I’m 12 miles in, nearly halfway through the marathon, by the time I realize that I haven’t yet stopped for water or fuel. And, I’ve somehow forgotten my precious fuel belt and the valuable turbo jelly beans and dried fruit it contains. Thankfully, the course passes through a little cottage–an art gallery perhaps–and on the second floor there’s a kitchen. There’s a sign on the oven reading “treats for marathoners.” I open the oven up, find a selection of muffins, grab a big lemon poppy seed one topped with curls of bacon— why not?—and start shoving it in my mouth as I jog down the stairs and back on the road. It’s pretty much empty. Spectators are few. Where is everyone? Where are the great supportive New York fans I’ve heard so much about? Did I accidentally start late and miss all the excitement? Have I been moving that slowly?
That was the dream I had last night; an anxiety dream not about my first day of school or work but about my first marathon. It’s just three days away, a fact that both thrills and terrifies me.
The final weeks of training and the tapering down of mileage feel like a trust fall, and the person who’s supposed to catch me is myself six or 12 weeks ago—a girl I’m admittedly not totally sure of. Downshifting from long runs of 16 or 20 miles to pretty easy long runs of just 8 or 12 miles is great, don’t get me wrong, but it also requires a faith in the fact that I did enough training a month or two or three ago and that I’m ready (enough) for this thing. My natural inclination is to cram in more miles, faster miles, harder miles. Of course, I don’t. Instead, I channel my energies–and the extra bit of time I have from less mileage–into other sorts of preparation.
I check the forecast for the weekend over and over and debate the merits of running shorts versus capris versus SubZero tights. I decide on the latter with a light long-sleeve top and compression leg sleeves. I ready my favorite sports bra and dual layer socks.
I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding on the appropriate meeting place for friends and family after the race. It should be a bar. It should be as close to the finish line, well really the area miles away from the finish line where I’m finally able to escape the fray. It should have televisions playing sporting events to divert those waiting for me. It should have a good selection of beers on tap, preferably a few IPAs, and a better-than-average bar burger. Yes, there are some (many) people out there who claim I won’t want/shouldn’t have a burger and beer as my recovery food, but I know my body. It’s going to want a burger and beer.
Speaking of booze, is there a bottle of champagne handy? Yes, a special bottle has been chilling since my 30th birthday in February, an occasion that I greeted with far more trepidation, and less celebration, than the upcoming 26.2 miles.
Bubbles aside, when people ask if I’m excited about the marathon, I have a hard time answering with a simple, enthusiastic “Yes, so excited!” It’s more like asking someone if they’re excited about enduring a long, painful labor and soiling themselves on the hospital table, rather than asking if they’re excited to be a mother. I’m excited to soon (hopefully) have finished a marathon. I’m excited for the last quarter mile. I am not excited for the 20th.
I buy no less than half a dozen sheets of neon pink poster board to make signs for friends and family. I amuse myself by coming up with humorous messages for them, like “Back in my day, a marathon was all up hill in the snow,” and “I’m cheering for runner #756479, but you’re nice too!”
I’ve upped my chiropractic/therapy/neurotic person routine this week, and have visited my chiropractor not once but twice to stretch out my hips and make sure I’m properly aligned and, also, getting my money’s worth from my health insurance. “Gosh, how are you going to fit in the podiatrist? Don’t you need to see her, too?” my fiancé teases me.
I splurge on a light sports massage. The masseuse lingers over my hip flexors on one side. “I don’t want to dig into this now, right before your race, but they are really tight,” she says, and then quietly keeps needling at them, in the manner that health care professionals do when they find something fairly disconcerting but don’t want to freak a patient out. She works her way down my legs, finding nothing else quite so alarming, and then flips me over and works on my quads.
“Do they feel okay?” I ask, still worrying about my hips. “Yes, they’re fine,” she says. Then, she earns her fee with one simple sentence: “They feel strong.” I suppose I’m ready…well, I’m as ready as I’m going to be this marathon around.
The bleachers and finish line were already set up in Central Park when I went to my running class earlier in the week. We ran intervals up and down the final third of a mile of the marathon course. Over and over, I ran towards the big blue and orange arch, dotted with sponsor logos, FINISH emblazoned across it. I tried to make the very word into a yogic breathing exercise. Inhale “finnnnnnn…” exhale “ishhhhhh,” but in the end, they just muffled together into a sprinting gasp that sounded more like “keepppppppppppgoingggggggggg.”