Friday, November 10, 2006

Conquer Yourself

I recently got back from Athens and am recovering from running “The Best Marathon Ever!!!” It was such an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful and excited that I actually did it. There were definitely times over previous months when I questioned why I was doing it and was I even ready. Well, now I can say that I have run a marathon. It’s no easy feat, but it was easier than I thought it was going to be. Well, I also had a wonderful group of other volunteer runners who made the experience that much more memorable. They were so supportive and encouraging, and all 15 of us finished. I will talk more in-depth about the experience, but I will go through this chronologically.
Last Friday, I had my landlord, Enyo, drive me to Sofia so I could catch a plane to Athens. A few other volunteers came along on the flight with me (one missed the flight and had to catch a train), and it was a quick trip to the mythical city. Once in Athens, we went straight to our studio apartments and checked in. They were nice, new, and clean. It was a comfortable atmosphere in which to mentally prepare for a marathon. That evening, we just went to grab a bite to eat and then stopped at a supermarket to stock up on carbs and healthy options for the next couple of days. The Acropolis was really close by, so I decided to take a solo trip to see it at night. You can’t get very close, but it’s absolutely beautiful. The city pays (high utility bills, I’m sure) to keep the Parthenon and other monuments lit into the night. I couldn’t get very close, but I did see some ruins, and they were beautiful at night. I was surprised that there weren’t very many tourists around. The views of the city at night were spectacular from those hills. I wandered for quite a while, and I soon found myself among the maze of sidewalks that separated people’s compact homes. They were built right into the wall next to the Acropolis. It was an odd experience.
The next day, I went ahead and wandered around the Acropolis, the Parthenon, various temples, an ancient agora, and some museums that were open during the day time. Honestly, I probably walked a little too much for the day before a marathon. I wore myself out, but that just meant that I slept well that night. I had been waiting so long to see the wonders of ancient Greece, so it was worth it. When it came to the marathon, I was strangely calm. I definitely wasn’t going for a certain time in which to finish. The goal was just to finish. I think God helped me quite a lot not to think about it too much and psyche myself out. It was just another thing that needed to be done. And even though I’m not always well-prepared for such pursuits (I honestly should have trained more and gone on longer runs), I think God has given me the ability to just “pound it out,” as someone commented to me. I don’t give up on such things easily. But then, none of us did.
That night, our marathon hosts had an opening ceremony had an excellent pasta feed for all of us. It was delicious, and it was just the food we needed for the next day. We also got to meet and interact with a few other people who were planning on running, and we saw our names on the registration sheets. There we were… under USA – Peace Corps Bulgaria. We were actually doing this! We already had our goodie bags with our numbers, timing chips, and other memorabilia. Additionally, we saw from a distance the really serious marathoners (those who finish in insane times of less than 2.5 hours) from countries around the world. The most elite of marathoners come from countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, and other republics of Africa, but there are many from other nations as well. I watched in awe. They were beautiful and looked so disciplined. Their bodies were well-oiled machines.
The cool thing about this marathon is that they claim it’s pretty much the same route run by the mythical Phidippides from Marathonas to Athens to proclaim, “Nenikekamen! We were victorious!” Supposedly, he then fell over dead. We did some backtracking though, so I find that hard to believe. Plus, apparently it’s the original course of the first Olympics and the most recent (2004) Olympics. They were marketing it as, “Be a part of history.” Yeah, well, sure. It was kind of a rough course though. You imagine marathon courses as being nice and flat. This one was hilly. Joy! It was a challenge.
Anyway, I slept fairly well the night before the marathon. There was one point, in the middle of the night, when I awoke with my heart pounding and a knot in my stomach. It soon subsided, and I was able to go back to sleep. In the early hours of the morning, I awoke to a munching sound. The serious marathoner in our group, a great guy who we’ve turned to quite a few times for encouragement and advice, was getting some fuel into his body before the big race. Not long after, at 5:00 a.m., we were all getting up, eating, and dressing for the marathon.
At about quarter to six, we went over to the nearby stadium. This was where we would cross the finish line and board the buses that would take us 26.2 miles away to the start. I took a minute to look at the finish. It was inspiring and beckoning me in the early hours of dawn. I hoped I would see it again later that day.
I can’t tell you how long that bus ride felt. It’s a mind-trick to drive the route you’re going to run. It just feels like it goes on and on forever, and you start doubting whether you can really do it. I tried not to think about how the bus just seemed to keep driving out of the city of Athens, and how it seemed like we were never reaching the town of Marathon. It messes with you. It really was a long bus ride, that took at least 45 minutes, but I was really trying not to pay attention.
The night before had been windy and extremely cold. I feared that I would be unable to run if the next day proved to be the same. Well, it was cold, and we were shivering, but it was nowhere near as bad as the day before. I was quite thankful. I think we all were.
After some stretching and standing around, we were told to get our stuff together to hand over to volunteers who would have it waiting for us at the finish line. Whatever you didn’t want to run with, you’d better put in a bag and hand over.
Soon after this, we gathered at the starting line and waited for 8:30 to come. The gun went off, and the race started, but it was all very anti-climactic. We were in the back with thousands of other runners. We had to wait another minute or so to inch our way to the starting line and cross. After that, we were off like a herd of turtles! I ran the first ten kilometers with three other volunteers from our group. Then, I was just with Amy (runner extraordinaire) for the next ten. At the halfway point, she and another volunteer left me in the dust. I was running pretty much alone the second half of the race, and I was getting passed… a LOT. Hehe. I didn’t mind though. It didn’t really mess with my psyche either way. I didn’t get discouraged when I was passed, nor was I encouraged those rare moments when I passed someone. It was just a course that I needed to keep chugging along at until I crossed the finish line. At about 30 km, I started to wear down. At 35 km, I was really feeling it. I so badly wanted to continue to run until the end, but I just wasn’t able to. I soon stopped and began to walk. I knew that, as soon as I did that, it would be hard to start running again. And so it was. Mentally, I was having a tough time. I couldn’t keep running for long distances, and I stopped a lot those last 7 km. Even though I knew I was close and running would make it go by quicker, I just couldn’t keep it up. There was a point along the way where they gave us Coca-Cola and power drinks to get our bodies going. That was a nice jolt, but it didn’t last long enough. The stops along the way were awesome. They would have water, sports drinks, Gu®, health bars, and sponges for us every five km or so. You'd use these things and then just fling them to the side of the road. It felt wasteful, and yet kind of cool at the same time to just throw water on the ground... followed by the bottle, and to throw sports drinks away like they don't cost $3 a pop. The people around me were great, too. Anytime someone would see me stop, they would encourage me. “C’mon! Keep going.” I was already elated ‘cause I knew I would finish. I just wanted to get there ASAP. It hurt to run, but it almost hurt even more to walk. The first time I stopped, I couldn’t feel the bottom half of my body. I was in shock. Well, finally, the last kilometer, I saw a large crowd. I figured it must be the finish, and I was able to run. It was kind of a cruel way they laid out the final few moments, however. We had to run past the stadium and then wrap around and come back. Fortunately, I wasn’t too surprised or disappointed by it. It figured… like Murphy’s Law or something. I just wondered how long it would be before I could turn back and come into the stadium. I saw those ahead of me turning, and I was relieved. Upon entering the sidewalk leading to the stadium, I heard people shouting my name, and I turned to see a crowd of supporters. After waving to “the fans,” I was able to break into a sprint. I don’t know how I did it, but I full out ran those last hundred meters or so. Who knows where I got the energy. I dodged and passed a bunch of people, and I wanted to collapse upon crossing the finish line. Instead, I got a medal and continued on around where they were handing out drinks and snack foods. I returned my timing chip, collected my bag, and made my way over to those in my group who were either cheering or had already finished. I was jealous of them for the sheer fact that they had been resting longer than I had. It took me another half hour or so before I was actually able to sit down. Once I did, it was hard to get up again. Walking was painful, and I had little control over my legs. I hobbled and leaned on the shoulders of kind volunteers. I probably walked the funniest out of all of us. We slowly made our way back to the studio, and then we went out to Hard Rock Café for some comforting food and drinks. We didn’t look at the fat content or the prices. We just ate what we wanted. It was so nice to have a veggie burger and a frozen strawberry margarita. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had either of those. Afterwards, I went back and watched a couple episodes of “The Wonder Years” and then crashed. I slept so well. I was also really grateful that I was just extremely sore but had no injuries to speak of. But I did run a marathon. I still have the blisters to prove it!
The next day, we took a trip to Delphi – that wonderful place where warriors would consult the mysterious “oracle” to divine whether or not their exploits would be successful. Maybe we should have gone there before the marathon. It was absolutely beautiful up there among ruins in perilous mountains. My foot either stepped down wrong on a rock or was just strained to the limit. I found myself having a hard time walking on it. Great. That night, however, I went out with some other volunteers (including some Armenia PCVs that we met who were also running the marathon), danced, and had a drink. It was fun, and a great way to celebrate finishing a marathon. I don't know how I danced though. I probably didn't move my feet much.
The following day, a few of us went to visit the archaeological museum. It was huge, and extremely repetitive. Anytime anyone wants to build something in Greece, they have to excavate first. There are so many ancient treasures in the country. It got a little overwhelming looking at all the stuff. Plus, I was tired, and my foot hurt. I was skating around the exhibits to try and give my foot a rest.
Afterward, we went to the mall. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a mall. And we saw a movie. It’s been a while since I saw a movie. And I spent too much money. And I got ice cream. When I saw the ice cream, it was like my foot no longer hurt. Weird, huh?
On our final day in Athens, I went with another volunteer over to the humungous temple of Zeus. It’s not really intact, but the columns that are there are pretty grand. After a quick trip back to the stadium to remember the glory and get some more pictures, we caught our plane back to Sofia. I had such a good time, I almost didn’t want to come back.
I ran a marathon! Like I said, I have the blisters to prove it. Plus, my foot still hurts if I walk on it too much. I’m hoping that will go away soon though. If not, it’s time for a visit to the Peace Corps Medical Officer. Pain is momentary. Glory is forever. Right? Well, at least you can go here if you want to check out my time of 4:27:20 in pretty lights on an official webpage. I'm on page 42 of 60 on the website, and I'm number 1804. That's pretty good, right? I was just hoping to finish in less than six hours, so there you go. Some volunteer made the comment that he thought he could walk a marathon and finish it in my time. No comment.
And if you want to see super hot pics of me sprinting to the finish line, go here. Click on a link to the Athens Marathon, and then enter bib number 3272. That was my number. I can't seem to get the page to open right now, but hopefully you will be able to figure it out. If not, lemme know.
There are some other pictures of me in Athens out there that are already up. I will have to post more in the near future. For now, picture #1 and picture #2 . Picture #2 is cute, but my purse looks like a feedbag! I was carbo-loading. Yeah, that's it. I was carrying around massive quantities of bread and water in that stylish little purse.
Pic 3 & pic 4 are of me and Andy pretending we're in good enough post-marathon shape to dance.


Lyrpa said...

Did you make a donation? 'Cause I ran a friggin' marathon!

vassi said...

Way to go, girl!! You've once again proven that you're amazing, but I knew that from the first time we played football and frisbee. You should be proud of yourself.
Take care!