Journey of an Accidental Athlete
BRRANK! BRRANK! BRRANK! Your brackish alarm clock jolts you out of sleep at 4am on race day. Bleary-eyed, you gather your gear and head to the bus, passing drunken partiers only just winding down for the night. This morning, you trade late-night pizza for an early-morning Jif-smeared bagel as you ‘carbo-load’, savoring the sugar rush as the bus rolls through the eerily empty LIE to Southampton.
Before you know it, you are at the starting line of your first half marathon.
You double knot your sneakers, gingerly stretch, and nervously bounce along with a thousand other racers of varying ages, abilities, and athleticism. And then, with a sudden bang, you’re off. Your Nikes grip the asphalt, and the crowd’s momentum propels you forth on this new adventure.
You begin flanked by your coworkers (marathon veterans) making small talk, commenting on the expansive potato fields and expensive real estate, as you surprise yourself with an effortless pace, matching stride for stride. At least for the first few miles. But eventually, the chatter dissipates, you drop a step or two behind, and reality sets in. The longest race you had ever dared to run was a 5k. You used to laugh at the idea of running any farther. Yet here you are. So today, your goal is just this: to run the entire way without causing irrevocable bodily harm.
You are running your own race. Time is of no consideration.
Decidedly easing your foot off the pedal, you soak in the surroundings, admiring the well-manicured hedges, flawless lawns, and majestic mansions of Southampton’s Gin Lane. You peer through the trees, trying to satiate your curiosity about the personages and peculiarities of those dwelling behind the marbled gates. You want to sneer at their sheer opulence when so much of the world is in such disaster, despair, and disrepair. But when you inhale the warm, salty sea breeze, escape the sun under the expertly-shaped conifers, and admire the ocean’s undulating arcs, you realize that you too are privileged to have the health and means to be running…and not from bombs or bullets or floods or falling buildings.
You are running because you can and choose to run.
At mile 7, just over halfway, your body becomes acutely aware of any minor slant, curve, incline, or crack in the road, as you are careful not to expend any more energy than is absolutely necessary. You feel your pace slowing as you watch others pass you by. Your mouth feels desiccated, as if you had just chugged a Cabernet, its tannins draining all hints of moisture …without providing any benefits. Swallowing hard, you instead detect a hint of peanut butter in your thick saliva — remnants of the breakfast you now regret having consumed. You quickly spot a hydration station, where you grab a Dixie cup out of a little girl’s proudly outstretched hand at the sidelines…but only manage to catch a few drops of water in your mouth, the rest immediately absorbed by your shirt.
But just as you chastise yourself for not having trained more, a pony-tailed passerby flashes a smile and words of encouragement. On cue, ‘Out of the Blue’ erupts through your headphone wires as your Spotify skips to your favorite JC track. The infectious beat pumps fresh energy to your legs. Your strides lengthen. Your pace quickens. Your haphazardly-created playlist unfolds. The Cure. LCD. Bob Moses. Metric. How could you have left off Bieber??! The endorphins — or carbs — are kicking in.
And suddenly, you are at mile 10, the farthest that you’ve ever run in your life…with 3.1 miles still to go. But your hips are screaming, your thighs are crying, and your mind is cursing at you, questioning if your 30-something-old body is actually equipped for this. As you punch your cramped muscles, now passing scores of runners-turned-walkers, you remind yourself there is no shame in stopping. After all, if you manage to survive this race, you will still somehow have to make it home to your 3rd floor walk-up.
But you don’t stop. You are too close. You will finish. You can rest later.
So you power through with every ounce of your remaining energy, and cross the finish as the clock strikes 2:19:45. Running the entire way. With minimal collateral damage. Success! In disbelief, you proudly accept your medal, take a quick picture, and hobble your way in search of colleagues to celebrate. All the while beaming uncontrollably.
But almost as quickly as you leave the finish line, you wistfully look to the marathoners beginning their second loop. You find yourself wondering if your time is ‘good’. If you could have gone faster. You even wonder if this is an ‘impressive’ feat since it’s only really half of a marathon. You wonder if you should try for a full…
But then you stop. Breathe. Acknowledge. Appreciate.
You embrace your success and the moment and all the glory that is now.
….And then you post on social media. Because if you don’t do that, did it really happen? ;)