There are two things no one tells you before running a marathon in Nashville, Tennnessee: First, Nashville is not the city of music — it’s the city of mother-f**ing hills. Mountains, really. It doesn’t matter how many miles you’ve run through flat cornfields being catcalled by farmers — it’s not the same as running up your 23rd hill being cheered on by Vanderbilt frat boys. It’s just not. My mom reminded me several times the months leading up to this of my cousin, who ran both the Los Angeles marathon and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and famously declared that the marathon was harder. Put the two together, and that should give you an idea of what I was dealing with.
Here’s the second thing: The marathon was named for Pheidippides, who allegedly ran 26.2 miles to declare that the Greeks had defeated the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. After declaring their victory, he literally collapsed and died, not unlike what I thought might happen to me this past weekend when I ran my first marathon in Nashville.
And to think that approximately 30,000 runners made the trek out this weekend to carry on that tradition.
I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity — nearly 12 people I knew were doing it, and we were all raising money to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital. I prepared for months. I stole the library’s entire archival collection of Runner’s World. I ran in Galesburg’s subzero weather. I ran during a Model U.N. trip to Belgrade past Serbians who sat on the side of the road, cigarette in one hand, pastry in another, generously reminding me of what I was missing. I was ready.
The week before the race was no exception — ever since I learned the word “taper,” I’ve really made it a mission to incorporate it into my vocabulary and use it as an excuse to not do homework, sleep a lot and eat carbs. I heard it’s advisable to eat around 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight, so I went ahead and did that, plus one gram for every drink I turned down while training, and then three more for every person who generously donated to St. Jude while I was training (including an ex-boyfriend and three TKS Discourse editors. Here’s looking at you, Tawni Sasaki. Guess which one you are.)
Around Mile 20, just when things were looking bleak, I started running with a woman who helped pass the time by sharing stories about the fight she’s currently in with her boyfriend (Here’s the takeaway from that one: Don’t keep iMessage turned on when you’re sharing an iPad) and tales of her past lovers.
That took us to Mile 25, at which point we caught up with a barefoot runner (which should give you an understanding of how slowly we were going) who’d been screaming for about four miles how much he wanted his “f**ing marathon jacket.” For someone without shoes or socks on, wanting a “f**ing marathon jacket” seemed like a precarious priority. But who am I to judge? I put on a SnapBack after being inspired by a couple Vanderbilt students drinking beer at 10 a.m. on the side of the road.
Really, marathons aren’t all that different from Flunk Day: You’re up at an ungodly hour in an outfit your mother probably wouldn’t approve of with thousands of other comrades with a similar idea. You’re mindlessly taking sunscreen and water from strangers who’re oddly invested in your hydration and well-being, and the only thing on your mind is when and where the next beer is. You’re listening to Kanye West way too loudly, and you finish the day sunburned, exhausted and unable to walk. Maybe that’s just my Flunk Day.
But also like Flunk Day, there’s palpable camaraderie, and, even though it’ll take weeks to recover (there’s a chance I’ll be carted across the stage at graduation in a red wheelbarrow to receive my diploma), there’s a part of you that wants to do it again — and again. Somehow, it’s worth it.
If given the opportunity, I’m sure Pheidippides would go for Round Two. But maybe this time on some flatter land.