Sunday, October 25, 2009
Weekly Rant: Apocalypse Now (No Italics)
It’s 7:59 am, and I am not here. Not on this blog. Not online. Not even at a computer. Instead I’m near Arlington National Cemetery about 2 miles away from The Cooler’s home office. It rained last night, but right now the weather is dry and crisp, about 52 degrees. I am standing in a sea of thousands, about to run my second consecutive Marine Corps Marathon. The question is: “Why?”
It’s not just a rhetorical question for print. I promise you that at this very moment the word “Why?” is running through my brain as I try to stay loose behind the starting line. You can’t see me now, but it’s a safe bet that I’m wearing a stupidly giddy expression like Will Ferrell in Elf, or I look as miserable as Francis Ford Coppola on about the 212th day of shooting Apocalypse Now. If not, it’s something in between, like Dirk Diggler’s expression just before he shoots his first porno in Boogie Nights – excited and terrified. Anyway, regardless of my expression, I guarantee you that I’m asking myself “Why?” I must be, because there’s just no logical reason to run 26.2 miles voluntarily – never mind paying for the right to do it.
To be absolutely clear, today’s race isn’t just my second MCM, it’s my second marathon. Last year I wrote about my first marathon experience using comparisons I thought movie fans would understand. In that piece I mentioned that my goal was to break 3:30, but I failed, finishing the race in 3:35:11, in large part because I made a rookie mistake and got too frisky too soon, leading to a total collapse around the 24-mile mark. What I didn’t mention in last year’s recap, because I didn’t want to “play the blame game,” as A Serious Man’s Sy Ableman would say, is that part of the reason I got too frisky too soon is because a woman running next to me gave me bad information around the 12-mile mark – leading me to believe I was running behind my goal pace when really I was already ahead of it. Of course, I’m the math-challenged dummy who didn’t trust his own watch and gobbled up her poison like Snow White biting into the apple, so it’s my own damn fault. Nevertheless, given that episode of, um, influenced self-destruction I came off of last year’s race determined to keep training and come back this year stronger and smarter and ready to break 3:30.
So, yeah, that’s part of the reason I’m about to run my second marathon: I want to break 3:30. Alas, after an injury-plagued training it will feel like a tremendous accomplishment if I’m able slip under 3:35 (which just goes to show the inherent dangers of sequels, I guess). Barring some major catastrophe that makes me give up running for good, this won’t be my last marathon. I’m sure of that. My training was too frustrating this season to go out this way. I want to get healthy and start it all over again and finally get it right. But today I’m like a director who has just wrapped primary production on epic only to realize that his lead actor can’t carry a film; I’ve got to go with what I’ve got. At 8 am that process begins.
Why am I doing this? I’m not lying when I say I don’t know. Because I don’t. Not exactly. In part it’s because I want to challenge myself. It’s because running makes me healthier than I would be without it – physically and mentally. It’s because long runs help the world slow down long enough to ponder everything from the big picture to the big screen. By the end of this race I don’t expect to fully understand why I run, but if I’m able to cross the finish line having figured out what I think about A Serious Man, that’ll be good enough.
Addendum (10/26): Thank goodness that’s over. My 2009 MCM was a success in one way: I finished. Other than that it was a struggle. Long story somewhat short, the first 13 miles went better than expected. The next 2 saw my pace slow a bit, even though the effort felt the same, which is to say that it still felt effortless. I knew that wasn’t a good sign if I was going to try to set a personal record and get under 3:35, but there was still hope. By the 18-mile mark, however, it was starting to become serious work, and given my aforementioned problems with training this year I knew I wasn’t going to find a second wind. With my hope of a personal best busted, I shifted my mindset and became immediately and totally content to just manage my way through the rest of the race, finishing in a time around 3:40, maybe 3:45 at the very worst. As much as I could, I was going to “enjoy” the rest.
For a while, it worked. At the 22-mile mark, I was on pace for nothing worse than a 3:43 finish, and I was wholly content with that. Then disaster struck. Absolutely out of nowhere my right hamstring cramped. I came to a dead stop and it took me at least a minute just to get the cramps to stop to the point that I could figure out how to hobble off the course. A few minutes later I’d stretched out my hammy enough that I could walk. Then I was able to run. Alas, over the final miles I couldn’t run more than half a mile before my hamstring would start to tighten (along with other muscles) and I’d have to walk. (My first marathon I never walked once.)
But walk, jog and stagger I did. And I finished ... in just under 4 hours: 3:58:something. It was not the race I had hoped for, but it was somewhat fitting given my injury-plagued training. (Interestingly, I had no IT band pain during or after the race, even though that was the injury that threw off my training program. Also, I’ve never cramped before on a run, and I haven’t had any leg cramps whatsoever in maybe 2 years. Strange.) While I know I’m a better runner than the performance of Sunday, in some ways the 2009 MCM is my proudest accomplishment as a competitor. Believe me: When your hamstring is cramping to the point you can’t move (in fact can hardly breathe), finishing the race doesn’t just seem unattractive, it seems impossible.
But I didn’t quit. Of that I’m proud.