Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dead Reckoning

So we're back in Flagstaff. Back among the pines and the peaks. But not in the same place. Immediately upon crossing that zany finish line in Central Park, our feet slowed. Our muscle were taut. Our bones worn. Time ebbed. A cluster of medical volunteers poked us to make sure we were still alive. They covered us in foil capes. We hobbled into the corrals like a queue of zombies, with brains making quick exits. The doors of our bodies had been left open. Wide open. And our minds really started to move. Smashing forward. In double time. Aiming for a new outpost. Go! Now this wasn't the greatest mental leap I've ever experienced, but I did enjoy a smidge of transcendence. And maybe that's why people do these stupid things.

The strangest part though was that M and I ended up in completely different (and unexpected) places.

Okay, back to the beginning. I left the hotel at 4:50 AM, under the shadow of the Empire State Building. M would leave fifteen minutes later. She was in the blue wave. I was in orange. She took the ferry to Staten Island. I was on the bus. When I climbed out of the subway at 42nd Street, runners appeared everywhere. Climbing out of tunnels. Slipping from yellow cabs. Hopping out of doorways. The city held a silent fire drill. Runners only please. Forty-three-thousand nylon-clad athletes crawled into the light.

The bus dumped me on Staten Island with nearly four hours until the race began. It was drizzling and cold. Runners huddled together. Refuge camps formed. M and I were in different camps, but I got a call from her. I knew her position. The advantage went to those familiar with the prolonged wait. Some showed up with sleeping bags and small tents. Rain gear and cook tops. Entire meals were being prepared. Before the start, you could bag all your gear and send it to the finish line. Since I got to Staten Island early, I was able to squirm into a large tent. I sat in a circle of five runners, swapping stories and laughing over our paths. They were running geeks, but fairly normal. Not idiots.

The light crept over the Verrazano Bridge and we were ordered into the corals in ten different languages. I ate my last Clif Bar, used the Port-o-Potty and rubbed Vaseline over my body. I hooked up my ear buds and turned on the Garmin. At one point, somebody bumped me. Fire on the Mountain came on. I didn't realize that it came from player. I thought it was from the overhead speakers and that the NYC Marathon was playing the Grateful Dead at the start of the race. Wow! Cosmic! But then I realized the source and felt like a moron. There were no supernatural forces at work in NYC this morning. Nothing was going to save me.

The race started with a bang and Sinatra sent us into Brooklyn. New York, New York. Okay, that made more sense. I could see the towers of Manhattan over the water. They looked gray and miniature. A long way off. When I got over the bridge and into Brooklyn, I quickly realized the best and worst parts of the NYC Marathon. The best part? The crowds. I felt like I was in the Tour de France. The crowds were three or four people deep. Cheering and ringing cow bells. The signs were a constant source of entertainment. The bands rocked. And the worst part? The pavement. Damn, those streets were rough. Bumpy and pot-holed. I was cringing after three miles. My body was used to the dirt trails in Flagstaff. My bones rattled until I thought my legs would fall off.

I wish I could say I felt good during this marathon. But, nope. Felt like crap the entire time. L had been up coughing half the night. Neither M nor I got any sleep. That said, my breathing and cardio were fine. Training at altitude must have helped. But still, my legs were like cement. I started running nine minute miles, thinking I would aim for four hours. It was not hard, but not pleasant either. Maybe it was the lack of sleep? Or the month-long sinus infection? Or my fear of running fast? Anyway, I had no juice.

The crowds were so loud in Brooklyn, that I could not hear my player. Which was fine at first. Dead or no dead, I was taking it easy. As I crossed into Queens, my Garmin freaked out. It lost all satellites. I kept peering at it, pleading, hoping it would come alive. But nope. The thing was stuck at fourteen. So I switched it off. From that point on, I was clueless. Running blind. I knew that I had slowed down, but by how much? Blah. Stupid Garmin. I put too much trust in it. Now, my only means for determining pace was the Grateful Dead. I estimated my speed by recalling the position of each song. My calculations were double-checked by cross-referencing jams, teasers and guitar solos. I was truly, dead reckoning.

So on I went. The idea of cheating never crossed my mind. I stayed safe. And well below the line. Finishing never seemed like a problem. We ran through a viaduct and wasteland in the Bronx and then headed into Harlem. The crowds were huge. Central Park was on the horizon. My legs hurt, but I never walked nor lost my hop. At one point a woman looked at me and said, you can do it!, and I nodded and thought, Yeah, I can. Big deal. Yet, my body hurt. It moved through various stages of exhaustion. And I cried.

Before the park, I stopped to pee, unconcerned about time. Whenever I passed a medical tent, I peaked inside to make sure M had not quit. I checked my phone near the end and saw that she had called. She must have finished.

At the end, I felt okay. Just like after a long run. Man, I played it safe. Maybe too safe. I came in during The Wheel. I checked the clock and calculated my time. Under four-forty-five. M had come in an hour before I did. What was I doing during that hour? Stopping for a beer in Brooklyn? Chatting with the crowd? Tying my shoes? Nope. I was just damn slow. And so here at the end, as I trudged along in my foil cape and finisher medal, was where my thoughts erupted. Where something bizarre happened at the center of my pea-sized brain. And a new and alien thought emerged. I can do better, I thought. Huh? Did I really think that? Yep. . . Had I gone insane? Maybe. And then I wondered whether I would train for another marathon. And part of me hoped I did.

And the funniest thing of all? After a mile of wandering through the corals, searching for M, I found her. She looked crazy beautiful. Wearing a silver vest, blue sweats, and covered in a red blanket. Her hair tied in pigtails. Smiling and hopping back and forth. We hugged and found an open space. And then she looked up at me, shaking her head, and said: That's it. I'm done. I never want to do a marathon again!

1 comment:

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