On the surface of things, just the facts mam, I ran a marathon in 6h35 min.
I am exhausted. It was a trail marathon in moderate heat (75 to 82F with humidity). The trails were what I would call easy with only a few tough spots. But I never run trails, so it doesn't take long on a trail for my quads to jellify. On trails, I'm always concerned about tripping or turning an ankle, so I don't go very fast.
The day started weird. After a distracted attempt at spiritual study, I made a list of housekeeping items that were bothering me about my hotel room. I've never done that before, but staring at hair on the floor and in the bathtub sort of tilted me over the edge.
But, I got my number pinned on perfectly, I mean perfect: straight and not crackely. Those tyvek numbers can at times make snapping noises every foot step if you don't get them just right. I got mine perfect.
Perfect drive to the race. Perfect parking spot. Perfect finding of a great bathroom with no one in it. They start the national anthem. Everyone quiets down, some taking off their hats, some with their hands over their hearts, mostly looking up at a flag which is on a pole in about the center of the crowd. I stand and wait. I have almost no national pride and no desire to conform to the group.
There is a count down and I hear the lamest air horn ever. The first 12 minutes are through a groomed park on a paved bike path; and then the nightmare begins. It takes awhile but I finally realize that this is more a trail marathon than a road/gravel marathon. Whups!
I spend the first 45 minutes trying to outrun four old men who keep telling lewd jokes. they are not bad guys and I'm sure among the general population they are quit normal. However, I prefer not to spend a marathon with my attention on my genitals or copulation. So, I do outrun the guys and find quiet by 3.5 miles.
The trail goes on and we reach a road. The road part is easy. I'm running pretty good. The course is mainly filled with half-marathoners. Only the full marathoners have real race numbers. After the 7 mile mark, I start to see a few marathoners coming up the road towards me instead of away. I ask them if I am off course. they assure me that they are off course and doing part of the course backwards to make up the miles. I am worried; mainly because I know that the second loop on the marathon takes a different route and I never saw that turn. I know I follow the halfers for the full 13.1, but I'm worried about what to do next.
At about 8 miles, we start up a long hill. Its on a road and I pass alot of people, but I notice I'll be going up that hill again for mile 20 thru 22.5. Gulp. After the hill, its back onto the trail. My quads are shot. I realize how unfun this trail might be at mile 24. I keep meeting lost people. I keep asking people if this is the course. It seem well marked; what is their problem? I come to a sign. I read it and go left. A guy who has been lost twice already and keeps catching back up to me actually argues about my choice of direction. I ignore him because he obviously doesn't know how to follow signs.
I finish the half in 3 hours. Gulp. I go by the car and get a power bar. If I'm going to run another 3 hours, I need more than gels and drink. Now here is the important part of the whole tale: I went back out for the second loop!
This ability, this inner force which keeps going, this thing is IT. My quads are shot. I know I could much more easily trip or turn an ankle in that condition. Its not going to be easy. No one is even watching. If I got in the car and left it wouldn't matter to anyone. Yet, I go on. Other people quit. I go on. Marathoners/ultra-marathoners/runners-in-general go on. We have this inner force which manifests in our running. It drives us; not the other way around.
I'm 51 years old. I decide I'll keep doing this insane task for no reason other than....crap I don't know!
After I cross the covered bridge a second time, they do thankfully have a person in the road to tell me where to turn. I'm running pretty much by myself, so the help is appreciated. The mile 16 water station is dry. That worries me only a little because I did decide to carry my two 8 oz water bottles. I look at the 16 miles chalked on the path and think, "Only ten more miles. I can do that." I feel quite the same ebullience as I pass miles 17, 18, 19, and 20. Then I leave trails and come out onto the road and the monster hill. No problem, I'm much better at running uphill on a road than down little steep trails (in fact I can hardly get down some of the trails).
I get to an aid station at about 22.5 miles, where I leave the road again. I think I know whats coming but the trails seems much shorter and easier the second time around; except I'm slower and more careful as my legs seem quite weak. Then the killer. That sign I mentioned where I went left and the man yelled at me? This time, I need to follow it to the right. Before, the left hand path took me to the road and I zipped into the finish. Now, the full marathon second loop has another mile of trails before going to the road. I notice that the trail was newly made within the last day or so. I'm real careful. Now is not the time to fall down. I'm almost home.
Finally, I get up on the road and run for half a mile to the finish. Very quiet finish. Hardly anyone is around. I get my medal and my towel and head for the car. I don't take the offer of hot dogs.
I mix up the protein shake I have in the car and down it. I turn on the ac and change my clothes. And away I go to my hotel; wondering why I did that.
My ego got nothing. My soul got everything. My soul got to push beyond the ego's realm of glory and reward, accolade and recognition; and into the realm of sheer existence. I got beyond anything I trained for or planned. I kept going despite the rubber in my legs. I did it. I finished.
About mile 25, negotiating that last bit of trail, I asked myself if I would trade this for a city road marathon and a speedy time. "No" is the answer. The challenge of this race and the experience of soul is far more valuable.