Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I run because I am transcendent.

The days leading up to my departure for the Boston Marathon were a seething cauldron of personal and professional stress. A few friends asked me if I was excited and the truth was I had so much I was dealing with that I scarcely had time to even think about let alone get excited about the marathon.
Mercifully, I boarded my plane and was able to literally and figuratively put my challenges behind me. While I hadn't overcome any of them, I could at least get a respite from them for a few days.
Very quickly I began to grasp how different this experience would be from any other race I had participated in. The flight attendant called attention to a man sitting to my right sporting a Boston Marathon jacket. A collective roar ensued in celebration of his imminent journey. A few chills ran down my spine.
Several hours and thousands of miles later, we touched down. I was bombarded with Boston Strong banners, blue, yellow, and a seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm for a race that had been on my bucket list for more than a decade.
The requisite expo visit the next morning was utter bedlam. I was feeling overwhelmed and the fitful, meager hours of sleep I managed the night before didn't help. I appreciated the energy, passion, and enthusiasm at the expo, but I needed to decompress from a week that had been bedlam in its own right. I got what I needed and got out of there.
The truth is I am very much a solitary beast when it comes to my races. I generally need to be by myself the day before a race. This race was no exception. While I had no illusions I was going to run the race of my life, I knew I wasn't in the right head space and I needed to be in order to tackle 26.2 miles with a training regime that was best.
I spent several hours taking contrast baths to flush out any lingering adhesions, kinks, or other demons. I foam rolled a tight, heavy body that was barely in shape to attempt a marathon. I breathed deeply and meditated trying to quiet the nagging voices reminding me of all the chinks in my all too vulnerable armor.
My efforts paid dividends as sleep came easily that night. I was not at my best, but I would be ready to put it all on the line for a race that had a special place in my heart. The morning came all too quickly and the journey to the start line was a marathon unto itself.

Unlike all races I had previously competed in, this one involved a considerable amount of sitting around and waiting before even getting to the starting line. Eventually, the call came for me and the rest of the qualifiers to enter the corral. I breathed deeply and tried to filter out the omnipresent nervous energy that threatened to seep into my pores.

I was one corral from the elite runners, but knew I had no business being there. While I qualified with a fast time, that was nearly two years and a fractured sacrum ago. I would be lucky to manage a time 15 minutes slower than what I posted previously. I reminded myself that I simply had to do the best with what I had today. There were no pace goals, this was a pure gut race.
The dam burst and runners flooded past me in a blur. My ego grabbed hold briefly as countless streamed by me, but I told it to get lost. Making it here was enough and it was all I could reasonably expect.
Several miles into the race and it was still constant jockeying for position. I positioned myself near the shoulder of the road in an attempt to avoid the chaos, but it was hard to escape it. The road was crowded, but the chaos gradually started to abate as starting line jitters were exorcised. There was still a long way to go and adrenaline is only good for a quick hit.
Thoughts of the various challenges and frustrations I dealt with earlier in the week started to bubble to the surface, but I halted them. I would need them for the latter stages of the race when energy would be in short supply.
The sheer number of runners and spectators present was staggering. I am usually not one for wasting time and energy high fiving spectators, but I couldn't help myself.
13.1 miles approached and while I wasn't gassed, I wasn't terribly comfortable. I was ten pounds heavier than usual and had barely scraped together the minimum long runs required to give this a shot.
I felt like I was plodding awkwardly and still had a long way to go. But, regardless of my meager training and additional weight, I knew I could muster a strong finish if I marshaled my resources properly through the first 20 miles.
I also knew the Newton Hills were approaching and believed I could find a second wind here. The scream tunnel at Wellesley still echoed in my ears as I pushed onward.
Once again, the anger and frustration from a difficult week threatened to take hold and I had to fight the urge to indulge these emotions. I would need them after I put 20 miles behind me and needed to run on guts, anger, adrenaline, and sheer force of will.
A particularly loud roar from the spectators distracted me and tears welled up. I was reminded that I was part of something so much bigger than me. I could feel the energy from the crowd and was so grateful to have it on my side.
The hills arrived. Undaunted, I attacked them. I had climbed countless on the trails and throughout the streets of San Francisco. The second wind came as I began passing fading runners through this stretch without expending any additional energy.
I crested the final hill and my time had arrived. I was tired, but the finish line was nigh. I had the crowd and the demons from the past week to give me what I needed for this final stretch. It was time for me to finish.
My pace quickened as I began to actively ruminate on the challenges that had created no shortage of stress for me. The anger and frustration I had held in check for more than twenty miles began to wash over me in waves. Along with this came no shortage of adrenaline.
Boston approached and along with it came a deafening roar that transcended anything I have ever heard. Two miles of this deafening roar carried me closer and closer to the finish.
Once again, I fought back tears as I realized they were all in my corner and I was no longer running just for me, I was running for them. 

I was running for those who had been impacted by last year's tragedies, for those who only dreamed of being here, and for the countless who had their hearts broken last year at this race.
The final mile approached and I unleashed everything. This would be my slowest marathon in more than ten years, but I would finish harder and stronger than I had in any of my races.
The anger, the frustration, the crowds, the energy, the noise, and what little I had left drove me across the finish line with nothing left.
My fastest mile of the race would be my last. Dazed, spent, 
staggering, and barely coherent...I had finished.
It has taken me nearly a month to process what I experienced 
at the Boston Marathon. It's been exceedingly difficult to find 
the right words to capture what I experienced.   
I only recently realized why it’s been so difficult for me. It’s 
because what I experienced was beyond the range of normal 
or merely physical human experience. In other words, it 
was transcendent. 
I don’t know if I will ever experience anything like this again. 
But, it’s possible I might. So, I run because (every once in awhile) 
I am transcendent. 


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