The night before, we went to a baseball game. The original plan was to go to the game Sunday afternoon, after the race, but the forecast for Sunday afternoon—like the forecast for Sunday morning and the entire marathon in Providence—was 100% rain.
“Do you want to try to go to a game tonight instead?” my husband Tom asked over lunch. We were at a small cafe overlooking the river in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.
I was perplexed. A baseball game? The night before a big race? Is that a good idea? This was the last season the Pawtucket Red Sox would be at McCoy Stadium in Rhode Island, before they moved to Worcester. Tonight was our only opportunity to see them play.
I finished my omelet and watched the river and in the end could come up with no good reason why we shouldn’t go to the game that night. What’s the harm! We had an early dinner and went to the stadium.
It actually was perfect. I sat still, rested my body for three hours, and let the game and spring evening distract me from stressing about the race. In a break after the third inning, three people in giant eyeball costumes raced on the field to advertise a local optometrist. Green eye broke the tape, with some heat from brown eye (visual help, from 2018). It was delightful.
At the top of the seventh, with the PawSox down a run, we left the ballpark and went back to the hotel in downtown Providence. One of the nearby restaurants was hosting an outdoor barbecue with a very loud, very large sound system.
“Do you think it will end soon?” I asked, laying out my race clothes to the bass beat.
“No,” Tom said. He was right.
In the morning, it was indeed raining, though not pouring. Runners huddled under bus stops, shrouded in ponchos and plastic bags. I warmed up, my three poncho layers slapping behind me like a deranged blue bird.
In the corral, I ripped off pieces of the ponchos and wrapped them around my fists. I did not wear gloves, since I knew they would immediately get wet and heavy. But my hands are usually cold and I will run in mittens into July if necessary. I pulled the ends of my arm warmers over my knuckles and bounced lightly to the music, keeping my knees loose. I felt gratitude for my NBR friends and training partners, who had kept me running through the winter. I thanked the ponchos for their service and winced, parting with them. I have never been particularly great at running in the rain.
When my watch buzzed at the first mile, it was buried under my arm warmer and I decided to not wrestle with the layers, to not look. I assumed there would be time clocks along the course, and I thought: I am going to get comfortable in the rain and I am not going to stress.
The first time clock was not until the half. I saw I was 1:38 and did the math, sort of whimsically: If I do this same thing all over again I’ll have 3:16. I was feeling strong, working but not laboring. I extracted a second gel and promptly dropped it, fingers clumsy from the rain, which had not stopped drizzling since the start line. I swore, picked it up, and resumed.
Around mile 20, a strange thing happened. I felt good. This was my 14th marathon, and this had never happened. I had no register of time since the halfway mark, but I could see that I was reeling in runners. Ahead I saw a woman who had left me around mile 10, now shuffling and twisting. I passed her wide, in an arc of respect.
Someone, somewhere, started screaming, “Brooklyn! Brooklyn! Brooklynnnnnnn!” The NBR singlet, the love it gets. Someone, somewhere, instructed, “Use the bike path!” I was confused until I realized he was right: It was buoyant. I tried to spring.
Tom was at 24 in his blue raincoat, and he ran alongside me on the sidewalk with encouragement. A nice cop at 25 cheerfully yelled, “Bring it home!” At the last turn, the finish in view, a woman I hadn’t seen on the course and I dug in to race home. When I crossed I didn’t know who beat whom because I could see only the time: 3:16.
Irony is an often mis-cited concept but this was ironic. In the race where I had not once monitored my pace, I ran the most consistent marathon of my running life. My half splits were 1:38:22 and 1:38:34, 12 seconds apart. In the race where I ceded control, I ended up running more controlled than I ever had. In the race where I gave up control the night before, I ended up being more relaxed than I ever had.
If I consciously execute this strategy in the next race, will it work? Probably not. Marathons, like life, are full of surprises. It’s part of why we return to them again and again. They toss the pick-up sticks of our body into the air and splash them down in a new configuration, that we study and pick through with curiosity until the next race. I will always love the marathon.
After the race, we went to a restaurant for lunch. “It’s going to be about an hour, hour and a half,” the host said. I stared at her, my eyes graying and dull, lengthening like Wile E. Coyote’s when he realizes he’s run off a cliff. There was nothing to do but put in our name and wait. We went back into the rain and got wet all over again, checking my watch every five minutes to see how much time had passed. After about 40 minutes we could take it no longer and wandered back to the restaurant with hope.
The host brightened as we came in. “Welcome back,” she smiled. “Your table’s all set.”