Mind Over Matter
Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
Start: It’s a cold, dark December morning with a temp in the 20s. Despite wearing only shorts and a running shirt, 10,000 people all crammed together generates enough warmth that you only experience the first couple stages of hypothermia. In fact, right before you start slurring words and thinking two plus two equals duck, the starter gun goes off.
Miles 0-3: We start moving en masse down Auburn-Folsom Road like a thawing ice jam and hang a right onto Oak Avenue. Out front, the lead runners settle into a race-long pace that most normal folks would call sprinting. Whatever. I find my pace, warm up and enjoy all the residents who are in their front yards rattling cowbells and cheering. I try to ignore the fact that the cold and pre-race hydration has turned my bladder into a water balloon. No biggie. There should be porta-potties ahead.
Mile 4: Where are the porta-potties?
Mile 5: WHERE ARE THE PORTA-POTTIES?
Mile 6: There they are!
Mile 6: ...
Mile 6: ...
Mile 6: ...OK. Better.
Miles 7-10: I’m finally enjoying the run. Pace? Good. Legs, wind? Fine. Look at all the smiling, happy spectators lining the route! It’s so cool they’re out here with their signs and cowbells cheering us on; it’s one of the event’s highlights, really.
Mile 10: We descend into Old Town Fair Oaks where a huge party is in full swing. There’s even a marching band! I feel great. I love everybody!
Miles 11-13: Crossing Sunrise, Fair Oaks begins a gradual series of undulations. Nothing too tough but still, a little more is asked of your legs. I try to focus on my pace, but end up focusing on an older gentleman who’s gradually passing me. He’s wearing a tutu.
Miles 14-16: Two hours in. My mind constantly scans the vitals: wind (OK), legs (heavy). Where’s Grandpa Tutu? (Ahead. Dammit.)
Miles 17-19: My feet are starting to thump along like flat tires and the legs, like the Tin Man’s before Dorothy got the oil can. Here’s where I must dig in mentally: My body has become a whiny two-year-old, so my brain needs to be the adult. Like any adult dealing with a whiny kid, my patience starts wearing thin and little things become annoying: cowbells, Grandpa Tutu, my decision to do this.
Mile 20: “The Wall,” a marathon’s psychological barrier, manifests in Loehmann’s Plaza, where some Captain Obvious has erected a giant inflatable wall. A rock band plays as people clang cowbells and shout, “You can do it!” between sips from red Solo cups. I give them a weak thumbs-up; I kind of want to flip them off.
Mile 21: Why am I doing this?
Mile 22: Why the #&$* am I doing this?
Mile 23: I want to stop.
Mile 24: I want to die.
Mile Please-Let-This-Be-Over: As I shuffle down L Street, I spot Jesus in the shadow of the State Capitol with a sign that says “The End Is Near.” I’m briefly confused: Is He referring to my time left on Earth or the finish line? Wait...it’s only a dude dressed as Jesus. I’m...almost done? Hallelujah!
Finish: Miraculously, I get a second wind—well, it’s more like a faint breeze. Regardless, I rev up from 11 minutes per mile to a blistering 10:58 or so. The crowd is bigger and louder than ever and suddenly, I love them and their cowbells again! I turn a corner and there it is, the finisher’s chute. I enter to exhortations of “Go! Go! Go!”...and I will! I will go! I barrel the final few yards and finally, 4.5 hours later, I’m done. Sheer exhaustion mixes with a stratospheric elation that wavers only slightly when I’m told the finisher’s chute I just owned was actually the women’s, and instead of “Go! Go!” the crowd was yelling “No! No!” True story. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I ran it again the next year—and I wanted a re-match with Grandpa Tutu.
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