Early in my training for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 6, an acquaintance told me to write down why I was running. She said I would need to remind myself often.
But after four months of hard training, halfway through the 26.2-mile race, “To fit into a bikini again,” just didn’t seem a good enough reason.
Here are some other things I learned from running my first marathon:
• Bring your running gear on board the plane, especially your running shoes.
• Believe in good luck signs and symbols. In addition to purple New Balance shoes, wear a matching purple running top, a gift from my sister; Inca cross necklace to summon the strength of my ancestors; “Love to run” earrings for a silver sprinkle of luck; bottle with water-Gatorade mixture; chocolate Gu.
• Attend the prerace expo. You never know who you’ll meet.
My friend, Eleanor, and I met Olympic runner Kara Goucher! Tell her I am running my first marathon.
“Running my first marathon (in 2008) changed my life,” Goucher tells me. A good sign.
The 6:15 a.m. marathon start is cloudy, in the high 60s. Perfect running weather. Another good sign.
But the 25,000 other bodies warm things up pretty quickly. Just after the half-marathon mark, the sun pops out, baking us like moving pot pies. Still 13 miles to go. Bad sign.
• Remember the reams of running advice: Keep the top of your body quiet, don’t let your ponytail swing, hydrate, keep your head up, shoulders down, tuck in gut to keep your chi from spilling.
After a while, forget form perfection and just run.
But force your brain to think: What is the real reason I am running this?
• Think about the surgeries that put you in bed and out of work for months. Think about the debilitating injuries and illnesses. Think about how much pain this body has been through and how strong it is today.
• Think about my sister who flew in from Boston with her husband and two children, just to cheer me on.
Think of her screaming “Happy Birthday!” at mile 8, and “Go Karen!” at mile 15.
Realize why people call marathon a mental sport. The race becomes a battle with the remains of your brain. The last eight miles on an island — pretty in theory, hell in reality — sap your sanity with hot, stinging sand.
Foot pain will throb, insides will form a mutiny from excessive salt loss, skin will be sticky with sweat and spilled sports drink. Everything hurts, everything hurts.
• Think: do not stop now. There’s the finish line, raise your arms over your head. There is your sweet sister, crying, holding out her arms and saying, “I’m so proud of you.”
No bones broken, no tendons torn, face red as a rotisserie chicken, but spirit intact.
Think, I can run 26.2 miles, without stopping, in 4 hours, 5 minutes. And that’s a good enough reason to run.