On Sunday morning I was awake at 4:50 am rubbing udder cream all over my body, in every single crack, the hidden recesses. It’s greasy, like Vaseline, and was originally used only for massaging cow’s tits, but farmer’s wives noticed a difference in their husband’s hands. “Oh honey, what soft hands you have!” So began a trend. Leading me to this moment in the dark, naked and cold, bent over reaching for parts that aren’t meant to be reached. Praying this magic potion would spare me the chafing blistering section of the certain hell I would enter in a few hours.
On this particular morn there were two thousand people, a small number by average race standards, finding their way through the dark to the start line. What drives us to voluntarily sign up for such a difficult event? Generally, humans tend to resist pain and discomfort. We avoid hot stovetop burners to prevent blisters and the lingering sting. Most run for cover during a downpour. And find shade in ruthless temperatures. For Pete’s sake, we cuss when we stub our toe on the bedpost! And then sign up for a gruelling event that oft requires the sacrifice of an entire toenail or three.
Right before the horn, the calm before the storm. Thousands of people lined up in front of the port-a-potties ready for the final elimination round. Crap takes centre stage, giant strides in social civilization lost in an instant. Formerly a private topic, only yesterday, in fact; shit dominates.
Cause that brown stuff can make a mess of your marathon!
More strangely, we’re proud of it, and our running mates silently cheer us. Racehorses, the bunch of us; dreaming of running like one and shitting like them too….. carelessly and publicly. These same people will head limp to the office toilet on Monday, avoiding eye contact with fellow-poopers, coughing right before the plop! spraying pretty scents, and engaging in countless other rituals. But not today. Excremental tidbits pepper excited chatter … solid pre-marathon discourse. Solid, hopefully.
Now the storm. Skittish and enthusiastic we’re off, most of us too fast. The cheering crowds look happy for us, but I suspect the real reason for their good cheer is that they’re not running for the next four hours or so.
But drinking coffee, relaxing, surfing the net, then rushing to the finish line.
Right from the start, I have some idea of how this is gonna’ go. My body tells me. Now I realize, having experienced both excellent and disastrous marathons, that said body is not entirely in control. In fact, probably cause I study Psychology full-time, I tend to give the brain a lot of credit. Today, I feel okay, a 7 out of 10. Not great, but definitely has potential. By 25km, my feet are throbbing painfully, every time they strike the pavement, which is around 150 times a minute! This is a new problem, one I’ve never experienced. I hate it when that happens cause I have to figure it out on my feet, literally. New shoes, which I love, and I’ve broken in with at least 300 kms but no run longer than 15km. Rookie mistake. They hurt like hell at 30km.
I urge Marshall to run ahead; he’s feeling good.
He hesitates. I insist.
How can he test his limits if he’s limited by mine?
My race is now a mental one, barely physical. My body is gonna’ need to be carried. By my head. Broken feet. My inner thighs, right foot, and the insides of my upper arms are peeling off. Pretty much the only thing not blistered are my boobs. Kinda’ funny. Udder cream. Kinda’ funny cause, thanks to cancer, they’ve given me more trouble than any other body part in my lifetime. Mr. President-aka Marshall-disappears from view, and I’m alone in a crowd of at least a thousand. My mantra begins.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
I decide to suffer. In the interest of transparency, I must admit that I prefer to resist suffering. I’ll walk. Nothing wrong with that. But this time I wanted to hardcore suffer and see what I had. So I ran. Through hell. I don’t remember much. Except the pain. And a group of stunning kites blowing together in the wind. I called out to the white one, sure it was my spirit, begging it to stay.
Around 35km, I noticed an elderly man pass me. He was archaic. My pride hurt as badly as my feet. I sped up and passed him only to be overtaken a few minutes later. This continued for the next 5 kms and actually motivated to keep moving. We became friends, the kind that don’t have to talk but you both know you’re there for one another. The last time I passed him, he croaked.
“Can you believe we pay to do this?”
I smiled. Too weak to answer, but he could read my thoughts. We must be crazy.
Crossing the finish line delivers an incredible rush of disproportionate elation. Besides marathon finish lines, I had only felt this emotion so intensely several times in my life. After giving birth following totally natural labour, 12 hours for Jessica, I remember saying to my doctor, “I can’t believe after that excruciating pain I’m still alive!” And when I was told that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. It’s even more than being in the moment.
You are so immersed in the moment you become the moment.
The rest of the day is a miracle. Lived purely in the moment. The past recedes, and the future is a non-concept. Life exists only here. Now. The bright blue sky so much bluer. Backs melting into the grass, like wax, completely surrendered to the earth. Breathing, easy and beautiful, no longer a mystery. Warm clothes soothing your very soul. Food, every bite, a sensory explosion. Peace.
Momentous living. It’s the only decent way to live.
P.S. Did I mention I’m running another marathon – in Newfoundland -in 12 days?!