Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wrightsville Beach Marathon 2012.

The marathon distance is the ultimate racing distance.  Her 26.2 miles carry poetry, legacy, myth, denial, redemption. And while it is a race-able distance, a road marathon remains a deceptive and difficult thing. Its a destructive road.  The body, the ego, the mind, they become greedy and volatile against the abstract guts of a clock. 26.2 miles donates much time to lament and regret and doubt, to believe, much time to run hard the body and to relent. Here is the thrill of effort, the strength of the collective, the intervals of adrenalin-fueled kicking. There is a loneliness that swallows whole the harrier into the deepest void of his being. . .  the promise of a mt.olympus wall, a community of sound support and guidance across the best and worst miles of your day.   It is an internal and external event.

The Community.

The race director, the army of volunteers, the crowds of supporters, the mass assembly of good folks pointing the runners in the right directions and handing out water and gatorade and gels and smiling and applauding and commending us by name (the bibs actually had your first name printed beneath the number- a very cool detail!!), the student band playing by the golf courses of Landfall, the encouraging residents of Landfall who clapped and saluted in their front yards (a curious head-cocked dog by their side), the throngs of folks lining Military Cutoff and camping behind the finish lines, the massage therapists and the sponsors willing to place their bets on the success of this event. . . . it just gives a participant a real feeling of pride to be at the core of that love. The Wrightsville Beach Marathon was a very special event filled with special people.  And there were runners, of which I was one.

The Race.

This was my second marathon, my first being the Grandfather Mountain marathon of July 2011. I entered the Quintiles marathon 2012 with certain time goals, a fair training background, and a plan. I nurtured a newbie's fear and I carried that burden as a self-enclosed and solipsistic feeling. I had doubts and hopes. Saturday night by 10pm, I wrapped up my last table and my mind was stoic and meditating the run, and I breathed myself to sleep at home beneath a novel by 11pm.
March 18th was a sunday of 5am alarms, dark coffee, a gear bag and a 6h40am starting line. A 3am thunderstorm had moshed through overnight and settled as puddles in the street, and it was now lifting into the air as fog. I was moving through the fogged darkness with wu-tang and doubts.
Arriving, the ribbon of runners already wrapped the blocks of Mayfair alongside the endless trolleys and buses serving to transport the participants to the Wrightsville beach park. The morning remained totally dark and the breeze was wet with chill. Runners sprinted the lawns and boarded the trolleys. The ride was a grumbling parade of engines and chatter. Banter crescendoed on the bus and entire running resumes were listed to no one in particular-- whole catalogs of running experience were thrown up like a loose leaf manuscript to fall across the ears of riders. It is a nervous fellowship before many races.
Arriving at the start area, the WB Park had settled into the pre-race routine of port-a-john lines and high-knee sprints and endless stretches and nerve settling. Track club jerseys amassed, pace groups shook hands, racers looked determined, and the warning bell sounded. A countdown ticked off to 6h40am and a pick up truck with a mounted camera led the opening files of runners along the loop by the Atlantic ocean, over the ICW on the metal-grate bridge and, by mile 3, I had lost sight of the lead runners for the remainder of the day.

The first few miles of my race were swift and strong. No less than fifty dogs and their humans stood and waved and barked and wished us well. The fog was thick and felt clammy on the skin. The puddles in the street were splashed and kicked, and I nailed early and full-footed a few puddles. I missed my first attempt at a water cup, around mile 4, knocking the entire cup of water against the neighboring volunteer. It was not a moment that generated optimism.

From there the race was a lot of straight burns down Military Cutoff by dancing red dragons and a dozen different tents and fans with various signs. In the crowd cheering was the race director, Tom Clifford, as well as Olympic trials marathoner Christa Iammarino. (Its a pretty cool thing to have a top-listed Ironman competitor/runner and an elite marathoner rooting for you.) Cutting into Landfall, one follows the major roads through the wonderful landscapes and architecture that define this destination neighborhood. Golf courses read like impressionist paintings in the lingering mist, and I asked myself on a few occasions why I had not chosen golf over long-distance running. But I had some 18 miles to go. A crowd of excited laughter offered free high fives, and the runners took them up on it. (The guy in front of my tried to slap-sting one happy spectators hand and I got a kick out of that.) Then it was a half-marathon down and one half-marathon ahead and I had pounded for 1h31min straight. I felt good for a minute. Gel, water, gatorade. Rocky's theme song. A song by Journey. Motley Crue. High School Band performing from a gazebo at the corner. Back down Military Cutoff where I see someone I know: “Jay? Jay!!” and I felt good for a moment. I shopped here Thursday morning.  I wonder if they have that new book on the Civil War.  Back into Landfall, around a bend following the well-marked route. Another Ironman pointing the way. “Hello Jim,” I said to the familiar face and I felt good for a minute. Miles collected like seaweed around my ankles and I hit mile 21 at 2h32 minutes. The wall settled on my quads and IT bands and shoulders and any hope of a comfortable, fast finish was shot.  I was running through an imaginary ocean. From here it was the work of trudging and the final wheezing howl of hope as the miles clicked off. With agony and lethargia, the mile-marker signs would show up around a corner. The out-and-back that wrapped up the final 10k was plodding and broken up into walk-run-jogs distances. (Note to self-- breaking a marathon up into two ten milers and one 10k is not a manageable distance.) Faye missiled by.  I felt good.  Tyler.  Ange.  It was nice to see someone familiar.  Abruptly, I got a cramp in my right hamstring that nearly brought me to the ground, and it persisted for two minutes before relenting. One woman grabbed her face and recoiled when she saw me limp into the cramp. It passed, she passed, the race continued. I saw a friend from life drawing, a fellow artist. She yelled my name is fond surprise.  I felt good for a minute.

The Finish.

The distance kept unfolding true to the prescribed mileage of a marathon. So the race director was not going to let us waste our time on a short marathon! I lolled myself about that. . . . “Go Jay!” they cheered and the Garmin hit 26.2 with another two blocks of folks waiting.  I had missed my goal by 7 minutes at that point but I was still sub 3h20m. The final stretch was an embarrassment because I was the only runner for the whole distance, my misery fully illustrated by my lagging gait and my slack jaw. But then I saw my wife smiling, my son yelling, and the white noise of my pain filled up with joy and pause and I stopped to give a high five to Kyote. He didn't respond, and I felt myself going, going, lurching forward, so I launched back into the final kicks where cheerleaders surrounded me with pom-poms and greetings. I was ecstatic to be done, and my fuel tank was absolutely bankrupt. My medal was given and I was proud to put it on.

Something of a Postscript, an Epilogue: A collection of effects.
Things got tricky here. Exertion and goals and adrenalin and whatever got me and following a Gatorade recovery drink, I headed back over to my wife and proceeded to bawl, to absolutely manically bawl into her neck. I had failed my BQ goal by 8 minutes, finishing in 3h18m06secs, and I was ashamed and angry and forlorn. I waddled over to wipe off my stench, to get a fresh shirt, and catch a moment away from the crowd. The crying kept gurgling up, and then subsided as we re-entered the expo area. I got a massage on my legs (courtesy miller-motte tech school), and roamed around for a cup of coffee. The race was done. A quart of orange juice, a plate full of gorgonzola chicken, and an advil was the prescription du jour.

Revisiting this, I learned something. My time fails the BQ of 3h10mins, but I am above A-Standard qualifying time for the JFK 50m by 22 minutes!!! And this is a wish list race, so the accomplishment is revitalizing. I will return to the Quintiles if the cosmos allows, and I will look at this running year with great amazement as I became a sub 3h20min marathoner. And please excuse my effusive tone here, I am not boasting or self-celebrating. Rather, these are acts that shock me, that shake me to my core with gratitude for the years of new life that I have outside of the bars. To have overcome the negatives of my history and to alchemize into something worthy of my body running well for 26.2 miles is nothing short of a miracle.

A huge thanks to all who brought this race together. A prayer for the race director's family who experienced a tragic miracle two days prior to the race. A prayer for the fallen runner (who has improved). A prayer for the staffer who was struck by a drunk driver, suffering a broken ankle and bruised ribs.
Much gratitude to those that support me in my life, and I hope is that I return the love in equal amounts.