Port-A-Potties, Oranges and Jesus: Breakin’ It Down


Journal entry

Saturday, February 18, 2012:

“I run tomorrow!  One whole marathon!  I’ve been working for this for so long I can’t believe it’s finally here!  Be with me Lord.”



Well, this has been a long time coming!  My time immediately after returning from the marathon was filled with catching up on work days missed, preparing to miss more work a few weeks later, and spending every waking moment trying to complete job applications and prepare for a day-long group interview that I had coming up in San Francisco.  In that time I didn’t lift a finger, or rather a leg, to run once.  Mostly because there was just no time, but also out of direct rebellion to my last 6 months of training.  However I did get in a short 3 miler on a very nice treadmill with its own TV in the hotel that I stayed in for free due to an over booked flight on my way to San Francisco.  I have to admit, it felt gooooooooood.

Anyway, here is my long-winded attempt at trying to relate my ROCKY-like triumph at the marathon. I had a very hard time putting my experience into concrete words, hence the nonsensical poem that came out those first few days afterwards.   To the average person when they hear about a marathon they tend to think, “Man, that’s a lotta miles.  What nutcase would ever choose to do that???”  In fact, that was exactly my thought anytime I heard the word ‘marathon’ mentioned.  I never once had a desire to do it.  I loved to run, but I wasn’t interested in the idea of self-torture by running for hours on end, suffering through bouts of nausea, diarrhea, light-headedness, and unbelievably painful muscles in areas I didn’t know existed.  I was very happy to stick to my sporadic 4-5 mile runs when conditions were just to my liking, thank you very much.

But, alas, life found a way to catch up to me.  I somehow found myself in a job that I hated with no clear idea of what else to do, dying to scratch my ever festering travel itch, and growing very frustrated with the common apathy of so many people around me.  While most everyone around me was perfectly content to frequent bars for their sole entertainment, I wanted to experience life….travel, go kayaking, do something crazy.  Like run a marathon.  So I did.  Running became my therapy…a place for me to relieve stress from a mentally and emotionally draining job, a way for me to keep a positive outlook on my future by giving me goals to work toward, and it served as a reminder to me that I am capable of anything that I have the will and determination to do.  Not to mention it gave me some nice calves.  And diarrhea.  But that’s another story.

My poor little lunch box that kept my precious electrolyte water bottles cold until I arrived there around mile 13 on my long runs. It often was forgotten at the park until about 9 or 10 pm that night when I would be frantically hunting all over the apartment for it wondering how I could have misplaced it again, then suddenly realize that I never went to pick it up at the park.

So, my point is (yes, I do have a point) that a marathon is much more than just an absurd 26.2 mile run.  So much more.  It’s the culmination of months of sacrifice, discipline, tears, aches and pains, nerves, fears and hope.  It involves facing a giant with just a slingshot in your hand….doing the thing you knew you could never do.  It involves facing your insecurities, learning to think positive and to keep pushing forward when you just want to throw in your pretty new running tights and crawl back into bed.  When you run the marathon, you are celebrating everything you went through over the last 3-4 months to get there…most of which went unseen by others.  You are celebrating the internal struggle of willpower vs. weakness in which willpower won with the knockout punch.  You are celebrating the fact that you did it all on your own, that you are stronger than you ever knew, and that you will never again be one of those people who says, “I can’t.”

The morning of the marathon I woke up at 2:20am, worried that both my watch alarm and my phone alarm were planning a mutiny that day.  But, alas, they did go off at 4:40am as planned and I rushed to get in a hot shower, a good shave (I was going to be wearing shorts, for crying out loud!), a hearty bowl of oatmeal and lots of water with electrolytes.  Luckily, a few weeks before heading to Arizona, I was found on Facebook by a good friend who was also my big sister in my sorority days at Iowa State.  (GO CLONES!!!)  Wouldn’t you know it…she lived just a few blocks from the starting line of the marathon!  So a few weeks later I found myself in her kitchen, after not having seen her in over 10 years, trying not to wake her little girls who were still asleep in the room next to mine while debating how guilty I should feel over stashing my running belt full of their leftover valentine candy.  Life is funny.

The night before the marathon, we were treated to a feast of homemade pasta and meatballs, thanks to my aunt Sue who wanted to make sure I had adequate carbs while visiting.  My mom had packed up the cooler before my parents hauled me to the expo to pick up my bib number, then to my friend’s house over an hour away.  Thanks to their new TomTom (which mom held with a death grip in the same position the entire ride for fear that moving it might make it blow up or at least confuse the computer and cause us to end up in Kentucky), we were able to zoom all over Phoenix without a hitch.  Thanks mom.  So after my power breakfast, Meaghan piled me up in her mom-mobile and we drove the few blocks to the starting line (it was only in the 40s!!!…remember I live in Texas now).  She was kind enough to keep me company in a coffee shop until about 10 minutes before the start of the race, when she had to rush home and rouse the troupes to get them out on the curb to wave at me when I passed by.  So off I went to the starting line, where the music was pumping and fashionably dressed runners were paying their last respects to the wall of port-a-potties, myself included.

At the starting line just before the national anthem

A few minutes before the start, the announcer got on the mic and introduced the girl who sang a wobbly and off-key, yet 100% heartfelt, version of the national anthem while the first rays of orange and pink lit up the sky behind the mountains.  It was a moving moment there in the dark with a few hundred other anxious and excited runners, many who were first-timers like myself.  Off to my left I noticed a pacer standing there holding a sign with a time of 4:30 on it.  I had always assumed you had to sign up ahead of time to run with a pace group, so I resigned myself to run behind the group inconspicuously so they wouldn’t suspect that I was trying to pull a fast one on them.  But I soon came to realize that anyone could join up at any time so, since my estimated finish time was right around the 4:30 pace time, I decided to try it out, hoping that I would be able to keep up with the others, who I naturally assumed were professional marathoners.

The gun sounded and the madness began.  My group was a bunch of chatty runners with 2 other guys originally from Iowa.  We all started out chatting about our nerves, who was a first time marathoner, and why we were running.  After a few minutes of winding through the neighborhood I passed by my friend, her husband, their two little girls and their dogs out on the curb waiving and yelling as I went by.  Glad they saw me at mile 2 rather than mile 22.

I understand that it is hard to get a clear picture when I am flying by at the speed of light...

It was amazing how fast the first 4-5 miles went.  The first time I remember checking the mileage was at mile 5.  Of course at that time I thought, “Hey, just do that 4.5 more times and you’ll be done!!!  Piece of cake!”  But then it was time for potty break #1.  Every 2 miles port-a-potties were stationed so I checked into my first one, which meant I had to do a little catching up to the group upon my exit.  Knowing that all marathon advice warns against any sprinting or hard running early on, I had to make a gradual catch up that only took a mile or so.  But soon enough, all that electrolyte water plus the several cups of complementary Gatorade right before the race began decided that it was time to start working through the system.

Port-a-potty stop #2.  This time, I was second in line behind a guy who took what I believed to be an obscene amount of time for a port-a-potty stop in the middle of a marathon.  Anyway,  it put me a little farther behind then the first time, and as I was gradually catching up I noticed I was approaching one of the guys from my group who was from Iowa.  Naturally, I had to slow down to do a little Iowa bonding.  Found out he was from Waterloo and went to Columbus High School!  And for those that are familiar with the connections, it gets better:  Fr. Brunken was the priest who married him and his wife!  It was pretty entertaining to compare stories from home.  That helped knock out a couple of miles before I decided to continue on my quest to catch up.

Sorry, I just had to add this one for fun.

But soon enough, it was time for potty break #3.  This time I was lucky enough to be passing a country club which had nice non-port-a-potty bathrooms with a sink and even a mirror right by the road.  I may have dawdled a little longer in that restroom than the other two port-a-potties simply because I could actually see what I looked like at mile 9 and may have taken the opportunity to do a quick self-affirmation in the mirror, congratulating myself on making it that far.  Plus I was elated that I finally had the opportunity to finally blow my nose.  And I may have marveled a little at how spacious and clean it was…it didn’t even stink!  What a luxury!  This time I was determined that it would be my last potty break no matter what.  I had to have gotten it all out by now, right?!?!?!?  How much more could there be????  Anyway, It took me until mile 12 to reach my running group again, who, upon noticing my sudden presence looming behind them, greeted me with excited cheers of “Hey, Iowa!”  and “Iowa’s back! Alright!”  I picked a good group.  😉  But in those 3 miles of catch up, I ran along side a lady who, at a minimum, was in her 70s.  She told me she was trying to run a marathon in all 50 states.  She had completed 26 marathons in 19 states already.  Her husband, of course, had just finished the 50th state last year.  Good motivation.  Later on I ran along side the other guy from Iowa and had a little more Iowa bonding.  It was fun just enjoying the scenery and taking in the moment, and I was having a blast talking to the interesting people along the route and even listening in on some good conversations while I was alone trying to play catch-up.

One of the interesting people I met along the way included Jeff,” the Jesus Man” (that is my reference, not his).  I saw Jeff running with a sheet of paper in his hand at one point early on and asked him about it.  He told us that he had written down 26 different bible verses, a different one to focus on for every mile of the run.  Everyone thought that was pretty cool and asked him to read them to us at each mile.  People who were passing us or who were not part of the group but at that time were running behind us would hear and ask him to repeat it before they continued on their way.  It was fun how it seemed to suddenly connect so many strangers along the way.  One of the times that I had caught up to the group after a port-a-potty stop and had been running a while with the group, I realized that we hadn’t heard a verse in a while.  Concerned that Jeff had just forgotten, I said, “Hey Jeff, what’s the verse this mile?”  I got a groan, and a sweaty, miserable looking Jeff dug into his pocket with what seemed like an unusual amount of effort and took a deep breath before reading the verse and then struggled to put the paper back in its place.  I found out a little later that Jeff had begun to suffer from some stomach discomfort along the run.  Ooops.  I decided I would let Jeff the Jesus Man read to us when he felt like it.

Around mile 13...my first sighting of dad!!!!

It was at mile 13 that I saw my fan club for the first time.  It was hard to miss my dad’s signature canary yellow baseball cap and cargo shorts.  Plus he was standing all alone along the side of the road, my mom and aunt a ways back on the corner.  It was so much fun!

Passin' cars like they were standin' still...

They also showed up at mile 22, where my exhaustion was hitting me and I grabbed orange slices off one of the water/snack tables along the route for the first time to hopefully give me a little needed boost.  I had remembered how amazing the oranges were right after finishing the half marathon in San Antonio…a volunteer handed me a slice and I just stayed by the orange table and ate slice after slice after slice, often just standing there with my eyes closed and my mouth stuffed with an orange slice, enjoying the sweet euphoria of the sudden rush of sugar.  I was hoping for the same experience at mile 22.  I’m not sure that the one slice helped me any, but it sure tasted goooood!  There is something about oranges and running that are simply spectacular.  Is it the sweet, tangy juice contrasting with the sour, achy muscles?  Is it just the quick sugar rush?  I don’t know but I like it.  At that point I was too tired to waste any energy on chewing and it was becoming harder and harder to catch my breath when eating or drinking anything so I just squeezed the juice into my empty water cup and slammed my orange like a champ.  It was the best 5 seconds of the run.  After crossing the finish line, of course.

Orange slices and Gatorade. Yes, I am walking....POWER WALKING....in order to chug my Gatorade and eat my orange without things going up my nose or down my shirt.

Many people asked me when I hit “the wall”.  I don’t remember ever hitting a wall.  It was more like a fog.  A happy, delirious, painful fog. I do remember a slow, steady increase in achiness in my hips, butt and thighs that started to emerge around mile 15.  It didn’t become a significant obstacle until around mile 23 when the end was clearly in sight and yet the miles seemed to tick by slower and slower…and there were only three of us left in our running group, a group that started out with probably 8-10 at the beginning.  Jeff the Jesus Man was one of them who had dropped off.  Apparently there was a big wall there at mile 22.  My legs were having a hard time moving by that time and to continue maintaining the same pace through to the end required a periodic string of expletives in my head (where was the Jesus man when I needed him?!?!?) and every ounce of discipline and will power to keep myself from stopping at any point.

The 4:30 pack before right before "the wall"

Our group, or what was left of it, continued to encourage each other and tell each other how great we all were for getting this far and before we knew it, the final dreaded bridge, which was the only hill on the route, was before us.  If we could just get over the bridge to the other side, it would be only about a half mile left!  I had read a suggestion that when running up hill you should always look down at your feet, that way you don’t notice the incline and your mind is not focusing on how much more you have left.  I shared this with the group and soon we were all starting at our feet trudging up the hill.  About halfway up the hill we passed a very angry middle-aged women who was being coached by her friends to start running again by using the always motivating “C’mon!  Let’s go!  You can’t quit!”  She kept yelling back “I CAN’T RUN ANYMORE!!!” at them as she walked quite painfully uphill.  I felt bad for her and kind of wanted to trip her friends.  But I was on a mission so I didn’t.

It's the eye of the tiger...

Well, needless to say, we made it over the hill and soon rounded the last corner to come into the final .2 to cross the finish line.  The teenage cross-country runner that stayed with the group wanted to sprint to the finish so she and I gave every last ounce of energy we had to make it across.  It’s funny how my body felt like it was sprinting at world record pace but I somehow wasn’t moving much faster.  But that’s okay because as I crossed the finish line I was suddenly filled with energy and adrenaline (maybe from the orange juice??)…enough to start jumping up and down and shouting in my ROCKY-like delirium…before making a beeline for the orange slices.

Wait...is the finish line the first black strip...or the second one....or the third one???? We'll go with the fist one.

Excited?? Just a little.

Which is a better victory pose...hands open "jazz hands" style or power fists?

Power fists. Definitely.

My Iowa fan club...my parents.

I did it!  I ran the marathon and I didn’t throw up, get diarrhea, or have a need to have any limbs amputated!!!  It was a perfectly wonderful day, shared with family that were kind enough to drive all over God’s green earth (thanks to mom and her death grip on the TomTom!!)  just to cheer me on and make me feel loved.   That’s what it’s all about anyway.  😉

“The choice is simple. You can either stand up and be counted, or lie down and be counted out.  Defeat never comes to people until they admit it.  Your success will be measured by your willingness to keep on trying.  Anyone can quit.  Have the courage to live.”   -John Mason, Believe You Can; The Power of a Positive Attitude

“May you live all the days of your life.”   -Johnathon Swift


About virginmarathoner

I'm 32, about to be 33, and realizing that I only have one life to live. This gradual but recent epiphany has inspired me make choices to face the things that I thought I could never do, but secretly desired to accomplish. The first of these was to train for my first half marathon, terrified that I would never be able to run past 7 miles (my longest run prior to beginning training). The first day I ran 8 miles, I cried the entire last mile...with a smile on my face. I'm sure it was a curious sight for any one of the hundreds of soccer moms and little toddlers crowding and blocking my path that morning at the park. Each time I ran a new distance, I felt empowered and proud of my determination and dedication. The day of the half marathon I knew I was addicted. Running gave me clarity, discipline and a renewed passion for living. Now I am about to embark on a new adventure, running my first marathon, and hope that others will be able to relate to my adventures, struggles and mishaps along the way. Afterall, we've only got one life to live, so we better get on it.

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