a little and a lot

Friday, December 12, 2008


I've put off writing this post on several occasions.  Writing about my wedding was the same way.  There's some kind of monumental-event-writer's-block that holds me back.  This huge thing happened, this seemingly unattainable goal was accomplished, and all I can do is be amazed.  So get ready--here's my novel:

You might think I'm being overly dramatic about some little ole' race.  But as a runner, your first marathon is a very big deal.  And as a person, participating in this extreme event was always a dream of mine--up there with climbing Mount Everest!  (Although, I don't think I will be taking on Everest anytime soon!)  

Someone asked me this week, "What made you want to run a marathon?"  (AKA: "Why did you lose your mind?")  The only answer I could come up with is that it was something that would push me to live dangerously.  I am not a dangerous person--I am quite compliant, actually.  And the idea of this extreme physical event that pushes you past what your body is naturally able to do, this event some people have died participating in (including the very first marathoner, according to legend!), this event that is in many ways a personal "Mount Everest"...it hooked me.  

Training was a bear.  Sweltering hot summer days.  Bitterly cold rainy days.  Discomfort.  (Remember those blisters? ha!)  Dehydration.  Fatigue.  Blocking off huge chunks of time just for the sole act of running.  Running on trails.  Running on sidewalks.  Running on streets, across streets, dodging traffic.  Shedding layers.  Adding layers.  Sweating.  Shivering.  Sweating AND shivering.  Feeling pain and pushing past it.  Feeling tired and pressing on.  Eating carbs.  Drinking water.  I brought my body and my life under the reign of marathon discipline.  

So there I was.  Standing at the start line on December 6, 2008.  I had been training for this day for 7 months (since May).  My parents had flown in the previous day.  My mom had gotten "race highlights," faint violet streaks in her chic white/grey hair, for the sole purpose of cheering me on.  (It's apparently all the rage in Australia??)  We had all carbed up at Pasta Italia, another amazing experience with some of the most delicious food I've ever eaten!  I had come home that evening and laid all of my items out (as seen in the post below).  I was nervous.  I had weird dreams.  And the next morning, we arose early in the ridiculous cold (upper 20's I think?), picked up a friend (holla, Rebecca!), and headed downtown.  We took pictures at the start line.  And then there I was...standing with Ashley & Becca in the 11:00 - 11:30 corral.  

The race started.  It took about 20 minutes to cross the start line (they let corrals go about 2-3 minutes apart from each other).  I yelled "I'M RUNNING A MARATHON!!!" when we crossed the Start.  It felt surreal.

The weather was cold and windy--perfect conditions for the term "blustery."  Someone (whom I am greatly thankful for) gave me a pair of brand new cotton gloves just before the race started.  I was so happy I had them--I usually toss gloves after Mile 2, but at my first inclination for tossing (in cold weather, your body heats up pretty quick and then tries to tell you to unzip or shed some layers) I kept the gloves on just in case I might need them.  I was glad I did that--after my body regulated its temperature, things got chilly again!  The high for the day ended up being 48 or something crazy like that.

Ashley and I stuck together for the first 5 miles or so.  I was happy for her company.  We pushed up that ridiculous Beale Street hill together, yelling to everyone "Don't stop!  We can do it!"  

Eventually, I needed to take a quick walk break to get in some Gu and liquids.  Ashley kept running, and that was the last we saw of each other.  I went solo from that point on.  

I passed all kinds of great signs.  One marriage proposal: "Kelly, will you marry me?  Answer at the finish line!"  A few dry humor posters, "Charlie - You'll never make it!", "Karen: Smoke Break Here!", and "Donna, your feet hurt!"  (All names have been changed to protect the runners' identities...or merely because I can't remember them.  ha.)  My personal favorite sign was one that I saw twice along the course, held by a sweet cheering woman: "You're all Kenyans to me!"  

The well-wishers along the sidelines were invaluable.  I was cheered on by people I knew as well as strangers.  "1990!  You're lookin great!  Keep it up!"  Then there were the St Jude posters and tshirts I passed along the way - "Run for Jake!", "Remember Chelsie!", and "Run for those who no longer can!"  

My parents had mapped out three places along the course that they would be standing and cheering before they headed to Autozone to see me finish.  I wrote projected times that I would be passing the certain mile markers where they planned to meet me.  Unfortunately, I forgot about the lag time before you actually get to cross the Start, and they were gone before I got to the first "checkpoint."  They had stood for a good long while right before the course turns into Overton Park, but though I was making good time, I was a little "late" and they worried they had missed me.  

When I passed where they were supposed to be, I realized they probably had moved on.  I knew I wouldn't see them again until after I had finished the first half.  My resolve grew gritty.  I felt like the Lone Ranger.  And I felt good.  Determined.  Overton Park is my least favorite part of the first half, and I knew it would be a tough couple of miles.  It is the only part of the course where no one is on the sidelines.  You are hidden from the street.  You can't see very far down the road, so it's hard to tell where you're going or when you will get there.  But it didn't matter to me this time.  I took it easy.  I walked and jogged and ran.  It wasn't so bad, aside from the old woman in a tanktop running behind me, her feet hitting the ground like cement blocks and groaning with each breath.  THAT was a little excruciating, but I'm sure it hurt her more than it pained me.  

I picked people to keep up with.  There was a man in a red shirt with a black fanny pack.  Whenever he walked, I walked.  When he ran, I ran.  I eventually passed him because I realized he was not pacing himself to my liking (plus, his fanny pack jingled, which I found annoying after a couple miles).  But this brings up a good point: pacing yourself.  In the half marathon, my goal was always to RUN.  Don't stop.  Walking is for wimps.  However, the marathon does not work this way.  The Average Joe Six-Miler can't just RUN 26.2 miles without stopping.  There is more strategy involved.  Run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute.  Run the straights, walk the hills.  Run run run, and walk the aid stations.  Whatever your strategy may be, it probably involves a tad bit of walking.  If you don't plan for it, it will hit you like a freight train.  Unfortunately, I did not really plan for it.  I just figured I'd walk when I needed to.  I had a friend who was a pacer for the 5:30 group (finishing in 5 hours and 30 minutes).  They were going to run an 11-minute mile and then walk 2-3 minutes between each mile.  That's ridiculous, I thought.  I can finish much faster than that.  I don't need to walk between EVERY mile.  In reality, I ended up walking/shuffling miles at a time.  I should have had a better strategy.  But I'm jumping ahead of myself.  

I finished the first half in around 2:30.  This was perfect pacing for me.  I was very pleased.  I had expected to hit The Split (where the half marathoners split off from the full course on their last mile to finish) with great emotion.  I just knew I would cry.  Instead, when I ran left instead of right I waved my hands in the air and yelled "I'M RUNNING A MARATHON!!!"  I was going to do it, and my time was going to exceed my expectations!

About a mile and a half later, I was running uphill...alone.  Mile 14.  I didn't realize the second half of the marathon didn't attract well-wishers.  I didn't realize everyone was spread out and I'd be running literally all alone.  It was quiet.  It was cold.  It was lonely.  And the idea that I had only run HALF of this race was beginning to sink into my bones.  This is the worst idea I've ever had in my life, I thought.  Half marathon finishers were walking across the street in front of me to their cars, with their medals and their silver capes, saying "My legs hurt so bad!"  I felt bitter.  

And then I saw my parents.  My mom came running toward me on the sidewalk, meeting me and running along with me.  Tears stung my eyes.  I was SO happy and touched to see someone I knew.  Someone that was cheering me on.  "You're doing great!  How do you feel?"  And I told her, my voice wavering, "This is NOT the best thing I've ever done!!"  My dad was taking pictures from his wheelchair at the end of the block.  I high-fived him and ran on, my parents waving, yelling, and ringing a cowbell behind me.  

(The best part of the story is inserted here: My mom was so excited to see me that she only heard me say "This is the BEST thing I've ever done!"  She thought my emotion was from joy and excitement.  As she and my dad watched me run off into the distance down Linden, she told my dad "She's doing great.  She's in high spirits.  She said this is the best thing she's ever done."  Later, when matching our stories, we found it quite hilarious that she had such a positive view of my beginning to hit The Wall.)  

The Wall.  That place of marathon peril.  I expected to hit it in the 20's or perhaps 18ish.  I pretty much hit my Wall between Mile 14 and Mile 16.  Running AWAY from the finish line up Peabody toward the Cooper Young district.  Mostly a gradual and steady incline.  I had told myself I'd walk the hills.  Well, these were mostly (and suprisingly) hills...at least in my liberal definition!  So I walked a lot--the whole time feeling quite defeated due to the fact that I had many more miles to run in the opposite direction of the Finish line.  The miraculous thing is that I never felt like giving up.  The grimmest portion of hitting my Wall was when I pretty much willed myself forward by chanting "This will be over in a couple of hours."  I was pleasantly surprised by my optimism and good humor during the whole experience.  This made the Wall much less horrible than expected.

I passed and was passed by several women during these difficult miles--we chatted in the brief moments we were next to each other.  Lots of first-time marathoners.  One of the new friends I made was wearing a bright pink shirt--she was funny and friendly and I tried to make sure I kept her in my sights.  I lost track of her around Mile 17.

"What did you think about for all that time??" people have asked me.  Well, the short answer is: nothing!  I let my mind zone-out for most of the second half, aside from my "This too shall pass" mantra.  

Once we finally made it to East Parkway (Mile 18 or 19?), I felt on top of the world.  We hung a left and instead of running away from downtown, I knew I was on the way back to the Finish.  I knew in a few short miles I'd see my parents, who also had already met up with Nick by then.  East Parkway is most drastically hilly than Peabody, but I enjoyed running downhill, and then I took a little break each time to walk uphill.  Lo, and behold, I saw my parents a little bit before Mile 20.  My mom walked uphill with me and told me I looked beautiful, which brought some tears to my eyes again.  Dad and Nick were at the top of the hill, Nick wrapped in a blanket, and I ran over and gave Nick a kiss.  Seeing all of them was just what I needed to push through Mile 20.  

I started running again and ran straight through for another mile and a half.  I ran a short while with an Illinois college student--she said the reason she was running a marathon was because it was part of a class.  She and her classmates ran Hal Higdon's running schedule and the class textbook was one on sports psychology.  Very interesting.  She ran ahead while I took a short walk break.  And then I pushed onward.

Up ahead, I saw a woman in a bright pink shirt--my funny friend from Mile 16!  I caught up to her and said "Heeeeyyyy!"  "I'm running until Mile 20," she said, "I've promised myself I would let myself walk when I got there!"  It sounded like a great plan to me.  We ran the last few hundred meters through Mile 20 together, chatting the whole way.  We took a nice long walk break through the aid station and for another half mile.  Her name was Anyssa (Uh-Knee-Sa) and she was from Illinois.  I was ready run downhill and around the corner onto North Parkway.  "Awwww, cmon, "Anyssa groaned in protest.  I told her she could keep walking if she wanted and she said "No way, I'm sticking with you!"  So thus we turned onto the road that would lead us back downtown.  

Anyssa was the angel from God that kept me from despairing during those last 6 miles.  We felt awful.  Our feet hurt.  Our legs hurt.  Our butts hurt.  Our lungs hurt.  We just joked around and dryly laughed about how many toenails we thought we'd lost by then.  We walked most of those 6 miles.  Well, walking is not all that true of a definition for me.  Anyssa was walking.  I was...granny shuffling.  It hurt too bad to walk, but it hurt too bad to run.  So I pumped my arms in a circular motion like a speed walker and shuffled my feet.  I'm sure I looked ridiculous, but at that point I could have cared less.  

Around Mile 21, my friend with the 5:30 pacing group passed us.  "Kelly!  No!  Don't pass us!" I called after her jokingly, and she greeted me as she freshly kept running.  Drat.  I should have started with them!  That'll teach me...

Occasionally we passed tables that individuals had set up in addition to the aid stations.  At one point I had seen one with a big sign "Beer and Candy."  Ha.  I partook of an extra table around Mile 23--someone was passing out pretzels and gummy Lifesavers.  "Bless you!" we gratefully yelled as we shuffled past, grabbing a handful.  Unfortunately, my stomach was not all that grateful and it became very upset.  No Port-o-Potties for miles, and besides, I couldn't stop shuffling if I wanted to!  So I merely decided that I officially felt the worst I possibly could, and noted so out loud to my friend while laughing.  I can't even tell you how glad I was to have Anyssa as a shuffling partner--it helped so much just to talk about our training experience and our families and whatever else came to our minds to keep them off of our monumental task.

Mom, Dad, and Nick were waiting at the Cozy Corner restaurant--Mom had cross the street, and she walked a short bit with Anyssa and me.  "Cya at the Finish line!"  she cheerfully encouraged and it set in that we were mere miles from finishing! 

Those last 3 miles were horrible.  Ick.  We could see and hear glimpses of Autozone, but our course wasn't taking us directly there.  Some lady passed by in her car and rolled down the window, "What kind of walk is this?" she asked.  "WHAT?" we yelled?  "What kind of walk is this?  Who is it for?"  "THIS IS A MARATHON RACE, LADY!"  I said defensively.  "FOR SAINT JUDE!"  Apparently that was all she wanted to know, but I found myself quite offended that she thought we were participating in some silly little walk.  C'mon, lady!  Can't you see I'm struggling!  Don't injure the last thing I have left--my pride!  Finally, we shuffled up the exit ramp for Union Avenue and the stadium was in front of us.  We both took off running, finally disregarding our pain.  

We were yelling as we ran down the alley to the tunnel leading into the stadium.  "We just ran 26.2 miles!  We just ran a marathon!  We did it!  We did it!"  It was surreal!  I can't describe what I felt as I ran down the tunnel into Autozone Park.  I just started screaming.  I couldn't help it. 
 "AUGHHHH!!  WOOHOOOOOOO!  WOOO!  WOOOOOO!  WOOHOOOOO!" I yelled as I waved my hands in the air and circled half the bases.  I made a commotion. 

The remaining people in the stadium (not many!) began to cheer, noticing the scene I was making.  I crossed the finish line, smiling and yelling and waving at the camera man. Anyssa was right after me, crying.  They put a medal over my head and wrapped a silver cape around me.  A man bent down and clipped the sensor off my shoe.  "Thank you for letting me stop running," I told all of them.  Nick put his arms around me and led me upstairs (blurg!) to my waiting parents.  Anyssa's husband was waiting there too.  We took pictures and said goodbyes. 

Time to pig out.  But apparently not really--there was hardly any food left!  That was the disappointment of the day.  I grabbed a donut and a banana and tried to eat them, but I found my appetite to be nonexistent.  And what little there was just wanted something WARM.  

But I had finished.  It took me an embarassingly long time.  6:06.  There were not even 100 people that finished after me.  But so what.  I ran a marathon!  I did it.  And I still can't believe it.  

We ended the day by watching "Spirit of the Marathon" and eating some BBQ Pizza from MPC.  Perfect.  As I watched the documentary of all of these people training for their race, my "never again" attitude already started melting away.  Ooooo, I thought, I could totally beat my time if I tried again.  This time I'd know what to expect...  

I have no idea if I will attempt a marathon again.  Something tells me I will.  Although in the days following the race, when I could not stand or walk or sleep without feeling extreme pain I thought I could never put myself through it again.  But look at me now...good as new!  (Except for my healing marathon blisters and stiff joints...ha!)  Regardless of whether I do it again or not, I'm proud of myself.  I decided to do something I had always wanted to do.  Something difficult.  Something slightly dangerous.  And I did it.  

Now, what shall my resolution be for 2009?  :)

PS: I took my blog-readers' advice--I kept my hair long for the race, and half a week afterwards...


Unknown said...

great post. whew.

ashley said...

oh that made me laugh and cry... so proud of you... incidentally, apparently i don't have your new phone number. i've texted you several times lately (including a "sweet dreams and it's over in 18 hours" text friday before the marathon) and you never responded. i thought that was weird and unlike you, but didn't think a lot about it. so today as i'm reading your blog i have this "text conversation"

"you" - who is this? i think you're texting the wrong person

me - it's me silly! i'm reading your blog right now...love the post...blahblahblah...i thought it was weird you never answer me..

no answer

i keep thinking

me - um, is this jesse?

"you" this is kris

apparently he knows you though? funny moment. can you email/facebook me your number please?

Julie said...

I am so, so proud of you, Jesse!!!

You are now in an elite class of people who I only admire from a very far distance!

I teared up several times reading this! So many great spiritual journey analogies to be made with what you did! You are amazing! I know it aint no skinny superstar Kenyan time, but six hours is still amazing!!!

Jane said...

Oh, I loved your "novel"!!! I got a huge lump in my throat when you talked about seeing your parents every time and I am sitting in a meeting so I had to try not to look emotional (like I'm reading something technical and boring). And your finish line pictures were the absolute BEST I've ever seen. You are so cute!

Thanks for finally writing. I've been dying to know what you thought and how you felt and all that. And I think doing another one is a great idea. :) Just in case you wondered.

Holly-- The Storm Chaser said...

Jesse, Congrats on your marathon! I can't imagine. I'm so glad I found your blog. It's been forever since I've seen you (ACSC days) but you look great. Take care!

L said...

woohoo! you finished! i loved reading your recap...and shed a few tears too. :) how awesome are your parents for coming out and supporting you...such a huge blessing!!! they rock! and so do you for completing the whole thing!! i'm glad we got to experience this "together", but am sad too that we couldn't see each other. i hope your recovery goes smoothly. :) love you!

Blessed said...

I loved this post! You wrote about it so well! I almost felt like I was there. :)

You did an amazing thing! I don't know if I have the desire to do the whole thing, but maybe just the 5K next year? We will see! You really inspire me!

And, again, I love your hair!!!

Marty Rhea Hill said...

You made me laugh and cry. I have been following your blog for months. I am from Fort Worth, TX, and the Saint Jude's was my first 1/2. I ran with my sister and while waiting for our corral to hit the start line, she said, "What if we see Jesse?" We were thinking of you and still are. You are an inspiration to both of us. I even already knew your finish time. That sounds a little nutso but I am so proud of you and this huge lifetime accomplishment. After reading this, we might consider a whole. Thanks again for all of your advice (from you, I changed socks, was introduced to zinc oxide, lancing and new skin, and enjoyed a little Gu Roctane.). You are awesome!!!!!!

Marty Hill

Tesney said...

Jess! I'm so touched by this post. I really teared up several times when you talked about your family and the pink shirt girl. I had a similar angel in the half marathon last year...we ran the last mile together and I would've totally quit if she hadn't been there saying, "you can't quit on me. we're doing this together." I didn't even get her name but I still remember her well. You are AWESOME for doing a MARATHON. So cool. And your time is not embarrassing! You ran 26.2 miles for goodness' sake. It would take most people a few days to do that, not a few hours! Congrats!!! I'll be there next year...doing the half...unless Bama in in the SEC title game again. Tee hee. BTW, there is a half marathon in Seaside in March that we are doing; all the finishers get a full-size Vera Bradley tote. Wanna come?

Jesse Faris said...

Thanks for the thoughts, guys!

And Marty--wow, I had no clue a blogosphere friend was running in close proximity to me on race day--thanks for fueling me on with your well-wishing-thoughts that day! Congrats on running your first half--you'll never be the same!

Tesney, I am SO game. Now I just have to convince my husband that driving 8 hours back to Memphis on Sunday afternoon is not that bad. !!!

amanda said...

congrats on the first marathon! you have a whole new perspective on life now! i felt ur pain reading some of that as i seriously undertrained for phoenix 26.2 in 2004 and finished in exactly 6:00 full on walking the last 6 miles. i'm currently training properly (and with a group) and have my sights set on Seattle 2009, hoping to finish in 5:00!

happy running!

H Vest said...

I read your blog out loud to my husband (also a marathon runner) and BOTH of us were truly inspired! Can't wait to spend time with you at NCYM. Great post!

CG said...

I enjoyed reading all about your race adventure. One of my goals this year is to try running and train to run the 1/2 marathon in Dec. but after reading your post I may rethink. :)

That story about your mom thinking you said that was the best thing is hilarious!!

Congratulations on such a great accomplishment!

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