Unemployed? Check. Marathon? Check. Now What?

Whew. The last three days have been a maelstrom (I know – who uses that word?) of hubbub. On Friday, after more than four years in an incredible job with amazing colleagues, I worked my last day at PATH. As is my wont, I didn’t pack up anything in my cube until Friday, so the last day was spent recycling, saving files on hard drives, and trying to foist off tchochtkes, shampoo, and vitamins on unsuspecting co-workers.

All truth be told, the most productive part of my day was spent toilet paper-ing my boss’ cube.

Busy, busy day at the office. Photo by Hope Randall.

For those of you who are curious: Yes, I am 38 years old. No, I haven’t TP-ed anything (or anyone) for about 22 years. But it’s just like riding a bike. TP proficiency comes right back.

I don’t know what I was expecting to feel when I walked out of the office Friday, but mostly I was just confused. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad, and I definitely felt both. I went to meet Jimmy for a drink nearby since our real estate agent was showing our condo to some prospective renters and we couldn’t go home.

As I drank red wine at happy hour and the reality of life set in, I realized that a major factor complicating my ability to calibrate my psyche was the fact that in less than 12 hours I would have to wake up and go run a marathon. Clearly, looming anticipation of 26.2 undoubtedly painful miles around DC was disrupting my timely celebrations about the beginning of a new era of my life. Good planning, Janie, good planning.

So twelve hours later Jimmy and I were up and headed with my brother Danny to RFK Stadium for the start of the Rock n’ Roll National Half Marathon and Marathon. Danny and Jimmy were running the half and I was headed for the full marathon. I ran my first marathon when I was a senior in college, so I have quite a bit of marathon experience under my belt, but it’s rare that I train for a marathon to run it as hard as I can. The difference between running a marathon just to cover the distance and running it as hard as you can is quite significant. The best analogy I can think of right now is about eating twelve donuts. Eating a dozen donuts, as you might agree, is quite pleasant if done at a leisurely pace. Eating a dozen donuts as fast as you can is just downright disgusting, not to mention painful. And it makes you want to throw up. Same thing with a marathon.

But I am training for an Ironman later this summer, so this winter seemed a good time to put some solid training in to run (what would be for me) a fast marathon. My previous personal best time was 3 hours, 29 mnutes and 58 seconds, set back in 2008. With the good training I had been putting in this winter, and my new newfound ambitions that have come with deciding to quit my job and travel around the world, I was hoping for a 3:20-3:25. I knew it would hurt, but I thought the goal was within reach.

When the race started, I watched Jimmy and Danny’s backs drift away into the distance, and settled in. I felt great.

Why so happy? It's mile number one. Photo by Travis Siehndel.

The race follows a scenic course through Capitol Hill, down the National Mall, up into Dupont Circle and then into my neighborhood of Columbia Heights. Then it heads back towards the capitol and back into Capitol Hill. From there the marathoners split off from the half marathoners. We went into Southwest DC by the Nationals Stadium, then across a bridge with some terrible grating to run along the Anacostia for a few miles. Then the course climbed back up into northeast DC with an uphill finish to RFK stadium.

For the first half of the race, things were going swimmingly. I felt smooth and in control, just as I was hoping I would feel. Unfortunately my ability to enjoy the sights of my current hometown got disrupted by an ugly, evil quadriceps cramp that made its appearance around mile 12.5. I knew it was dangerous, so I started doing everything I knew – taking salts, drinking Gatorade and water, and trying to stretch it out.

At some point in the last two weeks I had read an article about how fatigue is just your body’s mechanism of protecting itself long before there is actually any real danger to your body. It said that when you start to feel distress during a hard effort you should just tell your muscles to relax, and that would go a long way towards lulling them into complacency to do your bidding. When I read it, I thought it sounded like a big load of crap, but at this point I was willing to try anything, so I began the exercise. Please chill out, I said politely to my right leg at mile 14. Come on, work with me here, I told it at mile 16. Despite what you may think, I am not in danger, I said obstinately at mile 18.

At 20 miles all I could muster was a plea: “Go. The. F*. Away!”

From that point on, damage control was in order. I considered getting in the river and swimming across to the finish. I thought about asking one of my friends who, like champs, were riding their bikes on the course to cheer me along to pump me on their handlebars. Somewhere around mile 23 I think I briefly considered suicide. But eventually, the stadium came into sight and I was able to muster enough desperate energy to flail my way towards the finish line. While I had seen my goal slip away several miles before, I managed to hurl myself across the finish line in a personal best 3hrs 29minutes and 15 seconds, good enough for second place in my 35-39 age group.

Mile 26 looks a little different. Thanks to Cheryl Young for this photo.

After the race, Jimmy, Danny, Angela, Emily, Ryan and Sandy were waiting for me. It is no exaggeration to say that I literally fell into their arms – and then immediately onto the ground, where I remained until the medics came to transport me to the medical tent. After a half hour or so, I was released (for good behavior, I’m sure).

The rest of the day was filled with an amazing brunch with friends and a dinner with colleagues, both of which went a long way towards dulling the pain of a very, very hard race. Two days later I am still hobbling a bit, but thankful for the experience and especially for my friends and family who threw so much support my way – and made it impossible to quit.

Now I’m working on absorbing this whole not-having-a-job thing and contemplating all that has to be done over the next two weeks before we leave DC for the first leg of our trip in Austin Texas. But first, I think I’ll eat a dozen donuts. Really, really slow.