by by Caroline Vescey

illustration by by Hayoung Park

If you want to keep your friends, do not talk about this aspect of your life.

You will need to run somewhere between three and 20 miles, five days a week, for about five months. You will do this for no real reason, save the easy sense of self-improvement it delivers. Your self-righteousness may repel them.
Contain it somewhere. Seven to nine in the morning or four to six in the evening work well. Train quietly and steadily; do not expect praise. The Puritanism of this will not be lost on you. Remember that nobody liked the Puritans, either.
When race weekend arrives, you will follow a running magazine's prescription for maximum rest and ideal fueling. It will be like the Sabbath. You will eat beige foods and unornamented foods in measured quantities. You will spend a chaste--but nonetheless sleepless--night in a hotel double bed. You might pray.
This lifestyle will start to feel appropriate when you approach the racecourse on Massachusetts Route 3, past signs for Plimoth Plantation. Registration for the Dunkin' Donuts Cape Cod Marathon is nothing if not a congregation. Almost exclusively white people, the men and women separated, waiting patiently to receive divine knowledge: a race number, a course map, a timer chip that clips onto your sneaker.
Here's a useful mentality for coping with the concept of 26.2 miles: consider it a few hours spent, voluntarily, in a state of discomfort. Like going into labor or getting a tattoo.
Since you are not a competitive marathoner, it will be hard to experience the race as anything but a spectacle of human bodies. It should be a celebration of their remarkable ability, you might think, but the humiliation of seeing a man slather Vaseline on his chafed, bleeding nipples and a woman throw up her Gu energy gel will make you ashamed of your own earthly vessel. Soon, you will not be able to decide which is more grotesque: the sculptural sinew of the veteran marathoners (Type-A Harvard Med students) or the 'chub rub' of the first timers (new mommies getting their bodies back.). There is a moral: there are no perfect bodies. And if there are, they can't run marathons.
There will be recurring characters in your marathon. Like guests at a bad party, the runners who orbit your pace will disappear to tie their shoes or pee in the woods, only to reappear at your left shoulder an hour later. Do not grow too attached to any one runner or her pace. You never know when she might sync up with a runner she knows from Boston two years ago, and then you'll just get jealous listening to them spend the quiet back miles gabbing. Be careful not to grow too resentful, either. That guy, racing in an orange polo shirt and chino shorts, who answered one cell phone call and snapped two digital pictures of the foliage? He will pass you in the last mile and you will regret having silently made fun of him.
The exertion upon your leg and core muscles will subsume the sensation of hunger but the Smart Marathoner will stay fed during the race. There are two options: energy jellybeans so tangy they will flood your mouth with saliva; or an energy goo product, of which chocolate is the best flavor. It will taste like brownie batter, warm, from being lodged between your sports bra and your sweating skin. The Smart Marathoner must also hydrate, naturally. Take advantage of each water station along the course. Alternate between accepting cups of water and Cytomax. It will take you 10 miles (that's four water stations) to determine precisely what it is Cytomax tastes like. It is like a Pixie Stick dissolved in Theraflu.
Allow yourself to be charmed by the picturesqueness of this course. There will be foggy harbors, a street called Cranberry Crossing and a child serving cups of cider and high fives from a Red Flyer wagon. Hoard these images and call upon them when you hit The Wall.
By now you've read about The Wall. The human body can store approximately 2,000 kilocalories of glycogen, a short-term energy source harvested from all those beige foods. The marathoner's body burns glycogen at a rate of approximately 100 kilocalories per mile. At mile 20 you will run out of glycogen and promptly hit The Wall. Your depleted muscles must now burn fat, instead. It sounds like a good idea but it feels like putting on cast bronze clown shoes.
What's more, a novice marathoner rarely completes a training run that exceeds 20 miles. The psychological implications of entering uncharted distance, while simultaneously undergoing total bodily meltdown, are not to be underestimated. Your hair will ache, and your tee shirt will feel like it is shrink-wrapping your body. By now it's almost midday, too, and the sun shines right in your eyes. The Bataan Death March and waterboarding come to mind. But don't be dramatic. You signed up for this.
Around mile 22, a sweeping downhill rounds a sand-grassy hill, and you will see a lighthouse 400 meters ahead--the most perfect, brightest white lighthouse, the kind of thing you've only seen on mini-golf courses. It might make a great metaphor, if your brain were operating on that level, but the sight alone will cause an automatic surge of emotion. Thus when, 1,200 meters later, Elvis hands you a cup of water--"Jailhouse Rock" is now part of your marathon's soundtrack--and informs you that the hill up ahead is the last one, his kindness will move you to tears.
This episode behind you, you will complete the last three miles thinking of things more painful than running, things that you could hypothetically endure for the 27, 18, 15 minutes remaining. Of course the last mile won't be painful at all. There's no scientific explanation for this phenomenon. The sound of strangers cheering and the vision of the finish line induce euphoria and, bizarrely, acceleration.
Stopping will be the greatest shock your body receives. You hadn't felt anything for ten minutes. Now, after crossing an arbitrary line, pain not only exists but it somehow got inside of your body. If you could sprint just a few seconds ago, why can't you even stand now? Before you can figure it out, a strange but steady arm will corral you into a pen with the other runners. One race official will wrap you in a space blanket, and another will untie your shoe to retrieve your timer chip, and a third will give you a finisher's medal that looks like a Dunkin' Donuts promotional item.
All this coddling is nice, but look around you. Look at the bodies, glowing from within. A cherry shade of blood so close behind their cheeks, locked in a half grin, half grimace. The sun reflects off their silver space blanket swaddling and illuminates them. They are like angels. You understand what Puritan Minister Edward Griffin meant when he said, of heaven:
"They have escaped from all the sufferings of the present life; from sickness and pain and the mortification of being laid aside as useless; from want and the fear of want; and have attained to the perfect gratification of every taste and desire, to the possession of all things."
CAROLINE VESCEY B'08.5 beat Katie Holmes, but not Puff Daddy.