The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

A Cold Weekend Turns Hot and Steamy 

Mile 22 of the Indianapolis Marathon was not where I expected to have my first extra-marital tryst. Looking back though, I should have seen it coming – dangerous, illicit love was in the air. And as is probably often the case, it started with the Megabus ride from Chicago to Indianapolis.

Dressing for Success

It was Halloween and I was bound for Indianapolis to run the marathon the next day. Staring out the bus window, I reflected on the clothing I was wearing – jeans and a button-down shirt. Ordinarily that would not merit reflection, but today was different.

Since my last marathon I had undergone a strange metamorphosis. When I started running cross-country in high school, I never wore the team sweats. I had come to the absurd conclusion that by warming up incognito I would throw off my competitors (people I raced against 15 times a year, sometimes in races where we were the only two people). As an adult, I applied the same “logic” to race t-shirts: not advertising that I had raced before was giving me an element of surprise. I had been operating under that ridiculous assumption for so long that it just blended seamlessly into the patchwork of things I didn’t need to question; there’s gravity, the sun rises in the east, and don’t wear race t-shirts to races.

Then one day I was at a marathon expo, alone, and it struck me that wearing a race t-shirt to a race could act as a conversation starter: “Hey, I was thinking of running that one. How was it?” or “I ran that race too! Let’s be friends!”

It was obvious, but old habits die hard and I couldn’t fully commit. I finally decided to split the difference – I wore a race t-shirt under my regular button-down shirt. So if I were to undress in the middle of the expo, everyone would know I had run the Quad Cities marathon last year.

Love Bus

Back on the bus, the romance was heating up. I was sitting next to a young, stylishly-dressed woman, who was quiet for most of the trip. That changed when we were 15 minutes away from Indianapolis and she made a phone call to a friend.

Despite my best efforts, I now know that my neighbor had been dating Chad for over a year, but then they broke up. She was now dating someone else but hadn’t told Chad, who would totally freak if he found out. Totally.

The conversation continued in that vein. I tried, unsuccessfully, to will deafness upon myself. I clicked my heels together and said over and over, “there’s no place like the Indianapolis bus depot”. That was also unsuccessful. When we finally did arrive, I exited the bus, and trudged to the hotel through the sleet and snow of the season’s first winter storm, an activity I much preferred to eavesdropping on the boyfriend conversation.

I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

It was in the the lobby of my hotel that my feelings on race t-shirts finally coalesced for good. A woman was walking towards me. And she was wearing a 2013 Quad Cities Marathon t-shirt. My heart jumped. My mind raced. What should I do? Should I jump in front of her, tear my shirt open, and say “Let’s be friends!” ? In the end, all I could do was silently curse my inhibition, though my fellow Quad City Marathoner was probably wondering why I was staring at her chest and dejectedly shaking my head.

On race morning I woke up and looked out the window at the flag flying on the statehouse across the street. It was as rigid as one of the plastic flags on my kids’ lego set. I jogged a short warm-up, and verified that it was windy.

Returning to my room, I went through my usual pre-race routine: get dressed, double-knot the shoes, and question the wisdom of the entire endeavor. Finally, I left the womb of my hotel and made my way to the starting corral.

In addition to the wind, it was cold. All of the participants had obviously gone through their closets to find some disposable extra outer layers that would keep them warm until the race started. This produced an eyeball-searing crime against fashion. I was witness to the ugliest and most garish collection of old race t-shirts ever assembled in one place. Most races advertise that clothes left at the start will be collected for charity – in this case, the more appropriate response would have been disposal by a hazmat team.

Let’s Get it On

It was still dark when the gun went off at 7:00a. The first four miles of the race wound through downtown. We ran past the big buildings and the Colts’ arena. We ran past the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at mile 2. It’s the monument of the race’s name and is on the front of the race t-shirt. It is located on a brick-paved, circular road just off the main drag. Imagine a much smaller, but frillier version of the Washington Monument. I ran around it during my warm-up, and yes, it’s pretty. The monument obviously has appeal given the large number of spectators gathered around it and cheering us on when we passed, but we ran only one-quarter of the way around the circle, and it was gone in a flash.

The course is roughly an oblong loop. It heads north out of downtown, then turns around and heads south again at mile 13. The wind was blowing out of the north, so everyone was probably thinking the same thing I was, which was just to survive the first 13 miles, and then coast home on gossamer wings the second half.

After leaving downtown, the course took us through parks, along leafy residential streets, and down some main roads. A surprising number of people were spectating. Entire family after entire family were out at the curb, enthusiastically cheering me on. Jumping up and down, they insisted that I keep it up, and that I can do it. I was appreciative. But I just didn’t understand why they found my plodding down their street on a cold, windy morning even remotely interesting, let alone exciting.

Why Are You Being So Nice to Me?

Indianapolis is only a three-hour drive from Chicago, but what I saw next made me wonder if I hadn’t landed on another planet.

For a couple miles the race took up two lanes of a four-lane road. The two remaining lanes were split between traffic going in both directions. There weren’t police at every intersection, but there were plenty of cars trying to merge from side streets, across the race, into the two moving lanes. The cars very slowly pulled out, waited until there was a large-enough gap in the runners, then crossed the race course and pulled into traffic. The etiquette was remarkable.

All of the intersections in a Chicago race will have a uniformed policeman keeping watch. The official reason is “public safety”, but that is a euphemism hiding a deeper and darker truth. As the 19th-century German philosopher, Max Weber, might have said, had he been a marathoner: drivers in Chicago are so rude and act with such an air of entitlement that the only thing stopping them from plowing through a sea of runners is the government’s monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I never would have believed drivers in an American city could be counted on to act with such courtesy and restraint, all without the threat of incarceration. Indianapolis, you humble us.

We hit the halfway mark and were now running with the wind. Though my wings never sprouted, it was, at the very least, warmer.

According to the course map we were now passing some of Indianapolis’s finest institutions: Butler University, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the cultural avant guarde of the Broad Ripple neighborhood. All that was invisible to me. Once or twice I caught a corner of a building in my peripheral vision. It could have been an architectural wonder housing some of humanity’s crowning achievements, or a maintenance shed. I wasn’t paying attention to anything other than where the next mile marker was planted.

Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?

For the 9 miles after the halfway point we had been heading either south with the wind, or tacking east and west for short stretches. But just after mile 22 we had a full mile headed back upwind. Meanwhile, I had slowly been closing on a woman in front of me. I pulled up alongside her just as we turned north.

The wind caught me by surprise and almost brought me to my knees. I gasped, to myself, but audibly, “Ohhh! Keep going! Don’t stop!”. My companion felt it too – her already heavy breathing turned into soft moaning. A minute or two later, her head began to sway and she arched her back. There was a gust and her moaning got louder.

When we finally saw the turn ahead that would take us back to the south and out of the wind we started going faster. Side-by-side, panting, exhausted, we rounded the bend simultaneously. Shortly thereafter we passed a water stop. I grabbed two cups of water and offered her one of them. “Thanks” she said without looking at me. We were now mixed with the half-marathoners and I quickly lost track of her, without even getting her name.

Boyfriend – Redux

For the last three miles I had the wind at my back and a view of downtown in front of me. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it inspirational, but there are worse ways to spend the last three miles of a marathon.

The race finished in front of the Indiana capitol. It is one of the more striking finish lines around, but I quickly got over the romance of state government architecture, stuffed a cold sandwich into my mouth, and hobbled back to the hotel.

A couple hours later I was asleep on a Megabus returning to Chicago. It was an uneventful ride until we were 30 minutes from home. I was awakened by the phone conversation of the girl in front of me. She was complaining about her boyfriend. She had to – there was no other way that trip could have ended.

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