This was originally posted on October 15, 2005.
A friend asked me after the marathon if I felt different.
It was a good question, and I had to think about it. I didn't at first, and I confess I had expected some kind of self-esteem-boosting epiphany, some burst of confidence that would make me a Better Person overnight. Nope ... still me, just with sore feet. But when I was going out to get the mail a few days later, I found myself swinging into my accustomed walking pace without even thinking about it, in spite of my tired legs and aching joints. And all of a sudden it occurred to me in a new way: "This body did a MARATHON!"
Lots of people say they were the last one chosen on teams in grade school -- I really was. THE last one. Not second to last. Last. Intellectually, I understand the rationale behind letting "team captains" choose the teams. The brutally honest value system of the playground results in perfectly balanced teams, each child with real athletic talent snatched up in ruthlessly accurate descending order of ability. It was probably easier for the teachers, and I've spent enough years teaching to understand taking the easy way out now and then. But for those of us who were a little smaller, a little younger, a little weaker, I have come to believe it was inexcusable.
If any of those miniature jocks, the undisputed playground royalty, had been told that the desperate-looking child trying to catch their eye would someday finish the Portland Marathon, they would have laughed until they wet their side-striped Adidas parachute pants. Understandably so -- if somebody'd told me that, I would have gotten mad at them for teasing me. This was entirely uncharacteristic of me, both then and now, and that's half the reason I'm so pleased at having done it.
I'm not going to say I was forever warped by my experiences in grade school P.E. I hope I'm a better and more well-rounded person than that, and that my successes in other areas of life have more than made up for any humiliations on that childhood battlefield. But neither will I say that it made no difference to my early years, and I will not say that I have forgotten it. I might not have actually been that much slower or less coordinated. But it was enough to convince me to my bones that if I was going to do anything real in life, it was not going to be with my body. My brain, my music, my sense of humor, absolutely. The rest of my body, though, was only useful as far as getting me to school and back and providing the leverage I needed to wrest those enormous sounds out of the beloved grand piano in my high school choir room.
The last several months blew that out of the water. I have incontrovertible proof now that my body is good for something. Yes, I had two babies, and that made me feel a bit more generous towards it in recent years, but lots of women have babies, so it was hard to get too worked up about that as a bona fide athletic accomplishment. Most women do not do marathons, and I did. One of the signs I saw along the way said, "You are an athlete!" To the amazing men and women who ran that entire 26.2 miles, that was probably like informing me, "You are a musician!" My response to that would be, "And the sky is blue, but we don't put that on the front page of the Oregonian either." But to me, the non-sports-minded mommy with funny feet and jiggly thighs, this was news. I had been slowly realizing it over the course of my training, and when I saw that sign, I thought, "Yes. Yes, I am. I like the sound of that."
So, Darius, in answer to your question -- yes, I feel different. I have a pinched nerve in my left foot. My hips ache. I am sleeping a lot, and when I get up in the morning my brain wants to go for a walk but my body is not yet up to the task, and right now I am letting my body win that argument. (Not for long -- it's not going to be happy next week, but that's just too bad.) I also have a hard-earned blue shirt, a medal, and the memory of having crossed a finish line.
The White Queen told Alice in Wonderland, "Why, I believe six impossible things every morning before breakfast!" It wasn't six, it was just one. It wasn't technically impossible, it only felt like it. And it took eight months and one week and two days of training, so it didn't exactly happen before breakfast. But this day and every day, I carry with me the knowledge of having done something I could never have dreamed possible for myself, and that kind of different is worth the effort.