That Time I Realized I Can’t Run A Marathon

Yesterday, I crossed something off of my bucket list.

Run a marathon

I didn’t actually run one; I realized that I don’t want to run one anymore.

For most of my adult life, running 26.2 miles was one of those things I wanted to do. I figured I could do it because running’s been my main form of exercise for 10 years, so I thought I’d be up to the challenge.

“Look,” Jared said. “Just start with a half and see how you feel.”

“I already know,” I told him. “Some day, I’m going to run a marathon. But I guess this race will be good practice anyway.”

I considered a half-marathon to be child’s play (despite never having run one), but I was willing to do it. You know, for fun.

We signed up for the Buenos Aires 21k and ran fairly regularly for the three months preceding it. A week before the race, an old iliotibial band injury flared up – I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s painful and extremely annoying. I hung up my shoes and hoped for the best. On the morning of the race, I could feel adrenaline mixed with nerves –ย  I hoped to finish in under 2 hours without being knocked out by injury.

21K de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires
At 6AM, pre-race. Totally in denial of the pain that is to come.

What I didn’t anticipate is that running this race -exhilarating as it was- would snuff out any ambition I had to finish a full marathon.

Here’s what it was like:

1km: This is amazing. Euphoric, even. 14,600 people, a sea of blue, cheering and charging through the streets of Buenos Aires in pursuit of a common goal. I understand how people get hooked on these things. I’m definitely doing this again.

5km: There’s the first water station. Look at all those people streaming over to it. Wimps. I don’t need water yet. I’ll just wait until the 10k mark. Yes. Look at how much self-discipline I have!

6km: Shit. I should have gotten some water.

8km: Oh my god, a burst of speed! Where did that come from? I’m passing everybody and I’m running a half-marathon past the Casa Rosada, towards the obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio. I AM INVINCIBLE. I don’t need you, Gatorade! I don’t need you, fruit stand!

21K Buenos Aires
Can you spot us in this photo? Hint: look for my trademark flailing ponytail and Jared’s raised arm. Image Credit

10km: Thank god. Water. 53 minutes, I’m on track to finish this thing in under two hours. Wait. That means…I’m not even halfway done. I have 11 kilometers to go and I have to sustain that pace? This…does not bode well.

13km: This is kind of cool. We’re all in this together, running on a highway overpass with the whole city spread out before us. We own this road. It’s hard, but if it was easy everyone would do it, right?

14km: This blows. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. I think I’ve started to go backwards. I am never, ever, doing this again. Is this road ever going to end? There goes the 5’15” pace runner, I really need to keep up with him. Must…keep…sight…oh, fuck it. Go, pace runner. Just go.

17km: Hang on, am I about to be passed by a speed walker? Oh, no, just someone running really slow. Wait. Am I going that slow? Damn it. I should have hung in with the pacer. At least there’s only 4 kilometers left. That’s – what? 2 1/2 miles? 25 minutes or so? 25 minutes? I’m never going to make it. I can’t believe I ever wanted to run a full marathon.

19km: I am going to die. I am dying right now. An invisible man is driving nails into my knees and it feels like I’m stuck on a treadmill that’s smashed into a brick wall. I don’t care about the pace runner. I don’t care about my time. Please, just make it stop.

20km: Only one kilometer to go! I should push myself. Mind over matter…No, screw that.

20.5km: Wow, what a crowd. And whoa! A marching band. Look at all of those cops, forming a barrier to keep the crowd out. Banners! Cheering! Music! Cameras! I can’t believe I’m part of this spectacle. I can’t believe OH MY GOD THE FINISH LINE. Go! Go! I’m sprinting! I’m passing you and it feels good even if you’re old! And you, too, weakling, I’m passing you! I’m even going to pass that dude up ahead who looks like he runs triathlons before breakfast – oh, nope, not gonna pass him after all.

21km: 1:54:00. I did it. It’s over. Give me water. Give me a granola bar. Get me out of this crowd. I’d like a quiet space where I can die.

Buenos Aires 21K Medal 2012
Gold is so overrated when you can have pewter.

29 hours later, I am still limping like a horse that needs to be put down. Every time my knees bend (which is often, given the function of the knee) I feel a crippling pain that causes me to cry out and clutch the nearest inanimate object. If someone had told me at the finish line to keep going, to do it all again, I would have laughed in their face.

Run a marathon? I don’t think so.

Mentally, I feel good – I set a goal, and I achieved it. There was an energy rippling through the the city of Buenos Aires that I rarely feel in my everyday life, and I loved being involved. It might not have been the marathon I wanted, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter as much as I’d thought.

Have you ever crossed something off your life list without actually accomplishing it?

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  1. I was laughing out loud as I read this. My hostel buddies think I’m crazy. It brought back so many memories of my races. I’ve done two marathons and I can tell you it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but so rewarding. I reckon you should keep working towards it. Put it back on that bucket list and choose a place a little cooler than BA ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Don’t guilt me into doing a full! I’ll die and you’ll have my blood on your hands.
      But actually, even as I wrote the post, there was a little niggling voice in my head going, “If you trained and slowed down your pace, maybe you could still do a full…” and now that I’m 2 days post-race, I’m starting to forget the pain. So I don’t want to get ahead of myself and be a total hypocrite, but… And BA, so lame, right! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Congratulations! You did it, girl! Woot woot! Despite the painful effect(s), you still did it! You should be proud of yourself! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hhhmmm about your question, I think I already did, when I joined a fun run for a good cause (5K). I actually didn’t run, instead I just jog and brisk walk. Who could run with thousands and thousands of people anyway?! Ha! That’s my excuse! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Thank you! It feels good to be finished. And I agree about the crowds – the beginning wasn’t so bad, but getting out of the crush of people at the end was terrible! You deserve to cross it off your list, no excuses necessary!

  3. Good job on finishing and in great time too. Although I have grown to loate marathons I can say that my IT Band Syndrome hasn’t come back since I’ve gone to barefoot running. I’ve run three marathons, and I’m done for sure, but if you change your mind there are some good ways to get past that injury!

    1. From now on, I’m going to run in a pair of relatively flat-soled pumas as my transition shoes – I have read that going barefoot (or minimalist) has worked wonders for ITBS in some cases. It’s very convincing to hear it from you, too! If I can get rid of that, then the marathon might return – but just once! Three is just crazy!

  4. I love this ;). I never really thought I would enjoy a full marathon…but after running a half, the idea of turning around and running back was not appealing to me in the slightest. I might do another half someday, but for now a good ol 5k does the trick. Congrats on your finish, there most certainly is something to all that adrenalin and accomplishment feeling! If nothing else, you have most certainly earned some highly caloric food and drink. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. That was the clincher for me – the idea of turning around and doing it all again. I couldn’t fathom it. Of course, now I’m toying with the idea, but a lot of things would have to change for me to do a full (like my body getting 10 years younger). Definitely ate some good food (empanadas and alfajores) and had our first Argentinian beers on the rooftop – my head was spinning after two, though! Next time I’ll skip the running 21km thing and just go straight to the fridge.

  5. I loved every single part of this and it was so refreshing to hear something other than the typical marathon runner comments.
    “It’s not that hard” “If you can run 2 miles you can do a marathon”. I also had run a marathon on my “to do” list but modified it to run a race (half/tri//marathon) we’ll see which I accomplish.

    Life lists should definitely be adaptable as we change. Not exactly on my “life list” but I had a pile of old high school T-shirts lying around for almost 3 years waiting for me to make a T-shirt quilt. I finally realized I didn’t even want the stupid quilt and would probably just bury it in a closet somewhere, I just felt bad throwing the shirts away. Well I got over it, tossed them and crossed that one off my list – felt good too.

    1. Augh, if anyone tells me a marathon ‘isn’t that hard’ I will have no problems punching them in the eye sockets. Now that the pain is subsiding and my memory is eliminating the bad parts, I have to re-read my post to keep the pain fresh in my mind so that I don’t do anything silly like sign up for a full.

      I love that you were saving t-shirts for a quilt because I did the EXACT SAME THING. Except I have a pretty strong feeling that my parents still have an overflowing box of t-shirts in their closet, waiting for the raggedy quilt that will never materialize. I bet it felt good to cross that one off the list.

  6. Love the km by km replay! And congratulations on crossing off a life goal! I’ve recently gotten it into my head that I want to run a half marathon one day, probably because my fiance was super athletic and ran two a year before moving to Singapore. However, I’m a swimmer (so NOT fit for land sports), and have old football injuries on both my feet that sometimes even make walking painful, so we’ll see how this goal really goes. Not to mention the fact that Singapore is 88F every single day with 90% humidity, so basically hell to run in.

    1. HOW do people run more than one marathon? I don’t understand it! I totally understand keeping it as a ‘someday’ goal that may or may not materialize. Sometimes the idea is nicer than the implementation of said idea. And I get that your fiance having run marathons makes you want to try it – Jared admitted that if I did decide to run one, he’d probably do it too, despite never having had ambitions to do one. There’s a weird competitive vibe that pops up, even if you’re at different levels physically.

    1. I remember thinking at the time, “how can this strike me as so funny yet so not funny at the same time?” Luckily the pain has now dissolved and I can appreciate the humorous side!

  7. Chica, I will be there soon… First 5k coming up in two weeks, and you know very well I’m no runner (remember Ireland “running?”) but today I was entertaining the idea of a marathon…. I third the barefoot running concept – I’ve been doing that in regular shoes, and no shin splints. I read “Born to Run” and would really recommend it, if the bug bites you again. Maybe we can sign up for the same one when you are through the states again – I’ve heard the Twin Cities is very supportive and friendly!

    1. Good luck! Sometimes I think whether or not you’re a runner is trivial, as long as you have some determination. “Born to Run” really turned things around for me as far as what is humanly possible and what is actually necessary. Jared’s been using minimalist shoes for 2 months now and loves them. I have to wait until we get back to the States to get a pair, but I’m going to transition to flatter shoes and hope for the best. Are the Twin Cities flat? The marathon idea is creeping back, but not if there are hills!

  8. I ran my first…and last marathon two years ago and although I’m glad I could cross it off my list, I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone. Running should be fun, and a marathon just isn’t. It can’t be good for your joints to take all that punishment. So congrats on crossing it off your list! Go do one of the other fun things on it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks! I’m now hearing about people I actually know doing ultra-marathons, and I can’t fathom it. There’s no way it’s good for your body! Though, confession – I am sort of thinking about putting it back on the list, but just once. Like you, the first one would definitely be my last.

    1. It’s all been downhill from the half marathon…a combination of altitude and laziness has meant that I’ve done very little running since then! Planning to pick up again when we get back to the US.

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