Doing a marathon was on my bucket list. But it was on the very bottom of the bucket list, and this particular bucket was the one you keep buried in the garage and only bring it out when the floor needs mopping. In other words, it wasn’t a top priority. I had run several half-marathons already and figured it was enough. I’m just lazy that way.
Then the little voice inside my head kicked in. We all have those little voices … you know the ones—the voices that tell us our butts really do look big in those jeans. My little voice was saying that I needed to push myself further and that only moving up to a full marathon would be good enough. So when the opportunity to do a marathon kind of just fell in my lap—in my sore, wobbly-legged lap—I took it. The average cost of a marathon is supposedly $67, though I usually see them priced over a hundred bucks. So when I won a free entry into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon race for 2016, it was hard to find an excuse not to do it and even harder to pass up free stuff. I signed up for the full marathon.
The day before the run, I went to the “runners’ expo” that they always hold before any big race. Besides picking up all my race goodies there (timing chip, t-shirt, race number, etc.), the expos are sort of like Walmart meets the sport of running. You can find anything and everything running and sports-related that you could possibly need or want, from sports drinks to sports bras, for sale in one spot. They have great deals on running shoes, for instance (they say the average person goes through two pairs of running shoes training for a marathon). And they sell things like headbands that say, “Will run for wine” and those 26.2 car magnets we’ve all seen stuck to the car in front of us at the traffic light. In other words, the expo basically means shopping, which, let’s face it, is way more fun than running. I love running, just not while I’m doing it. (That’s one of those runners’ slogans you find on t-shirts and coffee mugs that they sell at places like runners’ expos). At the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon expo last year, I left with bags full up of anything with “26.2” printed on it.
The morning of my marathon, I was up by 5:30 a.m. to begin the lengthy preparation involved. This always takes more time than anticipated. It involves pulling and pinning my hair back properly, packing my fanny pack (headphones, pedometer, tissues, emergency snacks, extra hair pins, portable phone charger, phone…), pull knee braces on, apply sunscreen, stretch the muscles, Vaseline the toes, fix and eat the morning oatmeal, feed the cat … Not to mention pick out the perfect running outfit to at least attempt to look cute despite the impending sweat and torment. I slathered myself with Body Glide (that’s the anti-chafing stuff that looks like deodorant and is supposed to keep any parts from rubbing together while running. I did a half marathon once where I forgot to apply Body Glide to my arms. I still have scars). The race was to begin at 7:30 a.m., so I got to the start just after 7:00 a.m.
If you’ve never done a big run like this or been to one, the start is an event of its own. Thousands of people line up in order (if you can call this sort of chaos “order”), for miles, based on their speed and anticipated finishing time. Appropriately enough, these time-specified groups are called corrals, and just like cattle to the slaughter, the runners are herded into cage-like barricades to wait for their turn to run free. Then, group by group, one at a time, each corral of runners steps up to the start, waits for the countdown, and steps off at the sound of the gun. As I waited for my corral to be rounded up, I spent the time trying to activate my fancy GPS stopwatch, taking selfies, downloading a few last-minute songs to add to my running playlist, and trying to calm my nerves. By that point, I just wanted to get it over with.
When I first started running, I felt great. Plenty of training, ample adrenaline, and just the right amount of pasta, and I was off to a good start. Runner’s high. The music helped—both the live bands along the route that are always a part of Rock ‘n’ Roll events and my own selection of motivational tunes. The people everywhere helped too. Total strangers and volunteers come out and cheer you on, giving their time and encouragement, and it really makes a huge difference. The homemade signs they hold up make you smile through your pain and are a welcome distraction from your suffering. Some of the best signs I’ve seen include the one with photos of Hilary and Trump that said, “If these guys can run, so can you!” and “Run faster, that bad Tinder date is right behind you!” As the runners go by, these people hand out everything from Fireball shots and martinis, to king cake and beignets, to salt packets and Vaseline. Even just seeing them there is the little boost you need.
Some interesting things go through your head during a marathon: I want crawfish mac ‘n’ cheese. I need to do laundry. What do you suppose the average household income is of residents in the city of Baton Rouge? Does that guy in front of me with “I might be slow but I’m faster than you” written on the back of his t-shirt know how obnoxious that is? Are we almost there yet?
By mile 5, I was starting to feel less good. By mile 11, I was miserable. Runner’s low. Around this time, I fortunately ran by a group of people I knew handing out free beer along the route. Only in New Orleans. In any case, their moral support briefly took my mind off my agony. When I finally reached the halfway point at mile 13.1, I stopped to walk for a bit. A nice young man came up alongside me and walked with me a ways. We chatted for a few minutes, comparing notes about how much we were both hurting. He told me it would be okay if I wanted to call it a day right then, that I’d already gone far enough. But I said that I’d bought far too much 26.2 stuff at the expo not to go the whole way.
So I kept going. I ran some and walked some. Whenever running got too painful, I’d just slow down to a walk, and I’d walk until I could bear to run some more. So it didn’t hurt nearly as much. And it took a lot of pressure off to not have to worry about my time or my pace. This way, I had a lot more fun than earlier, when I was running as fast as I could. I took pictures all along the way. Posted live video on Facebook of the bands playing along the route. I stopped to read all the nice onlookers’ signs and finally got to take advantage of the free stuff they distributed. That piece of donut at mile 15 was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten.
Last year, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon New Orleans was my first marathon. And this February, the Rock ‘n’ Roll event will be my fifth marathon and possibly my last. Five marathons in a year seems like ample torture to me. I will have run up my Mt. Everest five times (or, at least, run/walked it). Do I need to do it again? I’m exhausted. My knees hate me. Reading grad school homework on the treadmill so I can fit in a long training run in my already packed schedule gives me a headache. It may be time to retire my worn down shoes and all those many cute and colorful running outfits. Then again … I say that now, but something always comes up to keep me running. There’s always some new motivating factor to sign up for yet another race—some fun new location to run in, the promise of cool bling for participating (medals, jackets, crawfish trays), or a running buddy who asks if I’m doing so-and-so run, because she is. Besides, in some sick, demented way, the pain of running is addictive. Kind of like a bad relationship, except less fattening.
Whatever you might have heard about doing a marathon is true. The “wall” at mile 19 or 20 is real. Your toenails turning black and falling off is also real (and makes getting a pedicure quite challenging). Every single part of your body really does hurt, and you won’t be able to walk right for days after. You’ll get blisters, sores, body parts rubbed raw and achy, swollen joints. And personally, when doing a long race, my nose runs even more than I do. (This is an actual medical condition called exercise-induced rhinitis. My first marathon, I packed a fanny pack full of tissues and still had to stop four different times at the medical tents to ask for more. I used every single one, refusing to resort to “snot rocketing” on the ground like others do).
Doing a marathon is not fun, it’s actually pretty miserable.
So why do we do it, you might ask? Why subject ourselves to such unnatural and completely unnecessary suffering? Because crossing the finish line is fun. The free beer at the “finish fests” is fun. So are those fancy, highly coveted medals that the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons offer for all finishers in any race, as is showing off the kickass finisher jacket they give to those who do the full marathon. Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment at doing something so challenging, so big, that only .5 percent of the American population ever dares to do it. 26.2 miles is nothing to scoff at. Not to mention, you burn close to 3,000 calories, so you can eat anything you want for days after a marathon, guilt-free (I have a headband that says, “I run so I can eat!”). That is, once you get your appetite back. You won’t be hungry for hours afterward, as your body goes into starvation mode during a race and attempts to eliminate your need for food. This is because your body, quite literally, thinks you’re dying. At that point, you would most certainly agree.
And you thought running was healthy.