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Not Impossible: The Providence Marathon 2014 (Race) Report. Part A

May 28, 2015

INT. JORDAN’S ESTATE – MASTER BATHROOM – DAY
(LATE SUMMER ’95)

In his underwear, Jordan kneels over the toilet, sticking his fingers down his throat to make himself vomit.

 

JORDAN (V.O.)

That night I cleared my schedule and rid my body of anything that could fuck with my high. It was celebration time.

 

He takes a box off the counter marked ‘Active Enema.’ He squats and administers it…

Um, rid my body of anything that could fuck with my marathon high. I looked up ‘enema’ and found a life hack. Not enema — foods. Better than enema, I soliloquized. Strawberries, high-green greens, raw oats. Play with these, let the good times roll from the inside. Legumes, fermented vegetables, salt. I like this game.

Pontiac Mills, Warwick, Rhode Island


From the airport, I drove to Warwick, Rhode Island, the coastland of fishing and offloading marijuana, and checked in at the NYLO hotel. I saw two women in the lobby with Target bags in their hands and a bevy of flight crew — a shagadelic pilot and a cohort of stewardesses in outdated parade uniforms. The Captain asked the hotel lady for Wi-Fi instructions, then he turned to his fembots and repeated what she said in a British accent.

The main level of the hotel had no interior walls. A northern draft shimmied around the exposed ducting and concrete columns, from the collaged panels behind the reception desk to the dining room in the offing; spinning the bubble chair in the library lounge, flirting with the books, dimming the wooden ball chandelier, it rushed to the Pawtuxet River through a wall of windows. I followed. The deck at the NYLO hotel was cut organically to shadow the course of the river. I moseyed along the naked glass fence toward the Pontiac Mills complex next door, where the Knight Brothers founded Fruit of the Loom in the 1850s, where they created the first patented fabric in the US. Where later during the Civil War, they sewed uniforms for the Union Army there, inside that orange-brick building.

At the end of the deck was a patch of dirt and a bit of construction mess. An invisible door opened and a man dressed in a chef’s apron came out to greet me.

“Hi, I’m David,” he said. He was planting a garden there.

“I’ll have herbs and tomatoes.”

We talked about the seasons and I told him I was from Chicago. I said that Rick Bayless had a container garden in his house with climate control and grow lights and that he grew vegetables on rotation year-round for his restaurants. I had to say that; when I meet someone nice, I get excited and I say the douchiest things. Chef David said I should come eat at his restaurant. He had fresh local seafood, local vegetables. He said he was making fettuccine that night and shrimp with basil. I didn’t have to pick from the menu, he said. He would make me what I liked. Just come in and tell him what I liked.

“What do you like?” he asked. He’s a giver. I wasn’t dreaming, I had found a backdoor to a farm-to-table chef, to my pre-race New England dinner.

There is something to be said for marathon racing. Marathoning isn’t about the finish time. Marathoning is about how it makes you feel. The first marathon I ran was the Chicago Marathon, and now I want to reenact the euphoric high that it gave me. The training machine was moshing in my head, swaddling my virginity in a coat of mystique, enticing my readiness, painting my limits with wide strokes of starry sky and fireworks. I know how that made me feel. Now I must take myself there again.

On Friday, after breakfast, I put on my running shoes and went out to drive the course. I put ice in the ice bucket liner before I left the hotel, put it in the trunk, and went to Target. I bought bottled water and bananas. I bought oversized blackberries, a box of raspberries, strawberries, and a 4-pack of blueberry Chobani. My next stop was at a gas station in East Providence; I needed a plastic spoon.

“Only forks and knives,” the attendant said.

“I’ll take two forks,” I said.

I used Google Maps to navigate the unpaved parts of the course, instead of a proper navigation app, which may exist — I don’t know. One time, on another out-of-town trip in a shiny rental on a dirty road, I came to a stop in front of a barrier gate. I looked up into a camera and said, “Google Maps sent me,” like Jodie Foster did in Contact when she was pitching for a research grant. I was turning the car around when a man came out and approached my window. He took my phone and enlarged the map.

“This isn’t the gas station,” he said. “You need gas?” He had all the right questions.

“No,” I said, “I’m meeting someone.”

He dragged the map to the left and circled with his finger above a blank space on the screen. “This is the gas station,” he smiled. “Use Waze next time.”

Barrington, Rhode Island


I drove up Gano Street in Mile 2 in a slow moving traffic, which gave me time to embrace the hold my foot had on the gas pedal. The pastel colors of the houses wrapped the harshness of the hill in cotton candy softness. What does this mean? Quickly the course turned right and left and right again — down on Pitman, up on Butler, down on Waterman — and onto the Henderson Expressway. The course stayed on Gano for just a half of a mile, from India Point to Pitman, which was archetypal for the Providence Marathon: The hills were tough, yet they were ephemeral; after the turn, when you didn’t expect it, there was an incline, or at least a distraction. Those hills were friendlier than other marathon hills I had run. In Montreal, the hills sneak up on you and punch you in the face. Canadiens. In Austin, the hills go up to hell, where a seething driver is sitting in a car, plotting with a police officer how to run you over. The hills in Cape Cod are hallucinatory. You enter a forest in Mile 16 and run up a hilly trail for 5 miles forever. Nobody comes out of there alive.


Driving in Riverside felt like driving in Skokie, Illinois: a rangy two-lane highway with simple houses on both sides of the road, large empty lawns, party supplies; flowers and balloons, an auto service shop, Honey Dew Donuts, a bus stop. Continuing south on Terrace Avenue, the trees became denser, the road became one-way, the houses accreted levels and decorative trim; two- and three-car garages, porches and fences. The front yards turned smaller, kids’ toys marked the territories. Grander boats, a marina and a boatyard, I saw the ocean water and I was not in Skokie anymore. I kept south to the open plains of Barrington, to Nayatt Road, the south-most part of the course at Mile 14. The houses grew absurdly more enormous and hid behind prettified shrubs; backyard basketball hoops transitioned to a country club, a golf course, and a supersize patch of the ocean.

Somewhere around Star Avenue, I set a course for the Alpha Quadrant at Mile 15 and Mile 16 of the marathon course. I was driving on a dirt road alongside a lone runner, matching my speed to his pace. I said hi. It didn’t seem to bother him to remove his earbud to talk with me during his speed work.

“Training for the marathon Sunday?” I asked.

“No. Too hard,” he laughed. “I’m running a Half Marathon in Cape Cod,” he said.

I told him I was running the Providence Marathon. “I’m from Chicago,” I explained.

“It’s a hard course,” he warned me. “Hilly.”

“Yes,” I said.

We said good luck and I drove off to suss out the way out of the woods.

The last five miles of the course were the first five miles in reverse, which was some kinda wonderful. Running the first miles in the last miles is better than repeating other miles. In Montreal, for example, you run the rolling hills of Kilometer 26, where fast runners wrap up their Kilometer 32. Their Kilometer 32 now is your Kilometer 32 in fifty minutes from now. Nobody likes that. Fast runners high-five slow runners on a marathon course like Republicans friend black people on Facebook. Fuck team spirit, I run my own race, and I walk around like I got a 36″ chain. I want my last miles to be my first miles in reverse.

Five more miles. Quit now, you’re never gonna make it. But then you run the same five miles again and you remember: up on Gano, down on Pitman, up on Butler, down on Waterman. And you do what Des Ficker said in Austin at the expo, “Let gravity increase your speed naturally. Don’t push it.” You run downhill and you lose yourself in the moment, you own it. Because going down is so much fun.

East Bay Bike Path


I drove up to Mile 21, where a skinny trail laid atop the water. In the distance, a row of windmills bejeweled the riverbank. I parked in a small lot abutting on the East Bay Bike Path and went to run my 3-miler. Graffiti enlivened a skeleton of a house at Watchemoket Cove and small oak trees curled their branches over the Providence River, as if wanting to swim. I stopped to examine the chain-link fencing around the water treatment plant and the large pebbles that blackened the shore. I took pictures, ran past the Pomham Rocks lighthouse, and ran back to the car.

That night, I had the best night’s sleep — the night before the night before the race. The last time I slept that well was on a work trip to Milan. “Four countries in five days!” my boss’s assistant reveled in my itinerary, pretending it was easy. The hotel in Milan upgraded me when I checked in; they put me in the suite where they shoot the porn. I removed the pillows from the bed — red lip-shaped pillows. How do you even wash wool velvet? I didn’t have to have pillows, I was exhausted. I slid into the pink silken sheets and slept so tight. Faustino Asprilla would have appreciated that hotel room. That room was good for romancing. My hotel in Warwick, Rhode Island didn’t have all that. In Warwick I didn’t wake up an hour late for a morning meeting; but in Milan I did. I hit the shower hysterically in Milan, unbelieving. Fuck. There was something in the grappa?? Is that a camera on the ceiling in the shower?? Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. In Warwick, at the NYLO hotel, I had a genuine good night’s sleep and I wasn’t late for anything. I dreamed of a bowl of oranges and single-serve bags of chips just before my alarms went off.

Shannon View Inn, Warwick


On Thursday I went to Shannon View Inn to pay heed to the Warwick bar scene — men that come in fives after work to drink light beers and watch the Red Sox on NESN. Shannon View Inn was a TripAdvisor recommendation. When I studied TripAdvisor and Yelp and their tickers and fundamentals, I figured out that TripAdvisor is a snapshot of strangers’ first impressions, it’s a living catalog of opinions from visitors who don’t live in the area. And that’s what I want in New England. I don’t want Yelp in New England; Yelp is for locals, by locals, it portrays the behavior of the locals, the deep frying of everything, and frying oysters is just wrong.

The kitchen was on my right, at the open end of the U-shaped bar where I sat. On my left was a line of tap handles. Across from me was a group of men in khakis and graphic tees who had walked in, one man at a time until they were five, glanced at me, looked at the TV, and ordered draft lagers. It was a day-night game day at Fenway on Thursday. The Sox played the Rays and lost on all seven TV screens, after losing the opener of that doubleheader earlier in the afternoon. The bartender dispensed iced tea into my plastic cup. I asked if it was unsweetened and immediately regretted asking that. That was New England — of course it wasn’t unsweetened. Soon Five Guys were judging me, and the bartender was judging me — she started calling me ‘Hon.’ I finished reading the menu, then started reading it again. The only non-fried item at Shannon View Inn was a Reuben sandwich that was deep-fried. It came with Swiss cheese and Russian sauce and German Sauerkraut.

“No Russian sauce,” I said.

“No Russian sauce,” the bartender said.

“No Russian sauce,” I said.

She already hated me so I asked for tap water. I had the best legs in New England but what an asshole I was.

Burnside Park, Providence


They changed the marathon course once or twice in the last three years. There was no official notice but I saw clues for that in the reviews. Runners have been complaining on marathonguide.com that the course was hillier than expected. The marathon’s website belied the elevation map, as if it was not updated when the organizers rerouted the course. After the finish I went to find water and bananas at the skating rink in Burnside Park and I ran into a spread of mini sandwiches. A willowy runner in a finisher’s medal walked over to stare at the sandwiches and stand by my side. I congratulated him.

“I ran 168 marathons,” he said.

“One hundred and sixty eight,” I replied. “Not in Providence, all of them.”

“Four in Providence,” he said.

“They changed the course, someone said.” I must get to the bottom of this.

“Yeah. They wanted to make it easier,” he corroborated. “It’s different. It’s harder, I think.”

I agreed. It was a hard course. “Big hills,” I offered.

“That wind today was brutal. Wow,” he said.

I didn’t want an open-face sandwich that bathed in the sun. Why aren’t they covered? Why are the trays so full? On a scale of consuming official sandwiches after a marathon to consuming raw shellfish before a marathon, I was a hypocrite. Therefore on Friday night before the race I drove to Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, which was open until 1 a.m. and also had valet parking. As if I were ever going to see my car again. I told the valet attendant that I would put the charge on my dinner check and walked away when he started bickering. The restaurant’s interior was grand, what I could not guess from its facade. Light fixtures sprouted from the industrial ceiling and burly tables filled the floor from the front door to the back of the hall. A bubbly chatter permeated the air. The population was embellished with emptying bottles of wine and segmented into parties of two, parties of four, parties of six.

“For one,” I said, and asked to be seated at the bar.

“Yes, absolutely,” the hostess said exuberantly, as if I had solved a complex math equation.

On the other side of the bar was the prep counter. I watched the oyster shucker collaborate with a waitress on an appetizer project under a special light — he, in a white chef coat and blue magic gloves, she, in a black bistro apron and a dark gray t-shirt that was in tune with the decor. I asked the bartender for a nonalcoholic drink. She asked what I liked.

“Fruit. Salt,” I said.

She nodded intently and proceeded to pour mushes into a tumbler, then into a glass, which she put in front of me. She took a small step back and stood at attention position, watching me take the first sip. DISMISSED, I wanted to say. I liked her work.

“Mmm.” I said. “What’s in it?”

Before long there were a man and a woman at the bar on my right flirting with a man, and on my left, a third man by himself, drinking.

“What would you like to eat?” the bartender asked.

“Oysters,” I said.

“Absolutely,” she said, then hunkered down and pulled out a notebook from under the counter.

She tore out a page and folded it crosswise. Leaning forward, she walked me through my options, massaging the printed words with her finger; she marked a virtual X in the box with the Beach Point oysters by Mark Begley — they were out of those. That ripped menu belonged to the moment. Those raw instances of oyster were unique instantiations and they belonged to me forever.

Island Creek Oyster Bar


I had Massachusetts oysters from four locations, two of each kind. I go around the platter and eat the number ones, eat them naked, I don’t add lemon or sauce. I pick up the meat and nibble on it, then slurp the ocean juice from the shell, the sweet briny liquor, and swallow. The number two oysters — if it wasn’t a banner oyster, I would squeeze lemon on it and eat it with horseradish. Or instead, I might troubleshoot it with mignonette — shallots in wine vinegar. I would hardly ever put hot sauce or cocktail sauce on a freshly shucked oyster. Dipping sauces — like wearables and upholstery — are overrated. Oysters should come as they are, as I want them to be, doused in nectar, propped in a hard shell, ready for nirvana.

The man on my right introduced a friend to the woman with whom he was sharing good food. “We’re just having sex,” he qualified their relationship, and invited the man to join them.

Really, there are no bad oysters. There are only bad waitresses. And one time, at Kinmont, I told my waitress that I loved Kumamoto oysters, and I said they were cute and buttery, and she said, “Yeah, they are mild. It’s an introductory oyster.” And then she won.

My favorite oyster at Island Creek Oyster Bar was its flagship oyster — Island Creek, which is made in Duxbury by Skip Bennett. It was salty, but not too salty. It was sweet. It had a smooth, sexy resistance that sprang against my bite. It was beautiful. Davy said that the perfect oyster was Northern Cross by Tim Rapine from Smith Island. Davy dined by himself at the bar, two chairs down on my left. He drank whiskey. I told him what I liked about my Massachusetts oysters and he told me about his years at the CIA. Later, he spilled his drink, stood up and apologized and we exchanged Twitter handles. He should have had gin with that slider, not whiskey, but I’m not judging him.

Fluke crudo with chile, sesame, and lime at Island Creek Oyster Bar


My second-favorite oyster there was by Stephen Wright from Chatham. It had just enough sea, just enough salt. The other two kinds I had were sharp and edgy: Ichabod Flat by Don Wilkinson from Plymouth and oysters from Wellfleet by Chopper Young. I learned that all my Massachusetts oysters were the same species of oyster — Virginica — that grows up and down the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The newsletter subscription card at the restaurant said that. “Because you need more random oyster trivia to impress your friends,” it read.

There was no chocolate milk at the Providence Marathon. I left the scene and walked across the street to my car. Level 5 in the Omni hotel garage was the best place to park. On Level 5 you don’t use the elevator; you follow the ramp to the convention center, take the escalator down one level and walk out to the street. I had never driven to a marathon before — I prefer to take the train or walk. I drove because I wanted to stay at that suave hotel in Warwick, which was 14 minutes away, or 35 minutes, if you have a thing for speed limits. Driving fast is great. You take a deep breath when you leave and you exhale when you arrive. You can’t do that on a train. But because I drove, I overlooked the logistics of having money on my person for chocolate milk.

After the marathon, I took Exit 12A from I-95 South to Route 113; I went to Target to buy ice cream and chips before I went to my room. I let the door slam, stripped out of my clothes in puddles of sunshine, gathered the plastic fork from the desk, the not-really-a-pint of coffee Häagen-Dazs, the party-size bag of classic Lay’s. Melding with the big bed, with the crisp whiteness of its five pillows, I tweeted this:

“Also awesome–my 11-minute PR in marathoning. Providence Marathon in 4:03. Winds! Hills! Rivers! The best.”

I ran my fastest first half in Providence — in 1:57 — which put me on pace to finish in 4 hours. I didn’t make 4 hours. At Mile 25 my time was 3:52. I was so pissed. I stopped running, bemoaning the sub-8-minute mile I was about to run, which would place me over 4 hours, again. I ate four Shot Bloks and chewed and chewed and chewed, and started a post-mortem analysis in my head. I looked around for a trash can. Then I ran the last mile.

What do the pros do? Really, Pros, what do you do? I lament the dearth of virtue in Brands Instagram, the mendacity of Brands Twitter. Oui, I bought the French spandex pants you are talking about and the Hindu energy water. It reeks of chemicals, it is impotent buulshit. The seams are bulky, the elastic band construction is of the olden days. I returned the pants. I don’t drink the water. Tell the truth: are you not wearing thongs under your run shorts?

After his New York City Marathon, Ryan Vail said, “It’s brutal for everyone out there.” He said we should keep in mind that everyone is going through the same thing. When I run past another runner on the path, and he nods, and I nod, and we check out each other’s gloves, then I know that it’s brutal for everyone out there, and we are not alone, and we are alone. It’s magic.

On the plane to Boston, I drank a water-no-ice and the man sitting next to me did too. We both read the American Way magazine. I fixated on a photo of Julia Child’s kitchen, comparing it to the replica at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History; he was reading about the Blue Angels — the most capable pilots in the US Navy and their full-time employment in show business. The wood cabinetry and the blue paint in the exhibit matched her original kitchen, but the creators had the pans wrong: Julia’s copper bottom pans were hard-core, they were sternly loved, they were uncompromising. Lieutenant commander David Tickle, the lead solo pilot of the Blue Angels said they are “just normal folks, like anyone else.” But they are not, they are the best precision flight pilots. Yet they don’t have a real job; they are utilized twice yearly to demonstrate sneak pass maneuvers at air shows with modified F-18s. Julia Child hung pans on the wall only as high as she could reach, and she laid out the heavier pans on the bottom. The collection at the Smithsonian is a nonsensical mess. Clearly, Paula Johnson, the curator, doesn’t cook or wash dishes by hand. “The linoleum is the same one my mom had,” she said about the display. Exactly.

I have changed the makeup of my food. I wanted to have an abiding sense of deftness. I have only changed one thing — my diet — and that was my mistake. Audrey Niffenegger said in an interview that she was attracted to settings in which one thing is changed and everything else is normal reality. What if Henry time-traveled and saw Clare in the park in real-time? What if Elspeth texted Julia on a Ouija board after she died? “You just change that one thing,” Niffenegger said, “and everything else changes accordingly.” I obviously wasn’t listening. When I put sauerkraut in my sandwich I didn’t rethink the Shot Bloks, the going to the bathroom. That oversight cost 3 minutes in Providence.

Riverside, East Providence

Not Impossible: The Providence Marathon 2014 (Race) Report. Part B

Inspiration:

Run The Jewels – 36″ Chain
Nirvana – Come As You Are
Eminem – Lose Yourself
Joey Bada$$ – No. 99
SomeKindaWonderful – Reverse
Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall
Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker the Berry
Laurie Berkner – Victor Vito
The Return of the Blue and Gold by Dan Sweeney. American Way, May 2014, Vol. 47 No. 09
The Chicken Sisters! by Cathy Booth Thomas. American Way, May 2014, Vol. 47 No. 09
The Wolf of Wall Street / screenplay by Terence Winter
Audrey Niffenegger
Me Talk Pretty One Day / David Sedaris
Self-Reliance / Ralph Waldo Emerson
Six Amazing Foods for Cleansing your Colon Naturally by Ethan A. Huff

Photos © Nurit Pazner or respective owner.

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