20 hours before the Marathon. I have a slight headache and a weird spotty rash radiating up my left leg. Yesterday my left ankle felt all sorts of funky during a 3 mile “stretch of the ol’ leg”.
I’m sitting in a freezing cold cafe, huddled in as many layers as I brought, cupping my hands to warm my breath between typed sentences. I’m in Hawaii, for Christ’s sake.
I need to get home, on my bicycle. In the rain. It’s a long hilly ride. Gonna get soaked. Don’t really want to use the energy so soon before the race. But I messed up. Crashed in town last night at a friend’s. Left all my running attire at home. Thinking I’d just bike up there this morning. Great. Gonna catch a cold biking home in the rain, get soaked, grab my gear, bike back to town, get soaked again, and crash in town tonight, when I am supposed to.
I’m not a very good planner. I’m an even worse linear thinker. It just doesn’t come natural to me. I’ve had to learn. I’ve had to train myself. And then before I know it I’m walking around acting like someone else and losing touch with my own self. It’s not easy for folks like me. The cards are stacked against me. I look around and see everyone moving from one appointment to the next, one destination to another. Always preoccupied with the next thing to do. And I either gotta keep up or get run over. Most of the time I just run to get outta the way.
Marathon day. 6:00 am start time. I’m wide awake at 0445. My friend Tyler and I spent the night at a friend’s closer to the starting line. We arrive with plenty of time. It’s dark out, and a light rain is keep things cool. I feel good. Really good. Did everything right the night before. Ate a high-fiber dinner of cooked vegetables, kalo, and sweet potatoes. I had the best poop of my light when I awoke, and another at the starting line. I was well hydrated.
I ran the marathon. I ran it in shoes that felt like dead weight after only 5 miles, soaked through by the rain, my ankles sloshing around sloppily. I could feel a repeat from 2014 when I last attempted the very same marathon course. And sure enough, at almost exactly the same spot, Mile 21, the 2nd metatarsal right at the ball of my right foot begins to act up.
And I’m tired.
I went out fast, because I’ve got some good 10k speed under my wings, but I didn’t have the endurance to keep it up for 26.2 miles. Only about 20 miles. 20 miles. I saw my past self in front of me when I hit that pinnacle mile marker. My past self stopped and took his shoes off and tried to run barefoot to offset the pain. I watched him make it about a mile, limping, then walking, then stopping. Mile 21. I pass the marker where My past self is sitting on the curb waiting for someone to pick him up. The pain is excruciating. I can feel his on top of my own pain.
I’ve slowed down to 8min/miles after running nearly 20 miles averaging 7min/miles. No one has passed me yet. I had been alone in the race since about mile 5. No one in front, no one behind. No one to motivate me, and I kept getting slower and slower. I reached the last turnaround point, fighting hard internally. I wondered what I Looked like to the aid station volunteers as I passed through, mumbling something about being in pain, but too afraid to stop, fearing I’ll never get going again.
The rain had passed and the sun was out in full force. I tried changing how my right foot was hitting the pavement to minimize the pain, but each time I attempted, a muscle in my leg cramped, and I’d let out a yelp and return to slamming my foot back on the balls of my feet. 5 miles to go. It proved to be the hardest five miles of my life. I started talking to myself out loud… “come one Jon-Erik! Don’t you DARE think about stopping. Not this time. Come on! Keep going! Fucking DO IT.”
I trudged through the next mile as the course left the main road onto a quieter street. It was lonely. My body wanted to stop so badly. But I wasn’t having any of it. There were cones along the side of the road, spaced roughly 50 meters apart. I just focused on one cone at a time. I couldn’t think about the 4 to 5 miles left. Too long. The finish line felt impossibly far away. But the cones. I could do the cones.
Another mile down and I joined back with the main road. My eyes were beginning to roll in their sockets. I had a hard time focusing my vision. I didn’t really need it though. I snatched a Gu pack at the next aid station, and cup of water which I barely got down. I still gotta learn how to drink water while running. You’d think I’d have figured that one out.
Right after the aid station my right leg from achilles up through the hamstring stiffened without notice. I stopped in my tracks, shamelessly, and stretched it out, before shuffling along. I checked my watch. That last mile took 9 minutes. Holy shit. I’m not gonna make. Bad sign. When that thought creeps in, things get can real ugly. But I was in luck. I had my past self with me. No, he was behind me. And he was yelling at me from a distance. You can’t give up. You did that last time. No way are you giving up twice. And I also had my friends who I trained with and were in the race. One in front of me, probably about to cross the finish line. And one behind me, probably about to catch me any minute. If it wasn’t for them, I could get away with stopping. No one would know. I could slide away. Just my past self and me sitting on the curb…
2 miles to go. A guy in blue catches me and passes by. My friend Tyler isn’t too far behind. I cross the street at the Ice Ponds and head onto Banyan drive. I try picking up the pace once I can look over my shoulder and see Tyler. He’s with a guy named Michael, a solid runner from New York. They pass by me, Michael full of energy blasting positive vibes at Tyler who’s eyes are dead locked focused on something in front of him. They pass me under the shade of the Banyans and Michael shouts at me to join them. “Now’s the time, give it all you got!” He says something about Tyler kicking ass the whole way; how he decided to stay with Tyler until the end. I’m pumped up by his energy and try to stay with them. It would feel great to finish alongside Tyler and Michael. But my leg cramps up again and instead I come to another screeching halt. One mile from the finish. Half of me feels delusional from the pain and lack of electrolytes. The other half feels euphoric with visions of finishing the race that defeated me last time. I’m standing there. One mile to go, Marathoners and Half-Marathoners are passing the opposite direction. The marathoners still have 10 miles to ago. They are in a very different world than me right now as I’m less than a mile away and can’t get my legs to cooperate, while they’re trucking along slowly and steadily.
I start running again. I pass Suisan, cross over the Wailoa river and coast down to the finish line. 3:17:58. One minute behind Tyler. I can’t fucking wait to get these shoes off of my feet.
I finished. It feels good. Just a couple months of training and a respectable time. I go find Mike who ran a stellar 2:57. He’s all smiles. And so is Tyler. We all finished, and overall ran right a pace we all wanted. See you guys next race.