It was about five o’clock in the morning when Cindylu, with her sweet little voice — all chamomile and honey — says, “Oso, you should probably put some vaseline in your butt crack.” That’s when I knew I was in for more than I had signed up for.
It all started back in late October within the walled, corporate confines of Facebook. 2011 was already coming to a close. I was in the midst of switching jobs, switching homes, and was ready to set some goals for myself. Either you make a map for your life or your life makes a map for you.
I wanted to run a marathon. A full fuckin’ marathon. 26.2 miles. I’d already told myself the same damn thing at least five times in my life, but I always wimped out and went for the half instead. This time no more wimping out. I just needed to find the right marathon and the right people to train with me.
One Facebook post and 15 comments later, and it was set in stone: On January 22 I would run the Carlsbad Marathon with a group of people who knew me better than just about anyone else in this world; only we had barely ever met. (Elenamary, she’s written all about it.)
This time it happened.
5 a.m. We’re all silently shuffling around in the morning, pinning our running bibs to our shirts, rubbing in the sunscreen, putting down the first cup or two of coffee. And I’m contemplating whether or not I’m gonna put Vaseline in my butt crack.
Tumbleweed and I left the house first; each of us sufficiently delusional to sign up for the full marathon. (“26.2 miles,” read one sign we passed, “because 26.3 miles is insane.” Damn straight.) We got to the course at 5:55 a.m., just enough time to pee out the morning cup of coffee and walk to the finish line. We agreed to keep each other company for the first six or seven miles and then we’d each run at our own pace. (“Don’t shoot out too early” was the unintentional double-entendre of the previous night.) We crossed the starting line surrounded by a sea of running shoes lightly shuffling along the dewy, predawn pavement. I had forgotten just how serene and idyllic North San Diego County is, especially on Sunday mornings.
The soft oranges and grays of the sunrise made their first, unhurried flirtations as I threw my fleece on the sidewalk like so many others. “Don’t worry, it’ll be donated,” Tumbleweed assured me. We mostly made smalltalk during the first five miles, steadily picking up the pace from our first 11-minute mile, to 10-minute miles, to 9-and-a-half. We high-fived each other goodbye halfway up the major climb, somewhere around mile 8 or 9. I had told everyone who asked that I merely wanted to finish the race, that I wasn’t running for any particular time. But secretly I wanted to cross the finish line under four hours.
Somewhere around mile 14 we merged with the half marathon runners right at the coastline. I was listening to Revaz’s 2011 Sedatives podcast; “John Taylor’s Month Away” by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins came on just as I arrived to the coastline. Something magical happened, some kind of endorphin-stimulated rhapsody. I felt so at peace, so strong, like I could have run 300 miles without ever tiring. I had forgotten how much I missed the coastline, the waves crashing against the gray, sandy shoreline after their weeks’ of journey across the Pacific.
At mile 19 I was still feeling good, too good. Back in Mexico City, after 18 miles of running my body and spirit were ravaged, but at oxygenated sea level I was full of life. Sadly, it was lodged into my misconceiving brain that a marathon was 23 miles, that I had just four miles to go. I switched the iPod to De La Soul and started to pick up the pace. At mile 20 I was probably running a 7-minute mile pace, flying by just about everyone. I figured, hell, I just needed to hold on for three more miles and it was all over. I thought I would make a 3:30 total time. It was a couple hundred yards before mile 23 when I realized my great blunder. I still had another three miles to go. And my legs were about to give out on me. All of a sudden my calves felt like concrete. I slowed from a 7-minute pace to a 12-minute pace, humbled by every runner that I had sprinted by who now caught up and passed me by as I was hunched over in pain and embarrassment.
By mile 24 I knew I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to cross the finish line under 4 hours. I knew my body would cooperate if my brain could trick it.
Mario was there to cheer me on for the last .2 miles which gave me just enough of a boost to cross the finish line with style. I crossed officially at 3:57, just under four hours, and then my body shut down as I was told that it would.
By 3 p.m. we were all back at the house, mostly awake, mostly stumbling around in a stupor. Thanks to HP’s impeccable taste in water, we were drinking Bud Light, grilling up hamburgers, talking shit … essentially, being Americans. Too tired to say anything of significance, I sat back and observed.
I realized that we all grew up as black sheep. For varying reasons, none of us quite fit into our surroundings. We all had something to say, but somehow didn’t know how to say it until we found one another. It’s not like any of us were loners. We all had friends, but for whatever reason those friends weren’t able to grasp something about us as well as a group of complete strangers that came together in some small slice of that thing formerly known as “the blogosphere.”
As I and countless others have already written countless times, the golden age of blogging is over. It’s been replaced by content farms that know how to neatly pack byte-size info-snacks under sexy headlines and algorithm-driven social networks that get to know us better than we get to know ourselves. But few understand just how golden, just how formative, those early years of blogging were.
These people surrounding me, they were my mentors. They helped me grow into who I am today.
I realized something else that evening as we hugged goodbye. It’s ok that we’re not bloggers anymore; now we’re friends … even if it does take a marathon to get us together.