What Goes Through Your Head at the End of a Marathon?

Photo by Tom ManningI call it runner’s amnesia.

I’m one of the many long distance runners who feels a temporary brain freeze when we battle mental, physical and sometimes intestinal demons that test our resolve.

You temporarily forget what you’ve seen and where you’ve been. It’s a strange, out-of-body-like experience. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long. I believe it happens when your body is depleted of glycogen and your brain temporarily transfers a little energy to your muscles to get you through the dreaded runner’s wall, usually around mile 20.

The .2 miles of the 26.2 miles that are the modern-day marathon are both the hardest and the easiest.

It’s a battle between your brain and your muscles. For the runners, your legs are heavy with lactic acid. Your skin is raw and chaffed. Your feet are blistered and swollen. Your mind wanders as blurred faces flash before you.

Photo by Tom ManningIn most marathons, I teeter on the brink of vomiting. For a split-second, I question why I’m putting myself through this self-inflicted torture. The next, I remember my months of training, and that I’ve done this before. The following second, I’m hallucinating about a cold beer and a cheeseburger. Everything is a blur, but I push on thanks to my fellow runners and the enthusiastic crowds. At this point, the end is very near.

The last .2 miles, or 1,056 feet, of the marathon course is a sea of humanity with cow bells ringing, toddlers hoisted on shoulders and lots of screaming. It is celebratory path of crowd barricades, sponsor logos, handmade signs and amateur photographers.

On Monday, this path along Boylston Street near the John Hancock Tower in Copley Square was a crime scene at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. The terror and pandemonium surrounding the two blasts will be etched in our minds like many other horrific acts of violence.

"What was intended to be a day of joy and celebration quickly became a day in which running a marathon was of little importance.”

Statement by the Boston Athletic Association at 8 p.m. ET on April 15, 2013

For the elite runners who finished Monday’s Boston Marathon, congratulations.

For those maimed by the shrapnel or couldn’t finish in Boston, may you heal to run another race.

For those who stopped to comfort a fellow runner or assist a spectator, thank you.

For all those affected by Monday’s tragic events, may you experience a little bit of runner’s amnesia. I hope the good parts of the race – the cheering fans, the friendly volunteers and beautiful Boston course – be what you take with you.

Keep calm and run on.

Jonathan Rhudy loves the marathon. He’s completed 18 since 1999, including marathons in Richmond, Las Vegas, New York and Washington, D.C., but he’s still just a little too slow to qualify for Boston.