By Gabriella Shelow
I don’t know that I would call myself a runner per se, because when I think of a “runner” I think of someone much more intense than I am. I picture someone who always eats healthy, organic foods and has washboard abs, and that is definitely not me. I’m more of an it’s ok if you wanna chow down on a large cup of frozen yogurt because there’s fruit on it and it’s healthy..right kind of person. But for someone who isn’t a runner I sure do a lot of running.
Like right now, during mile 8 of my first half-marathon, I’m doing a LOT of running. Right now, I wish I didn’t run. I’m in pain, and what is worse, I know this pain isn’t letting up anytime soon. I can’t stop. I’ve still got 5.1 miles to go.
With every stride I take there are a series of pains. With the lift of my leg my quads feel like they are being blasted with sand shooting from a high-pressure washer, my hamstring sends a shooting pain that stretches from the back of my knee up into my glutes. Ouch. As the ball of my foot connects with the asphalt, I feel the pain of two blunt objects striking for the thousandth time. Frickin-H. And as I spring forward my calves contract, shooting a fiery-hot pain up my shin. This series of pains replays itself with every step I take, like a bad song stuck on repeat. If I wanted to be tortured I’d just play my mom’s CD Collection.
The asthma is beginning to make its appearance and I feel it in my chest. It wants in on the party that is currently wreaking havoc on my body. So much for this stupid inhaler. With every breath I feel the tight constriction of my lungs. My mind wanders to a program I watched on the Discovery channel about snakes. I think of the boa constrictors that slowly squeeze their prey more and more while the animal slowly suffocates to death. My asthma is like the boa constrictor, slowly suffocating me as I try to push my body to new limits. It’s mocking me in my plight. Tormenting snake.
But all this physical pain wouldn’t be so bad if I were mentally tough right now. The truth of the matter is, I’m not. I haven’t been on my game for about a mile now, ever since we started running through this military base. This has to be the most boring stretch of race ever, in the history of races. Hands down, it’s got to be the worst. There is no music, no water stations, no spectators, and I’ve hit my wall. The only sound is that of padding feet and my own breathing, which has taken on a rhythmic wheezing noise – but this isn’t the kind of noise I need right now. I need to get out of my own head, out of my own pain.
I look over at Chris. We’d signed up for this together to bond more as a couple. Being recently engaged, we thought we’d take on something new, something fun. Fun….right. We’d been training for months. We’d go on runs before school, after work, on the weekends, any time we had a moment free. At first it was fun. It was a good way for us to spend time together, what with our schedules being so different, him with a full-time job and me being back in school, we didn’t exactly keep the same hours. So the runs had been a good way to make sure we made time for each other. We’re both former athletes and we wanted something we could work toward together. I’m not exactly sure what, but I think we both needed the sense of self-competition again. There was something extremely fulfilling about feeling that drive again, the excitement of exceeding your own expectations. I hadn’t felt that since I gave up competitive swimming eight years ago, and I’d wanted to get it back. But right now that feeling is nowhere to be found.
I need something, anything to break this silence and my own inner dialogue that’s taken a turn into negative town. Oh my GOSH where is the next freakin’ water station? Why don’t I just quit this thing? I’m gonna kill Chris for making me do this! What I need is my iPod. I’d kill to hear some Nikki Minaj right about now. Starships are meant to fly-y-y-y, hands up and touch the sky-y-y. But of course, when we started training together, we swore up and down that we’d keep each other company throughout the run. We’d promised each other “No iPods.” I guess that was a part of the whole couples bonding thing – help each other out through a tough time. OK, I’m needing that HELP right about now.
So I look at Chris, hoping for some encouragement, conversation, anything. But the look on his face tells me he’s in more pain than I am, and his gait is off. He’s favoring his right knee. Shoot. I know what that means. He’s been dealing with that knee injury since it almost ended his soccer career in high school. That’s not good.
“You doing ok?” I ask.
“Yep,” is his quick response.
I debate whether to ask about the knee. I don’t, because I know if I do that will be it, he’ll be done, we’ll both be done. Just be done. The truth of the matter is we are both barely holding it together right now and thinking about the pain only makes it worse. Pain, pain, everywhere. Every step is a true test of my will.
Just ahead on the left I see that purple flag. It’s mile marker nine. Oh thank God. Four more miles to go. No, scratch that, 4.1 more miles to go. Because it’s not the first 13 miles that’ll get ya, it’s that last .1 that is really tough. Yea…right.
I am cursing myself for being talked into doing this. How exactly did I let myself get talked into this. O yea, that is right, I’d let my pride get the better of me. I’m an athlete, I thought. I was a state-ranked swimmer. I can do anything. I’d like to go back and roundhouse kick myself in the face right about now. I’m just glad I had enough sense to not sign up for the full marathon or I’d be only a quarter of the way into it instead of over half way.
I look at my watch. It’s 7:45 – a.m. and I’ve almost run 10 miles and it’s not even 8 in the morning. What kind of insane person am I? I don’t even want to think about the fact that I’ve been up since 4 a.m. – yep that’s right, 4 a.m. Well, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing at the time. I mean, I’ve gotten up for runs at 5 a.m. before, but what no one told me is that the night before a race you are lucky if you get 4 hours of sleep. I went to bed at 9 p.m. last night and tossed and turned for longer than I care to think about. It’s like my mind was on overdrive and I couldn’t calm it down. Maybe that is the mental toughness again. Clearly, I lack it. Pssshhhh, and I call myself an athlete. Remind me again HOW I thought this was a good idea?
I’m thinking about walking – just give up already – but that had been another thing Chris and I had promised each other, that we’d run the whole thing. What kind of sadistic freak am I? But then I realize that walking 4.1 miles is a lot worse than running 4.1 miles. It’s going to hurt either way, so I might as well cut the amount of time in half. So I’m not gonna walk. I’m not gonna do it because somewhere buried beneath the pain I’m feeling is the desire to feel a sense of accomplishment. After all, that is why I did this thing in the first place; because I am a competitor, I refuse to give up, and I need this. I’ve missed this feeling. If I’m being honest with myself, I love this…or rather, I will love this. I hate this right now.
And, as if it’s a sign to not give up, there is mile 10, right on queue, and…a water station. Hallelujah! It’s like an oasis in the desert. I feel my arms involuntarily stretch out toward the water, like a flower stretches toward the sun. I need water, but wait, what is this? Is it? It couldn’t be. It is! It’s Gatorade! Right now this Gatorade is worth more to me than gold. I can feel the electrolytes rush through my veins, empowering me, refreshing me. Is this what Superman feels like? Must be.
I feel so good I’m hearing music in my head. Hold up. I hear actual music. There must be a DJ up ahead and he’s playing “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. Man that’s my J-A-M! Now I’m not just running, I’m dancing, dancing those 3.1 miles away. I feel it coming back, my mental toughness, my energy, it’s here, and I know I can do this. I know I can make it. I can. I feel my speed pick up a bit as I cruise along to the finish line, because 3.1 miles really is doable. I’m home free. It’s another 27 minutes of putting one foot in front of the other and I’m there. I’m going to own this, just try and stand in my way.
I look at Chris and he is doing better too. He’s still limping but his face looks…less pained.
“Ya hear that?” he says.
“Oh yea, you know it!” I say.
The music is helping us both, and just ahead I see the sign I’ve been waiting for. Not a mile marker sign, but a get pumped because you’re about to run right off this military base and back into the civilian world sign. As soon as we hit the main road I hear the metallic clang of cow bells and cheers in the distance. Love those cow bells. This sound mixed in with the music, it’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. The mile eleven marker is in sight and I know I’m golden. I’m gonna make it.
“Keep it up Gaby!” a random spectator yells to me. I smile back at her and give her the thumbs up because I know I’m going to keep it up. Better than that, I’m going to finish it. All the pain and self-pity I felt during mile 8 melts away. We gonna light it up, like its dy-na-mite. I get that old feeling, the one I’ve been craving. It’s the feeling of pride. I’m proud of myself for making it through this. I’m proud of myself for sticking it out. I’m proud I didn’t walk.
I see the 12 mile marker and I break into a sprint. After all, what’s a 1.1 mile sprint when you’ve just run 12? And you know what? The honest to goodness answer to that question is, it’s nothing.
I’m experiencing the best runners high there is. This. Is. Awesome! The last mile is packed with spectators cheering. I see my friends and they have that bright neon pink sign that they knew I would be able to see among the sea of people. It says, “Gaby and Chris, Git-R-Done!!!!!” They’re screaming, I wanna scream too, but I channel that energy into my running. Faster, faster, faster! So instead I point at them – letting them know I see them, and knowing that I’ve got this.
The finish line is in sight. Fifty more yards to go. I’ve got a smile from ear to ear. I feel…ecstatic as I cross the finish line. Thank God for Gatorade. I know that tomorrow I’ll start looking for another race to sign up for.