Wednesday, May 4, 2011


So. Runners are curious creatures. We are particular, and for those of us for whom marathon running/racing is the preferred poison, our craziness is heightened during a period before the race known as "tapering." This is the critical one-to-two week period before the race where runners are encouraged to rest up for the big day. This is incredibly difficult to do.

For me, anyway. Some people love the taper. I would love the taper more if I didn't have to sit still so much, or gain an extra five pounds from being sedentary. Or if I weren't a runner at all.

Anyhoo, there are certain rituals I follow during the taper: increased carbohydrate intake, extra bicep curls and tricep maneuvers (so my arms look hot in my race photos), laying out different top/tank/skirt/shorts/capri combinations for race day attire (because 90% of feeling good on race day comes with the right wardrobe)...and then there are the medals.

Huh? Well, at the end of every marathon, this is what happens to a runner:
1) The last .2 miles are spent talking yourself into really finishing, and finishing strong, i.e. sprinting to the finish line. Or as close as you can muster a sprint-type movement.
2) In one smooth action, you smile, stop your watch, raise your arms victory-style, let out a sigh of relief, and cry as you cross the finish line. The raising of the arms & attempted smiles are important as your photo is being taken. Yay! You're done!
3) Cry more, but make it look like its exhaustion, not emotions taking over your brain. Sunglasses help.
4) Hear volunteers tell you "Congratulations!" and "Good job!" and "You did it!" while they simultaneously drape a mylar blanket over your shoulders and drape the finisher's medal over your head.
5) Find beer.

The medal is what counts here, as it is the actual proof of the race being run. Some people might think "Well, where did all of those t-shirts come from?" A t-shirt does not guarantee that a person has run the race advertised on said shirt. My "was-band" used to wear some of my race shirts, and as he stood outside of buildings- smoking a cigarette- complete strangers would ask him about the races. True story. Some races don't hand out the t-shirts even until the finish line ( Grandma's Marathon , I'm lookin' at you).

But the medal.

Some are pretty. Some are hefty. They are all, however, a memento of the day, the race itself, the training leading up to the day, the runner's life on that date. They are symbols of a biography, written in steps and sweat rather than words. I love my medals.

And so, during the taper, when I'm not running (but thinking about running all the time) I take out my medals and arrange them in chronological order, in the straightest line possible, edges just touching, ribbons folded just so. I count them, brush dust off of them with my shirt tail. Half-marathon medals are also there, in order, but inserted just above the full medals. Some days, I can't believe I've really run all those races; other days, I can't believe I haven't done more. Every day I'm glad that I'm able to run.

This weekend, I took out my medals. They've been living in a box since the Fall 50 , and were at my old house. I took them out, one by one, marveling once again at the sense of accomplishment I feel just holding them. I dusted them off, straightened the ribbons, and first grouped them by race. There are multiple years from the same race ( Chicago , Grandma's , Green Bay ), and I love tracing the evolution of the race with the logo and ribbon colors. This year, though, I noticed something was wrong. I was missing a medal.

The Detroit Free Press Marathon medal. 2004. I ran with my friend, Jennifer, her first (and to date, only) marathon. My father-in-law ran with my sister, Katie. He had flown in from Vietnam the day before after being gone for a month.
Katie had a bird shit on her head while we exchanged high fives passing on & off Belle Isle. We got dizzy running through the Detroit-to-Windsor tunnel. I rode back to the Upper Peninsula smushed in the back of my in-laws' Jeep Wrangler, hugging a month's worth of backpacking gear that still smelled like Vietnam (or what I guessed Vietnam had to smell like). My legs ached for the last three hours of that drive.

And so, I've enlisted the help of Daughter #1 to find the medal. I know its in the old house somewhere. I hope she's able to find it before my race next weekend. While I'm not especially superstitious, I've always laid out the medals before a race, and I've always finished the races I've entered. Coincidence? Maybe. I'm not willing to mess with a ritual that has served me thus far; and I'm not sure that I'm willing to write a chapter in my autobiography of running about "That One Time I Didn't See ALL of My Medals, and The Universe Gave Me The Shaft on Race Day."

There's comfort in consistency, no? And while I'm all about embracing changes, this is one I don't think I can add to my plate just yet. Next week is my spring marathon- Green Bay - and so my next blog entry will be a recap of that day. Picture of medal to follow. Happy running, friends.

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