Dan and I continued past the Fish Hatchery back on Keystone with Jeff leading the way. The hype we encountered through the Parkway died down and we were alone, without any fans. I finally reached a point where I had never been before: Mile 14. Instead of celebrating this small victory I was cursing the side of Keystone that’s a gradual incline to Country Club Road. I continued to talk to myself while everyone moved on in silence. Was I hitting this so called wall already? I just had to slow down and walk up a small stretch of road. Immediately, I apologized to my team mates; I felt defeated. After receiving some positive words from the guys I picked up my feet and jogged up the remainder of the hill until it leveled out at a stop sign.
Before heading onto Country Club towards Riverbend we took the long way through two developments, one with some extravagant homes. Coming up on the right was a gorgeous stone home surrounded by sky high trees. I recalled the time when this house was being built. Mom and I wished of living there; we spoke of it every time we drove to the South Mall. Ahhh, Mom…it would be a few miles until I made it to her house. If I actually make it.
Navigating Country Club became a challenge. Multiple cars, traveling in both directions, needed to maneuver the road to accommodate the three of us. This was then complicated by two bikers and an eventual caddy crossing the street to get to the other side of the golf course (insert joke here) We hit Riverbend, made a right and traveled on the windy road towards Cedar Crest. Yes! A light. This could mean a brief stop. Thank God for traffic!
“Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red.” I, aloud, said this about ten times. I needed to take a short break to bend over and try to touch my toes. I needed a quick hamstring stretch. In so many respects God was watching and the light turned green…then red. We stopped. Jeff, who maintained the role of traffic blocker, looked both ways and waved me on. After all, there were no cars on Cedar Crest.
“No, Jeff. We need to wait until the light turns Green,” I said with a smirk on my face. Without asking any questions, Jeff complied and we waited. The light changed soon enough and we crossed over Cedar Crest towards my parents’ development. About half way down the road, I noticed my brother’s ruby red Subaru barreling towards me. He was coming back from the gym, I guessed. I’d see him at the house. If I actually make it.
My feet shuffled through the bend in the road and I saw my hydration team jumping up and down, waving their arms, holding signs and ringing that cowbell. I finally reached another station. My empties were already pulled from my belt. I handed them to someone, not sure who anymore, and requested nothing but water. I was sick of that sweet Gatorade taste; I needed water. Dan stayed with the group while Gus didn’t mess a step. We jogged uphill (ugh) towards the first stop sign.
I make it a point to not look down when I’m running. I try to maintain good form, which includes an elongated, relaxed upper body, although, the writing on the street was a distraction. I had to look down. The path to the stop sign was marked up with some motivational sayings including, ‘2 Legit 2 Quit.’ Thinking of MC Hammer pants almost made me smile, but I was too serious on the outside to even crack my stoned face. We rounded the corner and pressed on for my parents’ house.
Marcus. Gus. GG. Whatever you call him, he’s my love. And he’s always felt this way…from the beginning. This day was a reaffirmation of our love. He again asked how I was really doing and if I needed anything. I just needed him next to me. I needed him to tell me that I could do this. I needed him to carry me, emotionally. He did all those things. The rest of the roads to hydration station #7, my childhood home, gave my legs a bit of a rest with their gentle decline. I felt a sense of relief as I made a left onto Brookhaven Drive East. From the top of the hill I could see my brother’s car parked in the driveway. With each trot the house became more visible. I noticed Gus’ car further up the driveway; Ava was running in the yard and Mom stood on the front patio. My vibrant purple shirt caught their eye and in a flash I saw my mom place her hand proudly on her new hip, anchor her arm straight into the sky and, with authority, sound the air horn.
“HHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKK,” went the air horn around 10:00 am. There’s something about the sound of an air horn that pumps me up while making me giggle. Mom must have sounded the horn five times before I reached the driveway. She stood here proudly, with a smile on her face, and offered me a cup of water. I politely declined, gave her a high five and a kiss on the cheek before I galloped through the sprinkler to the road. I kept my feet moving and crouched down to high five Ava. She cried after realizing that I didn’t stop. “Mommy,” she screamed. I placed my hand over my heart as I felt a faint ache. One day she’ll understand. Dad ran backwards up the road with a camera in hand, trying to capture the perfect picture of me and Gus. Oh, hell, I said, I’ll just stop for the photo. Yes, rest. Dad snapped the picture and off we went again. Unlike most developments, my parents live in a no outlet ‘hood; the way in is the way out. My route took a minor detour loop towards my parents’ house and back out again. While mapping out the 26.2 mile madness I purposely added this loop for two reasons: 1). I had to squeeze in as much road as I possibly could to total my final distance, 2). Mom’s recent hip surgery would leave her unable to participate in any of the hydration stations. If she couldn’t come to me, we’d bring the race to her.
Gus sprinted back to the entrance to ensure the filling of my bottles and grab me another gel pack. After picking up Dan, again, and Dawn, yes, again, Jeff led the team to the right, back onto Riverbend. I was close to approaching mile 20 where I planned to hook up with a fellow co-worker, Jim. I’ve known Jim on a work level for about five years. I always figured Jim younger than me, but it took a long, hard look at his license for me to be convinced that he was about ten years my senior. Just recently, our relationship has grown to include discussions about running. He was the first person to tell me I could run a marathon, so it was fitting to ask him to join me for the last six miles. THE LAST SIX MILES. Sure, it’s only a 10K, but as research proves, most people hit ‘the wall’ at mile 20. Jim would be my anchor; if I actually make it.
I couldn’t have planned it more perfectly; We bumped into Jim around mile 20. He had rounded a corner and appeared almost angelic with his white tank top as his long stride floated him across the street. We all exchanged pleasantries as I introduced Jim to the crew. He immediately fell into step with me and asked how I was doing. I knew I asked for the right person to be by my side. Aside from the blisters developing on my feet, the aching in my ankles and the tightness in my hamstrings I felt pretty good. Jim remarked on how good I looked for being at mile 20. He could have been full of shit, but it worked. For a little while. I needed to walk soon after that, but to save my pride, I picked up my feet and shuffled on.
We were approaching the light at Brookside road. “Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red.” I, aloud, said this about ten times…AGAIN. After a quick quadriceps stretch the light turned green and we took off towards the next hydration station, East Texas Park. Gus and I stumbled upon this park a few weeks prior and I wrote it into the route for Ava. I let the group know that the park was coming up on our right. Jim asked if there would be people here and I just smiled. Once again, we were met by a group of encouraging friends. I gathered my empties, passed them off for refills and ran a loop in the parking lot.
I lost my form again, by focusing on the art work on the pavement. “The day will come when I can no longer do this…Today is NOT that day.” Seeing these words, in color, brought a little tear to my eye. Two days prior I emailed Jim his route and expressed my anxiety over this race. He responded with faith in my ability and left me with two mantras. This was one of them. I looked back at Jim to see his face as he read those words. Pure joy; he was touched. Back to reality. I grabbed my bottles and stopped moving to regroup mentally (my feet thanked me). You’re almost there, everyone said. I turned to Jim and let him know that I would be crying some where along the way. He focused on me, with a stern look in his eye and said, ‘There is no crying.’
With that, we pushed off out of the parking lot towards the next intersection, just me and Jim. Thankfully, the next stretch of road was all downhill. We talked about plans for future races, ultra marathons (50+ miles) and training plans. He told me that this solo marathon, with this route, was comparable to Boston in his mind. Again, he could have been full of shit, but it worked. He reminded me that I would be part of an elite group when I finished, if I actually made it. Jim inquired about my marathon training. I smirked, let out a sigh and proceeded to tell him that I hadn’t really trained. My last long run was a half marathon at the end of April. At that moment, Jim realized that I exemplified the Madness of Muffin. He kept talking to keep me in the game until we made it to the Stoned Crab parking lot. After a quick stop we picked up Dawn and Dan, God Bless them, without skipping a step.
The rest of the route faded from my memory. I remember the actual roads and the turns, but the details are gone. They weren’t important anymore; they weren’t worth saving. My mental and physical drive focused on running home. Gus joined us for the last leg down Minesite, a road I run often. The steady decline is a fast shoot to Riverbend, my street. I ran in the middle of the lane to save my ankles from the sloping sides. The caravan of cars carrying my hydration team flew by from the last stop with their horns blaring. I ripped off my fuel belt and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ as I handed it to Jim. I unhooked my personal item belt and threw it at Gus while we rounded the corner onto Riverbend. Goddamn. Another hill. As if I had fresh legs, I started to kick and leave my team behind. Jim shouted, “finish strong,” while I focused on the finish line. I heard the cowbell and distant screams traveling down the street from my driveway. Cars passed me (including a Swanson Ice Cream Truck) while slowing down to see what was going on. People had parked on my lawn to clear the path for me, balloons were tied to the mailbox and there were little muffins attached to stakes in the ground lining the driveway. I ran up to the driveway, over the ‘Almost There’ writing, pointed to my daughter and ran through the paper finish line. I reflexively stopped my watch and began to rip off my shoes. A foot cramp left me paralyzed, but Gus helped me over to the grass. The socks came off just as I collapsed onto the ground. Ava ran over to me, laid on my chest and gave me a kiss. “I love you, Mommy.”
At the end of the day:
- I actually made it in 5:03:24.
- I loved seeing everyone along the way.
- Dan and Dawn ran way more than I ever imagined.
- I motivated people to get their asses in gear. I have the responsibility to be a role model for my family & friends.
- We ran through a total of four sprinklers and got hosed down by a large woman in a stretched out tube top.
- Jeff drank apple juice. :)
- Dan and I finally held hands.
- I spouted off approximately 300 expletives just during the last 6 miles.
- During the race I ate 3 gel packets, 1 packet of electrolyte/carb jelly beans, 1 serving of shot blocks and 1 piece of gum; I drank 32 oz. of Lemon Lime Gatorade and 48 oz. of water.
- After the race I ate 3 hot dogs, 1 cheese burger, 2 large handfuls of ruffled potato chips, 1 cup of macaroni salad, 1/2 cup of potato salad, 1 piece of cake and a lot of Doritos.
- My pre-race weight was 125; my post-race weight was 125 (this proves my science of hydration worked).
- I burned over 2200 calories.
- I gained 11 blisters on my feet, semi-permanent sport bra marks and a whole lot of respect for myself.
- It took me three days to get my legs back.
- I have one hell of a group of friends that support me…no matter how crazy the idea.
- I will do this again…and I plan to shave an hour off my time.
- I plan on hitting the pavement this weekend.