It’s Sunday morning, and I’m slithering along through Connecticut meadows on my way to Boston with the goal of completing in the 119th Boston Marathon. Having run only one marathon previously and never one of this renown, I am sufficiently freaked out. Fortunately, there is a tool that we runners have for coping with such nerves: visualization. The basic idea is that by mentally stepping through the entire race, you can enhance your strategy and fortify your resolve to execute it, even though it may cost great pain. So, please, step into the time warp with me….
5:00 a.m.: Why is this happening to me!? There is no occasion for which a human being should be awoken this early, except maybe to see a really cool eclipse. Maybe.
5:03 a.m.: Why is this happening to me, again!? Et tu, snooze!? I lurch out of bed and fumble through the things I laid out the night before, when I was younger and wiser. I blearily step into a pair of orange shorts and slide on my tissue-thin singlet.
5:45 a.m.: The subway gradually accumulates the angular calves of intimidatingly good runners. I slyly inspect them and estimate their qualification times.
6:15 a.m.: Boston Common is abuzz. I pack my sweats and some food into the 18×18 inch clear plastic bag I’m allowed for post-race items. All that’s left now is my body and whatever it’s carrying for the full 26.2 miles. I board the bus and shiver.
8:00 a.m.: I use the restrooms for the third time this morning.
9:45 a.m.: The race officials have corralled all of us with red race bibs to make the half-mile pilgrimage to the start line. I jog lightly and give my legs a good shake, warning them of what’s next.
9:58 a.m.: I consider the cumulative number of miles tallied by each pair of legs queued at the start line in preparation for this moment. I say a quick prayer that my own miles pay off and that I remember this race is a blessing.
10:00 a.m.: Crowds of people ripple on either side of the course. I take a few deep breaths. Seven months of braving blizzards, circling the indoor track, and running well beyond my glycogen stores have culminated in this instant. The gun goes off, and instinctively I lean forward into the race.
10:06 a.m.: One mile. I immediately analyze my pace. The first six miles of the course are considerably downhill, and many friends warned me not to get swept into too quick of a pace or my quads will be shot eight miles in.
10:30 a.m.: Five miles. I’m finally loosening up and integrating the constant blare of spectators into my normal state of existence. I stay calm and don’t mind people passing me. We’ll meet again in the second half!
10:36 a.m.: GU! It’s recommended to ingest one pouch of gooey electrolytes every six miles to maintain a steady flow of energy. Normally these saccharine sacks of slime would be off-putting, but mid-marathon, my body relishes every calorie. (Also, I actually really enjoy the orange-vanilla flavor.)
11:20 a.m.: Halfway! I’ve been running for over an hour and have logged only half the steps necessary for finishing, but I don’t dwell on it. I’m in my flow, and the miles are clicking by quickly.
11:37 a.m.: The race has become paradoxical. I now have a single-digit number of miles remaining and have quickened my pace considerably, but the mile markers arrive more and more reluctantly. Fatigue, however, crashes over me with increasing frequency. I repeatedly take harbor in the thought “In this moment, I’m ok.”
12:00 p.m.: I’m not ok. My body has begun making small concessions (a dropping of the hip, a tightening of the arms), I’m like a Jackson Pollock painting of dried PowerAde and wayward GU, and I’m approaching the largest elevation change on the course: Heartbreak Hill. I force a few heaving breaths to stock up on oxygen, remember my most difficult winter miles, and charge.
12:12 p.m.: All that exists is running. I eat running, I drink running, I’m pretty sure I could sleep running. Actually, that sounds pretty nice. I think I’ll close my eyes for just a….
12:18 p.m.: A marathoner’s greatest fear is “The Wall.” In theory, this occurs when your body has entirely incinerated its energy stores. In practice, it’s when you feel like the finish line is the Hogwarts Express and Dobby desperately doesn’t want you to reach it. For me, the feeling isn’t so much hitting a brick wall as gradually wading through an ever-deepening swell of mortar. Or Mordor.
12:30 p.m.: In my first marathon I foolishly assumed the final mile would offer me a burst of adrenaline. Instead, I discovered that, much like sunlight below 1,000 meters under sea level, adrenaline beyond twenty-five miles doesn’t exist. The last mile is the most difficult and is fueled by raw determination.
12:35 p.m.: As I strain toward the finish, I cannot distinguish between the roar of the crowd and the roar of pain pulsing through my own body. It’s an incredible feeling crashing down the last few meters of pavement with so many sights and sounds and smells flying about my head. But at this point, I’m not running for the glory or the accomplishment or the time. I’m running to rest, running to be finished, running to be motionless. And now I can count the steps to the finish line. Five, four, three, two….
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.