October 25, 2007


Part Two: Better Me Than You

We hit the halfway around 9:30 AM, twenty minutes earlier than we told the family to meet us there. We’d been running under a 10-min mile for the first nine miles or so, but now we’d slowed to pace… or rather I slowed to pace, and hollered for Dann to follow suit. Since the half-marathoners had turned, our cheering crowd had thinned out (“right when we really needed them,” Dann later pointed out) and 'half done' meant facing the same distance all over again, with less enthusiasm and more pain in our legs.

We made our way along the water to Belle Isle, turning onto the bridge. Here is where I start to break down. My ankle hurts; I’m landing on it too hard, and there’s no real way to fix that. My legs are stiffening under the repetitive stress, and there’s no way to fix that, because to keep running, I need to put one foot in front of the other, really fast, repeatedly. I start to feel incomparably stupid. Coming off the bridge, I note that my old friend Ass Cramp has come to see me through the final miles. Touching. Well, inasmuch as I am now 'touching' my own ass, trying to massage the pain out. While running. No, there are no pictures of this, but I’m sure Dann will tell you about it.

Oh, yes—Dann. He hurts, he says, but he’s “pushing through it.” I say he can’t possibly hurt like I do, or he wouldn’t be moving. He tells me to keep going, that I can do it, we’re almost to mile 18. He’s smiling and I hate him. Out of nowhere, a giant speaker starts the opening notes of “Break My Stride,” and I actually laugh. Dann laughs, and we start singing along, and I’m thinking the rest of the cordon around us are going to break into song and gravity-defying choreography. It doesn’t happen.

We hit Mile 18. I still hurt, but the second I see the sign I know we’re going to make it. Or rather, I’m going to make it; Dann is still ass-chappingly happy. I take an apple Jolly Rancher from a volunteer, choking hazard be damned, and try to focus: I think of my grandmother, who is proud of us, proud before we even started. I imagine her running next to us, and she’s faster than me. I concentrate on the green sugar blob hurting my back teeth; swallowing at the right intervals helps measure my breathing. The sun is burning my right cheekbone—on the return, it’ll burn my left, so there’s that. I squat low to lengthen my stride, hoping that’ll take some stress off my butt and hamstrings. It does: now my quads hate me. They’ll have to get in a very, very long line.

Back over the bridge, we’re about to hit Mile 20. The pain is too much. I packed ibuprofen, but forgot to pin it to my shorts; it’s with Sooz, back at the half. On the upside, my ankle doesn’t hurt as much anymore. On the downside, it’s because everything else hurts ten times more, making that a very small upside. We walk through a water stop, and I take a minute—literally, 60 seconds—to stretch my gluteus hater-us. Ankle circles. Twists. Anything to make the pain subside. We start again, and I realize stopping was a very bad idea; the momentary reprieve is not worth the exquisite pain when you start going again. I’m hobbling; Dann tells me to take it slow. I don’t have the energy to kill him. I hurt so much I actually sob, just once—and realize I can’t cry, because I physically have no water to spare.

I don’t know exactly when I started counting. All I know is it’s the only thing that makes the pain bearable, like all these steps suddenly equal progress if I put a number on them. I can only get as high as eight before I forget numbers I learned as a child, so I go up to eight and start over—again, and again, and again. It helps. We come up on the next water stop, almost passing the small booth in front of it, with tiny little cups lined up on the tabletop—of IBUPROFEN. “DANN—STOP!”

I dodge back to the small, wonderful table, bellowing “IS THAT IBUPROFEN?”—as if I wouldn’t recognize the little burnt-orangey saviors anywhere—to two ladies not four feet from my face. Yes, I am told, and given some. Dann trots over with a cup of water and we down two pills each. I may have promised to make out with the people at that table, which I’m sure was very flattering to the 40-year old woman and her ‘tweenage daughter; I tell you now: the offer stands.

I still hurt, but I know that in ten minutes I won’t—especially since my metabolism’s on eleven and the only thing in my system is Gatorade. We round the corner and I hear the first live performance in two hours: a jazz trio playing a tinkly version of a song I know…. what is it? I know I know it—it hits me, and I laugh out loud. Dann: “Is that…?”

“Girl from Ipanema,” I smile. For it is. And tall, and tan, and young and lovely? The girl from Ipanema goes walking. And if you didn’t know that, then you weren’t running next to me; because all those people got an earload of bad karaoke as I thought of Jackie, Chi-town representin’, running next to me with her iPod and singing along. It fades into the uptown residential area where I am handed another hard candy whose flavor I can’t identify. The high-income residents are waving from their front porches, one of whom has aimed a boom box at the street. He’s playing "Margaritaville." Poor runners—I’m singing again, thinking of Gen. My candy, oddly, is peach.

We’re getting closer now; the crowds are back. A thirty-ish woman in a reflector vest is standing just before the overpass, yelling “C’mon guys—looking good, looking good!” The reply from the tall man behind me floats over my head, “You’re not so bad yourself, ma’am!” She laughs, and we laugh, and it’s the funniest thing ever for ten whole, glorious seconds. Over the bridge, a school marching band is playing us into the 22 Mile mark. I notice I’m a few paces ahead of Dann, forcing the realization that my pain has decreased significantly. I’m telling him we’re almost there, and let’s run it in—I’m insane here—let’s go faster! He tells me he feels dizzy; he drank water instead of Gatorade at the last stop. I tell him to keep going, make it to the next water stop, and get Gatorade even if his stomach hurts. He chugs along four paces behind me, I scan for the next stop. We get there and down one of each drink, more people than ever on the sidewalks.

The last leg through downtown. People in the streets as well as sidewalks, shouting, blowing airhorns, egging us on. We round a bend and see runners on the sidelines with medals around their necks—must be a different-class medal; it’s huge—telling us it’s right around the corner. Dann is really suffering now; I can hear him breathing. I start counting again, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, I tell Dann to breathe. Two, three, and lean back. We’re almost there, just keep breathing—and he tells me to keep counting; it was helping. Heh.

We can see the Finish Line—or the sign above it, anyway: a big white banner declaring F I N I S H. People are lining both sides, just like at the start, leaning over the gated barrier to cheer for the people they drove in. We pick up speed. I’m running, and counting—yelling, at this point—and see my sister snap our pictures. Yards to go, Dann grabs my hand and holds it up as we cross over the last timing mat.


We stop. We are handed medals—the same medals as the runners from earlier, which are superlatively large. And heavy. I put Dann’s over his head and he puts mine on me, because we’re dorks. We meet up with the family behind the barrier; I ask Libby about “Right Now”: Van Halen. Jesus Jones sings “Right Here, Right Now.” I owe Dann a dollar. Everyone is happy, and crying, and just insanely proud. Dann feels good; I feel my ass again, and I realize it’ll be a long road to recovery. But we’re happy, because we don’t know it yet, but there’s nothing left now—nothing to train for. Just a massage, nap, and pancakes, in that order.
Until we do the next crazy-ass thing.


Team Ubercul


crdrue said...

Brought tears to my eyes! Huge congrats to you both!

Anonymous said...

I'm crying!

How come you never hallucinate about me, anymore? :o) Maybe because they didn't play any John Denver or Gordon Lightfoot.

Love you! See you soon!


Sarah Beedoo said...

Aw, I made the Druester cry! That's harder than the running! He's made of stone, people--stone! Hee. I'm glad you liked it; see you at the next one?

Jen, if they had played John Denver, I would have cried. And probably fainted. For the missing OF THE YOU. Can't wait to see you--four days off! Woot woot!

Rustybelle said...

You are so very impressive. Running for the bus is about all I can manage.

Thought you might like Stephen Fry's blog stephenfry.com/blog especially the essay on fame where he rips the piss out of your favourite author.