“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” Franz Kafka
I ran my first marathon yesterday. No timing chip, no free T-shirt, no bands, fuck, not even a start or finish line. I hadn't planned on running more than 15 miles, but as has been happening recently, I made a calculation as to how many miles would give me the peace and strength to face the week ahead of me and that's how far I ran. I mentioned before that it feels like I'm building armor when I'm doing those runs, that every mile cinches tight the Kevlar so that large problems become small ones, and small ones disappear into the ether. This was also the first run in a long time that taught me something about running itself; about planning, common sense (or lack thereof), and how the kindness of strangers can keep a hard run from becoming a death march.
So here's what I learned:
Though I get teased for being a meticulous over-planning freak, when embarking on a 26 mile run one should make sure to have enough food and water to last the full 26 miles. Common sense? You would think so.
At a certain point running hurts no more than walking; it just requires slightly more effort.
It's not wise to leave the car with no ID/Credit Card/$20 bill.
Even after 8 hours GU Chocolate Outrage tastes like heaven.
Throwing up in ones mouth at mile 3 is no reason to quit.
Eating a Turkey, Salami, and Swiss Cheese sandwich, Peppermint Patties, and Chocolate Milk does not constitute a spectacular pre run breakfast. See Above.
Common sense is a double edged sword. Running at all, let alone running longer distances, defies logic. Running them while lightheaded from dehydration and a lack of calories defies logic. At the same time, it's this perhaps misplaced determination that allows me to laugh at myself when thinking back at how I should have called it quits at mile 14 and also makes the crap that I have to deal with outside of the woods seem inconsequential. Failed friendships? Fuck it. Barely living above the poverty line? Fuck it. A nightmare factory for a brain? Fuck it. By the time I get back into my car what matters remains standing, what doesn't matter, does not.
The greatest lesson that I learned on my ill conceived journey is about the kindness of strangers. For the first 4-5 hours I saw not one person on the trail. At about mile 14 I started to worry about running out of fluids and also started rationing my Gu's. When I got within a mile of the turning point at Bull's Bridge in Kent, Connecticut, I came upon 3 hikers playing hooky from work. I asked them if they knew of a place for me to grab some water and one of them was kind enough to just empty her Camelbak into my hydration pack and also share some beef jerky with me. Having the water put my mind at ease, but that simple act reminded me that humans aren't always the plague that I make them out to be. It was a huge boost. Miles 17-18 put me back into panic mode. I was lightheaded and dizzy on a steep one mile climb, trying my best to squeeze out whatever Chocolate Outrage I may have missed from my used gel packets, and wondering if I would be able to turn things round. I always know that when a run starts to go sideways on me mentally that I'll be able to turn things around. This was the first time that the wheels were coming off physically and it completely freaked me out. Fast forward to about mile 20. I'm at the Wiley Shelter somewhere in CT desperately trying to get some water to come out of the pump near the lean-to when 2 trail runners come up behind me, ask what I'm doing, where I'd been running, etc, and again my hydration pack gets topped off!!! Once again, the act, the water, the cheering on gave me enough of a boost to keep shuffling along. They also told me that they'd check on me when they were heading back to their car and would give me whatever water and food I needed. I saw them almost 2 hours later, 2 miles from my car and in the running portion of my run/walk/shuffle routine and these people, these complete fucking strangers, cheered me on like I was winning the NYC Marathon. They offered up their water, their Clif Bars, and told me what an amazing accomplishment it was to run 26.2 miles on the gnarly Appalachian Trail. Though they'll never read this, Thank You.
I'd hoped to write something much more profound than what I've written so far, something to equal the beauty of the AT, something that captures the tiny slivers of life that I gain back every time I'm out there, but it's moments like this that language fails me.
"I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change.... I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back." Erica Jong