One of my Wyoming detective friends talked me into running a marathon almost a year ago. I objected to a 26.2 mile race since I knew crawling across the finish line would be a moral defeat. Plus, I was certain at my age I could not hold my potty needs for that many hours. She convinced me to do the half marathon while she and her mother ran the marathon. I agreed.
It felt so good signing up for a race. I had not run a marathon since 1989, but had participated in several smaller races since then. This would jump start me back into running events as I had dropped off racing for about a year because life got in the way.
Some months later as the start date drew nearer, I decided 13.1 miles was beyond my capability. I could always walk it. Yet, the races prior I had run through the entire way no matter the miles. It was a goal I had set for myself. Maybe there had been some shuffling, but in my mind, I was a race horse to the end. So, these unrealistic standards I set myself up for were chewing away at me. I really should not have signed up for something beyond my abilities. Lucky for me, I was able to downgrade to the 8K.
Race day came faster than I had expected with my training at ebbs and tides. I was about two donuts too many over the weight limit and not properly conditioned for cardio. However, I was strong and determined which made me perfect for roller derby. However, running was not that kind of sport.
The day was worse than craptastic: 29 degrees, windy, with a chance of rain. All three happened in sequence, then simultaneously for the finale.
When I saw the familiar faces greet me in the crowd, it made it all like a day at the beach. I had not seen them for years. This was exciting: an accomplishment we could all relish in and enjoy.
The starting line could not have been more picturesque. Well, it could have been about 20 degrees warmer. The announcements were short and sweet. The anthems were spot on. The sunrise was out of a Disney movie.
As the starting time drew near, the runners pushed forward. It was like an active beehive. We were all moving side to side to keep warm. Some agile racers were jumping. I took advantage of the huddle time to steal body heat. Is it creepy to snuggle strangers?
If anyone has an issue with personal space and crowds, racing might not be your forte.
And so, it began.
I had a theory that turtle speed would be required while the faster runners played Frogger trying to get their place. Then after the crowd thinned out, I would increase my pace once there was room.
As the American rules of the road go, so it goes everywhere. Slow traffic to the right, pass on the left. Right? Wrong.
Somehow, runners forget all the rules and it becomes natural selection. Expect to be bumped, stepped on, and pushed. They are polite though, because all those movements are followed by “sorry”. Of course, I took no offense to them pegging me as a slowpoke because they had not seen me pour on the gas yet. I had wheels. I was a sandbagger.
Mile one is always the worst for me. My body aches and feels like a ton of bricks. Somewhere during this first leg of this race, the people who put on these events trick me. I perceived I was really running in sand and brainwashed with ideas of doubt. It happens every time. Once I get past the imaginary brick wall, it becomes personal triumph.
Demons be gone! Pretty soon I get lost in my thoughts and my music. It is a constant battle at every race I have entered.
When you are consumed by day dreaming to keep your mind off the fact you are dying with every stride, all kinds of random happens inside your head. You compare yourself to other runners. You look at shoes and running apparel as if it were a live fashion runway show. You not only talk to yourself, but you answer your own questions. Eventually, you find a pacer buddy, but you keep that part secret. Many people do not take well to stalkers.
There are times I turn my music up louder, so I do not hear my own breathing and all the feet pounding on the pavement. After about 2 miles, it sounds like you are surviving in a running of the bulls. It is way distracting because I get confused whether I should run for my life or let the stampede hit me. If my music is not loud enough, I count my steps and tell myself to breathe. It messes with my groove.
Thomas the Train kept repeating in my head. “I think I can. I think I can.”
For some reason mile 3 was a rejoicing time of memory hopping. As I came through the greenway and back into a neighborhood I had actually relived the last 10 years in my mind. I set future goals by charting out my next 5 years.
And then it hit me. I might have to go to the bathroom.
These moments can creep up on you at inopportune times. For example, bathroom duties can appear in emergency form when you are in the middle of mediating a disturbance or negotiating a hostage crisis. Today it decided to announce itself in the middle of an organized race with no restroom stops. Those luxuries were saved for the marathoners. Problems arise when you do not have any urination stamina in a short race. I found myself wondering if any marathoners wore Depends and if spandex would neatly disguise them so it did not look like you were wearing diapers.
Besides the lack of personal duty stations, there is that issue of jeopardizing your race time substantially by addressing mother nature. This sparked a memory. I recalled one of my local friends had confessed to me she did not want to ruin her PR (personal record) by running off track to find a restroom. She peed in her running pants and kept going.
You must admire her dedication and fortitude. She should have been a cop with that kind of mindset.
When you have to pee, that is all you think about. It takes over your common sense and becomes one of Maslow’s hierarchical needs. So, I tried one of my old hostage negotiation tricks of distraction on myself. Shifting the internal conversation and focus on planning my house repairs, creating a grocery list, and writing my next article seemed to help. As you might have guessed, I lost the article in my head. Have you ever noticed you have great ideas when you are without pen or computer?
It was not long after those great plans were devised that a 4-year-old passed me like I was standing still followed by a frantic mother. Thinking for sure it was just a mom and son out for a Saturday stroll on the trail, I did not pay much attention to it until I saw his mother’s number on her shirt. Well, at least his passing me did not count. He did not have a number. But, it still hurt.
I began cursing the person who gave me too many hamburgers and put lead in my shoes. Maybe I should try pumping my arms to make my legs go faster. It worked for Forrest Gump. I tried that several times, but it was ineffective. Nonetheless, I was a fast shuffler.
At mile four, I saw the end was near and my pace increased with my spirits.
Wow, you mean it was all in my head? Go figure. Glancing at my watch, I found my total time was quite frightening. This could be my slowest finish. At least it was a PR of some sorts.
Usually, I sprint the last mile, but I found I did not have enough gas, so I just jogged to the end. It was an accomplishment in itself that I had finished, a win.
I broke from the celebratory shenanigans to take a nap and get warmed up.
Once I had thawed out, we watched other runners complete the half and full marathons. It was the first time I had really stayed for hours to watch so many rallies for their last burst to the finish line. I have never been more inspired. Watching some of the struggles turn into victory on their faces, made me wish I had stayed in the longer race.
The smiles, the relief, the tears, and the pain in each of them brought the same emotion out of me. What a way to break yourself down in order to make yourself mentally stronger. I made a great marathon sympathizer.
And the humanity. It was everywhere. Cheers and cowbells. I was certain I saw Christopher Walken. Everyone was in it together.
We hailed “Hot Dog Man”, a “bunny grandma”, a group of servicemen in fatigues complete with rucksacks, parents with a handicapped child in a jazzed-out wheelchair, and many others. There were participants passing the spectator section with t-shirts bearing “cancer survivor” or “running for a cause shirts”, or those limping down the path. There were families, young and old folks, and people of all shapes and sizes. Each one made their goals, determined to the last second to get it done.
When my friends each crossed over the line, it was a victorious celebration with frozen hands and blisters! This joyous occasion was shortened by a burst of wind. Suddenly, the scaffolding came crashing down which sent the event into evacuation mode. How exciting!
We hustled to lunch where mentions were made for another future race. Had we already forgotten what we put ourselves through? No, it was just the nature of the fun in personal torment.
There are certain mindsets which never dissipate even after the career is over. Despite our age, physical condition, or geographic location– ambition and determination never leave cops. Sure, it might be glanced over occasionally by an extra slice of cake or a juicy prime rib steak. But when push comes to shove, cop brain never goes away.
By now my detective friend is knee deep in a heavy caseload. I can assure you she has the gumption to get through any dynamic situation. Marathons are great for fighting your head battles while also depleting every physical means you might store inside. They give you a baseline for mental fitness.
In case you were wondering, if I was in uniform and faced with an uninterruptible human crisis to save your life, I would pee my pants for you.