Yesterday I noticed the second toe on my left foot is black. I have no idea why.
But what I do know is what happens to all those people who actually finish marathons as fast as they possibly can. Here I am, five days removed from the 2010 Chicago Marathon, and frankly I still want my mommy.
Truth be told, it’s the kind of bodily damage I had secretly always wondered if I’d achieve. I wanted the aftermath of a marathon to tell me this story—that’d I’d done absolutely all I could do out there, that every ounce of months of training was put to good use, that the endless time and energy my coach generously gave me was not wasted.
Mission accomplished. When I finished the race in 3:19:22, with the temperature in downtown Chicago closing in on 85 degrees, my head, feet, legs, and arms throbbed. I’m almost certain my hair, eyelashes, and teeth hurt. My first reaction was pure joy with a new best time, in less-than-ideal conditions. My second was pure panic that I’d never make it back to the hotel—a two-mile walk that may have taken me longer to complete than the 26.2 miles that came before it.
In the midst of all the physical pain, though, is a lot of happy bewilderment. I started running marathons ten years ago this fall—I completed the 2000 New York City Marathon almost exactly one hour slower than the 2010 Chicago Marathon. Ten years. One hour. I look at the finish line photo of that younger, slightly bigger, cotton-shirt-wearing version of myself and want to tell her that she didn’t just check a to-do off of some life list, that because of this sport she’ll make friends with amazing people, visit places she’d otherwise never see, learn how to deal with triumphs and disappointments with equal grace, teach kids how to lead healthy lives, and discover that most limitations in life are completely self-imposed. I also want to give her some friendly fashion advice, but I’ll save that for another time.
Prior to 10/10/10 there was a sneaky part of my brain I didn’t know about that let the rest of me off the hook when the going got tough. I’ve crossed many, many finish lines with new best times, but with a gnawing intuition that I could’ve gone faster, not really knowing why I didn’t. I felt it coming on as it got hotter and hotter throughout Sunday’s race. There were many valid reasons to cut myself some slack—or even consider not finishing, saving my hard-earned fitness for a better day—and nobody would’ve thought less of me.
But as the doubts crept in, I knew enough this time to replace them with other thoughts. I mostly had flashbacks to early morning track workouts at 7,000 feet in the weeks before the race, following my coach, Mike, around and around that damn oval despite the hurt—his way of showing me the paces I am capable of, which I otherwise wouldn’t believe. I remembered the text he sent me as I headed to the starting line that morning—something he’s had to tell me more than once in two years: “You can do more than you think you can. Don’t underestimate yourself out there.”
And so, for the final four miles, when I considered slowing to a walk several times, I repeated it in my sloppy, increasingly sweaty, sun-burned head. “You can do more than you think you can. You can do more than you think you can. You can do more than you think you can.”
Mike’s words and his confidence got me all the way to the finish, though as soon as I stopped and wobbled toward the Gatorade, the dam I had built to temporarily hold all those doubts back, broke—and they flooded my head. I was convinced I was not the kind of runner who could drop eight minutes under a hot Chicago sun, as everybody around me legitimately grumbled and cried about terrible races and many more sought wheel chairs to the medical tent. So I stumbled toward my bag, grabbed my phone, and called Mike to confirm what the time on my watch was telling me. I can only hope it made him laugh.
Post-race milkshakes with friends. It's what's for dinner.
I know my body will soon heal and catch up with my mind and my spirit, which have already moved on to dreaming about new possibilities, cautiously optimistic that one day I will pick a race that defies global warming. For now, however, I’m taking refuge on the couch, grateful for a successful weekend made so much sweeter by the time spent with some of my favorite people, the love, support, and encouragement sent by family and friends, and the knowledge that no matter how annoying it might seem, my coach is almost always right. I can do more than I think I can.
Now, who wants to walk my dog for me this week?