Sun 14 Aug 2011
I’ve seen the look of awe so many times…okay, it’s not really admiration. It’s a look of “What—are you stupid?” You ran 22 miles today? I don’t even drive that far! How do you do that? Why do you do that?
It’s a fair question.
Is the mileage excessive? When I am at the height of my marathon training and do an 11-mile run on Saturday followed by a 22-mile run on Sunday, I, too, have questioned my sanity. But when I cross the finish line strong and fast, I know I am not crazy, just driven. After all I did run another personal record at the Lincoln Marathon on May 1, 2011 at the age of 56. The time of 3:53:23 beat my Boston Marathon qualifying time by over 20 minutes—not to brag—okay, I’m entitled to brag!
Isn’t it true that anything worth having is worth fighting for? One of the reasons I run marathons is the challenge. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I cross the finish line—that I’ve stretched myself further and emerged stronger. Even when I hit the wall (which happened more times than I would like to admit), it was an accomplishment to just finish. When the race volunteer put that finisher’s medal in my hand, I always smiled—even through the leg cramps.
I recall one of my worst marathon memories, the Maui Marathon. I ran it in 1997, 4 years after I ran the Long Beach Marathon in 3:55:15 at the age of 40—an astounding finish considering my first marathon finish 10 years earlier in 4:20. Maui was the next marathon after my surprising finish in Long Beach and the marathon that started my marathon mania period (see My Story). My goal at Maui was to beat 4 hours…no matter what—and qualify for Boston. If I beat 4 hours in Long Beach, I could easily do it in Maui. Makes sense, right? I was only 5 minutes off my qualifying time for Boston. Easy.
The race started at 5:30am because of the heat and humidity. It was nice and cool at the start—and dark. I positioned myself in the middle of the pack and started running in place to loosen up. The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering wildly as I looked at the eager faces around me. Someone was laughing and I saw a guy taking one last stretch of his quad and the gun sounded. I took off like a rabbit. It’s easy to get swept up in everyone else’s pace. I probably started at an 8-minute mile pace. For those of you without calculators, that’s a 3:29 marathon. No, I didn’t know how to pace or to strategize…obviously.
To make a long, painful saga short, I started walking at the 14 or 15 mile point. I heard that Maui was beautiful and the whales were jumping but all I can recall is the heat and the sweat and the pain—the searing pain with every step. I felt thirsty but I was too sick to drink. I just focused on moving forward—one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I ran for a minute or two until the heat overwhelmed me. When I saw the 22 mile sign, I made a pact with myself to finish and swallowed a gulp of water—I prayed it would stay down. If I wasn’t so stubborn, I would have given up.
I got to mile 24 and a short guy with dark sunglasses waved a beer at me. “Come over and have some.” Ah, carbs. I gulped down a little. I don’t remember beer tasting so good… Was it really the carbs or was it the alcohol? Either way I credit the beer for finishing the marathon. I hobbled over the finish line–well over 4 hours. My calves cramped the minute I stopped—no, my whole body cramped, and the nausea was overpowering. But I clutched that finisher’s medal. Yes, I actually smiled. Even then I knew the pain wouldn’t be so bad when it became a memory.
So why do I run? No the question really is, why do I run marathons? It’s clearly the challenge and feeling of accomplishment (the health benefits are a given), but there is more. There is a spiritual aspect. Sometimes I just fly. I become one with the pulse of nature. I feel free and light—no stress. There is good in the world. I can do it. I can run 26.2 miles—and fly. The effort to get there is worth every step.
Pick your goal and go for it. It’s okay to stumble and fall. Believe in yourself—break a barrier. It’s never, never too late.