“You know, your father was proud of you for more than just that race.”
“I know, Ma.”
“He just didn’t always know how to say it.”
I got up at three in the morning. Sprang from the bed, actually, when the alarms went off. (Two different alarms). I got dressed. Wrote sleeping stee a note. He woke up and took pictures of me applying sunscreen. Took a few bites of apple and made a cup of tea.
I left the iPod, as I don’t like breaking rules, walked to the elevator, decided I definitely needed the iPod and ended up knocking on the wrong door trying to get back in. Panicked, I flattened against the wall and tried not to breathe as whomever I woke up answered to see who the hell was knocking so early in the morning.
Off to my typical classy start.
Down by the long, long line of runners waiting for the bus, it was hot. I knew in a second that I didn’t need the hoodie I’d worn, and I spent the next fifteen minutes thinking about how I’ll either throw it away or give it to them as a charity donation (which is what would happen with items not picked up after the race).
“Are you running this for charity?”
“No, Mom. I probably should have. You’re right.”
“I just figured you would, that’s all.”
“Yeah. I did this one just for me.”
“That’s okay, too.”
I was nervous. I was standing behind a man in full Maori makeup. And spear. He was going to run a marathon holding a spear and I was debating an iPod. I reminded myself that he probably has run a marathon before, because you usually don’t take a spear to your first twenty-six miles.
I was waiting in line for a school bus, something I hadn’t done in decades, and my stomach was doing those familiar flip-flops.
Inside the bus it was dark and quiet. I kept fidgeting with my gear, my sweatshirt, the tea, the giant bottle of gatorade I was trying to consume. I wanted to stop moving around.
I’d picked a window on the right side, so I watched the ocean water, and tried to calm my mind. I looked up and saw the most amazing stars. I hadn’t seen the stars of Maui since my honeymoon, and I heard myself gasp. We passed an aquarium, and I started thinking about how that might be nice on the trip.
Then I realized we’d been driving for a very long time. A very long time. In a bus. On a highway. More than half an hour had passed and we were still driving. As long as the bus was driving, I was going to be running. I had made a huge mistake. Terrible mistake. I wondered how I was going to get back, because it wasn’t going to be on foot. We were still driving.
I looked up and saw a shooting star.
The parking lot was filled with people, about half of whom were Japanese. One young woman was dressed as a yellow duck, complete with a tail and big yellow feet. Her friend was dressed as a swan, the neck and head swooping out from his crotch. They giggled and posed for pictures.
“Not their first marathon,” I thought. “Not if you want to run this thing in duck feet.”
I stretched and kept calm and was grateful for my sweatshirt, as it was windy and chilly in the parking lot, listening to the announcements, watching the port-a-potty line get longer and longer. Eventually we made our way to the start line, a surprisingly long walk.
I made small talk with the girl standing next to me. She was from Arizona, and this was her first marathon, but she’d run many halfs and 10K’s. “What’s your goal?” she asked.
“To finish,” I told her.
“Finish without walking?”
“Just to finish.”
I really understand why people do the Team in Training. They are perky and happy and all bound together and cheer each other on, even when they’re complete strangers. “Remember!” one of the coaches was yelling in our direction before we got started. “Eat! Drink! And have fun! Eat! Drink! And have fun!” He was wearing a purple, curly beehive and he was beaming. Eat. Drink. Have fun.
I remind myself what Cliff told me: “Just stay at your pace. If you do that, you’ll finish. You can finish this thing, but it’s not going to be easy. Remember that around mile 17. And 20. And 21. But you’ll finish. Don’t get worried and speed up. You’ve got a long way to go.”
And we were off.
“You’re gonna fry in that sweatshirt, girlie!” a man in a UT hat and scruffy beard cackled at me as he passed. Aloha, dude. Way pono of you.
Mile One was in the dark. My forerunner on my left wrist kept the time, and my pace. I started at a brisk walk for five minutes and then began the slowest run I could do, keeping calm, letting people pass, staying way to the left. I wanted to save all the strength I had, and keep this first mile as a warm-up.
My pace was this: run ten minutes, walk two minutes. Run ten, walk two. Over and over again, for 26.2 miles. Run ten, walk two.
“It’s already done.”
At the end of mile one I turned around to see there were only four people behind me. Four. And I could see them.
As I turned the corner, a race official picked up a street cone.
They were clearing the race behind me. I was, pretty much, dead last. At mile one. This is where my brain had some things to say. I knew I was probably in over my head. I hadn’t trained enough. I should have done a half-marathon first. I should have run those thirteen miles the day of Adam and Rebecca’s wedding. I should have run 20 miles in Topeka. I should have been honest with myself that a marathon isn’t something you get up and do, and all the training I had done wasn’t enough because here I was at the back of the race, and they’re waiting on me to give up so they can stop lingering way back here at pretty much the starting point.
No, it’s okay. You’re starting out slowly on purpose. You have a faster pace than this, but you want to save your strength. There are big hills coming up in mile 8 through 12. If you run quickly now to catch up, you will do exactly what you did when you were a kid. You will puke in front of everyone. Just stay calm.
During a marathon, your brain can create the most amazing sounds and thoughts for your entertainment, to break you down, to trick you, to scare you, and to give you hope.
The sun started to rise, and as I looked out towards the water, I heard Dan in my head.
“Well, Pamie. There it is. This is what you wanted. This is what you planned. Enjoy the hell out of it, because if you spend the entire time beating yourself up or worried you won’t finish, there’s no reason you flew your ass all the way to Maui. You did it so you’d do it, and now you’re doing it. So do it. It’s beautiful, just like you thought it would be.”
I ran with Dan beside me, inside my head, and all over the mountains and waters of Maui.
I also ran these miles beside a man who I think was using me as his pace marker. I’d hear his flop-SLAP! of feet as he’d quickly approach and then just as he passed me he’d slow down to a walk. I’m going to try to explain this tactfully. His hands were curled at the wrist and his ankles turned in, making him bowlegged. The back of his t-shirt said, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, I am proud of you for doing your best.”
And I’m next to him in a “Mind of Mencia” hat.
Flop-SLAP! Flop-SLAP! Flop-SLAP!
Okay, it probably isn’t his first marathon. He seems to know what he’s doing. And for some reason I’m exactly at the pace he’d like to keep, because I apparently run a marathon right at the level of guy-who-can’t-quite-walk.
This was turning into quite the humbling experience. For the record, I was now being lapped by a Maori warrior with spear, a girl dressed as a duck, and a man who’s a little bit gimpy.
I popped a Starburst in my mouth and ate one packet of energy goo. I would see stee after mile eleven. I was about halfway there.
I’m singing songs in my head as cars are passing, honking in appreciation. It’s early in the morning, but I’m feeling good. I know the hills and mountains are up ahead, but I’m in a pretty good groove. I’m enjoying my morning run with Mr. Gimp, and the two of us are a fun little couple. I’ve stopped looking behind me, but I know there are more than four people back there now. Me and my buddy have passed some people. Not a lot, but some.
To pass the time, I start thinking about what all my friends are doing at the same time this Sunday morning. Even with the time zone changes, I quickly conclude that every single one of them is most likely asleep.
Run ten, walk two. This means I run from :15 until :25. Walk until :27. Run until :37. Walk until :39. Run until :49. Walk until :51. Run until 1:01. 1:15. 1:27. 1:37. 1:51. I’d run the numbers in my head over and over. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
Running the numbers. In Hawaii. Because I’m feeling lost.
I’m Lost. I’ve finally figured out what the numbers mean. I’ve cracked the code. I’ve cracked it wide open. I’m laughing as I’m running because that’s truly crazy, and the numbers keep running in my head. I only have to make it until the next number.
I pass the aquarium. I really am retracing the steps of the bus ride from so long ago.
Two hours have passed. With the pace I’m doing, I figure I will finish sometime between six and seven hours. I try to imagine what the little white sign that says “Mile 16” will look like. I know it’s so far in the future. I try not to think about that. I run the numbers again. 15, 25, 27, 37, 39, 49, 51, 101.
The sun is relentless. It’s so much hotter than I thought it would be. Paradise should be cool and breezy, like the last time I was here. (Idiot. You were here in January.)
“Where you from, 734?”
The man who’s been running just a bit behind me for a while decides to strike up a conversation. I’ve been listening to his breath, telling myself that this couldn’t be his first marathon, either. I don’t know why I find it a comfort to think I’m the only one new to this, but it helps. Everything helps, because I don’t know what I’m doing or why I decided to run for almost thirty miles.
He’s from Minnesota, and this isn’t his first marathon. He tells me the nice thing about this one is that they’ll let you run it in longer than six hours. Apparently some marathons aren’t patient enough for us slow-pokes.
“I just want the medal,” I say. “We have to finish in eight hours, so even if I take a little nap, I’ll probably finish.”
(The rules of the race state you cannot get a t-shirt or a medal unless you finish the race. “Medals are for finishers!” it said in bold.)
“You’ll finish,” he says. “You’re at a good pace. Don’t worry. I’m Howie,” he says. “See you at the finisher’s party?”
“You got it.”
He runs off, and I never see him again.
I take my first bathroom break. There was a line at all of the aid stations before, and because I was so far at the end of the pack, I figured stopping to pee would be like walking all the way to the end of the line again, where I’d stay until they picked me up in a car and told me to give up.
It’s extraordinarily windy, and everything in front of me is all uphill. I’m used to running hills, as Eagle Rock isn’t flat in many parts, and the reservoir back in Silverlake also had a big hill. Hills I can do. I imagine Dan beside me, deeply engaged in our tradition known as Mile Six News.
This is where I learn how important it is to grab the sponges at the aid station that are soaked in ice water. What a beautiful invention. I drown myself in them, and fill my bottle with more Powerade. I don’t know how much I’ve had to drink, but it’s a lot.
People are stopping to take pictures. I keep running. One of the official photographers takes a photo at the top of a hill, and I can’t help but mug for the camera. He sneers at me, like I’ve ruined his job. Fine. Sorry to pretend this isn’t grueling.
A woman at the top of the mountain promises me that I just got through the hard part, and it’s all downhill from here. I make her promise.
I go through a tunnel, where the purple beehive guy is cheering me on. How did he get here? Did I imagine him?
Just over a hill, I see him. It’s something in the way he’s scratching his elbow, one knee turned in. Stee. I wave, hesitantly at first, and he realizes it’s me and waves back with excitement. He runs across the highway and meets me.
“I have a walk break in three minutes,” I tell him, jogging along.
He walks at a pace that matches my running stride. This is why I can run a marathon; I’m always running to keep up with him anyway.
He’s taking me in, checking me everywhere, the smile on his face proud and a bit awed. I can tell I must look a bit better than he was expecting. “You okay?”
“You’re doing it! You’re really doing it.”
I don’t want to get emotional. I don’t want to screw up my breath. I hand him my sweatshirt and try to tell him about everything I’ve seen.
“Did you see the duck?”
“Yes! I took pictures of the duck.”
“I’m being beaten by a duck.”
“And a blind lady. And a guy with a huge hump on his back. And a Maori warrior with a spear! And–”
“I know. Well, I didn’t know about the hunchback.”
“It’s amazing! There are so many people. And don’t worry about this sun — there’s a giant cloud behind you and soon it’ll be shady and maybe it’ll rain.”
He’s pep-talking me through the next few miles. He gives me something to drink and tells me I’m almost halfway done.
“It’s already done.”
As much as I just ran? I have to do it all over again, but now I have to do it while I feel like this. I am staring down more than fourteen more miles, and the mountains I just covered are starting to catch up with me.
I don’t tell this to stee. I don’t say this out loud. I just keep moving.
[To come: Tears, Fears, Hallucinations and Jesus.]