Or, more accurately, what it feels like to stop running after 21 miles.
The short version: you almost wish you could keep going. Almost. But mostly not because by that point your legs are really tired. Your muscles are starting to ache. There are various intermittent twinges that you worry will turn into serious injuries if you keep going. But almost, because suddenly the rest of your body has time to catch up with you, and it isn’t very happy about the way things have been for the past 3 hours.
The long version: Your feet start to throb. Just a little. They’ve been close to numb for a while, and they’re finally getting the chance to feel themselves again. And your stomach, despite not having too much in it, is thinking about getting rid of everything, one way or another. But then, there’s not that much in there, so maybe not. But maybe. It’s kind of a guessing game. And then your legs, having rested for a good 2 minutes, have decided that movement is nicer. It’s better to keep walking than to feel the burn from the lactic acid accumulate. So you pace. You stay close to the restroom. You stretch. You pace some more.
Oh, and you refuel. You realize you are very thirsty (and there is really no need to stay so close to the restroom), and you down a quart of water. And a couple of tall glasses of cold chocolate milk, which, as it turns out, is a fantastic recovery drink. After 20 minutes or so of pacing, stretching, drinking, you think you might be ready to sit and eat something. And you would be wrong. Two bites of a sandwich and you decide the safest place to be is the couch. But a couple of seconds in the soft cushy couch is enough to have you back on your feet, looking for something to do, somewhere to go, some way to keep your legs moving.
By the time an hour has passed, you feel like you are passed the crisis point. Your body will not suddenly collapse. Your legs will not fall off or explode. Your stomach has proven its strength. But as you putter around the kitchen, washing dishes, mixing ingredients, searching for the right measuring cup, you are taken with the sudden need to sit down and rest. Just for a minute. And so you do. And just as quickly, you are taken with the sudden need to keep moving. And so you do.
Two hours after and your body is back to normal. Almost. The thought of eating is still repulsive. You’re still battling thirst, despite having drunk what must have surely been your weight in water over the past two hours. But you are able to sit when you want and move when you want.
It isn’t until three hours after you walked in the door that you finally feel the hunger that has been, up to that point, much less urgent than the muscles aches and thirst and fickleness of belly. And at that point you are thankful that you didn’t have the presence of mind to put the food that you didn’t eat (and that your kids didn’t eat) away two hours before when lunch was over. Because now you’ve got a table full of forlorn food that is looking for a good home and an empty stomach that is aching for some company.
And once that match has been made, you are free to go about your business. Sure, you just ran 21 miles, but it was no biggie. You’re fine. In fact, you can hardly feel it any more.