The Expected and The Unexpected
by Serena Burla on November 30, 2012
In my New York marathon build up I played out hundreds of race scenarios in my mind, played the marathon version of “what would I do if…” with my coach on countless occasions, and trained to be able to respond to these numerous race situations. With that said, I was also prepared to expect the unexpected. My coach warned me that in any given marathon, there will be at least one moment where something happens that I did not plan for, expect, or see coming. So, as I banged on his door in New York and with wide eyes and questioned, “Is the marathon really canceled?” I was able to process the news better than one might expect. Life would go on and this would be another marathon story to share to illustrate the “unexpected moments in marathoning”.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t disappointed nor totally in shock (my body shook uncontrollably for about an hour), but I was able to lace up and appreciate my run through Central Park the next day with thousands of others; as the race may have been canceled but not my ability to run. For those of you who experienced a run in Central Park that Saturday or Sunday, or who witnessed people running through your neighborhood wearing their race numbers, you know thousands still experienced a brilliant run.
Plan B, was then set into motion: The Yokohama Women’s Marathon was gracious enough to accept me into their race on short notice and provided me with the opportunity to race. I boarded my plane to Japan on Tuesday, and close to 14 hours, one and a half books, a couple of catnaps, two or three movies, several sitcom shows, and numerous songs later, I was landing in Tokyo (now evening on Wednesday) and then in a cab to Yokohama.
Yokohama is a port city and being slightly jet lagged and up early I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise each morning. As the sun shimmered, the tug boats began their duties, and people slowly filled the park in front of the hotel, I ran the bike path along the waters edge. I tried to decide which side to run on; did they follow the rules of the road (they drive on the opposite side as the U.S.)? I decided to simply avoid getting run over. I did my strides in the park past groups of children with matching hats as they climbed trees and played games of chase, and groups of adults doing morning exercise.
Another observation was that almost every dog I saw was dressed in stylish doggie clothes. That was quite entertaining. I think there were also running groupies there. One morning while walking back toward the hotel, a man stopped me and asked for my autograph in Japanese. Well I hope that was what he wanted since he pulled out a piece of paper and a pen. In hind sight, he may have wanted my number or directions? He will have to decode the letters. Did I mention Japanese writing is beautiful- an art form in itself. The park in front of the hotel also had a beautiful rose garden, so with little else to do since there were no English t.v. stations (and I had already watched more than enough Sumo wrestling), I literally would stop and smell the roses daily. They were in full bloom. Then I would rest between meals.
Speaking of meals, dining was always a fun adventure. I am sure my waiters and waitresses were either amused or annoyed as I tried to cross the language barrier. On occasion there was a reorder, I didn’t feel like being adventurous pre race so if it showed up with eyes, I tried again with another dish. I also learned what was a normal portion size; but when fueling up for race day I admit I was double ordering. One meal I ordered a dish with udon noodles. They were tasty but I guess my chopstick skills were not up to par. I thought I was doing alright until the waitress came over and insisted I use a fork. I should have purchased the trainer chopsticks for kids I saw at the airport.
Friday evening before the race I experienced my first tiny earthquake. On the tenth floor while enjoying the company of Anna Koji, one of Mizuno’s wonderful Japanese representatives, Anna stopped me mid sentence and asked, “Do you feel that?” Then I saw the drapes shaking, and felt dizzy. I know earthquakes are quite common, but it was the first one I actually felt, and seeing there was no damage it was kind of exciting.
The day before the race high winds and rain provided a Mary Poppins like experience on my walk to dinner. I held tight to my umbrella and crossed my fingers it wouldn’t invert. It took about four restaurants to find one that was open, as the others were holding wedding receptions. I was starting to feel like a wedding crasher and several brides are going to find photos of hungry looking runners posing with their groomsmen and families.
Race morning arrived and I counted down the hours until our 12:10 start. As we lined up I realized that the race seemed similar to our Olympic trials field. All women, and a small but strong field. The race itself was rough for me from a, “come on legs- move faster” standpoint. I got into no-woman’s-land and besides picking off a few who fell off the lead pack in the later miles, I was running solo. I battled the winds and distance with the encouragement of the enthusiastic crowds and with positive memories and motivators from my own mind. Knowing that finding yourself alone at some stretch during a race isn’t uncommon in the life of a marathoner, I just kept plugging along, one foot in front of the other, staying awake and alert, forging ahead to the finish.
It’s interesting to me how the pain of the marathon gets forgotten, much like childbirth, so as a young marathoner it was important that I took this opportunity to remember the feeling again. Post marathon my quads pleaded with stairs to be forgiving and my stomach revolted. I felt like I hit rewind through each and every fluid station. As I slowly regained color, I got ready for and attended the awards banquet. When I went to bed that night I almost thought I had dreamt the events of the past few weeks. The unexpected had been somewhat of a whirlwind, an adventure of sorts. Another chapter of my running journey is written and now I look ahead again. There is no telling what awaits, both expected and unexpected!