PART 1: DAY BEFORE
Tomorrow I'm running 26.2 miles for the first time.
But I'm not a runner. And I'm certainly not a marathon runner.
I know them. I'm not one. I just don’t identify with the scene (most confirmed when I picked up my race packet at the convention center. Never have I felt more like a visitor on a foreign planet).
My mind doesn't find peace as miles melt away.
I run fast to be done sooner.
I don't have a clue if I under- or over-pronate (or what pronate means).
I can't pin a race bib on straight.
I don't hit the lakefront path to run an anxiety out of my system.
I sometimes pretend to stretch before I run. Yes, pretend. But only when other people are around, naturally.
I don't think I've experienced runner's high.
I buy running shoes based mostly on aesthetics.
Carbo-loading sounds horrible to me.
I run alone, but not for the solitude or space or peace. Simply for convenience.
My marathon motivations are nothing more interesting or noble than curiosity (what it would feel like to subject my body to the entire process), mostly, and something to do over the summer to maximize time in the sunshine. And if I'm going to spend a lot of time doing something I might as well push it as hard as possible ... to run my fastest.
It (my motivation) isn't to crown myself a marathoner. My participation trophy will go straight to my 5-year-old who collects things of similar value like old buttons and candy wrappers. (He sweetly asked a few weeks ago if he could have my winners trophy. I told him I wasn't going to win but everyone gets a medal. God bless his wise young mind for asking quizzically, "why would anyone get a medal if they don't win?") I hope that doesn't sound snide. It's not meant to be ... I know plenty of people whose goal is to get their hands on that medal, and I respect that goal for them, tremendously (it's far more worthy than mine).
I have no grand strategy (during the race or throughout training, actually) other than to run as fast as possible until I can't. In fact I very purposely didn’t seek training advice beyond a chart with weekly distances (which I ignored to a great extent). I didn’t want to experience someone else’s race – only my own. That felt super lonely at times, but it's the only way I know.
PART 2: DAY AFTER
So yesterday I put one foot in front of the other enough times – and as fast as I could – that I made 26.2 miles in 3:30:36. That doesn’t make me a runner - marathon or otherwise. Just a guy determined to move his feet for a few hours.
And now that I'm done I've little interest (at least right now) in doing another. From where I’m currently sitting I can see nearly $1000 in Nike shoes/gear that might collect dust in my closet for a while. I'll get back out at some point, but there's no cosmic force calling me to the running path.
Please don’t mistake these words for nonchalance or indifference. I worked my ass off the last 3 months … eating right(ish), chugging water, paying attention to my body, juggling childcare so to not miss long runs, chipping away every week at miles (about 350 of them) until 26.2 felt real. Physically it was by far the hardest I’ve pushed myself. And that feels insanely rewarding today.
The hardest part about running a marathon is committing to it. It seems physically overwhelming looking at it a few months out; mysterious even. It's really hard, but it's not even a little mysterious. Don't think for a second you need to be a runner to do it. Not every pursuit has to be the stuff of Nike commercials. Maybe it's just a thing you want to do. Scratching an itch.
Thanks to the best runner I know who urged me to rest in the final 10 days leading up to the race as I nursed so many unfamiliar (and at times, a bit scary - not something I was prepared for) aches and pains (note: learning firsthand the difference between pain and injury was a very cool experience). It was the only piece of advice I received this entire process; and was exactly what I needed to hear. It made a massive difference in my run.
Thanks unknown and familiar faces for your cheers and signs made with obvious love. Genuinely grateful.
And the biggest thanks to the stranger who ran side-by-side with me for 17 of a 22 mile training run a few weeks back. Thanks for not uttering a single word the entire time. Thanks for the most subtle thumb's up as you peeled off at Belmont Ave, ending our 2-hour wordless affair. Until then I wasn't sure I was up for all this. That was the day I became certain.
And one last thing ... Yesterday, around mile 22, I think (could have been 20 or 23 or something ... it's hard to discern miles from other miles). A pretty desolate stretch, away from all the sponsor banners and music and crowds and pristineness of Millennium Park. My legs felt like they had exploded about 2 miles back. Or someone had poured concrete in all my joints. I guess that’s what they call the wall. Not close enough to sniff the finish line, I couldn’t fathom running another 4 (or so) miles. I remember having a conversation with myself – out loud – about what I was going to do … lay down on the sidewalk or keep running. I just decided the only thing to do was put one foot in front of the other as fast as I could, as long as I could. And the next thing I knew I was at mile 25, with the greatest crowds and cheers. Truth be told, running through the stupid wall made me feel like a runner for the first time ever. And it felt good. See, I'm not totally jaded. Maybe all that gear won't collect as much dust as I think.