Reflections the morning after walking the Boston Marathon to raise money for the Jimmy Fund
Feet. My feet are two hunks of tingling, lightly blistered meat.
Counting your chickens. I laugh with bitter amusement to remember my confidence at mile 6 or 7 when I told a friend it was easy and fun he should join me next year, and at mile 13 (halfway there!) when I sat with my sister and brother-in-law on the lawn at Wellesley College, drank juice, ate a Clif bar, basked in their praise… and then gave them my backpack with snacks and my homemade electrolyte drink because I was tired of carrying it.
Pain, and learning the name of a muscle I didn’t know I had. I thought “quadriceps” were the name of one big leg muscle, but there are four muscles in that group. The stinging, burning leg pain that began around mile 16 (with 10 to go) was distinctly located along my outer thighs.
I googled: the muscle is the Vastus lateralis. How odd that this was (and is) the only seriously sore place in my body. But it was crippling and slowed my pace to about 1.8 mph for a few miles.
I can only surmise that training by walking along the flat Seacoast was the problem and I should have added more hills. Also a few more super long walks, 20 or 21 miles at least.
The Vastus lateralis pain began before Heartbreak Hill but of course got worse as I began the relatively mild, though seemingly endless, ascent. At that famously difficult spot I also began to flush with a sick, cold sweat, feeling like I might throw up then pass out (while also having a heart attack and brain aneurysm). I was happy people had come out to encourage us, but I could have done without the clanging cowbells at that time.
I sat for a few minutes on the empty front lawn of a fraternity and seriously contemplated giving up.
Marathons are dumb. Humans are not made to run or walk 26.2 miles all at once. It begins with such cheerful hope and determination and turns into an unpleasant, physically damaging test of endurance.
The “marathon” distance comes from the story of Greek soldier and courier Pheidippides who ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce victory. He delivered his message to the archons, “Joy to you, we’ve won,” and then he died. To this day, we commemorate his feat by running (or walking) the distance that killed him.
“Maybe I should run a marathon,” mused my husband John on the drive home.
“No!” I said. “No you don’t want to do that. It is stupid and completely unnatural. And I’m pretty sure it’s not good for you.”
I still feel that way this morning.
Laura. My youngest, who lives in Boston, was waiting for me at the five-miles-to-go point.
She texted and called, where was I?
“u near store,” I texted, “buy ibuprofen”
I made it to a refueling station and forced myself to drink a bottle of water, eat a half an apple, and have a few bites of a peanut butter bar. Then I met her a few blocks later, popped 3 ibuprofen and rested on a Boston College lawn under a tree for a few minutes. I couldn’t stop long, my body was freezing up.
But the ibuprofen took the pain edge off and a lively conversation with Laura kept my mind off my body. We pounded out the last 5 through the busy streets of beautiful Boston on a beautiful day. I wanted to grab pedestrians and passersby and say, somewhat hysterically, “Hey, I just walked 23 miles!” “Hey I just walked 24 miles!”
Finish. I waved to family members waiting at Copley, crossed the finish line in bright September sunshine to the raucous and encouraging cheers of the consistently excellent Jimmy Fund volunteers almost exactly 10 hours after starting my walk, received a medal and then I cried. Just a little.
I cried because I did it. It is probably the most physically difficult thing I have ever done (childbirth had its moments), and I’m 51.
I cried because my husband was there after all, after outpatient surgery that morning to remove what is probably a basal cell carcinoma from the bridge of his nose. His big bandaid made him look endearingly tough rather than wounded.
I cried because around mile 15, I paced a mile reciting a meditation in my mind, timed with my footsteps, remembering the people I was walking for, both living and dead. What’s a hill compared to some of that heartbreak? As my friend who lost, too young, the dearest brother any sister ever had said so succinctly, “Cancer sucks.”
One story among many. Early on, I walked and talked for a few miles with a woman my age named Lisa. She had survived a frightening and unexpected (well, isn’t it for everyone?) experience with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She was young then and had two very young children. Her doctor dismissed her swollen neck lymph node, then her swollen armpit lymph nodes (she was breast-feeding and he thought it was related), but when her leg lymph nodes swelled and she saw another doctor, she was diagnosed. Her sister was a perfect match for a blood marrow transplant and so she survived. And a few years later she had twins.
She was missing her Sunday duties as director of a church children’s choir, and she was hurrying her walk so she could catch the end of the season’s first Patriots game. As we passed the Jimmy Fund signs with children on them, she would touch each one and say “God bless you,” and name the pictured child.
“God bless you, Cory.”
People walked alone, in pairs, or in teams, to remember friends and family and coworkers who died, or to support people undergoing treatment now. They had special t-shirts made, or photos pinned to their shirts. They were in good spirits, even when they stopped at medical tents to have their feet attended to, even when they were walking more slowly than I was on Heartbreak Hill.
Although will probably spend this entire day thinking about my Vastus lateralis muscles, the effects of yesterday’s long walk will be with me for much longer.
The goodness of the day is spreading out like ripples in a pond. I can feel it and I hope you can too.