Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Hollywood Ending

The race kicked off at 7:07 p.m. and endedfor me, anywaywith choking sobs eight laps and almost six hours later. I want to tell you the story, I do. But at a party once, Michelle Seaton, a wise Grub Street instructor, told me that the biggest mistake essayists can make is trying to write about seismic life events while they're still feeling aftershocks. That's sound advice, but as a blogger, I don't really have the luxury of time to process the event,and yet I've put off writing about the big race this entire, sore-muscled day. Because besides the blisters, the aching legs, and the surreal realization that when I stepped over the finish line very early this morning I transformed from marathon trainee to marathon finisher, I'm not sure what else to tell you, exactly. Not sure what to share. And then when I feel like I've gotten anywhere close to the heart of what it is I do want to say, I'm not sure anyone would believe me.

Should I tell you about the hell of lap one, when I found myself in a crush of runners pushing me faster than I'd practiced? About the stitch that came on like a vice at mile two? About reminding myself this was my race, my pace, and falling into my rhythmmine before the lap was through?

Should I tell you about the swarms of microscopic harpies that dive bombed medive-bombed all the runners, really—during lap two and filled me with dread about a nuisance I could have avoided if I'd thought to included some Deep Woods Off in my bag of marathon tricks?

Should I mention how the text messages wishing me well started at the start of lap three with a chuckle-inducing reference to The Karate Kid? Should I mention the car of people who screamed my name at the very start of the race? The army of people who were there to cheer me on at every lap? The way my husband called me champ and handed me water bottles, tops pre-loosened? The way my heart swelled at the sight of signs with my name on them, my dog's name on them, Grub's name on them? The way the roar of support as I finished the first half of the race gave me such a boost that the first lap of the second half of my race was the absolute easiest of them all?

Do I mention how downing about 24 ounces of water per lap forced a port-o-potty break after lap 5 even though I knew full well that stopping would make it much harder to get going again? Do I tell you how uncomfortable it was trying to run after pulling sweaty, wet spandex up into a position that just didn't match the grooves the spandex had made through the first five laps of the race? How the only other time I stopped during the race was the 30 seconds I took to frantically try and right said sweaty, wet spandex?

Should I tell you about how the fastest runners didn't give me a second thought, but the medium-speed runners who passed me looked back and yelled: Good job or Just a little more or Looking strong? Do I tell you about making friends with David, a runner in the ultra marathon category, who was in a run-walk pattern that meant we kept passing and being passed by each other? Do I tell you how I lost David after the start of lap 5? That I can't decide if it was his knee brace or my pee break that broke our little 13.1-mile dance?

Do I mention the torture of muscles aching at lap 6 and the hum of pain in my feet and knees that settled in halfway through lap 7? The way I took a breath and forced my thoughts to stay the hell in my head just my head, dammitliterally convincing myself that my legs, though down there, didn't need my attention right now and the only body part I cared about just then were the parts from the neck up? Do I try and explain that turning myself into bobble-head me worked beautifully when I don't really understand the first thing about how I made 90 percent of me disappear? Do I explain how bauble- head-me kept my head on the things I wanted to think abouthow far I've come in a yearwhile the text messages pouring in made sure I was buoyed by the bigger picture: this run was a fundraiser for Grub Street.

Do I tell you about how I realized that some people were lapping me, others I was lapping, and still others—long lost David among themkept passing me and letting me pass them? Should I mention how this reminded me that this race was like writing a novel that way: it doesn't matter how many people get to the finish line before or after you, your pace is your pace is your pace?

Do I tell you about the way I entered the last lap with a certainty that no matter what my knee was doing down there, I was going to finish this thing? Do I tell you how weepy I got about everyone who supported me out there? The way I realized that for all the joking I've done about how running a marathon is easier than writing a book because there are clear schedules for marathon training, that I realized that I've gone and come to the end of the Run for Grub road with a revamped outline of the second half of my revision that looks a hell of a lot like a training scheduledo this, then this, then this.

Do I tell you about the personal journey of that last lap? The way my mind cast back to one year ago when I was forty pounds heavier and barely able to run three miles? Do I tell you how I choked up at mile 25 because holy mother of sweat monkeys, I was two-thirds of the way through the last lap and really, actually, for reals, yo, about to finish my first marathon?

Do I tell you about the way I totally lost it and burst into tears on coming to the marker that told me I had finished 26 miles? The one that meant I had a measly .22 miles to go? One last corner to round? Do I mention the way the runners around me slowed and turned to make sure that sobbing-puddle-'o'-Cathy wasn't in dire distress, the way I waved them on by telling them I was almost done, the way they let me be, the way I pulled it together and ran that last little spit of road for everything running had won for me this yearmy health, my renewed confidence in my book, my commitment to Grub Street?

I could tell you all those things, but as Michelle would warn, it will come out sounding pretty much exactly like the first draft of a diary entry that this little rant has turned out to be. But for a blog entry made just about 24 hours after finishing my first marathon, that's OK with me. I should hope that's OK with you.

What I think I'll leave you with is the perfect Hollywood ending every fiction workshop I've had at Grub Street would encourage me to avoid. But in this case, this story is mine. And I think I've more than earned the right to share my Hollywood ending.

You know.

The one where I cross the finish line and see my husband walking toward me, arms stretched out. The one where I fall into his hug and really cryfor everything I've mentioned above and the swarm of emotions that are still too raw for me to translate with a keyboardwhile he asks me again and again to talk to him, let him know that the tears are about joy and not pain. The one where for several seconds, all I can do is nod and cry in the cool, cool night.

On July 30, Catherine Elcik ran her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, an independent writing center in Boston, MA. Donations can still be made at


  1. I am so proud of you! I enjoyed following your training progress through your blog, and by race day, (even though we haven't met in person--yet), I kept thinking that the weather couldn't have been more perfect for a summer marathon! I was thrilled to be a part of your cheering squad...the invitation to text was a great idea. And you finished!! What an amazing feat!!! wax on, wax off :)
    Mo Hanley

  2. Cathy! You are an inspiration! I loved reading this! I hope my sexy spandex text helped along the way! I'm so happy for you!!!!!!!!!-Becky

  3. Jesus, ketchup queen. You just made me cry. -- DeeDee

  4. Mo: Will you hold it against me if the first time we meet I laugh, point at you, and scream "sh*t-ton!"?

    Becky: Your text came hours before the race began, but I definitely laughed, which helped ease the (very jangly) pre-race jitters.

    DeeDee: I do my best! Please tell the ketchup princess that I would like her to stop growing, please.

    Lisa: Thanks!

  5. Cathy,
    Congratulations on a huge undertaking! Very impressive.

    Well done!

  6. I'm so glad you DID tell us all this, Cathy! What a wonderful post. Your commitment, stamina, creativity and downright gutsiness have inspired so many of us, not to mention your amazing fundraising for Grub! Bravo, Bravo, and again I say Bravo!

  7. Aw shucks, Cathy, you made me cry. I'm so glad you got the Hollywood ending. You totally deserve it.

  8. Congratulations Cathy - both on finishing the marathon and on the beautifully written post! You've made me a bit teary-eyed in the middle of my Whole Foods salad....