I ran a marathon last week! I did.
Running a marathon never seemed like something I would do. I never really liked running but one thing led to another and eventually I was running a marathon. Like in a children's story where someone tells a lie and that leads to a bigger lie and soon they’re having a confrontation with an elephant and the king, but this confrontation was just four hours of sweating followed by a bunch of gluten-free bagels.
People ask “Are you a runner?” And I don’t even have an answer because I don’t really care about that question. I don’t know if I’m a runner. But I am definitely a crier.
I'm not just a recreational crier, crying isn't just a hobby for me. I cry like no one else cries. I cry at happy things, at sad things, at nothing, alone, and I try not to cry in public but sometimes it happens. I started wearing contacts in seventh grade mostly so that I could tell people they were flipped inside out whenever I started crying.
“These contacts,” I’d sniff when a PBS segment on the discovery of cell mitosis got me worked up. “I just think my eyes are the wrong shape or something.”
I wasn’t proud of it, but I knew I’d be crying by the end of the marathon.
I didn’t know that they sang the national anthem before the marathon even started. The national anthem makes my cry no matter what. Just hearing the word “national” said in the right way can make me cry.
I was standing with thousands of strangers at 6:45 in the morning, with a crooked race bib, with my apartment keys tied to my shoe, with really no idea what I was doing, and someone started singing the national anthem and my eyes were soaked. Everyone was taking videos, and so I invented a new warm-up stretch that involved hiding my head in my shirt so no one could see my face.
Finally the singing stopped and I dried my face and assumed the worst was over, and the race finally started. I got a hold of myself and started running.
And then, standing at the starting line was, for no good reason, a group of Marines stoically cheering us on. Compared to being a Marine, running a marathon is the lamest thing in the world. It is expensive and time-consuming and requires new shoes every few months. The idea of a Marine cheering for my dumb fancy little hobby seemed so backward that it made me start crying again. It’s embarrassing but it’s what happened.
After a mile we passed a terrible band where every member was playing bongos. “Bongos!” I thought. “Everyone on the earth is different but we all have one thing in common - we all hate bongos.” It seemed like the most beautiful thought I’d ever had. More tears.
A lot of people say it helps to have a mantra when you’re running a marathon so I made one up then: Pull yourself together, Brooke.
At mile two we passed an alleyway that smelled like marijuana. “My apartment building smells like marijuana” I thought. More tears. I was really a mess at this point.
Pull yourself together, Brooke.
At mile three I noticed a woman whose running shirt said IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT DANCERS “Oh my goodness what a wonderful place that would be” I thought, before I noticed it actually said a world without cancer.
At mile four a woman behind me said to her friend “Can you keep a secret?”
“I’m pregnant” she whispered. “It’s only nine weeks and we’re not supposed to tell anyone until twelve, but I just couldn’t wait any longer.”
That’s when I knew I was going to cry the entire marathon.
When I signed up for the race in January there was a box to personalize your bib with a name or nickname and I scrolled past it faster than anything. This isn’t spirit week. Why do I need my name on there?
The reason you need your name on there is apparently so strangers can cheer for you. There were thousands of them lined up all over the course for no good reason, shaking noisemakers, spraying water, giving us oranges, and screaming our names if we had them printed on there.
Most of the people cheering (who were these people?) held signs - about forty people independently had the idea to write NO TIME FOR WALKEN with a photo of Christopher Walken. Everyone wanted to high-five me but nice try. I am only interested in touching your hand if you are holding a cup of water.
I needed lots and lots of water because I was losing liquid so fast from all the tears. That Christopher Walken sign really made me emotional.
Everything was a reason to cry: middle school cheerleaders, a runner with the same shoes as me, a woman in front of me whose ponytail was so completely saturated with back sweat that droplets flew into my face every time she took a step. It was all too beautiful, it was all too much.
Pull yourself together, Brooke.
Mile 23 is where you're supposed to hit a wall, so there were more people cheering there than anywhere else. My legs still felt great. My feet felt great, my heart, arms, face, ankles, shins everything felt great but I could barely breathe because of how aggressively I was choking back sobs.
I may never be able to pull myself together. But I can run for 26.2 miles. And that seems pretty impressive, for someone who may not even be a runner.