DC runner and rock climber Ladan Archin submitted this entry to my recent blog contest, and won herself a free pair of Karhu shoes. Thanks Ladan – I trust you’ll get lots of miles and smiles from your new running shoes!
Standing Ovation, by Ladan Archin
When I was training for my first marathon, the New York Road Runners Club (NYRRC), sponsored a series of long training runs in Central Park, so runners could get a feel for the terrain that they would be sweating through come November. That year – 1996 – I participated in their 18.6 mile and their 20 mile runs. I traveled to New York from Washington, DC for the eventful weekend, with an elite runner friend who had gotten me into distance running.
The NYRRC, which is a legendary running club had plenty of experience in organizing races and training runs. One lane of the ‘big loop’ Central Park was closed for the training race, and they had pacers set up for the run as well. I had recently traveled overseas, so my stomach was still ‘adjusting’ to being back. And since I’d lived and run in New York City before, I knew the Park well. Well enough to take a lot of toilet paper in every pocket and piece of clothing that could hold it!
I started with a pace group, which I decided, in my novice way of estimating my race pace, was pretty reasonable. The first run around the big loop (about 6.1 miles) of Central Park was about chatting with the people around us, and decrying ‘heartbreak hill’ together. By the second and third time around, we had quieted down, due to fatigue or the quiet realization that the actual marathon was going to be a lot longer. Plus, people’s paces would start picking up or slowing down, and runners would stray from their original pace group. Of that pace group, I remember best two gentlemen who were definitely from Queens (if you are from New York, you can spot that accent from a mile away!).
I realized that one of the guys from Queens kept running off and coming back, and was quite loud as he discussed the weather, the course, etc. After the second time that he got back from wherever he was running to, he announced to his friend, “the last porta-john didn’t have any TP either! I’m gonna just have to squat outside and use some leaves or somethin’ but I don’t wanna get poison ivy or nothin’ either!” His friend started making fun of him, and the rest of the runners started giving anecdotal tips of their own about being caught in similar situations. At this point, I realized one thing about endurance athletes: talking about bodily functions is quite normal, and even encouraged!
At this point, I started a discussion with my own internal organs to see if an act of selfless charity on my part would be justified, or would I end up cursing my own sympathy later on in the race. Now, mind you, I was a first-time marathoner, and the 18.6 miles was the first time I had run that distance. So, I had no idea if my body was going to decide to relieve itself of whatever was burdening it at, say, mile 17.9! At which point, I figured any porta-johns that my Queens buddy hadn’t visited was sure to be empty of toilet paper also. Revelation number 2: Do people ran fast to get to the bathroom before anyone else does, right?
I remember that it was a great day, and my intestinal tract had decided to be nice to me and forgive me for the stupid trip to a local eatery while abroad. Plus, I was reaching my limit of what I wanted to hear about the inner workings of my newly acquired Queens running buddy. I trotted up to him and showed him a generous wad of T.P. and said, “I’ll give you this if you promise not to let me know what happens in the toilet when you get back!” He laughed and said, “You got it! Thanks.” With relief evident in his every step, our Queens-boy skipped all the way to the next porta-john, and the crowd gave me an appreciative round of applause! That is the story of my first (and only!) runners’ standing ovation!
Post script: I went on to finish that training run faster than my expected marathon pace, and still remember passing one runner, who was wearing a t-shirt that has become my endurance sport motto: “The pain is temporary, the glory is forever!”