“It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times”
The literal time was the worst, but overall I had a good time at the Mercedes Marathon, and I’m glad I did it.
So what was my time? 3:57. Considered in the abstract, not so bad, but when you run a 3:26 the year before – good for 76th out of 757 runners – and initially have visions of a Boston qualifying time (sub 3:10) this year, well, not so good. And it hurt, too.
We had twins last fall, so I gave up on the Boston idea a while back. The training was way too intense and I would not have been able to make the trip to Beantown in any event. In fact, at one point I gave up on the Marathon altogether, resigning myself to the half. Basically, I did not run at all in December. Then on a bike ride in early January, I saw the freshly painted “M”s on the road, marking the course. That hit me. The next day, I had to go to court and walked across Linn Park, the heart of the marathon festivities, and I decided, “Hey, what the heck, I can still run this thing.”
Therein was today’s problem. I began training again, even doing a twenty two miler three weeks out from the event. But it was too little, too late. I knew I would not be going very fast today, so I set myself at an eight minute per mile pace, and kept it until mile 16, then I blew up. There was no gradual slowdown, either. I went from 8:10 in mile 16 to 9:45 in mile 17 and never got below 10 minutes a mile after that. I just had not run enough high mileage training routes.
Man, oh man, did those last ten miles hurt. I alternated from near tears, to using all my mental energy to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, to wondering if I should just fall over and let someone call a medic. Awful. I have never hurt that bad in any sporting event.
Humiliating also. I never passed anyone over those last ten miles, meanwhile it seemed like every runner in the event blew by me. Women, too; lots of good looking women. So not only was I getting smoked by girls, but I’m thinking “No, I’m strong, I’m manly, really, I’m better than this pathetic, foot dragging, eleven minute per mile weakling you see now.”
But I finished. Not proudly. Not well. But I did manage to run 26.2 miles.
At this point, though, you are probably asking, “Why?”
It isn’t Mt Everest, but the first reason is because it’s there. I started running in law school and almost immediately began thinking about doing a marathon. It’s what makes you a runner. I could not be satisfied running 10k’s here and there, knowing I had never scaled the sport’s holiest mountain.
The second reason is because it demands a long training schedule, and that forces me to get my shoes on and go running throughout the week. Running is not fun like cycling is fun, when you go downhill on a bike, it’s pure joy; downhill on your feet is just a different type of pain. So whereas the bike is it’s own incentive, I need something to get me pounding the pavement.
Running, despite it’s low score on the fun scale, is a wonderful activity. It certainly keeps you in shape, which is good because I like to eat and drink, a lot. In fact, there’s a bottle of wine in the kitchen right now with my name on it, and after dinner, a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream awaits. Even so, I’m wearing the same size blue jeans I wore my freshman year in high school. I also like backpacking and taking hours long walks around town, which the strength and endurance I get from running allows me to do easily. It teaches mental discipline. I only got through the run today because I forced myself to do it. It keeps office chair warming, computer screen staring “professionals” like me from turning into baked-by-fluorescent-light pasty-puffs and lets us get out and experience the joys of the sun, the weather, the trees, and our own bodies. I recently started running at lunch and there are few things in my life more invigorating then getting my tush out of that stupid chair, putting on my shoes, and stepping out into reality for an hour. My lungs stretch to take in the maximum amount of the cold air, my stagnant muscles harden, the sweat pours out of me, my heart finds its true rhythm, and for the first time all day, I am alive.
For this run in particular, I do it because I think this is one of B’ham’s two coolest yearly events (Do Dah Day being the other). Last night at Mass, Father Donahoe asked all the runners who were present to stand, and then blessed us all. There were over four thousand people at the start today. Tons of folks lined the route to cheer us on. You get a great medal and running shirt when you finish. The post-race food and party is outstanding. Best of all? For me, anyway, today is the symbolic end of winter and the official end of running season and the beginning of spring, cycling and – after I take off for the next two weeks – training for the Three State Three Mountain Challenge.
Finally, I would be remiss to fail to point out how cool it was to have my two kids cheering for me at the finish. O.K., they’re three months old, and were actually asleep in the jogging stroller while momma cheered for them. Still, you get the idea. While I was stumbling through the wilderness of Mountain Brook, my legs feeling like someone was digging into my quads with an icepick, on more than one occasion, I thought about my little princess waiting for me at the end.
I really hope one or both of them likes to run or cycle, so that one day we can do this kind of stuff together. That would be fun.