With each foot strike, the evil thing grows inside my legs, refuses to be willed away.
As I crown the Broadway Bridge at mile 24, I know the dreaded moment is nigh. The crescendo that has been building slowly, over some 35,000 steps, is about to arrive in a cascade of lactic acid, sweat, and tears. There are other victims everywhere now, walking. Or worse, sitting on curbs with lowered heads and deflated spirits.
How can I expect to do it if they couldn't?
I plod down the little, cursed hill on the far side of the bridge, quad muscles destroyed from what race organizers surely thought would be a "nice break". Two miles - 3000 steps - of relentless downhill. The crash is inevitable now.
Just. Give. In.
I stop running. Stop moving altogether, in fact. The plan was to walk, but I have suddenly become detached from my lower body. At the aid station just ten feet ahead, I notice a volunteer look at me and gasp, "Oh no." I'm the embodiment of comedy and tragedy. A grown adult, unable to control the wobbling sticks attached to my hips... like a toddler learning to stand. I manage to stir my feet to move and proceed to walk in tiny circles, quietly shaming myself.
"Come on. Fucking run."
And then I do. If you can call it running. I grab a water, and increase the pace of my pained shuffle until it becomes a jog. 38,000 steps now behind, the crowd grows on both sides of me and I know I will make it. I manage a smile. Run strong at the end, I've always heard, because everyone is watching. Then suddenly the evil thing returns. With searing, biting cramps enveloping my legs, I am halted again.
Two steps walking, now ten.
And then, a pat on my shoulder from behind and a runner passing on my left. "Come on, man. Let's go. You can do it." I swallow hard, start to move my legs again, and catch up with him. Dude says, "Run. Do it like you're a race leader." Wow. That was all it took. I've watched those guys on tv, and I can pretend to be one for just a few minutes. Yes, definitely! And then I heard his voice again, fading into the distance as I found another gear and passed him.
"A race leader."
And so it went to the finish. One thousand steps in race-leader form. Well, my version anyway. Through the tunnel of echoing cheers and shouts. Passing runners that had left me for dead only minutes ago. Around a corner and there, the voices I could identify in a crowd of millions, there they were... my cheering section. Homemade signs, cowbell, a sideways smile as I dig deep and kick harder.
Just ten more steps.
One more runner passed. Stomp the line. Stop the watch. Joy. Agonizing, tearful, somebody-get-this-guy-to-the-medical-tent joy.
Portland Marathon | Sunday, October 4, 2009
Time: 3:15:31 | 13mi. Split: 1:34:35 | Pace: 7:28 | Place: 366/8133 | Age Place: 82/635