Finding fine line between swagger, stagger

Peculiar things happen to a body that’s run 26 miles. In my case it hallucinates a little, and wails goofy songs, loudly and off key. Stomach duels Backbone in a sharp fit of hunger. It’s a remarkably odd feeling.

I’ve mentioned a time or two that I picked up running as a way to get in shape and cope with occasional twinges of empty nest blues. It’s grown into an obsession of sorts, and a collection of medals from several 5Ks and a half marathon — all earned in the company of family and friends.

Hunka Burnin’ Hubby, our sons, Rocket and Magnet, and their girlfriends, Trooper and Fireball, have been part of the fun at one time or another. We’ve wallowed in Warrior Dash mud, been pelted with Color Run brilliance, flaunted Midsummer Night’s Trail Run headlamps, and defied darkness during Glow Run. We watched our sweaty selves on the big screen in Memorial Stadium as we crossed the finish line during the Lincoln National Guard half marathon last spring.

I blame the half marathon for my current dance with madness. I enjoyed running 13.1 miles so much that I signed up to run 26.2 — my first full marathon — in October. Well, that and an article I read claiming that less than 1 percent of the population will ever run a full marathon in their lifetime. Being able to tell someday grandchildren that I made the cut was the extra spark I needed to give it a try. There’s a fine line between incentive and insanity.

It takes a load of work to coerce a body to run that far. My training plan is kinder than some, with occasional walk breaks included to keep my legs from snapping off and pin wheeling into the gutter. But each weekend includes one long and often brutal run (insert blood-curdling scream here).

OK, I’m exaggerating a bit. Long distance runs have thankfully blown the doors off my perceived limitations. At one time the concept of running at all was hunkered in the impossible part of my brain — packed in with giant lies like “too old,” “too slow,” or “too fat.” Anthropologists might call it a survival technique. I call it a cop-out. You accomplish nothing while listening to that inner naysayer, and waste precious time in the process. So I registered for the race, said a great big prayer, and pounded a lot of pavement.

Distance increases gradually, and before I knew it, I was knocking off 15, 17 and 20 miles at a time. Some of those miles were rather blissful; others so painful I thought my lungs would spring from my nose and give me the one-finger salute. But for the most part, I fell into an automatic cadence that resembled a vintage and semi-tuned machine.

But last weekend was especially rough. I didn’t eat properly, and by mile 13 my stomach thought dirt clods looked like chocolate, and road tar smelled like barbecue. By mile 22, I began singing random gibberish: “United we stand! Divided we fall! And if our B-W-A-C-K-S should ever B-W-E-E-E against the B-W-A-L-L! We’ll be toGETHAH, toGETHAH, you and I-I-I-I!”

My feet hurt. My shorts chafed. My skin was gritty with salt. If this had been the actual marathon, I would have crossed the finish line moments before the sweeps vehicle came to drag me off the course. There’s a fine line between swagger and stagger, too.

But I did it, and that’s what counts. I have six weeks to get faster, eat smarter, find better gear, and learn how to bribe a sweeps vehicle driver.

Piece of cake, right?

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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