On a day of firsts, life milestones, if you will—first shit in a Porta-Potty, first chicken enchiladas with mole sauce, first brush against a woman I could marry—the first mile was the most beautiful. It was Hartford, in October. The dawn was so clear that our breaths condensed into thin fog. Our footfalls were silent under the pressing quiet of empty roads. The marathon was off.
I left New Haven with my brother at 5:20 a.m., before the sun rose. I fell asleep on the floor after eating two plates of pasta. In the morning I ate two English muffins with jam, stretched, tried and failed to shit, ran through the freezing dark to a parking garage, and drove to Hartford drinking a bottled cappuccino all the way.
It is sublime to drink a bottled cappuccino at 5:53 a.m. driving on the I-91 N to a marathon. The conjunction of really banal stuff like breakfast with extreme phenomena is terrifying and beautiful. When tremendous pain and pleasure interrupt our habituated, desensitized existences, there is a sense of detachment from the familiar. I like to explore places where the world becomes strange.
Which is how I ended up taking a shit in a Porta-Potty, an experience I found quite relaxing, up to and including the floral scented hand sanitizer dispensable only via a contorted backbend around the toilet hole. It’s a nice break from the general anxiety. Everyone is thinking—and I know this from moments of shared recognition, catching a grimace or nervous wink or twitch or excessive blink in the pale sunlight to match my own—everyone is thinking about the unimaginable pain to come.
I have finished four marathons, and this last one was the least painful. But at mile 15, I was passing the birthplace of Jonathan Edwards, and I wondered why I chose a hobby committed to self-castigation. It is a truth universally acknowledged by high school history students that Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” on July 8, 1741. I was in the hands of Nicki Minaj, who was playing on an impromptu DJ rig. Not a bad pair of hands for a sinner, even if my legs hurt and a peevish trickle of Gatorade coursed from my eyebrow to cheek.
When I crossed the finish line, I felt fine, if a bit ginger, and wanted a carton of chocolate milk. Having trained smart and hard for Hartford, I was able to cruise and enjoy the fall foliage, an occasional chocolate GU—which begins to taste, at mile 22, like lava cake. It’s those little unfrosted cupcakes with the molten center that you can purchase at Houlihan’s or California Pizza Kitchen and always come with a perfectly spherical scoop of vanilla-flavored ice cream—and the good honest folk of Connecticut. In my exceptionally lucid post-race state, I was very disappointed to discover no chocolate milk whatsoever. The most delicious thing I have ever tasted was a very cold carton of chocolate milk after a marathon in Fargo. I have been running down the experience ever since.
For lunch after the race, we drove to a diner called Mo’s Midtown. A French kid named Virgil ordered medium eggs, toast, home fries, and a cheeseburger. Virgil has lived in the United States for one and a half years but has a flawless American accent. I laughed when the waitress looked confused at his confusion when she asked him how he wanted his eggs. “Medium,” he said, like Tom Cruise. I had a western omelet and lots of coffee. It tasted damn good.
I’ll have to leave the woman for another time, because I’m sure I’ve run out of room. It was all a peculiar experience, one I think I’d be happy to repeat again.
Jason Bell is a Columbia College senior majoring in English. In Defense of Delicious runs alternate Fridays.