I ran my sixth marathon yesterday. After I crossed the finish line and made my way back on public transportation to my swanky hotel, it occurred to me that I am a stereotypical, yuppie asshole.
There were really no two ways about it.
Here’s what led me to that conclusion:
I used to go by my three names: First, Maiden, Married. And I worked at a white shoe law firm, then I left THAT job and worked at a boutique firm in my practice-area niche; I drove a luxury car; I had designer dogs; I lived in Tribeca; my husband and I belonged to “clubs,” and vacationed in resorts with unpronounceable names.
Then I forsook THOSE things — after a mandatory year of traveling in the developing world — for the Next Generation of Yuppie Things: Finding myself; the mandatory divorce; leaving law firm practice for another, uber-yuppie career; rescuing a mutt and giving him a preppy sounding name; and, of course, running marathons for charity.
And that, Gentle Readers, is where this story begins.
Running, I’ve learned, is not a glamourous sport. In fact, it is disgusting. If you are a runner, you know this. If you are not a runner, it is a fact you can reasonably surmise.
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I wax poetic/romantic (frequently) about running. I do it in a self-serving, and overbearing way sometimes. This is typically because I write those things when I have recently been running, and the endorphins and the sugars from the Gatorade are still saturating my brain.
But now, I have sobered up from the runner’s high, and I am prepared to give you the full scoop on what running is actually about.
Running Stinks: The stench of running is nearly unbearable. I have known a few weak-stomached would-be runners to retch upon stepping into a start corral for the first time. The smell at the start of a race can best be described as a pungent mix of old and new sweat, lubricants, port-o-let runoff, and fresh urine. This is the meta smell. You may, occasionally, catch a whiff of the very unwashed runner next to you, who hasn’t showered since Friday, but his individual odor will be vastly overpowered by the collective smell.
There will typically also be a bit of that raisiny-sweet aroma coming off of some of those dear, misguided ultra low-carb, carnivorous runners deep in the throes of ketosis. They are usually male. If the race is longer than a 10k, you will see them being carted off in an ambulance after Mile 7.
Rest assured, the smells won’t last too long, though. You will soon enough come upon someone slathered head-to-toein Ben Gay, which will melt your olfactory glands and…problem solved.
Running Releases the Beast: Gotta go? Just do it. Most runners are polite and use the port-o-lets on the course. But I have seen the worst inside and outside those gross little cabins during the many races I have run. Yellow waterfalls off the side of the Verrazzano? Haphazardly stacked biscuits of human excrement dotting the race course treeline? Some greedy soymilk company replacing the waterstop at Mile 8 of a marathon and people projectile vomiting rivers of white?
Seen it all.
Running Hurts: The strange injuries that can befall a runner are diverse in their type and their pain. There is really nothing more horrible, though, than seeing a man cross the finish line with twin trails of blood down the front of his jersey. Like he’d never heard of Band-Aids.
Running Tastes Terrible: Ever tried Gu? PowerShot? EnergyGel? HoneyStinger? Some friendly advice: don’t do it if you don’t have to.
I think the best analogy I have for those things is: take some pudding. Leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight. In the morning, scrape the crust off the pudding and put it into a foil packet, and then squeeze the pudding crust into your mouth while you’re running a long distance. Those gel packets are truly horrible. They come in two distinct varieties of flavours: the “Cakey” (i.e., chocolate, vanilla, espresso, and horror of horrors, mint chocolate — which is not so much like pudding crust as it is like eating the crusty, gummy rim of air-exposed toothpaste) and the “Fruity” (i.e., lemon-lime, orange, blueberry pomegranate, strawberry, and pineapple). For what it’s worth, I find the fruit ones to be marginally less offensive.
I once made my “Support Team” guys try a bunch of Gu flavors when they insisted that they would be totally fine with eating any type of gel, anywhere. They pretended to like it — even the dreaded “plain” flavor — but when you are not trying to choke that crap down while running 26.2 miles, it loses its impact.
And this is all to say nothing of eating bugs, tasting your own sweat, gagging on salt tablets, and drinking poorly mixed Gatorade.
Running for Your Life: In spite of everything — the stench, the flow, the taste, the hurt — it’s actually worth it. To me, anyway. For reasons that are personal and profound. Because running heals me; because I struggle with some pretty hefty health issues and I don’t know if I will be able to do this forever, or for just a short time.
If you find that you are like me, and you must do this crazy thing, I recommend you get yourself some good tights; some proper salt tablets; and a gel that is a flavor and consistency that you can reliably race with.
Run fast if you must. Run hard because you can. Give it meaning. Cry sometimes. Cry sometimes with frustration, and sometimes with the incredible release of knowing that you are powerful; that you can begin at the beginning and finish what you start.