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Monday was supposed to be the Boston Marathon. I was supposed to be at the start line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, with thousands of runners, spectators, and butterflies in my stomach. I was supposed to be triple checking the knots on my shoes and the signal of my GPS watch, peeing nervously in a rancid port-a-potty.
I was supposed to hear the starting gun, start running, and not stop until I crossed the finish line.
But right now, nothing is happening like it was supposed to. I’ve been furloughed indefinitely. I’ve had trips, races, holidays, and events canceled. I’ve spent weeks inside my apartment, trying to stay positive or enjoy a good book or honestly, just not lose my mind while flattening the curve.
I don’t have to go into much detail on what it’s been like. You all feel me. This COVID-19 struggle is not unique.
Through it all, there is one thing I can count on to break the monotony of staring at the walls, and subsequently break my funk: running.
I love running. Always have. Always will.
The 2008 Marine Corps Marathon was the first marathon I ever ran. It was a mess. I went out too fast, hitting the wall at mile 21. But I stuck it out, dragging myself across the finish line in 4 hours and 13 minutes, just happy to have beaten Oprah’s time.
In 2009, I ran Marine Corps again and—thanks to better training—dropped 40 minutes, which meant I had qualified for Boston. When I ran it that following April, I had no idea that it would take 10 years for me to earn that elusive Boston qualifying (BQ) time again.
It’s not for lack of effort or attempts. Since 2010, I’ve enjoyed a steady diet of marathons and ultramarathons, increasing my weekly mileage and the size of my quads. Along the way, I ran close to the BQ standard a handful of times, sometimes even meeting the time but getting denied entry because my time wasn’t far enough below the standard. Just when I thought I was fast enough, people were faster.
Then, I ran a personal record at Marine Corps in 2018, applied, and was accepted. This was supposed to be my year in Boston. Until, of course, it wasn’t.
The third Monday in April is supposed to be Marathon Monday. That’s how it works. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it still could be. Like the Grinch on Christmas Eve, I had an idea. An awful idea. Kelaine had a wonderful, awful idea.
Make it Marathon Monday, if it’s the last thing you do.
Why run just one marathon, when you could try to run two?
I set it as a personal goal. On Monday, I would run 52.4 miles, a double marathon.
The streets and sidewalks were empty as I headed up the hill on Connecticut Avenue. I ran past the zoo, past the strip of underrated restaurants in Cleveland Park, and turned around at a humbly unremarkable Rodman Street, picked only because I had watched the Chicago Bulls documentary the night prior.
The way back downhill was a breeze, and it felt like I rode that momentum through Georgetown, across the Key Bridge, and onto the Mount Vernon Trail. I had covered an easy eight miles, and my legs felt great as I continued, making my way across the 14th Street Bridge, around the Tidal Basin, and back toward home.
I completed my first 13.1-mile loop and popped into my apartment to pee and re-up on fuel and hydration. It felt nothing like an aid station—no excitement, no energy, no personal interaction except to wave at my partner as he left for his morning run. I ate a full banana, a couple pretzel rods, and grabbed some snacks for the road.
The pit stop took less than five minutes, and I continued on the back half of this solo marathon effort feeling strong. I listened to a few podcasts, catching up on news and a backlog of good storytelling. Before I even knew it, I was already at my turn-around point at Rodman Street.
The city had started to wake up a bit, so I found myself veering around more pedestrians, runners, and bikers to maintain social distancing. To be honest, I kind of enjoyed the challenge.
I’m a competitive person, and unfortunately, I was the only entrant in this double marathon, so I didn’t quite have any competition to keep me motivated. I looked at pedestrians as moving chess pieces, doing my best to protect the king while advancing toward victory.
Inventing a game mid-stride? What a strange and delightful coping mechanism. The mind is truly remarkable.
The second loop on the Mount Vernon Trail felt much longer than the first, so I switched from podcasts to music, and found myself lip-syncing, run-dancing, and picking up the pace.
Twenty-one miles into the first marathon, I finally decided to set a goal time, based on how I’d been running, how I was feeling, and how much more I had ahead of me later in the day. I wanted sub-four hours. With five plus 26.2 miles to go, it seemed both achievable and respectable.
So I pushed a bit, and hit my doorstep and 26.2 miles at 3 hours and 50 minutes. Not bad, but still too early to celebrate anything.
I took a videoconference meeting at 11 a.m., while gorging myself on hummus, pretzel rods, bananas, and toast. I drank a whole bunch of water, tea, and Pedialyte, and put on a whole new set of clothing.
By 12:20 p.m., I was out the door, ready to run a second solo marathon.
This time, I set a goal time upfront: I still wanted to come in sub-four hours. It seemed realistic but ambitious, which is what I intended the Double Marathon Monday to be.
I started with podcasts but found my patience and attention span waning. Suddenly, favorites like Radiolab were too hard to follow, so I switched over to easier entertainment, favoring chatty comedians like on Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend or Good One. I giggled aloud a few times, but for the first time all day, it was hard to take my mind off the steep climb of Connecticut Avenue.
The way back down, I veered into the street to dodge pedestrians. I had already switched to music by mile 7 (cumulative mile 33), just wanting to let my mind disengage and go slack. I knew I’d need more focus to get through my final lap, and it seemed important to conserve not just my legs and energy, but also my mental drive.
I kept slogging, my legs feeling increasingly heavy along the footpath on the Mount Vernon Trail. I stopped for a moment to take off my long sleeve shirt and tried to enjoy the sights as the sun peeked out, looking across the glistening Potomac River into the city. The monument, the memorials, and the tidiness of a 13-story skyline.
Honestly, I forget how beautiful it is sometimes. Okay, enough adoration, I told myself. Time to grind this out, kid.
I still had three miles left in the loop when I ran out of hydration. I knew that it would come back to bite me if I didn’t take that seriously, so I pulled up to my secret magical water fountains—the only ones that are functional right now—used my hip to press the button, and caught the water into my water bottle.
I crossed in front of the White House, nodding to the Secret Service staffers, who seemed different every time I passed them. When I got home, my partner called me a champion, but I knew I’d have to dig deep to earn the designation.
I went for a quick pit stop—chugging an Ensure protein shake and eating about 20 tortilla chips—knowing that the longer I delayed, the less likely it would be that I’d start again.
The Boston Marathon famously has Heartbreak Hill, a punishing climb at mile 20. I promise you, climbing Connecticut Avenue after 41 miles on your feet is so much worse.
But whose fault is that? Mine. Obviously. This whole thing was my idea. I had planned it that way. I knew hills would make this Marathon Monday harder, and I wanted that.
This was supposed to be a challenge. This was supposed to hurt. This was how it was supposed to happen.
I climbed Connecticut for the last time.
My stomach started to ache. My legs grew heavy. My feet felt like they’d been grinded into pulp. For the first time all day, I decided I could walk a little bit, as long as I kept pushing. It was only a few blocks, but giving myself that little relief was all I needed to get going again.
Then the doubts came. I hated everything. Myself for this dumb idea. Everyone on the sidewalks and roads. Pandemics.
Another mile or two, and my stomach settled. The calories found their way to my legs.
With five miles to go (cumulative 47 miles completed), I found myself doing something that I don’t think anyone else on this planet does. In kindergarten, my mom taught me the alphabet in American Sign Language. I don’t know words, but I know letters. So, I “sang” along to the music, signing the first letter of every word with my right hand as I ran.
Focusing on the words helped keep my mind off the pain and fatigue. Another fascinating coping mechanism. Great job, brain!
The last few miles were a celebration. I no longer hated the cyclists enjoying the sunshine. I waved to the Secret Service staff for the last time.
And when I got home, I sat on the front steps and took off my shoes to let my poor, tired feet breathe. On the interior door, my partner left a blue note that read, “BREAK THE TAPE!!” I unlocked it, then ran through some plastic wrap he’d strung across two chairs. Chip time: 4 hours flat.
For the first time in weeks, I felt like a winner.
I felt like I could control the outcome if I just put in the effort and make the right choices. I had been feeling so powerless, useless, and inert. I felt bored and lonely and confined. I felt fucking terrible, to be honest.
But not Monday. Monday, I celebrated. I grinded. I pushed. I finished.
I wanted to see if a double marathon could reveal the old me. Great news, y’all. I’m still here.
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