Image: Coca Cola website
Continued from Part One
I heard cheers of “Go, Steph!” and looked up in confusion. A few dozen yards ahead, I could make out the shapes of a tall man flanked by a man with a beard and a woman wearing a hat. These were my friends Steve, Alex, and Robin. I was glad to see them, because I wanted the support, but I was also annoyed. I may not have been able to run, but I had too much dignity to take another sit-in-the-shade break until I’d passed them. Heck, it was bad enough that they had to see me walking—me, Stephanie, the invincible long-distance runner, fresh from bragging about my mileage and offering all kinds of advice to Robin, who’d recently started training for a 5K. I bet I was a great advertisement for the sport right about then.
I shuffled grumpily past them. “Don’t judge me,” I muttered.
Then, it could have been 1 minute or 5 minutes later, a woman wearing a red race number and a half-marathon medal dashed up to me and said, “Do you want a drink of my Powerade?”
“Oh, God yes,” I said.
“Here,” she said, thrusting a half-full bottle into my hands. “Just drink it. Germs don’t count on a day like today.”
Powerade Lady, I don’t know where you are or what your name is. But if you ever need a kidney, I have a spare.
If I’d asked nicely, I bet she would have let me keep the bottle; in fact, I doubt she would have objected if I’d chugged the whole thing. But maybe I’m just instinctively too polite, or maybe I’m dumber than I thought I was; I took a few sips, handed the drink back, and shuffled onward. I soon regretted my decision to turn away so foolishly from Powerade Lady, but there was nothing I could do about it. She was probably already on her way to rescue another bonker, and I was too exhausted to look for her.
Well, just a mile and a half to go, I figured. I might still be able to break five hours.
Then I heard a bike tossed into the grass somewhere and the sharp rubber-on-pavement slaps of someone running in flip-flops. Tommy materialized in front of me, cracking open a fresh, cold Powerade that he’d bought on a frantic trip to the Walgreen’s on Delaware Ave.
“Here, Steph,” he said. “Hope this is okay. They didn’t have Gatorade.” As if brand distinction mattered at that point.
Powerade Lady, I will never forget what you did for me, but Tommy has first dibs on my kidney.
“I love you,” I said. I guzzled down a third of the drink and held onto it as he retrieved the bike and resumed following me from the sidewalk. I walked a few steps and drank a few more sips and then, I swear, I was like Popeye after he’s gotten spinach—that is, if spinach enabled Popeye to start jogging at 9:30 mile pace.
I made to the 25 and then it was all downhill. I had my longed-for second wind, and I realized that if I pushed hard enough I could make to the finish in 4:10, which would still be a pretty darn good time for a first marathon.
My chip time was 4:09:47. I’ll take it.
I didn’t learn not to drive over the speed limit until I got a ticket for going 92 mph in a 70 mph zone, and I didn’t appreciate the dangers of petting strange cats until a deep puncture wound send me to the doctor for antibiotics. Yes, I am the kind of person who has to learn things the hard way. Here are a few things I learned the hard way during my first marathon:
1. Don’t shirk the water and electrolytes. Especially the electrolytes.
2. Respect the heat.
3. Even if you bonk out and walk for a mile and a half, they still give you a finisher’s medal.