Pain or Pride?
Posted on January 8th, 2010
Which is the stronger feeling: pain or pride?
Yesterday I completed the Tiveria Marathon for the second time.
It was a day that I will never forget.
And you know what? I’ll wait until the end of this post to determine if that is a good thing.
It has been said that trying to describe a marathon to one who has not completed it is like describing color to someone blind from birth. But I will try.
The marathon is 42.2 kilometers or 26 miles. That’s far. Really far. After about 25 kilometers, your body does not react as it usually does. Without drinking and eating special glucose “gels” you will simply collapse. The reason is that you have used up all the sugars in your muscles and they start to digest themselves as your body continues to call for more energy.
While this is occurring, your mind can also break down. You can find yourself talking to yourself and even fighting with your own thoughts which can cry out for you to stop.
Having run the marathon last year I knew all this and had prepared for it. What I did not contemplate – especially considering that this is January – is that brutal heat can take all your carefully laid plans and chuck them in the garbage. It turns a race for a personal best time into a race for survival. You stop running to achieve a fast time, you run to end the agony as quickly as possible.
Training with the Bet Shemesh Running Club had improved my running enormously. I learned pacing, nutrition, and recovery and made some great friends — compatriots in suffering. My speed was way up, and when I finished the Bet Shean Half Marathon a few weeks ago in an hour and thirty-two minutes, I felt I was on track for an amazing time in Tiveria.
In the morning at the hotel, as my roommate and I prepared for the race by smearing Vaseline on our toes, sun block on our noses, and surgical tape on our nipples (yes, that’s right), I laughed and remarked that this is not what a normal person would do on a Friday morning (or any other time for that matter).
Standing at the starting line, I did not even realize how hot it was, I was too excited. I looked around at the crowd of spectators and thought about how much better it is to be a player than a watcher. (One of the reasons I made aliyah as a matter of fact, but that’s another story).
The starting gun went off and the moment I had been waiting for since the race ended last year was finally upon us. We ran packed together for the first few kilometers until the crowd thinned out as everyone settled into their own pace.
The first 21 kilometers was fun. Eight of us from the club ran together, our white, orange and black uniforms forming a solid block. We kept to a great pace (4:45 per kilometer). I had planned to run this pace for half the marathon, and then see if I could kick it up for the second half.
At kilometer 15, there was a crocodile in the road. I really don’t know why he was there but the police made all the runners give it a wide birth. From now on I know that seeing a crocodile is a really bad omen for a runner.
I was grabbing bottles of water along the way and eating my gels. Everything was going completely according to plan. I was happy as the kilometers clicked by and thought about how amazing it would be if I could finish in three hours and twenty minutes.
You know, sometimes not everything goes according to your plans. That’s just life. There is nothing you can do about it except try and adapt and keep moving ahead.
As I reached the halfway point something happened, something bad. I felt like I was running backwards. One by one the guys who I had been running with passed me. Then others runners passed me. I tried to keep up the pace but my legs would not obey. I started feeling dizzy and had no idea what was going on.
The real danger of dehydration is once it hits, it is very hard to do anything about it. At the next water stop I drank a whole bottle and poured another one on my head. It didn’t help. Several kilometers later I couldn’t run any more and started to walk. The 3:30 pacer passed me, and I readjusted my goal to beating last year’s time of 3:50.
I started running again but slowly. I took my headphones off as the music was making me sicker. A race medic came by on a bike and gave me a water bottle. I started running one kilometer segments and then walking for about 30 seconds. Then I was walking for a minute.
I tried focusing on the quote that
pain is temporary, pride last forever
but as I tried to focus on the temporary nature of pain, from somewhere deep inside, I heard my body yell “FU!”
So instead I came up with a better quote for the circumstance, from Dean Karnazes, a well known ultra-marathoner.
Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must.
Just never give up.
All I wanted during those last few kilometers was to finish. At around the thirty-fifth kilometer, I saw a guy being loaded into an ambulance. Later I was to find out that it was one of the fastest runners from our team who had collapsed. He would be joined by dozens of other runners who passed out from the heat.
I hadn’t realized what a toll the sun had taken on everyone. Hundreds of runners dropped out. Our club had many members who didn’t come close to their goals. I didn’t know any of this. All I knew, all I could focus on, was that I wanted to cross that finish line.
Around the fortieth kilometer I started dancing. It wasn’t on purpose. My legs simply could not keep moving, and I was having trouble controlling the muscles. I started walking again slowly and tried to get them back.
Then I collapsed.
I ended up laying on the ground while my teammates tried to get me to drink. I was pale, encrusted with salt, and had very vague recollection of what was going on.
Over the next few hours I felt even worse. It seemed clear that the pain I experienced was much stronger than the pride of finishing the marathon. Lying on the floor of my hotel room, I looked over at my running shoes and said “I hate you. I hate both of you.” My feet were in such bad shape I went home barefoot.
But you know, today is a new day. Memories of pain fade. And although I came up short of my goals in the marathon, I feel an amazing sense of pride. Right now, as bad as the feeling of pain had been, the feeling of pride is that much more.
I may forget the details of the run, but I will never forget the details on how I feel right now. Which somehow, despite the above description [originally I was going to call this post “A Day in Hell“], makes it all worth it.
We only live once. Don’t keep putting off your dreams. Whether it is finishing a marathon or something else that you have always wanted to do, now is the time to start.
Our boundaries are not caused by the difficulty of our task, they come from within.
See what you are capable of.
All it takes is will.
Shabbat Shalom from a tired but proud runner in our blessed nation.
With great appreciation for Chaim Wizman and the rest of my teammates in the Bet Shemesh Running Club. We’ll get ’em next year.
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