"Grandfather - The Mother of all Marathons" By Marshall Ellis (Raleigh, NC)

Well, it's been exactly one week since Grandfather, and I've been walking normally since Wednesday. Stairs? No problem - but jogging across the street still conjures up a deep fatigue that makes beating traffic a risky proposition. In the marathon's aftermath, my out-of-shape friends for whom a brisk walk around the neighborhood carries the same challenge as say, a moon landing for NASA, have drilled me with the same tired admonitions questioning my judgment. And whenever they ask plaintively and with exasperation: "Why do you do this?", I just give them the truth. I tell them that I do this because it's hard, and because I think there's something that's okay about asking yourself to do hard things and then struggling to get it done. I'm glad to see that there were 399 other folks who felt the same way last weekend. Thanks for the company, the chats, and the encouragement. This was my eighth trip up the mountain, and I knew it was going be a bad day when I woke up. My miles have been off, and I missed almost three weeks in May and June from injury. The first time I ran here was 1977; my training partner and I drove in from the beach and then slept in the stadium on the football field. When we woke up, we pondered how joining the junior high track team had led to this, and then we ate breakfast: 18 stale doughnuts. This year, after finding a real bed and better doughnuts, I spent the morning of the race arranging and rearranging my gear. Shoes, shorts, hat, Vaseline. Tokens against the expanse. Grandfather can make you obsessive about checking gear, since so much else about this run eludes control. In a stab at self-preservation, I kept repeating my marathoning mantra: "Start slow. Taper off." If this was your first trip to Grandfather, then by now you know that this marathon is nothing but a forested corridor of uphill misery. Discomfort is a given, genuine suffering a distinct possibility. I decided long ago that merely finishing could be taken as an act of vengeance against the organizers. With marginal fitness, the damage control started before 10 miles, when my quads started going soft. By the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway at 16 miles or so, the involuntary slowing had started and I had to let the last of my 6 person group go. At 19 miles I was closing one eye to save energy. I got a reprieve at 23 miles, where the volunteers had a boom box accompanied by some really great inspirational signs. Thanks guys! Grandfather's volunteers are the best! Awash in distress, fighting off my blighted mood was like trying not to probe a toothache with my tongue. Fortunately, by now things were so spread out that I were pretty much running solo; at least that way I could collapse without making much of a scene. Squatting to retie my shoes, totally fried at 24 miles, I righted myself only after much private discussion. At the last aid station I nearly took a bath in numerous cups of REALLY cold water. Encased by the coldest water in the universe, my quads rusted in their sheaths. "Yowwowwoww" I yelled, a raid on the inarticulate. I walked the last hill (well, actually I walked most of the hills this year...), began playing asphalt roulette with the traffic, and waited for the bagpipes. Sometime after the millennium, I crow-hopped onto the track and wobbled around to the finish. This has to be the best marathon finish going, but did anybody else besides me think that was the longest 400 yards of your life? Crossing the abyss had taken four and a quarter hours. I sat still for a while, and after a hot-dog and a nap on the grass, I felt, if not great, at least well enough to take in some music and shop for some souvenirs. Will I be back? You betcha. Why? Well, they're giving out those neato medals now. And besides, it's hard. See ya next year.