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

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day Of...

I've been wonderfully swamped with well-wishers today--flowers and phone calls and texts, oh my!--so the lollygagging I'd planned to do over the day-of-the-marathon entry didn't really happen. But I'm feeling strong and spooked and excited in about equal measure, which means feeling great has the majority and I'm all about majority rules. In the last forty-five minutes left before I leave for the race, I need to double check that I've packed everything (no barefoot running for me, thanks), down enough water to make the pH in my stomach hospitable for most freshwater fish, and watch the finale of The Karate Kid one more time.

Yeah, I know a karate tournament and a marathon aren't exactly kissing cousins, but the way I figure it, the metaphor holds up on three counts:
  1. if the little demon in my head so much as hisses the words tired or quit or sore, I'll sweep his devilish little leg;
  2. the crane kick's all the metaphor I need for digging deep and pushing through when (if!) I feel beat; and
  3. I'm hoping Mr. Miyagi's voice will make an appearance in my brain somewhere around lap 7:
Miyagi have hope for you!
And with that, I'm off to go take my mark...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rocky Balboa's Got Nuthin' on Ralph

Everything I read about what I'm supposed to be doing in this last week of training says I should be taking it easy by watching uplifting movies like Rocky and Chariots of Fire and Prefontaine. Which would be well and good except that I heard Steve Prefontaine died in a taken-too-soon car crash. And even though his death was completely unrelated to running, dead marathoners are not really the vibe I'm looking for two days before my race.

The vibe I do want? A little more magical realistic. A little more breathlessly rooting that the fantastically ridiculous longshot will pull through. A little more outting me as the complete sap I am when it comes to competition movies (this dates back to the time in my latchkey phase when my sister and I wore out the videotape we'd used to steal The Karate Kid from Cinemax).

So when I read that Saint Ralph was about a fifties-era freshman who fixates on the idea that winning the Boston Marathon was just the miracle he needed to rouse his mother from her coma, I was all over that shit.

You remember that stereotype of the frat boy who gets drunk at a party, starts hanging off his friends, and screams "I love you, man?" Yeah. So that was totally me from the moment the gun goes off at the marathon and Ralph gets busy run, run, running. Because the thing was, you see, that the people at home were listening on their transistor radios.

I mean, like, all of them.

And yes, I know that no sports movie is complete without the required quick cuts to all the motley fans listening in cars, in classrooms, and in any weird place the director decides will fly, really. But in this particular movie, those supporters were Grub Street.

Grub Street's been called a lot of things by all the people who have done Q&As and essays for the Grub Tales section of this blog, but so far no one's mentioned how the community at Grub buoys its writers with all the energy of a fan-support montage in a competition movie. The only difference is that where love for Ralph was total Hollywood fabrication, Grub love is real.

The amount of well-wishing I've received this week has been totally humbling. And I'm downright gobsmacked at the number of people who are planning to show up in Wakefield on Friday night to support me. Though given my weepy reaction to Saint Ralph, I need to renew my warning about the likelihood of tears: I may well turn into a blubbering shell of myself after crossing the finish line.

You know.

Assuming I've got any water left in me at all after sweating for five to six hours.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, an independent writing center in Boston, MA.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grub Tales: Lisa Borders

Lisa Borders’ first novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, was chosen by Pat Conroy as the winner of River City Publishing’s Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel and was published in 2002. Cloud Cuckoo Land also received fiction honors in the 2003 Massachusetts Book Awards. Her second novel, The Fifty-First State, is represented by Svetlana Katz at Janklow & Nesbit. Lisa has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her short stories have appeared in Kalliope, Washington Square, Black Warrior Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Newport Review and other journals. Her essay "Enchanted Night" was published in Don't You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes (Simon & Schuster, 2007). She has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Somerville Arts Council and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hedgebrook and the Blue Mountain Center. This fall she will be a fellow at the Millay Colony. More information on Lisa and her work is available at

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
Lisa Borders: When I say that Grub Street is my home, I don’t mean it as a metaphor. My Oxford American Dictionary gives one of the meanings for “home” as “a place where something flourishes.” I can’t think of a better way to describe my relationship to Grub Street, and I can’t think of any other place that fits, for me, that particular definition of “home.”

RUN FOR GRUB: What's your most magical Grub Street memory?

Lisa Borders: The one that stands out in my mind is from a Novel in Progress class I taught a few years ago. On one of the last nights we were meeting, four people read revisions of scenes we’d already workshopped. From one student to the next, the revised versions were quantum leaps better than the previous versions. It truly felt magical when the fourth student began reading, and his scene was as amazingly transformed as the others. “I have chills!” someone called out when that last student had finished reading. “My work here is done – you’re all amazing!” I said. The entire class was so jazzed we ended up talking for an hour past the time the class ended. It’s such a gift for a teacher to see incredible progress like that within the time frame of a ten-week course. In keeping with the magic of that class, I happen to know that several of those writers are still meeting as a group.

RUN FOR GRUB: Grub Street almost closed in 2001, but--thank goodness--it reinvented itself as a nonprofit instead. What would you have lost if Grub had withered away eight years ago?
Lisa Borders: Before I made the decision to chuck more sensible professions and become a fiction writer, I’d always felt like I didn’t quite fit anywhere. I went to my graduate creative writing program hoping I’d find that home of other writers, that place where people got me – “a place where something flourishes” – but didn’t find it there, either. I’d almost given up on ever finding that elusive home when I stumbled upon Grub Street. This amazing institution has nurtured me both as a writer and as a teacher of writing. Many of my closest friends are people I met through Grub. Almost everything good that has happened to me in the past eight years is linked, directly or indirectly, to Grub Street. The thought of a life without Grub sounds postapocalyptic to me – bleak and lonely.

RUN FOR GRUB: Can you believe we’ve known each other almost nine years?
Lisa Borders: Actually, I feel like I’ve known you longer! You’re in that category in my mind with the friends who go way, way back.

RUN FOR GRUB: I was in one of your first classes, which means you were the first face of Grub for me. This isn’t so much a question, but a thank you for seeing a spark of something in me, nurturing it without extinguishing it, and being loyal for all these many years.
Lisa Borders: I’ve remained loyal because I can’t wait for your amazing novel, Misfit Kings, to be a runaway bestseller – after which I plan to walk around boasting that you were once my student! All kidding aside, it’s been amazing to see both your writing and our friendship develop over the past decade. The appreciation for the support and loyalty goes both ways.

RUN FOR GRUB: RUNaway bestseller! Ha! Kidding aside, right back at ya. And to any novelists in Grubdom, know this: working on a novel on your own is like running on a treadmill; working on your book while enrolled in one of Lisa’s novel-in-progress classes is like running on a pristine beach with your favorite tunes and just the right amount of seabreeze to refresh you.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, an independent writing center in Boston, MA.