Unless I'm doing speedwork, I don't typically run with music. I'm no purist, mind you, but instead am a complete spaz. And I'm lazy too, so I haven't put together any awesome playlists where one song flows to another and my heart rate mirrors the beat of the music, where the tempo gradually increases or decreases in the right places. I'll go from the Boss to Justin Timberlake to Ce Lo to the Beatles, which means I'm inspired, then in love, then laughing, then crying, all within the span of 15 minutes.
Enter the Metaphorical Race Bag.
Although I'd assigned a few miles here and there for friends to "run" with me and even though I knew many of you were thinking about me, I also wanted to cover all my bases, so I knew that I had something to think about when I felt the crazy closing in on me.
I solicited advice from other marathoners about what they think about when the miles get long, what mantras they use, what songs they like, etc. Having just completed her first marathon, Madeleine suggested two items for my race bag.
This Buddhist chant was taught to Tommy and Madeleine when they were training for the Charleston Half-Ironman and were riding a stationary bike for 2 hours (huh?) by another nutjob also riding a stationary bike for 2 hours. I love the idea of this centering chant, and I tried to look up a quick quip to distill the essence of its meaning; no such luck. Rest assured it keeps you focused and centered.
That being said, I couldn't use it. My feeble mind couldn't memorize the unfamiliar words. That and I already had Baraka za Mungu kweli ni za, Ni za ajabu in my race bag, a Swahili spiritual that often comes into my mind when I'm running.
2. Invictus by William Ernest Henley
You may be familiar with this poem from the movie Dead Poets' Society. Or maybe because you're a Mandela fan and thus know that this poem sustained him throughout his prolonged prison sentence. It's a powerful one, to be sure-the last two lines in particular: " I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."
Without getting into a full-on theological debate here, I'll just say that this one threw me for a loop. I don't think I'm the only one driving my ship, so to speak; I've got help from God and a few saints and most definitely some guardian angels, so to say that I'm the master of my fate really had me going down the free will versus determinism road, which is all just a little too heady for a first marathon Metaphorical Race Bag. And though I admire the strong sentiment of this piece and how those last two lines are almost like beating yourself on your chest with your fists in rapid succession and giving everyone the bird, I couldn't put this in my bag either.
I say this not to diss Madeleine's suggestions, but merely to point out that everyone's race bag is going to be different, just like whether or not it works for you to run with music, or with a partner, or in the morning, or at night (or in a box with a fox). Obviously they sustained Maddy through her 26.2. And we know that running is 99% mental, so you've got to find what works to keep your sanity.
I also tell you this because it illuminates, at least in part, my complete and total obsession with all things marathon in the weeks before the race. If I had a conversation with you sometime within the vicinity of November 7th, chances are it went something like this:
Me: How did your grandmother's surgery go?
You: Great! She's doing well and is in recovery, and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
Me, upon hearing "Great", "well" and "recovery", thinking: I wonder if her grandma ever ran the New York marathon? Did she break 4 hours?
You get the idea. And you also know that I do genuinely care about your grandmother. I just had absolutely no focus. Unless it was about running, or getting ready for the trip, or the race bag, I just had trouble keeping it together.
Back to the race bag and its contents so you're not up all night reading this post:
1. The Rising by the Boss
Though I know almost all of the lyrics, what I primarily fall back on is the "La, la, la la la la, la la" after the chorus.
2. An email from my friend, Ben
The part that stuck with me said "Because you're Kelley Barnhardt. You like challenges. You're not scared of a little discomfort." And boy was there ever discomfort.
3. Badlands by the Boss
I know this one by heart too, but it's really the opening chords that get me. That and when he says "For those who have a notion, a notion deep inside/That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.
This whole piece is awesome, but I memorized the final paragraph for the race bag: "What I have found is that the last six miles separate distance runners from those who are merely obsessive or have a high tolerance for boredom. They are the crucible from which come molten, freshly recast marathoners, and each one of those miles is a distinct trial to conquer, and reason to train, and reason to boast, and as such, in truth, I love them, because though you'll never know exactly why you do them, it's over those last six miles that you finally find out if you can." Boom.
5. Tommy's claim that I was going to love the last six miles. I held on to that assertion like it was the gospel truth, and hoped to all hopes that it was.
6. Baraka za Mungu kweli ni za, Ni za ajabu
I find myself going back to this song any time my mind is blank, so I knew it would be in the bag.
The great thing about a Metaphorical Race Bag is you can stuff it with as much or as little as you like; it all depends on how much you want to carry with you. It weighs nothing except what weight you give it, and it's really easy to store. You can throw it away any time you want or just keep it tucked in your metaphorical back pocket (no pockets on that knee-length spandex).
I called on a few of these items at mile 20 in particular, and again as I crossed that final bridge into Central Park.
Disclaimer: I realize this race bag would be more aptly named a Theoretical Race Bag, or perhaps a Hypothetical Race Bag, or even Imaginary Race Bag. But when Tommy and I were texting one day before the race, I mentioned that I was "tucking something into my Metaphorical Race Bag", so there it is. This bag is not a comparison to something else, but it is what it is-a group of "things" I carried with me through the race to help me through the tough miles. But in a temporary lapse of literary reason, I called it a metaphor, so there you have it. Metaphorical Race Bag.