Remember when you were in 6th grade and it was time for the dreaded sex education segment of science and you were made to watch that very graphic, very shocking PBS video from 1983 entitled "The Miracle of Life"? I do. Boy do I.
After the horror of watching the birth (I was 12, after all, and their scare tactics worked), I was completely perplexed and troubled to learn that the woman has to then birth the placenta, or afterbirth.
That just seemed overwhelmingly insulting. Like, really? I just pushed this baby out and now I have to birth this blobular mass to which I have no seeming connection? Really?
This is kind of how I felt about the mile and a half shuffle out of Central Park after crossing the finish line. I knew it was necessary and had to be done, but really? I'd just run 26.2 miles, for the love of Pete. And now I have to walk a mile and a half before seeing anyone I know? Really?
Crossing the finish line in and of itself was an interesting experience. After miles and miles of crowd hysteria, music, and high fives, the finish line was surprisingly austere, almost a let-down. Since there are so many people in such a tight space, no spectators were allowed at the finish, and the party stopped once you ran over the last timing mat. Then a volunteer gave you your medal, a photographer took your finisher's photo, another volunteer wrapped you in mylar, another one taped it shut, and another one handed you a bag of food with an apple, gatorade, pretzels, protein supplements, and water, all within the span of about three minutes. All very perfunctory. Then you just kept on walking. And walking. And walking.
Photo courtesy of brightroom, in case you can't tell
I like my finisher's photo above, though much like the photos from Brooklyn when the surprise of Shannon and Heather's arrival is settling in, I think I look a little nuts. And despite the enormous sense of accomplishment I felt for having just completed my first marathon, I was about one step away from a complete breakdown. The runners around me weren't really helping the situation: one girl was vomiting in a trashcan, another was absolutely coming unglued on the phone talking about how she couldn't feel her legs, how she couldn't walk, and others just gave up the fight all together and were laid out on the ground, tongues hanging haphazardly out of their mouths.
For those of you non-running readers, I realize I'm not really doing a top-notch job of selling the sport.
I mentioned earlier that when I crossed the finish line, I thought to myself this will be the last time I'll ever do this! Watching runners fall apart confirmed this notion, and after being so deep in my head for 4 hours I needed to talk to someone, anyone, to help me move forward, to get me to the bag pick-up so I could put on dry clothes and warm up. After several failed attempts at conversation with the apparent non-English speakers around me, I finally stumbled upon an Australian woman who was clearly in the same boat as me, which is to say freezing, tired, close to vomiting, and trying to stay up off the ground.
This lady, I love her. She's a mother of four, never wanted to run a marathon and I daresay never will again, but she did it just to do it and brought several friends along with her from down under for the ride. And you know that accent-everything she said sounded like the most upbeat, pleasant thing you've ever heard. I'm pretty sure she said "I am just miserable right now!" but because of that accent she may as well have said "I feel like a million dollars! I could run another 26.2 right now!"
She saved me from myself, this nice Australian lady, and when it came time to part at our respective UPS trucks where our bags were being stored, I felt somewhat rejuvenated. Once I got on my warm clothes I felt better, knowing that I was one step closer to being out of the park and reunited with my people. It was then that I took the picture below I've posted before, the photo where I just needed to look at myself to make sure I was still of this world. I was in an alternate universe, a kind of bizarro reality show that I'd decided to participate in months ago but had, by now, forgotten why.
Since it's taken me almost 2 months to write about this experience, I've obviously had some time to think about the various components of the marathon. I've concluded that although the long walk out of Central Park was fairly miserable, it also gave me time to collect myself, to make sure I didn't totally fall apart when I did finally get to see Jay, the kids, Tommy and Maddy, Heather and Shannon, and Mandy and Amber. If I had seen this crowd right when I crossed the finish line, I no doubt would have completely surrendered to the overwhelming emotions I was feeling and would have most likely cried. And cried. And cried some more. As it was, I was able to come down off the emotional ledge I was perched on so precariously and get it together, somewhat at least, before I saw them outside of the park.
I've read a lot of reviews of this marathon and nearly every one mentions this last portion of the race, the long walk out of Central Park. Many refer to it as the "Death March" and though macabre and darkly humorous and accurate, the connotation of this reference is so deeply disturbing and rooted in our cultural psyche that I decided to make a motion to change it.
Due to my limited readership and influence, I doubt you'll hear people refer to the long walk after the New York marathon as "Placenta" from here on out. It's a strange simile, I know, but having 3 kids in 4 years will naturally orient one's mind to childbirth. And much like having a baby, a marathon too is hopefully a moment of self-definition, a worthwhile, meaningful, difficult, emotional, joyful, painful, crazy, life-altering experience.
And, for the record, I'd do it again.