Not going to rush this baby, taking it real slow and easy. Standing near the back of the pack, not going to pass or be passed. The sun is bright; the chill in the air is crisp rather than piercing. The pack moves forward glacially; I reached the starting line three minutes faster than this in a 20,000 plus field of runners at the Marine Corps Marathon.
We start running after the shrill scream of the timing mat harmonizes with the cheers of the crowd of runners and spectators. Running is a pretty generous term for what I'm doing; it's kind of a stride that focuses on reducing any bouncing, to avoid friction to my abdominal cavity as much as possible. This ingenious stride of mine will cause my hips and knees to be sore the next day, but that's all part of the madness. It was less than five weeks since I had my appendix removed.
I zealously refuse to weave around people as I'm prone to do near the beginning of a race of this size. I enjoy the scenery: the matchbox houses built long ago, the sense of time warping into the '50's or earlier that hit me last year and is one of my favourite aspects of this race.
The pain in my gut is occasional, ominous, scratching. Might be normal, harmless. Might not. If it were anything else, a shin splint or an Achilles, I could deal with it. I'd still, against all reason and intelligent action, continue, of course, but it wouldn't be as unpredictable somehow.
Chatted with a guy about his running, his son-in-law, and other stuff for a few kilometres. He wanted to go faster so we parted ways. Perfectly reasonable, so why it ripped my heart out to watch someone whose PR is light years slower than mine disappear ahead of me makes no sense.
I walked a lot. I walked much longer past water stations than I ever imagined I could. I drank more than I ever have, even when it was 30 degrees in Ottawa, 1000 percent humidity in South Bend, 28 degrees in an unending mass of bodies in Chicago.
I walked up the final mother of all hills with the rest of the halt and lame in my group. We cursed the uphill runners (both of them), partly in fun and partly because it helped to exorcise our own demons.
There were a lot of demons haunting the rear guard. Demons of past race times gone horribly awry, demons of injuries past and present, demons of weight loss issues in various stages of conquest.
I crossed the finish line running. I flashed peace signs, being absolutely unable to hold my arms up in victory because I was overwhelmed with an unfamiliar feeling of shame and unease. Of course I was relieved to have finished. Of course I felt guilt at the idea that this was disappointing in a sense I couldn't have imagined at the start.
Why guilt? Why not an "aw shucks at least I finished" feeling? Still grappling with that, but I think it's because a race demands the best of what you have to offer at the time. What I had to offer was an absolutely uncertain effort, an effort that couldn't be pinned down to any training issues pro or con, to any talent or fitness issues... I went through the motions with the sole intent of avoiding catastrophic injury, and with an incredibly stupid goal like that you can never achieve anything worthy of acclaim in life. But I had to run the race to discover that for myself.