Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The last three miles is pure pain

That's me about to cross the finish line of the first annual City of Oaks marathon in Raleigh, NC. I finished the hilly 26.2 mile slog in 4:13:34, which equates to a nine minute and forty-one second mile. I'm pretty happy with the time (and the fact that I finished), considering the journey.

Last February on Superbowl Sunday, I smoked my second-to-last cigarette. I'd been meaning to quit for a while -- about ten years, actually. That's how smoking works. It's a short-term habit that lasts a decade. But I had finally come to the realization that it was now or never. After all, if I never got around to making the effort, I would always be a smoker. So I read a book about quitting and threw my last pack away Sunday night.

Monday afternoon I bought a new pack.

I walked up and down 40th avenue, whacking the pack with my palm and looking for a place to smoke. I felt a little criminal, or at least juvenile -- like my parents were around somewhere waiting to register their dissapointment. I opened it up and tapped out a cigarette. Lit it up and took about three good drags. Drags that filled my lungs and made my brain tickle with neuronal gratitude. Then I stubbed it out, crumpled up the pack and tossed it. Done.

I'm not going to say it was easy. It wasn't. I still have dreams about smoking. I'll be walking down the street with a cigarette in my lips, telling myself I'm still a non smoker even though I'm smoking. Then I wake up physically feeling as though I'd sucked down a cigarette.

I gained a few pounds back that I'd shaved off over the previous year. That fucking sucks, you know? Getting punished for quitting a filthy habit? But that's the wrong way to look at it, I tell myself.

And it's true, because my clothes no longer smell. My hair isn't smoke-cured and my breath doesn't taste like an ashtray. I don't wake up coughing and no longer have to clear my throat constantly. My energy is good. My eyes don't sting. I can breathe again. And it's done wonders for my running.

So it all led up to last Sunday. I'd done my marathon training. Flew into NC last Thursday. Was all set to do my first marathon. And then I couldn't sleep.

The race started at 7am. I'd set the alarm for 5:45am, enough time to drink a couple diet red bulls, pull my shit together and wait for my brother (also running) to pick me up. But after watching a little TV and lying down, I suddenly wasn't tired. Then I really wasn't tired. Then was positively wired. Tossing. Turning. Thrashing.

At 3am, I drank a glass of old Merlot in desparation. Nothing. Finally I fell asleep at 4am, then woke up an hour later after dreaming I overslept. Fell back asleep for about another 45 mintues.

Turns out it didn't affect me all that much. The excitement of the race pulled me through, along with about eight caffeine-laced gels. I cruised through the first half, hit the park and felt great. The second half was hilly. I mean, really hilly. By the 22nd mile I was hurting. But I kept trogging ahead. I ran slow but I kept running, never stopping to walk.

Got my medal and I'm stiff as hell. I've been hobbling around like an 80-year old. But it was worth it. I'll definately do another one.