A return to marathon running yields 26.2 miles of chafing

March 22, 2012

From the time I was a little kid, I had imagined myself triumphantly crossing the finish line of a marathon, with my hands clenched high over my head like Rocky—ideally with the Rocky theme playing.  Last Saturday I had my opportunity to fulfil this dream, but unfortunately, as I crossed the finish line, I looked more like Rocky after he got the shit kicked out of him by Apollo Creed.

I began running in my freshman year of high school, because I was uncoordinated and because it was a no-cut sport.  However, while the stars of the team were out winning state and national championships, I was more like the ex-planet Pluto, missing out on medals in JV races by a second.  But after a while I started to like running, and I stuck with it for four years of cross-country and track.

But college was a whole different story.  No way in hell I was going to be waking up for 6 a.m. runs.  No, freshman year I did most of my runs around midnight, in a mad attempt to procrastinate for another hour before starting homework.  It started off well, with me running to the Capitol and back, but as the years went on, my runs started to shrink.  The landmark I used as my turnaround point became the Washington Monument, then the Lincoln Memorial, then the Marine Memorial in Rosslyn, then the John Carroll statue on Healy Lawn.  Next thing you know, my formerly skinny runner’s figure had given way to a beer belly.  But I never gave up my dream of powering through 26.2 miles, and so this year, I decide I would run the Marine Corps Marathon.
Unfortunately, it was sold out. So I signed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon on St. Patrick’s Day instead.

Fast forward to race day. I’m at the start line, being herded forward from carrel four.  I’m wearing my old cross country uniform, which includes shorts that are a third of the length of those that my girlfriend, Katie, is wearing for the half-marathon. That’s how you can always tell a good runner (or maybe just a dumb one), by the shortness of their short shorts. Finally, I’m at the start line, scared out of my breath at the thought of the 26.2 miles ahead of me.  And it’s a bad thing to be breathless—turns out, breathing is an essential part of running.  But when the race begins, I trot down the street away from RFK stadium, happily intending to go at a steady pace of eight minutes per mile for the entirety of the race, but then—holy shit!  Seven-minute mile! That wasn’t the plan. And next thing I know, I’m running another seven-minute mile, and another, until I’m about 18 miles into the race and have kept up that pace the whole time.

And that’s when I ran into the wall at Nationals Ballpark.  Sadly, I hadn’t transformed into Nyjer Morgan trying to catch a fly ball in center field—I’d hit the dreaded marathon runners’ wall.  Most runners hit it around mile 20 or later, but here I was at mile 18 and I wanted nothing else but to quit.  And as the sun grew hotter, those St. Paddy’s day beers seemed further away than ever.  At one point I thought I saw a water station, which were spaced at about one per mile, but it turned out to be a mirage, and was actually just a row of cheerleaders. I haven’t been that disappointed in seeing cheerleaders since the last Georgetown game.

Now, this being a “Rock ‘n’ Roll” marathon, there were bands set up about every mile. This was a little useless, since runners could only hear them for about a minute before the next bout of silence.  Luckily, thanks to the Voice’s deranged production night traditions, I had Clarence Carter’s classic song “Strokin’” playing through my head the whole time, keeping me going through the next stretch.  With Clarence in my head, before I knew it I had reached mile 25, and was getting on the last long bridge across the Anacostia River for the home stretch back to RFK.  At this point I was hardly shuffling.  It was by far the slowest mile I have ever “run.” I was thinking I would get some miraculous burst of energy, but instead just faded faster.

My memory of the final stretch, like the memories of many of my fellow Hoyas from St. Patrick’s Day, is gone. But suddenly and somehow I was at the finish, and although I didn’t fall over, I clearly looked bad enough for someone to push me quickly into the medical tent and into a nice comfy bed. As I lay there chugging three Gatorades, two water bottles, and a carton of chocolate milk, the medics took my pulse, gave me ice, and informed me that I was bleeding at the spot on my leg right under where my shorts ended.  Once I’d recuperated a little and was wandering semi-conscious out of the tent, Katie found me and took me to her family, whom I had never met before. As we reached them I collapsed on the grass, unable to speak a single word. They kind of just stared at me.  So, yes—my first introduction to my girlfriend’s parents came as I was lying passed out on the ground wearing short shorts on St. Patty’s Day.  I always figured that’s what my introduction would be like, but not from running.  Bottom line, I’m never drinking again!  I mean running again. Until next weekend, of course.

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