A Marathon of Voices

March 21, 2012 § 5 Comments

The first sound–after we exit the bus with the woman obnoxiously insisting that the driver let us off, since the other bus is letting its people off–is the swish of bird wings. At least this is in my memory. It is only 5:30 am after all, and I have been up since four, in order to get to the marathon start on time. Bird wings, which pass quickly: it is spring already. Then a dull rumble of nervous voices lined up outside the porta-potties grows in volume. Kathy and I talk, wonder what the hell possessed us, if we can keep our pace, how many times we will have to use the bathroom before the race starts. Music starts. What is this song? Kathy asks. I can’t believe you’ve never heard this I say and I sing to her, Whoop, there it is! We find Chris, our pace leader, whose constant chatter is actually soothing, rather than annoying. Kathy calls it a patter. We cannot abide the women, usually, who talk incessantly about work, families, anything in a high-pitched tone. Once we’ve started running, we don’t say much to each other. This is understood.

Mile 3, the pounding of neon running shoes has set the rhythm. We have turned onto the trail and no longer have to be aware of traffic, or the 3,000 or so runners who turn left to our right. I run for a while and my knee says nothing. This is a huge relief. We follow Patter, who is faster than the pace sign he carries on a stick with red balloons. I let him go and hear only breathing, footfalls, and the occasional, what’d we run that last mile in? Garmins chirp like a flock of strange birds as we approach mile markers.

The first voice to show up in my head is Kimowan. He is my husband’s beautiful friend, the truest artist I have met, dead since August of a brain tumor. He has appeared in my head at races since before he died. I see him out of his chair, amused with me, but also encouraging. I think of his famous line once he couldn’t walk well and had to use the chair–that he saw the world ass high. He could find the good. I was looking for it.

My friend Katie’s parents show up next. Of course, her father Jack doesn’t bother with hello. You look gorgeous, he says. I think this is the only way he has ever greeted me. The world would be lucky to have another Jack. Then Cute, his wife, shows up. She is concerned with my well-being, my hydration. Of course she is. The ladies next to me, especially Purple shorts, who is built stringy like a runner, says Chris is faster than the pace card he carries. No shit, I think.  Finally, late of course, at mile six or seven, my mother shows up. She makes a lot of noise. No surprise. Still, she is there, calling to my dad to hurry up. It’s a long race, he says. He always took his time, though he created a legend that he once ran a four-minute mile. I realize this is highly unlikely, but my son who favors him runs a 4:45, so maybe he never lied, just stretched the truth. Now I have a crowd. Kimowan finds this funny.  I am kept busy trying to sort the living voices from the dead, trying to ignore my body, as it starts to complain.

I stay in this world until mile 13, half way. I am anticipating Cole and Jeff and Jack Henry, planted to exchange the now empty water bottles I carry on my fuel belt with fresh ones. The voices in my head recede. I find, to my joy, the Ziploc baggie with ibubrofen that I dropped on the way out. I take it to quiet my knee. Go mom, Go mom, You got this! Cole screams. Hi Mama, Jack Henry says. Jeff says, One water, right? I nod yes, take the belt back, give Cole a high five. Your family is lovely, a woman next to me says. The next few miles are quiet. The truth comes out after mile 17. This is where the elite runners lap me. That’s ok. My neighbor runs by. Hi Stephanie! He says. By the time he has passed, I realize who he is and how I know him. I am sinking back into my head. Kimowan comes back, stands and watches me. His black hair has grown back down to his waist. My mother attempts to cheer, gets distracted. My dad has finally made it to the sidelines. I told you there was plenty of time, he says.  Now that I am finally at the turn around, mile 19, he is watching. I see Kathy. We wave. Mile 20 or so, there is a car with music blasting, some sort of techno that grates on the inside of my skull. I plug my ears as I run past. At this point, I cannot let outside noises in. There is a kid in tall green St. Patrick’s Day hat, clanging an incessant cowbell. I want to kill him, even though he is maybe ten, and clearly enthusiastic. I plug my ears again, plead Please stop! aloud. His dad quiets the bell, puts his arm around the kid. I must have a crazy look in my eyes. The ibuprofen is long gone, but I think, I only have six miles to go. There is no such thing. Six miles is forever. Cute is there. You can do it, honey, she says. Jack grins at me. He is still trouble. My dad has decided to get involved. My mom is distracted by all the colors, the music, how fast the elites whoosh by.  My knee is screaming. Just a little bit more, I tell it. Then I promise it I won’t run for six weeks after this. Apparently, we have a deal. I slow as I near 24 miles. Jeff and the boys are there, full of energy, almost hoarse with cheering every. single. runner. Cole would take my place at this point, he is so into it. I would love to let him. I grab another water bottle from Jeff and turn toward the finish. The swish of cars now. I focus on the Indian girl with the fuschia shirt tied around her waist. She is just ahead of me. I can catch her if I try. Maybe I will try. A man, slick with stinky sweat brushes me on the arm as he passes. Watch it! I snap. I am no longer capable of being polite. Mile 25, music again, but bearable. A man says 1.2 miles to go! He says it as if that’s a good thing. It sounds impossible. What would happen if I walk now? I think. I decide that if I stop, I may not start back up. I keep going. Get up and go anyway, a preacher’s voice calls from a sermon years back. I go. Now, the thump of music that is supposed to get people moving, and names called over the loud speaker as they cross the finish line. I only want to hear one thing out of the announcer’s mouth, my name: Stephanie Whetstone. Finally, the footfalls stop and I look around, searching for the faces I know. I am wrapped in a silver blanket.

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