Thursday, January 19, 2012

P. F. Chang's Rock n' Roll Marathon Race Report

I have a bad history with marathons. I tend to avoid them. They HURT. I haven’t done any races where I thought I was doing well. They turn into death marches where my legs and feet turn into sticks of burning pain. They make me want to cry. Two of the three that I have done have been in ironmans, after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking, so I had an excuse for mere survival. The first stand alone marathon I did was a debacle that took over six and a half hours. I wanted a different outcome.

I was determined to actually race P.F. Chang’s. Somehow, a great half marathon race in 2009 gave me the delusion that I could actually do this. I perfectly executed the half marathon, keeping the same fast pace for ten miles, then speeding up for the last 5k. It felt awesome. Marathons are a different matter. A marathon is a snarling beast, that is difficult to tame.

It’s nice to have a goal and to see what I am capable of. I thought I could do better than I had in the past and that I could have a personal best, since my best time was an ironman marathon. They are always slower than a stand alone marathon. It seemed like a crazy, stupid idea but doable. Maybe I could exceed all my expectations of what I could do.

Training wasn’t all that difficult. I did a lot of running in the summer training for an ironman and it wasn’t that big a stretch to do it again. But then, I reached the magic fourteen mile run mark. My feet do not like running more than fourteen miles at one time. They complained bitterly and I ended up in moving a crippled hobble at the end. Making my long runs faster just made matters worse.

Ironically, running a lot makes you lazier. I would go out of my way to get a close parking spot so that I didn’t have to walk an extra twenty five yards. Any activity where I had to stand a lot was avoided. It was a good excuse not to do yard work.. Grocery shopping sucked because I shop at a large store that requires a lot of walking and my feet would ache non stop.

P.F. Chang’s is a big marathon that tends to be a hassle. But it’s in the middle of January, which is prime time for a long race, because I won’t die of heat exhaustion. This year we had the option to ride the light rail to the start line. That worked out much better than the buses that they had used in the past. Those were crowded and ran late. Too bad it was pitch dark outside, so I couldn’t see the scenery. Riding a train in Phoenix is still a novelty. For a long time political leaders didn’t see the need for more mass transit for a city in a county of over 3.8 million people.

At the start of the race, people are placed in corrals according to their projected running time. The word “corrals” evokes the image of cattle in my mind. So many people are there that the start has to be done in stages. It’s a slow walk to the beginning of the slaughter. I was supposed to be in corral eight because I thought I could finish under five hours, but not four. Corral eight did not exist, only six. Was I supposed to start behind the police cars? I guess if you weren’t in corrals one through six, you went wherever you could.

The bad thing about running in the desert in winter is that it is cold in the morning. I couldn’t dress warmly because I would get hot when I am running and I didn’t want to carry extra clothes. A lot of people just discarded their extra clothes in the street, like gloves and shirts. That wasn’t a option for me because I am cheap and it seems wasteful. I could have worn a garbage bag like some people did, but that just wasn’t cool. The same light rail that was our friend and got us there also delayed the start for half an hour, because a lot of runners going over the tracks tends to slow down the trains. I looked for people putting out a lot of heat.

Finally we started. Miles one through nine were bearable. I wasn’t hurting or breathing hard. I passed the 4:45 hour pace group, which was the time I wanted to finish in. The bands provided temporary distraction, but most of them were uninspiring. Locals schools put out cheer leading squads, but the only one I liked had a disco theme with sparkly costumes. They could cheer all they wanted, but I went into a moody misery. The route passed through the older part of town, which actually has some character, with stores, older homes and a canal. It’s the part of Phoenix that looks more like the midwest with the large green lawns and big trees.

The 4:45 pace group caught up with me, which probably wasn’t a good thing. I was slowing down. I ran with them a while. The pacer held up a sign the entire way that says “4:45". People followed him on the theory that they will be able to stay with him the entire race. That is, until the porta-potty calls.

I had tried to resist this call and I was determined not to waste time in this manner. My intestines had other ideas. They hated running as much as my feet did. At mile twenty, they threatened to erupt and I had no other choice but to use the blue box. How the hell do they find toilet paper this thin? I had to roll out long sheets just to get amounts at the molecular level.

Up to this point, I had a decent run. The saying is that a marathon begins at mile twenty. What this really means is all the mistakes that I made in the past twenty miles came back to haunt me. I didn’t drink enough water and eat enough of the vile phlegmy gels that I use. This resulted in hills becoming mountains and every step was a burning pain. It took a lot more energy just to do the same thing that I had been doing for four hours.

The mind is more powerful than the body most of the time, but sometimes they get into arguments. The brain says to keep going when the body tells me to stop. At this point it was a full blown fight. My body was screaming “stop!”. My mind was saying “I am damned if I am going to have a five hour marathon!”. It was frustrating to work so hard for so little speed.

A string of runners stretched out in front of me down the undulating road . Who knew Van Buren had all these hills? It seemed cruel to make us run over hills at mile twenty three in a marathon. I wasn’t going to give up and walk, though. People around me groaned. I thought, what the hell is your excuse? I have twenty years on you. Some rotund belly dancers in long, sparkling skirts provided some comic relief. I admired them for their confidence to expose and shake that much Rubinesque flesh.

I finally got to the Mill Avenue bridge over Tempe Town Lake. I could see all the white herons perched on the walls. They were probably wondering what all these idiots were doing. I was pretty cranky at that point because my feet hurt so bad. Hapless pedestrians crossed through the runners. I was ready to scream at them if they got in my way. They could die for all I cared. I passed the restaurant Montis on Rio Salado about mile 25.5 and they were playing “The Dog Days Are Over”. I certainly hoped so. I loved this song and it gave me energy for a little while. I kept reminding myself that “pain is temporary, pride is forever”. Giving up and not doing my best stays with me a lot longer than any momentary discomfort. But my feet weren’t buying this idea.

I picked up at the last mile, or tried to and my heart rate was sky high. In a normal race, this would have resulted in faster speed. This time it resulted in more discomfort. A lot of people at the finish line cheered, which was kind of cool, except I hurt so bad that I didn’t care. They could have been mutant aliens and I wouldn’t have noticed. I had a time of 4:54:39. It wasn’t my goal time of 4:45, but it was my best time in a marathon.

I like to test my physical limits in running and to have the feeling of control. Things don’t always go as planned, however. I learned from this experience that it takes a lot of effort to run slow in a marathon and it takes a lot MORE effort to not run even slower the last 10k. Despite my best efforts, the last 10k in a marathon always SUCKS. I can train all I want, but my feet and legs are going to hurt badly whether I run for five hours or six and a half. Lastly, I will NOT be able to avoid the porta-potties.

At least I didn’t feel like crying, unlike my other marathons. That is, until I had to walk back to my car

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Christmas Affect Disorder

I can’t take the emotional baggage of Christmas. All the years of rituals and feelings of every Christmas I have ever had weigh me down. The expectations of joy and the inevitable let-downs hang around like ghosts, that come back year after year. I have whined about Christmas before in this blog, detailing my bad attitude about the holiday, my hatred of Christmas music and the illusion of happiness that mocks me. Last year, I got through it all relatively unscathed, but this year was different because my daughter Melissa wasn’t around.

Most of December was bearable. I had very little shopping to do, which meant no agonizing about what to get people, when I didn’t have a clue want they wanted. I didn’t put up a tree because no one else was around to see it; if it wasn’t put up, then it wouldn’t have to be taken down. The Christmas lights stayed in the box because it was too much effort to untangle them, get out a ladder, and string them up. I put up a wreath and decorated the mantel and that was it. I didn’t bake any cookies, just corn bread and tea bread for parties. I went to two great parties and felt good for a while.

I accepted the fact that I didn’t have family to visit, unlike most of the rest of the world. My parents and sister are all deceased and my daughter is in Washington, D.C. Families are over-rated anyway. Most of the time they are boring as hell and disrupt one’s routine. Sometimes a relative cracks and shoots everyone. Guns and Christmas are a bad combination. I briefly thought of visiting my sister-in-law in South Carolina, but the air fare was ridiculous and I hate traveling during the holidays.

I detest crowded airports and the weather is usually terrible between where you fly from and where you are going. I thought of taking a ski trip, but the lifts are crowded this time of the year. I would spent more time in line than skiing.

I should have avoided Facebook. All those people bragging about how wonderful their lives are, what a good time they are having, and all the family, friends and parties is depressing. All that damn cheeriness. My life doesn’t live up to this standard. Of course the people who are not having a great time aren’t posting about it. I could bitch about the holidays, but then I would be considered to be negative, which most people consider to be a major character flaw. If I can’t be positive all the time, then there must be something wrong with me. It’s not acceptable to hate Christmas.

I planned the hell out of December. I went to four parties, went to a movie on Christmas with a friend, volunteered at Desert Botanical Garden three times, trained for a marathon, saw a therapist, did a 30k race, and went to the Nutcracker Ballet. It wasn’t enough to stave off the holiday blues.

Maybe it’s the short days and I have Seasonal Affect Disorder. December should be called my Christmas Affect Disorder. Maybe it’s because I sleep an extra hour a day because it’s dark at seven o’clock and who the hell wants to get up anyway? It could be all the fat laden sugary treats that I can’t avoid because it’s there, it’s good and I am hungry. Every party has wine and I have to have at least one glass. Food that’s bad for me and booze is not good for my state of mind. At least not later on, when I get on the scale and find out I am wearing the extra calories.

I am glad that the holidays are over and I can get back to my regular depression. The Halls can get undecked, the Bells can stop jingling and the Chestnuts can stop roasting.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Un-Anniversary

Wedding photo with my ugly dress and my parents, now deceased

I don’t think much about my wedding anniversary anymore. It used to be fun to get gifts and go out to eat or even in 2001, go to Tahiti. No one gets me gifts anymore, at least not romantic ones. Some people have a hard time with anniversaries when they get divorced. I have a more difficulty with other events like Christmas, but I don’t long to remember being married to F. I didn’t want to get divorced, but the marriage was dead.

The twenty seventh of November used to be my wedding anniversary. I was married in 1976. I thought that my husband loved me. It was a long time to be married and I was comfortable with it. I was unmarried June 5, 2009. F decided in 2007 that he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. He had an affair with another woman. He didn’t get around to dumping me until August 2008. Communication wasn’t his strong suit.

I was young and deluded when I got married. Marrying F was supposed to make me happy and anything was better than being alone. The thought of trying to make myself happy didn’t occur to me. I thought the marriage was good and I was content. I didn’t deal much with any problems I had because it was easier for me to be complacent. I lacked confidence, but I was afraid to do things on my own. Life events didn’t force me out of my comfort zone.

Getting divorced burst my bubble of safety or what I thought was safety. My assumptions about my place in the world liquified and nothing seemed certain anymore. I didn’t know who I was or what my purpose was. I had to learn to do everything myself, and I didn’t feel up to the task. F wasn’t around anymore to take care of the pool or the car. It was difficult dealing with stuff that I had have no interest in, because I was in a cloud of pain. I resented being left with this crap. No one else was around to do the stupid chores.

I was left with myself and I had to learn to live with this person. My spouse didn’t like me anymore, so I had to unlearn the assumption that what he thought of me was what I was. If I had no value to him, then I had no value as a person. That assumption is unbearable to live with. F*** came into my thoughts and said that I am stupid. I eventually told him to shut up. This worked.

Un-Anniversary means unromantic. True love seems like bullshit. Real love takes work. I feel kind of jaded about the whole fairy tale wedding concept and maybe a little bitter. I see jewelry store ads hawking diamond rings with starry-eyed men proposing to simpering women. It’s almost funny. I watch reality shows were women buy $6,000 wedding dresses and I wonder how many of them will end up divorcing the man of their dreams. My seventies wedding dress was $200 and I still have to figure out how to get rid of it. I can’t throw it in the garbage, but I don’t want it. My daughter thinks it’s ugly.

Marriage is for other people. It’s not something I can even think about at this point. I am not in that safe, secure world where I can count on someone to support me emotionally. Everyone else seems to be in a different plane of existence with their perfect, happy lives and I am an oddball, somehow not fitting into this delusional world.

I can’t take companionship for granted because it’s hard to find. I have to make an effort to seek people out in order to socialize. I don’t have a built in friend at home to talk to and I spent a lot of time alone. I envy people with parents and siblings. Mine are gone; my sister and parents are deceased and all of my remaining relatives live far away. It’s a whole new world from being married.

The tendrils of an old life are persistent. As much as I enjoyed shredding my marriage certificate, when you are married thirty years to some person and all the connections aren’t very easily severed. Reminders of the past can be purged, but not all memories don’t go away. They sometimes arise unbidden and unwelcome. We have a child together. I still have to e-mail her father sometimes about her. Seeing him in person makes me want to leave immediately.

My mission was to get rid of part of my old life. I took down all of our family portraits from the walls. Occasionally an old photo crops up despite my best efforts to destroy them all. I have hundreds of photos before I had a digital camera and I went through every one of them and removed the ones of F. The less stuff I have, the lighter the burden. I was cleaning out old tax records that detailed the minutia of my distant past. I felt numb, and slightly sad looking at them.

I still get along with most of my ex-in-laws. I knew some of them when they were pre-teenagers, before I was even married. My daughter, Melissa, has a strong bond with her cousins. We still all get together once in a while, although it’s kind of awkward with F’s new wife. I don’t care that he’s remarried, but I just don’t want to be around them. My mother-in-law, Rosemary, has also been supportive. Her husband dumped her as well, so she understood what I went through. My mother has passed on, so she’s kind of a substitute.

I still have my married name, because I didn’t want to change it while my daughter was in school. Now I am too lazy to change the driver’s license, state bar license, passport, bank accounts and such. I feel like I should change it, but my maiden name doesn’t seem to fit me either because I am not that person any more. It doesn’t seem to matter much anyway.

My Un-anniversary also means Un-fettered. I don’t have to deal with another person’s preferences. I cook what I want, when I want. F liked certain foods, preferably meat, but now I don’t have it all the time. He didn’t drink because he was an recovering alcoholic, so now I drink wine or beer. It’s a strike for freedom. He would come home late, probably from spending time with his girlfriend, turn the bedroom light on to read and wake me up. He didn’t care. Now I don’t have anyone to disturb me. The bed seems empty and cold, but no one wakes me up.

If I make a mistake, I don’t have someone rolling their eyes in exasperation, like I am so stupid. I deal with the error however I can. No one judges me except myself. I have learned to accept my shortcomings. If I get lost going somewhere, I figure out where to go. If I use a weed wacker instead of a lawnmower to cut the weeds in the yard, it’s okay. I am doing the best that I can at the moment, and that’s good enough.

I still dance on the edge of fear all the time. Fear that I will never be truly independent; fear that a disaster is just around the corner; fear that I will never make peace with being alone. The car may break down or get wrecked, an appliance may quit, or I might get seriously ill with no one to help me. It is a gnawing fear. It’s like Michael Binkley’s Anxiety Closet in Bloom County. The monsters come out at night when you are trying to sleep and keep you awake. Fear is a lack of trust in oneself that a crisis can be handled. Earning that trust is a long, hard process. I am still working on it and probably will forever. I get through the bad stuff, but it’s a struggle.

My un-Anniversary means that holidays aren’t the same. I have to try and not compare myself to others or I get really depressed. I have to work at having a positive frame of mind and it doesn’t come naturally. Holidays always seem to be made for happy people with lots of family and friends and I don’t fit that mold anymore. Christmas and Thanksgiving are not what they used to be. I had to figure out how to make them work. No more large turkey, if it’s just me and my daughter. If I am lucky, I spend Thanksgiving with friends. With my daughter at school, no Christmas tree. I make no more Christmas cookies because I am the only one around to eat them and I gain weight if I do. It doesn’t get any easier the older you get. I don’t get a lot of presents, maybe one if I am lucky.

Trips aren’t the same. I feel like an incompetent tourist. I have to make all the arrangements myself. It seems it takes me hours to decide what flight to take and what hotel to stay in. I have to drive to the destination or airport myself. I eat alone in restaurants. I have to find my own way around an area and sometimes I am not good at doing this. I blunder around. I still don’t feel adventurous enough to do certain things on my own and I force myself to go places. I found camping by myself creepy; not that I like camping. Being in a foreign country by myself is stressful. Driving on a strange, busy highway is un-nerving. I still manage to enjoy myself, but it’s not the same as it used to be.

One of these days I am going to celebrate my Un-Anniversary, because overall, despite the emotional pain and trauma, it’s a good thing. It forced me out of my comfort zone, because staying the same is unbearable. If I was still married, I wouldn’t be forced to try new things.
I have an incentive to try new activities because it means I can get out of an empty house. Someone I know says that “pain is the vitamin of growth.” It’s just a really big pill to swallow.
Opportunity is out there, I just have to find it.