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misery on the mountain

I am up in the middle of the night berating myself for not completing a marathon yesterday Well, that's not entirely true. I am up in the middle of the night because Zion came into my bed and woke up Elijah, and then Elijah woke up Zion, and then back and forth for an hour until I asked Zion to go back to his bed, and then Dan had a disciplinary moment with Zion over using the potty and me and Dan had a little argument about it, and then I put the baby back to sleep after that, and NOW I am berating myself about not finishing a marathon yesterday.

Because when your life is a series of sisyphusian struggles, night in and night out, completing small goals becomes arbitrarily important.

Anyway, I thought I would run this marathon yesterday.

a competitive field at the start of the race

I had a good running season 2014. I logged two 20 mile runs and at least a dozen half marathons. A tight marathon would have felt like a nice little cap on my accomplishments. More than that, a timed event that would have rendered "official" the work that's been heretofore private, shared only between me and the trail and my gps watch. Okay and also on Strava and Wellcoin. I'm not very good at the private thing. But STILL. I wanted someone to hand me a medal and say, "Well done, Leah, You've FINISHED something. At least today, at least in this very inconsequential area of your life." (They don't really say that when they hand out medals, I just in my mind imagine that they do.) So I looked up all the fall marathons in New England and narrowed the list to events on a Saturday within a 3 hour drive. There were two options. Both were trail races.

What's a trail race? I thought. That doesn't sound too hard.

"Rolling hills over foot trails in the beautiful Pittsfield state forest." Based on the website description it sounded positively relaxing! I'd be out and running first thing in the morning and back by the afternoon to help the kids get ready for dinner.

Or so I thought. This is what the Pittsfield state forest looks like.

up up up

The rolling hills mentioned in the website are up and down a 2700 foot mountain. To this lookout.

what am i doing here?

The path down follows a rocky riverbed.

down down down

It was a beautiful place to hike but a mother effing IMPOSSIBLE place to run.

By mile five my legs felt like they had gone ten miles. My back hurt, even though I can usually run three hours normal without feeling my back. By mile six I realized everyone was walking up the hill. In fact the name of the game seemed to be walking up hill. I kept looking at my watch and it kept telling me incredibly depressing things. Like: "15 MINUTE MILE!" and "You were crazy to tell your family you'd be done in four hours! You aren't going to finish this marathon EVER!!!!!"

Sometimes my watch went into auto-pause mode. While I was moving. Like as a little extra bonus fuck you.

By mile eight I had some hard questions to ask myself. Like, what do you do when you are right in the middle of a self inflicted disaster? What is important for decision making here? How much do I weigh my longing to complete something against my responsibilities to my family and/or the health of my knees?

I was not physically trained for the race I was in. I was a little nauseous and I had a stomach cramp which made me think I was not processing the lactic acid coming from my legs. Which meant I was working anaerobically. Which meant, for a distance event, I was DOING IT WRONG.

I had told everyone I would be running a four hour marathon. I had completely misjudged the course. And also my ability to jump into any physical challenge and come out swinging. My dad was planning to pick me up for lunch. My kids were expecting me home for dinner. No one, not least myself, wanted me out on that mountain I didn't know was a mountain for six fucking hours.

Strava says the elevation gain for the part of the race I completed was 2900ft. 2900 feet! I should have looked that up before I gave ultramarathon.com my credit card number.

I called my dad at three hours in and told him I was almost at the halfway point of the marathon. He had gone to an art museum nearby and was already on his way back to pick me up for the finish. He said something to the effect of, "What???" Which I took to mean, "What the honest to goodness fuck, child, you are always getting it wrong and disappointing me." I said, with as much emotional coolness as I could muster, that the race was too hard for me, that I should drop out at the half, that we should call it a day and go out for lunch.

It seemed like the smart move. It seemed like something a rational person would do. But when I came down the hill and the guys at the aid station were cheering I just waved them away and shook my head like, "No, you guys, you dont' get it. I didn't sign up for the half marathon, I'm actually just a quitter."

What if I had pushed through the second loop? Would I have fallen and destroyed an ankle? Would I be running through a different set of questions in my head? "Why do you hate your body so much, Leah? Do you want to be able to walk into your 50s? Is endurance athletics a redirection of a secret death wish?"

Instead I have these questions to torment me. "Why are you a perpetual failure, Leah? Why are you so quick to jump on any excuse out?" And just for misery sake, the kicker: "How can you justify eating so much, you disgusting fat pig, if you don't even finish your stupid marathon?"

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