Monday, November 26, 2012

Perfection, Twinkies and The Philadelphia Marathon

I can always count on my wife to say the most inconsequential thing when I'm trying to be serious. 

So, on the eve of the Philadelphia Marathon, I was not totally surprised to receive urgent, back-to-back text messages: “If you see Twinkies, buy them!"..."We can sell them for double!” Well, I was a little wound up, so it took a moment.  Seriously? Seriously?  10 p.m. the night before The Race and you're texting me about Twinkies? I had told her I’d be in bed by 8.  But she well knew, despite my pious declarations, that there was no way that was happening.

Rather than a serious business proposal, this reference to the impending Twinkie Cliff was meant to loosen me up, and to remind me that she missed me (I think?). Silencing the phone, I smiled just a little.  Tina is not one for long, stirring speeches. She is an engineer, mind you. But in five years of marriage, I've found her to be unspeakably wise, able to convey a profound point in an unexpected way.

I went right to sleep.

Truth: You haven't eaten one since Ghostbusters was in theaters. Relax.

To be sure, it had been a weird night and its weirdness only added to my pre-race jitters.  I had driven 2 ½ hours to sleep in a Philadelphia hotel room, alone, in order to wake up the next day and run 26.2 miles as fast as I could.  Not only that, but I had been preparing for this one race for about 6 months.  

The week before the marathon, runners “taper,” meaning they cut their mileage short, resting up for the big day.  During the week, some experience “tweaking,” or -- put perhaps too hyperbolically -- enter “taper madness.” That is, they go a little nuts with the newly-found time and energy. Me? I took the golden opportunity the previous Thursday night to completely empty my car and Febreeze the entire cabin and trunk. (Glad, I finally got that done!)   

Race week logic: This is not a creepy commercial.
Race morning I went to the bathroom before the race, reducing my chances of a mid-race bathroom stop.  Stopping to “go” during the marathon is actually a normal occurrence. There are port-a-potties all along the course.  But, I was concerned that if I stopped in the late miles, I’d not be able to get going again.  

The race opens right in the heart of Philly, near the Oval.  I have raced twice in Philadelphia and I really like the city. It's kind of like what New York City would be like if it didn't take itself so seriously. I started in the "maroon corral," which included every non-elite who planned to run under 3:10.  (That's actually a large slice of the Runnerverse, FYI). Anyway, after a somewhat protracted introduction, we were off.  

First 5 miles were going fairly well; I ran them at about 7:15-7:20 pace, the next 10 were a little faster.  Then, I felt it was time to really go for it. Dropped a 7:10 for mile 16, confident I might even run 7:00's straight through the end.  

But, at that point, I had no choice to but to heed the growing, um, pressure, to stop at the port-a-potty. Standing perfectly still, I looked down at my watch, seeing the clock ticking at a rate of two seconds per second, it seemed. I emerged with the sensation of a dagger in each of my quads.

The rest was hard and slow (You know those horizontal escalators they have between gates at the airport? Yeah, backwards.)

Oh Dear.
I worked hard this cycle, putting in 70- and 80-mile weeks, so it was kind of tough to have it go down like that. To be in 3:03-3:09 shape and to be hanging on to 7:50 and 8:00 miles. Man.  

On the upside, I didn't give up when I was in a really bad spot. I thought of all the work that I put in, and that the first part the race had gone fairly well. So, I said a few prayers, and tucked in for the finish.


Not what I wanted, but it was good for 899th of 11,624 and a 22-minute improvement. Something to build from. I wanted to run a 3:09, but I did not. But, I also wanted to run well, and I did, thankfully.

Inexperience seems to have played a part. My best race of the season was a 1:27:16 half marathon. They say the marathon time is roughly half marathon x 2 +10. I guess when you're still building your experience, you add another 10.

Local runner Michael McKeeman broke the tape in 2:17:51 
It may seem silly that this race had a spiritual dimension for me, that I even prayed about it.  But, in Christianity we are called “to become as little children,” and children get wrapped up in all kinds of unimportant things.

So, it all got me thinking about “the perfect race,” and of perfection in life itself. Fr. Paul Jannakos, writes,

To be a Christian, then, means to experience the perfection... not as something static, (i.e., from a pseudo-moralistic stance), but as something that is an ongoing, continuous mystery. Each of us must seek after the righteousness of our Lord by being transformed from “one degree of glory to another,” as St. Paul so beautifully writes in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians.
“......for those who us who have come to know what it means to be completely and uniquely human, there is no other alternative than to believe that we can be changed into something far greater than we presently are.
This is the greatest of all our Lord’s promises(*).
It's encouraging to consider this, the progressive, cooperative, and hopeful nature of our perfection.

If you told me in 1987, a doofy kid with a full Twinkie in my mouth, that one day they'd stop selling them, I'd not believe you. I was only 10, after all. But, tell me now that one day I won't be racing marathons, and I'll believe you just enough to enjoy the one I'm racing next.
(*) Jannakos, Archpriest Paul, "Is Human Perfection Possible?"


Jeff Edmonds said...

Very nice run and write up. I love the anecdote about your wife, so great.

NaderAlfie said...

Thank you, Jeff (for everything!)

Terzah said...

I enjoyed this race report! Congratulations on a great race (pit stop aside).

NaderAlfie said...

Much appreciated, Terzah. Thanks for reading. :)

BadDawg said...

Love it, enjoy that well earned Twinkie my friend!

NaderAlfie said...

Thanks, EJ! They're nowhere to be found!