Running Commentary

The Big Sur half marathon (pic from Janet)

I've thought for a few days now about how best to capture the deep experience of running my first half marathon. It was in Monterey last weekend and it took us along Cannery Row, into Pacific Grove, along the rocky coastline where waves crashed. It was beautiful. And much more.  And I've started and stopped and not been happy with my words and re-started and tried again.

And, so, why not try the truth?!

The truth is I censored the inner voice that told me to maybe walk up that first hill, the expenditure of energy for the distance covered seeming way out of proportion. But pride pushed me up and then my groins were sore for the next nine miles. Good call.

The truth is I was passed by two pregnant women at around the six-mile mark. They were talking to each other and laughing. And I couldn't catch them. I tried. I just couldn't.

The truth is I tried to concentrate on my form, not striking my heels. But that made things worse.

The truth is at about seven miles that hard-to-describe feeling of a nail being hammered through my left kneecap first made itself felt. It didn't really go away.

This is actually video!
The truth is I tried to break the race into smaller portions. You know, trick myself. I would run 10 minutes and walk one. Typically, six minutes had gone by when I looked down at my watch, and the countdown was on. At around the 10-mile mark, and thinking six or seven minutes had elapsed in the current segment, I looked down to see that exactly 26 seconds had gone by.

The truth is I then said a bad word. A number of times.

The truth is I will live with KT tape on the top of my right foot rather than pull out the hair that has now grown into it.
Foot needs a hand

The truth is a toe on my left foot my lose a toe nail from repetitive stress bruising.

The truth is I finished the race in 2 hours and 29 minutes. Shelagh ran it in 2:13. I am very proud of her. Inspiring Janet also hit the finish line before me.

The truth is that mind over matter buries the inconvenient fact that matter has its own mind, and it can be in a civil war with what we think is our better, higher mind that is attracted, like fish to a lure,  to things like motivational epithets and alliteration.

The truth is I ran for awhile behind a man carrying an American flag who was wearing a T-shirt that said "Pain is weakness leaving the body." I think this is how Marines see the world.

The truth is that in mile 12 I no longer had the knees to run downhill, and had to walk. Yikes!

And the truth is that I felt some kind of failure and doubt and pain almost every step of the ratcheting-down-my-reality way.

But the truth is also that the sum of those failing steps was, when I crossed the finish line, a kind of accomplishment I have never felt before. The spoils of victory were a sugar cookie, a bag of fruit, an insulated blanket, a glass of beer, and a cup of minestrone. There were hugs and stories and laughs. (And there was some vomit from a dude who finished just before me.) The sights and sounds and smells were in high-definition. But it wasn't the euphoria I had expected.

It's the classic story imported into and re-formatted for our age, I guess. The hero takes himself, herself out of a position of comfort, trading it for a quest in harsh conditions where the outcome is unknown, acquiring, as they return, new knowledge of themselves.

At the core of that new knowledge is the old truth that it's over before you know it: the 13.1-mile mark is reached. More gracefully, and following Wordsworth in The Prelude, it's the unsettling awareness that the traveller unknowingly crosses the Alps.

A peasant met us, from whose mouth we learned
          That to the spot which had perplexed us first              580
          We must descend, and there should find the road,
          Which in the stony channel of the stream
          Lay a few steps, and then along its banks;
          And, that our future course, all plain to sight,
          Was downwards, with the current of that stream.
          Loth to believe what we so grieved to hear,
          For still we had hopes that pointed to the clouds,
          We questioned him again, and yet again;
          But every word that from the peasant's lips
          Came in reply, translated by our feelings,                 590
          Ended in this,--'that we had crossed the Alps

For still we had hopes that pointed to the clouds -- that's how I had expected to feel when I ran under the big, red inflatable finish line. But I felt more like Wordsworth's traveller, slightly mystified and startled it was, with just another of the same strides I had been taking for two-and-a-half hours, over.

Yes, it's clear that my future course is downwards, and that there is a time beyond the time on my running wristwatch, a time that will swallow that time, but the truth is also that I think I can do a little better next time.

Shot while running back


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