A marathon fail

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November 25, 2016 by scratchtype1

It’s 5 days later since I found myself, some time after getting a finisher’s medal in the Philadelphia marathon, somewhat lost trying to find the way back to the parking garage. The wind was blowing hard and sometimes tearing down the streets in fierce gusts that seemed to be trying to lift up all the dust of the city into its embrace and carry those clouds farther and farther east. I was nearly in a state of despair, lost and wondering if I could ever find my car where I could start it and warm up a bit, warm me up some more than I could manage in hat, gloves, hoodie and mylar blanket wrapped around the waist and kilt underneath.

A marathon can wreck you. It had over the 5 hours it had taken me had wrecked me into this person without moorings, without belief in myself. I was stumbling about on wrecked legs that hated stepping down from curbs and stepping up to them. There was plenty of sugar in my pockets still in the form of gum drops but I almost didn’t care about the possibility of passing out from hypoglycemia, perhaps a type 1 diabetic’s worst nightmare.

Where was I?

Some long hours before I had parked and in the darkness walked mostly west to the starting area for the marathon. Cold, so cold. I wore a throwaway flannel shirt and large garbage bag as a poncho to help keep me warm. That was barely succeeding. Sometimes I would feel my butt shiver, sometimes my teeth would chatter. I dreamed of running, not so much the marathon, but of running to help me feel warmer.

After checking in and dropping off my bag with a hoodie and sweatpants for after the race, I had along with others gathered in the lee of a display tent for some shelter from the wind that was noticeable but not so strong yet. We stood around and tried to summon the stoicism of the penguins who hold eggs up on the their feet during the long night of Antarctica winter. We all had our own eggs clutched up inside of us. For me, I had two, one of which I well tell you about now. One will have to wait til later. It’s not time for it to be told yet.

I won’t surprise you with the egg that I will tell you about. It was to run a marathon and for my skill level as a runner, run it relatively well. I wasn’t exactly certain what to make of the training I had done and the fact that I had developed iron-deficiency over the summertime. Iron supplements begun in mid-September had helped a lot, but there was some uncertainty. But I hoped that if I ran conservatively, I would have enough that when I reached 20 miles, I would be good enough to run the rest of it without difficulty.

Just before they began allowing my corral to move forward, I removed the garbage bag poncho and the somewhat tattered flannel shirt of too many years, too many washings, and too many frayed threads and holes to justify keeping anymore. I shivered. The wind had grown slightly stronger as daylight had grown so.

Then finally my corral was off. I was some distance behind the 4:15 pace group and its sign. So it began.

—-

The day before I had parked at a station to take a train in to the city and pick up the race bag with a shirt and assorted freebies. And the bib. The first time ever I’d pick up a bib for a full marathon. I had run a little over 2 miles earlier in the morning to push the running streak to day 587.

I reached the station well in time for the train in to the city. I parked and went up to the platform where already a woman was standing there. I crossed the tracks over to her side, intending to ask her if she knew whether it was this side that trains in ran along. But she asked me that first.

I thought quickly back to the last time I had used the station and vaguely remembered the side we stood on as being that, so I said yes I believe so and mentioned how I felt I remembered that from a summons for grand jury duty back in 2015.

We chatted some there. I found out she was heading to New York to attend a friend’s wedding and I revealed my purpose was to pick up my race stuff for the marathon tomorrow. She had run in college and we talked about that some along with other things, such as work and the Portuguese language and curiosity and the desire to learn.

We continued to talk on the train ride in. It was good, I felt enlivened and happy that running had led to this brief intersection in the lives of 2 people. Running has been a great help to me in figuring some things out the past few years and I felt optimism, a good sign that this maybe meant the marathon the next day would go well and be triumphant. A victory. A symbol. A metaphor. I had talked to her about how sometimes when I ran it felt like I got down to my core identity, that the cultural framework crumbled and all that was left was me.

She talked some about how she was thinking of getting back into running. I encouraged her to take it up again. Interestingly, she talked some about how one thing she wanted to do before doing so was finding a group to run with and she spoke about the fear that many female runners have to run with — that they can be targets of harassment and violence. The need to protect herself and be careful. And I agreed. I’ve read about the issue and fully agree with those who make the point that it simply shouldn’t be so. What is so fucked up about our society that women have to live in fear of violence and harassment simply because they are women? It’s called misogyny, it’s called patriarchy. It is real and it exists and it is something that needs to be addressed in how our culture raises men.

Our brief intersection came to an end when she had to debark at a station to catch another. Wherever she may be now, I wish her the best and thank her for a good conversation about life, running, language learning and more. I hope she gets back to running and that her foot is fully healed.

—-

I had gone a little past mile 2 when I spotted my coworker standing on a street corner, looking for me. I had told her that I’d be wearing a kilt and my team type 1 JDRF singlet over a long-sleeve shirt. But she wasn’t seeing me. I tried to get my mouth to work and make sound, but my face was still frozen. I waved my right hand in the air and she did spot me. It was brief but good. I wasn’t completely alone this day. A coworker had come to see me and give me a cheer.

—-

Mile 17, the walking mile. It had been during mile 15 that we had turned almost directly into the wind and I began to sense impending doom. I had run conservatively but I could the legs growing heavier and slower. The wind was rising and some gusts knocked me and other runners sideways at times. Finally I had reached the marker indicating 16 miles done and I began to walk.

Horror gripped me. Why was I walking? The second half of the race was an out-and-back section and every step now was a step away from the finish area, from my car in the parking garage, from the Art Museum where works of art explored human form and identity. I was totally bereft of any runner’s high. On the other side of the road, those fast runners already in the final miles to the finish, they seemed to leap along. Some with faces resolute as stone, some with looks of joy, some grimly twisted into anguish. I felt small and unimportant, beyond help and hope.

I pulled the glucose meter out of my upper pocket in the kilt and checked the blood sugar. It came back as 69 mg/dL, but there was uncertainty some because it also flashed a thermometer symbol indicating that it might not be reliable due to being too cold. I pulled gum drops out and ate 3 of them and resolved to snag cups of Gatorade at the next couple of aid stations.

—-

I had taken up running again at the mile 18 marker. It was ugly and slow. I ran about 13 min/mile pace and calculated that I might be able to come in under 5 hours if I could speed up a tiny bit. I worked on that while heading out to the turnaround, still wondering all the while why I was running farther away. The only thing that I could cling to was how I had promised this to myself in so many ways, to my type 1 diabetic self that once thought something like this was impossible, to my runner self that wanted to believe in that and redemption and effort and that sometimes struggle, while ugly, might be worth something. And yet an even deeper self as well, one that I can’t write about here yet, but so critical to finishing this in spite of the horror that that self feared to come.

I even briefly wondered if I might go hypoglycemic and pass out and die. But on I went.

—-

Mile 25. I had been running the past 7 miles. slowly regaining some speed although the legs hurt and all feels tenuous and threadlike. I still look at my watch sometimes and see that maybe under 5 hours could be done. If I can hold on. If, if, if. Then comes that slight turn to the course and the steep hillside. And it curled the wind, so suddenly what had been a favorable wind came back into us. And thus defeat. I started walking again, then back to running when the wind got right again.

But the walking steps there slowed me down and when I saw the time at mile 25, I saw that there wasn’t enough in me to make it under 5. So I walked again.

Amazingly there were still people out there cheering for us slowpokes,. Often they took my name from my bib and yelled it out to me. Go Matthew! You got this! Way to go, Matthew! It was both beautiful and horrible. I was a failure walking. I was supposed to be running here in triumph, I had rehearsed that in my head and heart so many times the months before. But I had nothing extra and all I could do was walk.

Still they cheered me on and the others. Still I walked. My watch had long past clocked over 5 hours. The wind pushed on me from behind. Finally, summoning the last bits of pride and desperation, I lurched into an ugly stride that qualified as running in the loosest sense of the word and ran the last third of a mile until I crossed the line, tears on my face and in my heart.

Success. Failure. Both. Everything and nothing. Volunteers stood waiting with medals. A participation medal I thought bitterly. But I took it all the same and put it around my sore neck and shoulders. God it was cold.

—-

So there I was, lost and confused. Think, I thought to myself. I have to get to a block west of Broad Street. If I get there, then I can at least walk up or down it and find that garage. I asked a group of people for directions. I shivered inside the hoodie and mylar blanket. It’s that way, he told me. Thank you, I said, so I headed east. But still lost. My heart ached as much as the legs already did.

I reached a point where I had to turn. I chose left and going south. Then a block down from that, I finally gained relief. First a sign indicating a turn to get to Broad St, but even better a sign for the Vine St expressway, and then even better than that, I saw the parking garage up ahead and to the right.

I shivered and walked as fast as able, crossing the two streets needed when the opportunity came. Then in order to make sure I didn’t miss the level that my car was on in the garage, I walked up the ramps and found it on level 3. A brief fearful panic nearly stopped me dead when I worried what if my keys had fallen out of the kilt during the run.

No such bad luck though and I pulled them out. Into the car and starting to get some heat. I checked the blood sugar and it was good. I had survived. I had found the car. I had failed. Even in the depths of the garage it felt like wind still rocked the car. Then I pulled the parking ticket out of the glove compartment and began the journey home.

Humbled. Lost but found again. A piss-poor runner. A type 1 diabetic. A failure. A success. Less than I thought I was and more than that too. Still carrying the echoes of horror from people cheering Matthew on. Yet grateful too in ways I can’t describe. They didn’t really know who I was. But then so did I for so many years. What’s in a name anyway? Who the fuck knows?

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