SMALL TALK…NOW!? In the words of John Bingham… BITE-ME!”  I am sure that she got the hint that I was in no mood to chat, but she didn’t go away. After a couple of minutes of silence she says “Deborah, do you think you could pick up the pace with me until we get to that tree up there?”  My silent response….”WHAT!? You are not my coach! Why are you asking me to ……………..OH SHIT!” I look over my right shoulder and there it was….the sweep van! And right in front of it is……………..the balloon lady! They are going to pull me from the course - PANIC. I think about how tired I am, the pain in hip, the blister on my heel that has now split open and feels like someone sliced my heel open with a knife. I can’t possibly out run her for 12 miles! This is physically impossible. NO REALLY – I CAN’T DO IT.
I run to the tree with the coach and then have to walk. I start to tear-up. All that training, all that work and I am going to get swept. What will I tell people?  How will I face people at work? I’m going to be the only one in my team that doesn’t finish. I can’t go home without that medal, but I can’t possibly do this for 12 miles!  That is where I was for the next six miles – in my head, totally unfocused, totally exhausted, near tears. Muffy was there with me the whole time. She would run ahead of me every time there was a water stop and fill my fuel belt bottles for me so I didn’t have to stop. She stayed with me until mile 20. At that point I saw Harland – one of the local TNT coaches. I don’t know where I got the energy but I ran off to catch him leaving Muffy behind with others. When I caught up with Harland I said  “Wow am I glad to see you!” He said, “and am I glad to see YOU!” Angel #2.
At this point, about mile 21, you’d think I would have gotten a little ahead of that balloon lady in my effort to catch Harland. The reality was I had spent whatever energy I had trying to catch him and I had not had any gel or calorie intake with the exception of sport drink (when they had it) since mile 12 or so. So there she was again, right behind me. I’d walk until I heard her yell “You have 1 minute to get to the next mile marker” each one became its own finish line. Harland got me through by singing to me – I’ve been working on the railroad – and continually promising that beer was at the finish line, until we found my coach at mile 23.
Angel #3 and #4 - Renee had another coach with her, Jon.  I had heard the coaches on the phone with each other several times giving updates.  I think she must have figured she needed some help based on the reports. Good thing she did because at mile 24, when the balloon lady announced that we no longer had to stay ahead of her to stay on the course, the two of them had to hold me up when I suddenly decided that meant it was okay to sit down and relax for a while. I was pretty out of it at this point, but after they kept me from sitting down I had a brief moment of clarity.  These last two miles were not the last two miles of a marathon…..they were the last two miles of nearly 400 miles that we had covered training. For the first time since mile 14 I knew I could finish. Angel #5 came along at about this time, Bobby, back tracking from the finish line he had helped others to, I assume. Banana power bar! He had food and I ate half of it like I had been on a desert island staving for months. Two miles to go and all three of them stayed with me. When I could see the finish line I started to cry. That’s where they left me to cross on my own.  My TNT teammates were there waiting on the other side. Everyone was crying. It was an incredible feeling. Then, off to the medical tent for me. After a little food and a bottle of poweraide the fog finally cleared from my head.
Later that night at the TNT celebration with Harland and Renee I was able to find Muffy and Bobby. Jon had left for home but once the photos came out and I had his race number I was able to figure out who he was and found him on facebook. I will forever be grateful for their help and promise to pay it forward whenever I can.
I have a magnet at work that says “The Courage to Start, The Strength to Endure, the Resolve to Finish.” Rarely is there a day that goes by that I don’t read that quote and think…… the phone call I don’t feel like making is no big deal, the difficult conversation I have to have with an employee isn’t going to be easy, but it will be worth it in the end, the politics that make some days miserable will pass, nothing is really impossible. In retrospect, I am grateful that it was so hard because it makes so other things in LIFE that much easier.