I promise this to be my last running post for a while.
Or maybe not. I am apt to change my mind often, being a flawed human being an all. You know, that thing.
I ran my first ever marathon yesterday. Many folks have asked me how it went or how it felt, and even a day removed from it, I am still unsure how to answer. In many, many ways, it was fantastic. The weather was a bit chilly, the crowds were awesome, the route fairly flat and the organizers did a stand up job. It was just that pesky thing of running 26.2 miles. In one shot.
My goals were simple:
1) Stay alive
2) Don’t let the blind, obese man pass me.
3) Try and sneak in under five hours.
Now, I can say that I successfully stayed with the first and last goal. Nothing I can do about the middle one. Not my monkey, not my circus. (Okay, it didn’t really happen, but I did struggle to pass an elderly lady power walking. Take that, Aunt Irene!)
I finished in 4:52:30. Long time to be running. A long time. Could have watched half of Dexter Season 2 in that time, or one-and-half Lord of the Rings movies. The winner had already been crowned, interviewed, whisked to his hotel, bathed, massaged and on the way to airport by the time I stumbled past the final time mat.
Now outside of the expected physical mutiny my body demonstrated, there was a lot going on in this race. 25,000 runners ran this year. It took about 15 minutes just to get us cattle out of the corrals and past the starting gate. And once it started, I found myself becoming more and more of a lunatic. Emotionally speaking, that is. Imagine grabbing the colours of most major emotions and smooshing them into a Play-Doh type pancake, where the hues bleed into one another and turn to a beige-y mess. That was me.
I started at the gate with teary eyes. Thought of the sacrifices I and my family had made so that I could train and to be there. Ravaged my mind with some of the things that I had been when I was an active drinker. Thought of the things that have come to pass since. Felt the cold winds down University Ave. clearing my mind of negative feelings. Felt the presence of Now more than I had in a long time. There was a singularity of being one amongst many. And yet being part of and not apart from. A sort of paradox.
I thought of my dad, whose cancer had come back. How I dedicated the race to him, he a runner himself for decades. Who had never run a marathon, but raced many other distances. I felt a calmness come over me and then settled in.
I won’t go blow-by-blow about the run. It was hard. But I went through cycles of joy, sadness, gratitude, jealousy, envy and elation. I went through funks of ennui. I went to dark places of giving up, of ripping off my bib and taking a taxi back home. I went to the nooks and crannies of my old ways of thinking – negative, unfocused, comparing myself to others. Those thoughts would be offset by some “Holy crap I’m doing this” and the kind affections of the tens of thousands of people watching along the route. The little girl handing out cut up bananas. The old man standing on his own with bottles of his own water even though there were countless water stations. Funny hand made signs and several entertainment areas pumping out live music.
But the most difficult journey was not on the pavement, but within. This was, for me, all about ego strippin’ and not ego trippin’. I found myself judging the looks of other runners at some points – hey that guy looks like a homeless dude. She’s overweight. He’s got a weird way of running. And these were people who were almost an HOUR ahead of me. How dare I judge! I caught myself and would chastise and even laugh to myself. I found myself struggling with those who I felt should be way behind me. Embarrassing to admit, but that’s my truth.
I also found myself both in awe and in envy of the well-formed and well-honed runners that passed me going the other way. I didn’t know their stories, and so who was I to cast them in roles that they probably wouldn’t want to be cast in? Hero, egomaniac, princess. But I thought “perhaps one day, Pauly”. Perhaps. So here it comes up again – comparing myself. I saw people I know on social media just killing it out there. I found myself jealous of them, and yet, happy for them. It was a precarious balance. Near the end, as I struggled mightily to finish, I pictured myself not talking to anyone after the race. I pictured myself hiding under a rock. I pictured myself taking my ball and going home. I didn’t want to feel that perhaps I didn’t measure up in some way.
And that one of the reasons I drank. To cover up that feeling of not measuring up. To sabotage myself? “Hey – if you think I’m a screw up now, watch this.” type of thinking. I saw all of them – the happy, fast runners and then me. The bridge troll taking up the rear. I didn’t want to commiserate with them. I wanted to stay the lone wolf and recoup in my cave, resentful and wanting. But I realized that I had a choice. I could do that, be miserable and cut off from what little ties I had to the running community, or I could just take it as is. Get ego out of the way and let it be. Just be content in what I did and leave it at that.
Ego – it always comes down to that for me. What did I expect? To run under four hours? To light the place on fire? Those runners I both admired and lightly vilified have trained very hard for many years. Some are naturals. Some are built for running. Period. To compare myself to them is folly. Old habit. I don’t win. I had to see that this wasn’t a challenge against anyone else except myself. I have a hard time with that still, but I am hanging my hat on that right now.
Like recovery, this road had twists and turns, times where I wanted to give up, times where the wind was against me, times where others helped me along. But unlike recovery, this had a finish line. In recovery, we trudge the road of happy destiny. There is no finish line – the path is the destination. Just being on it and pushing through is a victory in many ways. And we keep at it, regardless of external and internal circumstances.
I decided to stay positive. I clapped back when people clapped encouragement. I encouraged others to keep going. I smiled at volunteers, thanked everyone I could and gave high fives. I chose to stay connected, when everything in me wanted to shrink back and play small and hollow. And this is still new to me. It was like watching another dude doing that.
Sure I have my dreams. I would love to qualify for Boston one day (I would have to run over one-and-a-half hours quicker than my time yesterday). It could be two or three years from now, it could be ten years, it may never be in the cards for me. All I can do is my simple best – put forth a noble effort and leave the outcome to Creator. I am looking for a coach now and want to take it a bit more seriously. I liked my 42.2 kilometers of humble pie, in a strange way. Sloppy but satisfying. It had a cleansing tone to it. But in the end, I have to see it for what it is. I am doing my best within my means. Any sort of expectations only ramps up resentments.
Today is a rest day. I am having a hard time sitting still, but doing my best to chill and stay in the moment. My mind is at some sort of rest too. I just found out that my dad’s cancer hasn’t reached his lungs, so we have that in our corner. There are still surgeries to be performed, but we know it will be alright.
I ran a race. It was a new experience for me. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not much compared to the journeys many other people are on right now. Like my dad’s. Or those still struggling with addiction.
Perspective is a grand thing, ain’t it?
P.S The only two people I ran into before the race were two guys – one is a champion runner and also an addict in recovery who I know from social media (and we plan to have coffee soon) and the other was one of my counsellors in treatment. Funny that they were the only two I met. Coincidence?