I’ll always remember three things about my first marathon: the people, the pain and the pageantry. The family members, friends, experienced runners and fellow marathoners who supported me through the journey — because it really is the journey, not the destination — that makes any experience remarkable; the pain I learned to listen to, power through and dominate; the spirit of those who came out on marathon day not only to run, but to run in glittering, outrageous, beautiful, hilarious costumes.
Dec. 12 began with a 2 a.m. alarm and ended in a slumber as deep as the aches in my muscles. Everything in between is a colorful blur of adrenaline, constant motion and camaraderie among strangers, a fellowship born of the crazy shared desire to run 26.2 miles.
I woke up that morning thinking, "It all comes down to this." A few hours later, I stood on a wall along Ala Moana Boulevard waiting for the booming start of the 2010 Honolulu Marathon. The first explosions of those famous 5 a.m. fireworks stirred both joy and sadness within me. Joy, because I was about to realize a dream I had been carefully planning out for a whole year. For the first time, I was watching the fireworks from the ground beneath them, with clear vision and legs ready to run, rather than from my bedroom window with bleary eyes and a tired body. And sadness, because I hadn’t expected to be there without my husband — my training partner and partner in life — who was watching the fireworks at home, sidelined with a stubborn case of plantar fasciitis.
But I wasn’t totally alone, either. I had met up with Norman Uyeda and a small group of dedicated Honolulu Marathon Clinic runners, and I managed not to hyperventilate in these first few minutes by keeping my eyes and ears on Norm, whose last pieces of advice before we coalesced with the sea of runners included, "Have fun!" and "Don’t forget to breathe!" — wise words that I carried with me as I adjusted my stride to match the pace of the pulsing mass of bodies around me.
The elite athletes long gone, I jogged the first few dark miles alongside the friendly faces of the clinic runners. As the sun came up and the miles piled on, my eyes took in the range of costumes milling around me: Santa Clauses of all shapes and sizes, cartoon characters, brides and grooms whose styles ranged from elegant to edgy. I was thrilled to be soundly beaten by the "Geta Guy," who was clip-clopping his way back to Kapiolani Park as I was still heading out to Hawaii Kai. Handmade signs dotted the course. "Who needs toenails? Keep running!" and "Choose a positive thought" were my favorites.
My positive thought became my silly but effective early race mantra: "Ready spaghetti!" — as in, ready now, spaghetti later. My midrace mantra was a little more serious but still rhymed: "Don’t go too fast but don’t come in last." My end-of-race mantra was utterly unpoetic and totally serious: "No sitting, no falling, no crying."
I did not sit down, fall down or cry, which is remarkable considering how tempting it was to sit on the curb beside many an exhausted runner, how many times I thought I would fall and how badly at some points I felt like sobbing. Instead of sitting I stretched; I avoided falling by keeping my eyes on the road ahead of me; instead of crying I took a lot of deep breaths and thought about the finish line.
Around mile 6, I felt a familiar twinge in my left knee, and I knew it could turn to Jell-O if I didn’t slow down, so I did. I used a "wog" (walk-jog) that took me to mile 10, at which point I started to feel as if I would never see the halfway mark.
At the halfway point I cheered the miles I had put away and grimaced at the fresh ones I now faced. Around mile 18, Kalanianaole Highway seemed to stretch into infinity (and beyond). Both knees and my right anterior tibialis were staging a major protest. Around mile 20 I crabbily started texting people things like, "These mile markers are taunting me!!" The driving rhythms of taiko drums pushed me up "Heartbreak Hill" and sustained me until mile 24, where I found my friends Rick and Allison waiting out Rick’s double leg cramp. Rick soldiered on and Allison never stopped smiling.
All told, it was the longest 8 hours, 6 minutes and 40 seconds of my life. There was no sweeter sight than my husband and my brother waving neon signs a few yards from the finish, and no sweeter pain than my screaming legs as I forced them over the timing mat. As I crossed the finish line, I remembered the words of Dr. Ronald Lee, whom I consulted not long before the race about my knee injury: "Why do people run marathons? Because it feels so good when you stop."
Now that I’ve completed the New Year’s resolution I set last December, will I ever do another marathon? As former Olympic marathon gold medallist Frank Shorter reasonably suggested: "You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming."
I can forget the pain, but memories of the pageantry will stick in my memory and make me smile. And as for the people, the most important component of this whole experience, I will remember the people foremost and always. I thank all those individuals whose every encouraging comment, constructive criticism, sense of humor and graceful example strengthened my running and fortified my will these past 12 months.
At the beginning of the year, I set out to do something amazing, and now that the marathon is over, I know that that amazing thing was finding out that I’m capable of far more than I thought. Before this endeavor I lacked the ability and, most important, the will to run even two consecutive miles. But as I walked from the finish area to my car on the afternoon of Dec. 12, I passed a bunch of runners in hula skirts and caught myself thinking, "I don’t think I could run in a costume, but maybe next year I’ll wear a funny hat."