As a reward, I put on my headphones. My marathon playlist keeps me moving. I see stee pass in his car down the highway. I’ll see him again in about an hour. I run the numbers. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101. It’s all about getting that medal.
It rains, just slightly.
How much can change in a mile. The novelty of seeing stee has worn off. The rain has stopped. It’s hot again. And I’m feeling those miles of running uphill. My hip hurts. My feet hurt. I am nowhere near the finish line. At this point, I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to finish. As much as I just ran, I have to do it again, but while I feel like this. I think about how it felt hours ago when it was dark and I was just starting out. It felt like days earlier. Could I do it again, but now in the heat and the sun and that throbbing in my hip and the aching in my feet? Why would I do this? Is this worth it?
More sponges. More water. More drinking. I stop to pee, trembling in the filthy port-a-potty, only to find I cannot pee. I think I have to, but I can’t. Does that mean my body is now tricking me into stopping, or have my organs started shutting down? I try to rub that friction goo on my legs, but I can’t get the bottle open with my teeth because I’m just too tired, so I throw it away, grab another sponge, soak my legs in cold water and keep going.
Keep going. Keep going.
What have I gotten myself into? What am I trying to prove? Who cares if you run a marathon? Why do you?
It’s time to stop. Every time I start to walk, I feel something push me from behind, right at my hip, making me pick up my pace again. Something won’t let me slow down.
It’s time to stop. Pack it in. No more. I’m seeing things. I think I see the car parked on the side of the road, but I don’t see stee. I’m imagining things, wishing I could go home.
Stee suddenly appears at my side. “Hey! You’re still doing it!”
It takes everything inside of me not to collapse. The tears start. “I’m done,” I say. “I want to go home.”
“You’re doing great.”
“Oh, no. You’re okay. You’re gonna be fine.”
He’s the tallest Burgess Meredith of all time as he walks next to me, offering another sports drink, taking gear I don’t need off of me, telling me that I’m almost done.
“I’m done now.”
“No. That’s mile 16 up ahead. After that it’s ten miles.”
Ten point two, but what’s the point of correcting him?
“Ten miles,” he says. “That’s two five-mile runs. You do that all the time. In your sleep. What’s two five-mile runs? And then nothing but sitting by the ocean and drinking lots of booze.”
I remember the sign I passed a few miles ago. “Go, Stacey! At the end of this, there’s a cocktail waiting for you!”
“See? Here we are at Mile 16.” He’s slowing down his walk to match my running pace.
“I’m walking faster than I’m running. I gain time during my two-minute walk breaks.”
“You’re doing great.”
“How’s the duck?”
“The duck’s looking tired. But she’s still up there.”
“I have to get to mile 18. I’ll be okay if I get there.”
“You’re okay. What hurts?”
“My hip. My feet. Everything. But my hip. My feet.”
“Man, I just saw you, and now look at you.”
I tell him I have to keep going or I will cry and stop. He tells me he’ll see me soon, and heads in the other direction.
I try to distract my brain. I sing along to Kelly Clarkson. I stare at the ocean water. I stare at my feet. Someone has written in chalk along a patch of road: “YOU CAN DO IT. YOU ARE ALMOST THERE. STRONG LEGS. NO PAIN.”
I chant in my head. Strong legs. Feeling light. No pain. I find the ability to make it to
Here is where I start hallucinating. I can smell people who are nowhere near Hawaii. I can hear people who aren’t alive anymore. Every time I see a little white mile-marker sign I hear the Law & Order sound in my head. Mile 17. “Dum-Dum!” Like we’re getting closer to my inevitable death. And then I realize I am, because eventually I’m going to die, because we’re all going to die, and here I am wasting time pushing myself through Painville for what? What is the point? Why do people do this? Why am I doing this?
How come every time I try to slow down, something’s pushing me to keep going? Why won’t it let me walk? Something in my head answers, “When there was only one set of footprints, that’s when I was carrying you.” And then I start laughing, because I’m so exhausted I now think Jesus is talking to me, and then also I have finally understood why that Footprints thing means something to people, and I look up ahead and I swear to you there’s a sign in front of me, big and bold in old-fashioned diner writing: “JESUS COMING SOON.” Like a Hollywood trailer. And it’s all so much that I don’t know what to do other than think, “I hope the duck’s okay.”
I time my footsteps to the names of people I love, people who would want me to finish, people who believe in me, who think I can do anything, even things I don’t know I want to do yet.
15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
More sponges. I pass a group of kids playing drums. They’ve been playing for hours. I’ve been running for hours. Almost six hours.
There it is. The mile marker that says I will finish. The book told me I would, so now I think I will because if you’ve come this far, you won’t let yourself stop. Or so it says. And so I think. I can’t let myself stop, no matter how wonderful it would be to just stop. To sit. To be still and breathe and not be on my aching feet anymore. My hip feels like it’s creaking, and I can feel my spine begin to break off into tiny brittle pieces. I will be not right anymore.
An official photographer is poised in front of me. As I pass him, I remember I’m almost finished, and I start to smile. “There she is,” he says.
Dan says to me, “It’s all Mile Six News from here, baby. Run it in.”
I hear my dad. “Just run it in.”
Here is where I allow myself the smallest walk break. Five extra minutes of walking, because I can’t really feel parts of my feet and the parts I can feel are aching and my hip is very angry. I am now in a quiet residential area, and there’s hardly anybody around.
I reach “JESUS COMING SOON.” It’s a little Jehovah’s Witness chapel, and everybody is in there singing. I start to run again, even though it’s uphill.
I pass a man standing outside his house with a hose. I make a terrible mistake. I shelter my iPod on my left side. “Hit me,” I say to him. Instead of lightly spraying, as everybody else has, he hits me full-blast with some kind of fire-hose strength.
Two things happen immediately, and all of this happens within seconds:
My right ear clogs with water. I can’t hear the music. I can’t hear anything.
My right calf muscle immediately spasms into a charlie horse. I feel it twist and pull up into itself, and my knee buckles.
That’s it. It’s over. Done. Leg cramped, can’t move, can’t move forward. Done. Pack it the fuck in. Too much. Too much pain. Never predicted this, not in all the training and prep. Never thought I’d be done in by a random cramp from cold water. Stupid. All this for nothing.
That’s my brain, talking to my leg. “No, this will not happen. You will not get a cramp, and you will not ruin this. We are not stopping. We are not sitting. We will not wait out your pussy cramp. So let it go and fucking keep going. Take all the pain and focus it on that douchebag who just hit you with an ice stick, Tonya Harding-style. Just keep going. Let the pain go and use it to hate that guy.”
And then the cramp released, I hated that guy, and eventually the water drained from my ear.
And I was past that. I had survived that. I hadn’t stopped. I would have never thought myself capable of that. If you had shown me that moment and paused right after the cramp and asked me what would happen next, I would have guessed falling down weeping, crawling over to the man with the hose, asking to use his phone and then sitting on his couch watching Cribs until stee came to pick my hobbled ass up.
I never would have thought I’d have ordered my leg to shut the fuck up.
I’ve got just over five miles left, and I’m running through a touristy section of Maui. There are shops everywhere and since the marathon is almost six hours in, nobody cares about these last couple hundred, sweat-soaked hobbler-zombies making their way down Old Lahaina. Some of them are watching us, smoking cigarettes, looking at each other like, “Why would you do that to yourself?”
An official photographer snaps my picture. I am listening to “I Believe In a Thing Called Love,” and not quietly. Then I hear, over the music, over everything, someone shouting, “MENCIA!”
I turn to see the photographer pointing at his head and then mine. My hat. He gives a thumbs up and beams. Unbelievable. I give a thumbs up back, which is ridiculous, but I don’t know what else to do.
Someone gives me a popsicle. There has never been a better popsicle in my life.
I see stee. He comes running up beside me, snapping pictures where I think my eyes are giving him the finger. “You’re almost done. You’re going to finish. You’re really going to finish! This is so exciting. Are you okay? I bought you a granola bar. And a ring pop. And… that popsicle looks great. Are you okay? How’s your hip?”
“Hurts. All hurts. Mencia fan. Charlie horse. Hate.”
“It’s hot. It’s so sunny and so hot. But look how pretty it is over there. We should come back here later maybe.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know.” The shuddery breath starts. I force it away. I can’t cry, or I won’t be able to breathe and I won’t be able to move. “I don’t know. You’re doing it. You’re doing it. Every time you show up it’s when I think I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know how you’re doing that, but I really appreciate it.” More shuddery breath.
“Do you want me to keep walking with you? I could keep walking all the way to the finish and then I could come back here for the car.”
“Well. Don’t you want to see me cross the finish line?”
“Yes. And it’s really far from here. Five miles! That’s a long walk!”
“You’re almost done. I’ll see you at the finish line, okay? Are you okay?”
“See you at the finish line.”
“You’re going to do it. You’re awesome.”
“There’s only one set of footsteps, stee.”
“And I’ve figured out what the numbers mean.”
“And I love popsicles.”
I am in pain. I am hot. I am done. I have been running for more than six hours. I still have almost another hour to go. At least forty-five minutes. I can tell somewhere in my brain that I have more energy than my body wants to believe. I start trying to figure out how to talk my body into doing what it is pretty damn sure it doesn’t want to do. Three point two more miles. More miles. Miles. It sounds like a little, but it’s still quite a lot.
How do I make my body move when all it wants to do is cry? What can make me happy when there’s no real reason to? What song can get my blood going and my head going and my body moving and makes me feel like I can do anything? What is going to make me happy but not make me cry? Because if I run any slower at this point, I’ll be running in reverse. What song is gonna get me to mile 24?
Britney Spears. “Toxic.”
Holy shit, it works. Like a charm. I am even dancing a little, singing and running, passing people. (Luckily I don’t notice that what I’m also passing at that very moment is a cemetery, or I might not have been so joyful). The official photographer laughs at me. Policemen are shaking their heads as I pass. I am clearly delirious, but it is working. I am moving.
“… Baby One More Time”
“I’m a Slave 4 U”
“Oops! I Did It Again”
Thanks, Cristela, for letting me swipe those songs from your iPod. Britney, I owe you some cash.
I decide to run the rest in. Screw the numbers. I can get this done. I’m running a little faster, and it’s hotter, and the end feels like it’s stretching away from me like the hallway in Poltergeist.
Someone running the other direction falls in front of me. He’s okay. He’s running to catch up with a friend who’s behind me. There are people behind me? When did that happen?
I take off my headphones and round the corner for the final bend.
“That’s it!” a woman shouts from the sidelines. “See that white fence? That’s your finish line. You did it. You’re going home now. Welcome home.”
People are applauding, welcoming me back. I can hear “It’s a Small World” playing at the finish line. Why? Strange choice.
I’m rounding the bend and it sounds like a party going on at the finish line. The music changes to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”
I’m getting closer. It’s almost here. I’m going to have run a marathon.
I see stee at the finish line. He’s beaming — trying to wave, take a picture and hold up a cardboard sign all at the same time.
Over the loudspeaker I hear, “FROM LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA! LET’S GIVE A HAND TO NUMBER SEVEN-THIRTY-FOUR: PAMELA RIBON!”
They said my name correctly!
Stee’s sign comes into focus: “YOU CRACKED IT WIDE OPEN, PAMIE!”
I see the clock over my head at 06:44 as I lift my arms and feel the tears and cross the finish line.
“Congratulations,” I hear over and over.
I duck my head for the medal. I grab it in my hands. Both trembling hands.
“All that. For this,” I say.
My final time. Those are the only numbers I have to remember now.
[Next post: The damage report]