I managed to squeeze one last race in before the year was over. The Pisa marathon!
I drove down on Saturday with a small group of friends from my running club and oh, Tuscany is so lovely that it almost seems a shame to live in Italy and not live there.
I had signed up for the race in October, before the tendinitis flare-up caused me to miss nearly three weeks of training, so I went down not really knowing what to expect. But I felt good and confident that I could finish in under three and a half hours.
The first part of the race was in the center of Pisa, then we crossed the Arno and ran out into the fog, towards the sea. The first ten kilometers were over before I knew it; I’d forgotten how quickly the first 25 km of a marathon go by! Every time you look up, you’re about to put another distance marker behind you.
We came to the seaside town of Tirrenia and I’d nailed the first half of the marathon in perfect time for a 3 hour and twenty minute finish and my legs still felt fine. I was feeling tentatively confident. Keep this up and you’ve got it made! I sang inside my head. There was a nice flat stretch along the sea where young families and old Tuscan men watched us race by, and a handful called out to me, “Brava bimba, vai” in thick Tuscan accents. Good little girl, go. My confidence grew.
Before we turned back inland, I was well into my calculations: if I hit the 30 km marker at around 2 hours and 25 minutes, then 38 km at 3 hours, I’ll have this thing in the bag. Damn! If I can hit 38 km in 3 hours! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first let’s get to 30 km at this pace. Just keep this pace. At this pace I’ll hit 30 km at close to 2 hours and 20 minutes, maybe 22. And on and on and on.
But by the 27th km, I was starting to feel tired, and I still had 15 more to go!
By the 35th my legs were heavy and the internal dialogue had changed to I can do this. I can do this. Maybe I can do this. Why am I doing this? I wasn’t sure what my time would be because my thinking by then was too fuzzy to recalculate a projected time based on the new, much slower pace. But I was lucid enough to suspect that 3h20m was not going to happen, and now we were now running at a very slight incline with an unrelenting wind blowing in our faces, and would be all the way back to Pisa.
It was there, somewhere between the 35th and the 38th km, that I gave up. In Italian, you don’t say “give up”, you say, “let go”, and that is what I did. I let go of 3 hours and 20 minutes. Now I knew what my brother was talking about during the San Francisco marathon when he said his hamstrings hurt. And damn, I’d forgotten how heavy your legs feel near the end of a marathon. I groaned a little when I looked at my watch: I had slowed down to 5’10 per km. THE SHAME!
Then came the final blow: I promised myself I could walk as I drank the Poweraid at the 40th km aid station.
But you have to make it to the aid station running. AT THIS PACE!
The aid stations were well staffed by tons of wonderful volunteers who offered so much encouragement, more than any previous race I’ve run, and when I reached the last one at the 40th and sipped my Dixie cup of Poweraid, I was so out of it that I had to ask the volunteers which way to go, although I realized that it was clearly marked as soon as they said, “Oh, honey, just keep going straight, it’s right in front of you”.
Off I went, with only two more kilometers plus 195 meters to go. We reentered the center of Pisa and were running along the Arno again. I entertained fond memories of the Turin marathon and how strongly I’d finished and how excited I’d been to look at my watch and realize how well I was doing two kilometers from the finish. Ah, yes, that had been a good finish. Yesterday in Pisa, when I looked at my watch, I couldn’t even make sense of the numbers I saw.
There is a point when I am running and am very tired and I feel with complete certainty that it would take more effort to stop than it takes to continue running, and no matter how tired and how heavy they are, it is as if my legs are moving only in momentum, and to stop that momentum, it would require more force than just letting the momentum continue on its own. That is where I was by the end of the Pisa marathon. And because the crazy person had taken over, I was sure it had all gone to shit. If only I had completed all my training – if only I had done all the long runs! – my legs would be better at this right now.
It was a sad finish. I couldn’t even see it coming up; all I could see was the marker for the 42nd km, and the top of the Leaning Tower around the corner above some artfully decrepit buildings. A friend from my group who’d run the half marathon was standing on the corner waiting for me, and when I saw him I shouted “How much more?” because the crazy person in my head had me convinced that they were going to make us run a lap around the tower and cathedral and that damn baptistry, which is HUGE!, before they let us go through the finish.
But it wasn’t like that at all. I ran around the corner, and that was it, the finish was right there, and it was over, I was done.
That’s it? That’s all?
It was a beautiful day in Pisa. The fog had burned off over the city, and I hadn’t even noticed. The sky was a brilliant blue, and everyone was cheering. It took me a few minutes for my time to register. I’d forgotten to stop my watch and the finish had come up so quickly that I’d barely glanced at the official clock.
By the time my friend found me, I felt fine and the delusions were gone. I was already feeling the post-race high.
3 hours, 24 minutes, 48 seconds. Less than a minute from my fastest time.
When I texted my trainer, he wrote me right back: “Congratulations! And think if we’d been able to train properly!”
HA! As if the crazy person in my head hadn’t already been planning the next one, projecting her potential time.
A day later I still feel that high. There is nothing like a marathon, nothing like it at all.