Chronicles of a writer abroad

Before, during & after


I want to share the experience of  the completed marathon with you. Given my tendency to be too verbose, however, I thought it best to break this down into three lists which together encapsulate my experience on Sunday.

Before the race

  1. Wake up before dawn, thinking why the heck did I want to do this again?
  2. Feel doubt that my training has been enough. Engage in negative self-talk, reminding myself that I was never an athlete in high school or college.
  3. Try to remind myself of the more than 650km that have been accumulated in these months of training. Try to tell myself that I’ve done it before.
  4. Continue to feel niggling doubt.
  5. Make it to the site and see fit runners “warming up,” which they do by running faster than I do at top speed, with a casual expression showing that they’re hardly exerting themselves. Tell myself again that I do not belong.
  6. Resolve, even before the race begins, that I’m never doing this again.

During the race

  1. Before 2km: become sorted with my people — the ones who go about the same speed as I do, and who have the same kind of somewhat-but-not-very-fit physique. Start to relax.
  2. 2km: Begin to be assailed by hard rain and wind. Start to worry.
  3. 10km: 10km runners mixed among us finish their race with exclamations of “ugh, that was horrible!” (referring to the bad weather). Try not to think about the 32.2 km I still have to run in said weather.
  4. 15km: hands freeze. Shoes squelch. Head down, I concentrate on the shimmering, almost mirror-like reflections the runners ahead of me cast on the wet pavement.
  5. 25km: Turnaround point. Rain has stopped; sun comes out; endorphins kick in fully. These alter my perception of time and allow me to drift mentally.
  6. 30-40km: Notice that legs are getting quite sore. Drift. Look at the lake. Drift. Watch the funny choreography of runners trying to drink while running, then trying to lob empty bottles into roadside repositories. Drift. Share a smile with the person I’ve been running beside for a while as we cross a timing mat together. Drift. Notice that legs are getting ever sorer. Drift.
  7. 40-42km: No longer drifting, but having to concentrate on not stopping.
  8. 42 km: See Stelian, give him a high-five. Keep going. Watch two kids belonging to a woman running just in front of me jump over the barrier and take their mother’s hands to run the last 200 meters with her. Feel the total euphoria of the finish line.

After the race

  1. Feel bewildered as someone takes off my timing chip, someone else puts a medal around my neck, other people offer fruit, drinks, food.
  2.  Think how awesome the experience was, and immediately revise I’m never doing this again to I’m doing this again for sure!
  3. Wonder how come I can’t walk at all.
  4. Begin to experience the trinity of sore, stiff muscles, nagging unspecific hunger, and general fatigue.
  5. Revise I’m doing this again for sure! to Maybe…we’ll see.
  6. Wonder why all those hours are condensed into just a few memories.
  7. Ask myself if I really did it after all.
  8. Review the evidence.

Race medal, showing the course along the Zurichsee to Meilen and back.

The coveted (and cat-approved) finisher shirt.

Bonus: There is a video of me (in white hat) running to the finish behind the woman with her kids here.


11 thoughts on “Before, during & after

  1. I loved reading your report, and seeing the photos. Congratulations again!! Wear your shirt with immense pride.

  2. What a wonderful description of the vaccillations the mind goes through, including the dogged determination. I’m interested in the moment you shared a smile with a fellow runner… isn’t there a strong urge to stay with each other, or during the mental drift(s), do you find yourself just no longer with that person? I suppose, but don’t know for sure, it is much too hard work to carry on an extended conversation. Do you even talk? Oh, and kudos to the doctor who figured out the lack of iron, made diet recommendations so you could get so much stronger that you could actually complete this wonderous challenge. What a fabulous thing you did. Your description of the lonely cruelty and determination is lovely, but I suspect overly humble. Way to go!

    • I think most runners are loners rather than pack animals, because we tend to do all of our training alone and absorbed in our own thoughts. In a race, though, it’s comforting to run alongside someone for a while and be able to look over and think “she still looks strong, so I probably do too.” I wasn’t talking with this person, but there was still a sense of camaraderie. I lost her when she stopped to eat a banana offered by a roadside volunteer. I could never eat a banana while running!

  3. Oh Kristen, I am so full of congratulations and wonder at your race against weather, kilometers and doubt. Your chronicle is such a great insight into how such a physical endurance might be understood by an outsider. You join ranks with other family members who have touched the au-delà of your goal.

  4. Thanks for sharing both your doubts and determination, Kristen. Your account is a real insight into how you managed your emotions before the race, as well as the gruelling run with cold and wet hands and feet at the beginning.
    Bless Stelian for keeping you on an even keel and for the big hug I can see him giving you as he wrapped you in warm clothes at the end of the race.
    This truly is an amazing achievement, a second successful marathon! Boppy and I send much love and admiration.
    Love the shirt. Wear it with pride, dear.

  5. Great report! That’s a beautiful shirt, and a very cool medal. I don’t run, but my daughter is a distance runner and I’ve been wondering if maybe some day she’ll run in a marathon. I think she would fly to Zurich to do it if she got a shirt that color.

    • Thanks, Patti! I’m sure your daughter will get up to that distance one day if she keeps running — it becomes an irresistible lure. And she’ll probably run it a lot faster than me, who started training at the ripe old age of 25! 🙂

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