I am thrilled to say that I've run a marathon, during which I somehow left my slimmer, more physically fit cohorts in the dust for most of the course. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see one come up from behind around the halfway mark; the other apparently passed me somewhere after 21 miles. (Okay, they both were recovering from knee injuries – do I have to mention that?)
Many runners identify themselves with creatures of the wild. Through my recollections of the marathon – the events leading up to it and the effort put into running since then, I have distilled the creature with which I can be most accurately identified. I am a leach.
Sure, I started running by myself. My son played in the grass at the track where I made myself run without stopping. Walkers out for physical therapy were lapping me, but I never stopped doing the bouncy step that told them and me that I was running, not walking. As I progressed, I grew bored with the track. Heading out to the street required that my son come with me. I became dependent on his entertainment to keep me from thinking too hard about the .5% uphill grade I was pushing through. I didn’t mind that he would engage in an imaginary football game, run after the invisible football, catch it and do a victory dance before I could catch up to him.
Within weeks I found myself talking about running at work: “I did two and a half miles last night, so I’m a little sore.” Tami was interested. She agreed to meet me for a run. That night I ran long enough and fast enough that my legs kept trying to run even after I stopped. When we ran together I would ask her open-ended questions and then follow up with additional questions that required more than a yes or no answer. Eventually I became able to converse while we ran.
A few months later I did a race with my son that was a total blast. It was at night; people dressed up and ran in costumes, a couple of small groups provided entertainment along the way. A few weeks later we did another 5k. It was tough, but I won third place for my age group (out of three or four people). Corey won second for his age group. Still, he was losing interest in running.
Without my son as running partner, I was starting to procrastinate. Eventually, Tami and I began to run more frequently. Around January, she started talking about the LA Marathon. I just smiled and nodded and thought she was nuts. I felt my palms break into a sweat whenever she looked at me with that gleam in her eye. It was the same gleam that got my body tattooed. I was doomed. I agreed to do the marathon with her, but I couldn’t find anybody to run with for practice. I could always find something else to do and nobody would watch my son and I was working two jobs and how could I take time out from my son to go running when he didn’t like it anyway?
Tami talked about the upcoming marathon. I thought about it, but said little. I delayed sending in my entrance fee. I knew I wasn’t ready. Four days before the race, she let me off the hook. She and her daughter, Mandy went out and did it. For the first time in my life, I got up early and watched the LA Marathon on television. It was a sad, rainy day and I wished I’d pulled it together and gotten myself out there. When she returned with her medal and her stories of Mandy’s injury and of finishing together anyway, I regretted my inaction all the more. It wasn’t the medal I wanted, it was the story.
We learned of the Rock N Roll Marathon in San Diego; it was happening in June and early registration was required. If the first thing that motivated me was company, the second was definitely money. After sending in $80 and ordering an “in training” t-shirt, I was committed. I ran regularly. I ran farther. Nine days before the marathon, I set a personal record: 9.5 miles in just over two hours. Half of those miles went up to the base of Mt. Baldy. I pulled my hamstrings and walked about half a mile at the end, but I was elated. I was unable to run again before the marathon.
We arrived in San Diego Saturday afternoon, checked into our room and picked up our bib numbers and goody bags. A nice dinner at one of my favorite restaurants was followed by an hour or so in the Jacuzzi with four other runners and a family on vacation. We returned to our room and settled in for the night. The neighbors had their TV blaring. Mandy and Tami slept like babies. I put the pillow over my head, but laid awake most of the night. We arose very early and headed out. I ate half a banana before the race and washed it down with a bit of Frappacino. It’s a good thing we were in the last “truck” of runners because we were in line for the restrooms when the race started.
In every other race I’d run (yeah, all four), I’d tried to start in front. The rush of bodies swarming past was surreal and daunting. With the marathon, I started last. My nervousness and the caffeine worked to push me past others. I had to run on the sidewalk to get around the slow crowd. I ran faster and better than I’d ever run in my entire life. I’d only set two goals for myself, one of which was to keep running until halfway up the The Hill, which went up for about two miles and rose several hundred feet.