Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Knees Are Calling Me All Sorts of Names...

...which I won't repeat here, because this blog has been rated PG-13.

The Philadelphia Marathon was absolutely brutal. A half hour before we started, the temperature registered at 24 degrees. Roughly 18,000 people crowded and rushed about near the Art Museum, up and down the Ben Franklin Parkway, in futile attempts to keep warm and find an unoccupied Port-O-John. The announcer's voice squawked incomprehensibly over the PA system, so most people had no idea where to go or what to do.

Crowd control wasn't even theoretical. Runners filtered into the corrals when they weren't supposed to; others waited in the back, unsure of where to go. Supposed to go off in the second wave of marathoners, I missed it and somehow ended up in the third wave. More than twenty minutes passed between the start of the race and when I took my first step past the Start Line.

But none of that really matters. The little things tend to lose any significance when 26.2 miles stretch before you.

The first half of the race was fantastic. Down the Parkway, Arch, and Race to Columbus Boulevard (I still don't know why they changed the name from Delaware Avenue). Several groups of brave souls huddled on the street corners to cheer us on. It was cold enough for us runners, but it must have been the final circle of Dante's Inferno for the spectators.

On Delaware Avenue, the horde of runners got a chance to thin. Planes lazed across the sky, headed for Philly International. Everybody was happy. It was still early. We'd reached our first fluid station. All was well.

We spent too little time on Front Street--the locals had hilarious signs everywhere to cheer us up: one reminded us that the average temperature on November 23rd in Philly is in the mid-40s; others called into question our sanity for running.

We spent some time on Chestnut Street, and by now, the spectators had multiplied. I'm still amazed by the sheer number of them that braved the elements to cheer us on. Everyone's always saying that Philly fans are the worst in the country, but I beg to differ.

We plodded up 34th Street, so I got to run through Drexel University's campus. I haven't been through there in a few years now. Fraternity Row was relatively quiet, except for one or two houses. I don't blame them though. They were probably just going to bed when my wife was driving me to the marathon.

We started encountering our first major hills of the race. Everyone I was running with slowed noticeably. Everything was still going fine, though.

Mile 13 and all was well. People were finishing the marathon as I reached the halfway point, but I knew that was going to happen so it didn't bother me. My good friends Nate and Jess Green, who ran the 8K, magically appeared and offered encouragement and a bottle of water. I took the bottle greedily, nearly drank it down in two gulps.

The wheels started coming off at Mile 15. My pace was off, and my stomach was pitching with nausea. That sometimes happens during a long race, I don't know why. I fought through it and kept going.

We headed up Kelly Drive into Manayunk. It didn't make it any easier that there were runners headed in the opposite direction, nearly finished with the race.

By Mile 17, my left foot wasn't cramping so much as it was seizing up. I'd come too far to stop though.

Someone offered me a beer at Mile 18. I was too tired to answer verbally, but I managed a weak smile and shook my head. She laughed and said, "I know you want one." Had it been Mile 8, I would have indulged. At that point, though, any alcohol would have sent me straight to the hospital or the morgue.

I somehow managed to reach the top of the hill on Main Street in Manayunk and turn around at Mile 20. Now the real pain. I didn't think it could get any worse, but it did. A diffuse hurting everywhere. I waited for the numbness to come, but it didn't. I could feel my heart beating, working overtime. The left foot fooled me, seemingly getting better, before getting worse. Those last six miles were as much running as they were walking.

Still the crowd cheered us on. They were great. They were all my new best friends. I even managed to high-five a few of them. It was ridiculous how much effort it required to raise my arm.

Eventually, I saw the Art Museum looming on the Schuykill River. It was a beacon. It took forever to grow, tantalizingly close and infinitely far away. Of all the things to think of, I remembered Zeno's paradox, of being able to travel halfway to an object, then half of that, then half of that, and never being able to reach it. Goes to show how little good some philosophy offers in the real world.

I heard the roar of the crowd. By now, it felt like I was running with knives in my legs. My left foot refused to function anymore. I saw the Mile 26 marker and kept running. Of all the arbitrary distances ever conceived by man, why in the hell is a marathon not just 26 miles? I know of the derivation of the race, but still, is the extra .2 miles all that necessary in today's world?

Jenna took some "action" photos, for lack of a better word, as I neared the end of the race. Through the Finish Line. As Apollo Creed said at the end of Rocky, "Ain't gonna be no rematch." And as Rocky responded, "Don't want one."

Congrats to everyone else who ran on Sunday! I'll be back next year, but maybe I'll do a shorter race and focus on time instead. Or I'll just cheer on the runners and drink beer. Or I'll just stay home and drink beer. We'll see :)

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