The COVID-19 Marathon

I am far from an experienced marathoner. I have only run four of them. Quite frankly, I don’t see myself running any more. However, in my experience, there are four distinct phases of a marathon. As our world drags into its ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am noticing that life has been mirroring those four Phases. Let’s take a look at this.

Marathon Phase 1. Miles 1-8

I can not believe this is happening. I know that this is going to suck, but when will I ever be here again? I am going to make the most of it. Look at all these people here. Runners chit-chat and smile as they pass each other “Hey, man! Good luck. We’re all in this together! Looking good!” I feel incredible. I am ready for this. Look at all these supportive spectators with their fun signs. Selfie! I have one pocket full of Gu energy gels that I will eat every seven miles and another pocket with salt tablets to pop every nine miles. I know exactly how much water I should drink every thirty minutes I am out here. I feel great. I can do this.

COVID Phase 1

I can not believe this is happening. I know that this is going to suck, but when will this ever happen again? I am going to make the most of it. We are all in this together. Kids, do not think you are getting extra screen time because we are always home. I have activities planned every day. I’m going to post them all on Facebook so everyone can see how awesome we are. I am working virtually, but I will put on jeans and a collared shirt when I clock in and remove them at the end of the day because boundaries are important. I am going to watch the COVID numbers every day to see the curve. Look at all the fun masks we are making! Might be fun to actually be around my wife a little more. I’ve got myself 365 rolls of toilet paper and an industrial barrel of hand-sanitizer. I’m fine. Let’s do this.

Marathon Phase 2. Miles 9-16

Oh boy. This is real. All the fun of the start is gone and these miles are pretty much just grinding it out. I have trained so it does not really hurt too much but I am starting to feel it. I will continue to check my watch about every quarter mile. Not gonna waste my breath talking to fellow racers anymore. They get a head nod. If nothing else, this is getting kind of boring. I’ve been doing this between 80 – 150 minutes and the end is really nowhere close. Its going to be one foot in front of the other for a really long time still.

COVID Phase 2

So, this is real. Still not crushing my spirits, but it’s getting kind of old. Hey boys, there really is nothing else happening. Go right ahead and put in an extra hour on your XBox. I’m getting tired of getting cleaned up on all of these board games anyway. Tracking the COVID numbers is no longer interesting. More like depressing. The wife and I are starting to struggle a bit for conversation because I am pretty sure we’ve covered anything interesting during the first few months. Facebook is starting to seem less supportive and is really just a bickering ground for everyone who has apparently spent the last few months getting their Ph.D in epidemiology, research methodology and public health. I am not going to talk about COVID at all today. Well, unless I actually see someone. Then I’ll talk about it because, well, that’s all there is to talk about. As for work, at this point, I just keep two collared shirts sitting at my work station. If I am going to be on-camera with someone, I quickly throw one of them on and take it back off as soon as my meeting is done. I can get a week out of those two shirts.

Marathon Phase 3. Miles 17-22

Hell. Everything is out the window and it is really just survival. My body is completely shot. I don’t even bother checking my watch anymore. I am cramping up in hamstrings, quads, buttocks, and calves. In one marathon, my legs actually gave out and I had to army crawl to a mailbox to shimmy up like a squirrel on a bird feeder at mile 21. Oddly, that was the only marathon I cracked the 4-hour mark on. I do not even talk to other runners. Sadly, I just just continue past bodies that have failed and are lying beside the road. I barely even notice emergency personnel running/biking/driving by because its so common. My emotions are a mess and on a couple races that I knew I would miss my time by 5-7 minutes, I cried. Well, I tried to cry but my body was so dehydrated that it refused to waste moisture on tears. Dry-sobbing is one of the weirdest things I have ever experienced. The worst part of this phase is that there is still a very, very long way to go. Every step has become misery and feels like a drop in the bucket. Definitely on the back half of the race and nearing the finish line but it is….. so……far…..away There is absolutely no choice but to continue but I just know that I absolutely never want to do this again.

COVID Phase 3

This is where we are and it sucks. Every sniffle and headache is a sure sign of infection. Even the best days are confirmation that I am asymptomatic. Boys, just get back on the video games. I’m sure you dropped in rank and you’ve only played 10 hours today, right? I have not looked at the COVID rate in days. I know it is approximately suckthousand/day and getting suckier. Not changing. I am pretty sure my wife has not closed a cupboard door, or turned off a light since March 13. And when did she start looking up and randomly saying, “Oh, did you see she was doing it?” and expect me to have any idea who “she” is and what “it” is? I am glad I don’t have any annoying habits. Hey, has anyone seen my work hoodie? Not the Lions one, but my work hoodie. You know, the nice one. I’m pretty much over social media. I get annoyed with people I disagree with and frankly, the people I agree with are even more irritating. Every day is the same. Everybody I know is convinced that they have had the undiagnosed virus at least six times. Nobody is having any fun and I am becoming numb to the suffering of others and bad news. There is very promising news with vaccines. Realistically, there is an end in sight. It is out there, but it is still going to be a long time and these next few months may just be the worst.

Marathon Phase 4. Miles 23- 26.2 and Recovery

These miles go kind of quick. At this point, I know if I am going to make my goal or not but I never really care. I am just excited that its is almost done. I am a very short distance from being finished and seeing my friends. I have a night out planned. For some reason, I expect that when I cross that line after 26.2 miles and stop running, it will all be over and things will be back to normal. It never happens that way. As soon as I stop, I realize the race is still with me. Walking off the start line to a recovery area requires new motions and new fits of cramping. I realize that the wet feeling in my socks is not sweat but blood collecting from blisters and tears on my feet that I did not notice. I need help getting my shoes off because I can no longer reach the laces without cramping. Worse, if I even try to bend down to get them, my head swims and I may pass out. I want to eat everything I can find, but have to be careful because, while my body needs the food, my stomach can not really handle much. The race stays with me for days. I try to keep a somewhat light diet for a few days because sitting on a toilet hurts my quads like crazy and it takes forever get my body seated. Gross, but that’s real life. I don’t know how women marathoners make it. It usually takes three days before I can go down steps without bracing my hands on a wall or railing. Crossing the finish line is not like hitting the “reset” button and everything going back to normal. There is a lot of repair and recovery to be done.

COVID Phase 4

I have no idea what this is going to look like. I know it is going to happen. I know that it is in sight. I can not wait to see my friends and families again. I can not wait for a night out. Eventually a vaccine will be safe, effective, and distributed. Or maybe the virus will die out (nope). Or maybe The Child holds the key. Whatever. The current state of the world will end. However, we will not be going back to normal right away. This is going to stay with us for a bit. Jobs, the economy, schools and pretty much everything is going to have adjust and heal. Friendships are going to have to be repaired. I fear that many friendships may be permanently damaged or, worse yet, deemed not worth trying to repair. They’ve just become bodies dropping off the side of the road during the hard miles. Shrug and keep plugging along. I worry that many of us have spent the last nine months throwing haymakers from behind a screen and keyboard and are killing what we have spent years developing pre-COVID. Please don’t.

We are in the hard miles. It is discouraging, frustrating, boring, and can frankly be depressing. Have hope. There is an end. It is a way off and life is going to hurt, but the end out there.

Let’s try to spend the miles supporting and uplifting our fellow life-runners. Everyone is hurting in different ways and the sad truth is, some runners do not finish marathons. Let’s try to spend the hard miles making things a little more enjoyable for each other. Go out of your way for someone. Say something nice. Don’t hurt people. Bring me a donut. Commit to designating a period of time where you say, post, or tweet, nothing but positive news or feelings. Walk away from a fight. Try to make my wife close a cabinet door. Simply put, just love each other. Like it or not, we are still all in it together.

Thank you front line workers. Thank you medical staffs. Thank you teachers. Thank you first responders. Thank you Din Djarin, Thank you to those in the service industry, There’s too many to thank. And regardless of whether or not I agree with your decisions, thank you to those in positions of power, at many different levels, who are tasked with making impossible decisions that I would not wish upon my worse enemy. That actually might be Jar Jar Binks and the last time he had any political power, things went south really fast.

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Me No Run So Smart

As I am waiting for my half-marathon to start, I am reminded that two things always annoy me at races.  First, “That Guy” is always there.  That Guy wears nothing but a super skimpy speedo or some other ridiculously tiny peace of race gear.  Today’s version of That Guy is wearing super short, baby-blue print shorts that look like they may be tiny pajammy-shorts.  That Guy’s girlfriend/wife/friend is wearing a matching outfit. Irritating.  As usual, That Guy needs to strip down and make a giant production of rubbing suntan lotion all over.  Of course, this is done in a very conspicuous area in the middle of everyone.  He also has to yell at someone way off in the distance at that moment. That’s right, That Guy, we all heard you  and looked over to see your 90% naked body getting oiled up.  By the way, That Guy is always ripped.  I hate That Guy.

Second, I am a nervous pee-er. Before every race, I am running into a Porta-potty every 15 minutes.  I swear that the door is hardly shut before I start thinking, “Uh-oh, I may need to go again soon.”  I’ve trained really hard for this race and really want a PR (Personal Record for you non-runners) which means the Pee Factor is in full-effect.  With half-an hour to start, I again feel the urge but the lines are at least 40 minutes long. There are almost 3,000 runners here and nowhere to duck out. I decided that this is a good time to get over my neuroticism and just deal with it.  I am really focused on breaking that PR and I know that I really do not need the bathroom and am just nervous. I can be such a head-case.

The gun goes off, I get a quarter mile in and realize it’s not just nerves. I have a full blown Bladder Buster situation going on here. The first mile is along desolate roads and with all the trenches to the side and overgrown shrubs, I don’t think I can dash off anywhere. The last thing I need is to roll and ankle and end up laying in some field peeing myself.  Fortunately, I know there is a Porta-Potty at the 1.5 mile mark.. Just as a reach it, a fellow nervous-urinator bursts out of the outhouse.  It’s time to pull a Daytona 500 Piss-Stop.  Time me.  Forty seven seconds later, I explode out of the blue-plastic door and start trying to make up some time.  Go ahead and remember that number.  Forty sevan seconds.

Four miles into the 13.1 mile race, my foot starts killing me.  It’s been a mess since Ragnar (Read me and notice That Guy was there too) and getting worse.  At mile five, it’s starting to become a real issue and I decide that this is my retirement race. I am frustrated with the foot and just upset with the realities of aging. I spend the next mile mentally writing my retirment blog.  I’ll need to talk about the physical benefits of running  but also all the fun times I have had.  Gotta mention the people too. The running community is really cool.  By mile 6, I am about 70% certain that I am running on a broken foot or at least some type of stress fracture.  This half-marathon is on a beautiful course along a stunning bay in Northern Michigan. I pull over, break out my phone and take a few pictures of the view. Definitely need to put those in the retirement blog.

I slog through the next 2 miles and stop again at the 8-mile-marker. I let myself walk for about forty seconds. I’m not spent, just frustrated and lacking any competitive drive. I make sure to thank a couple veterans that are watching the race.  I don’t care what your politics are, those men and women gave up big chunks of their lives and saw things that nobody deserves to see.  You are not compromising your beliefs or politics by saying “Thank you.” They deserve at least that.  As I decide to get it going again, I hear a spectator mention some buff-dude in tiny pajama shorts running with someone in a matching outfit.  That Guy is out there and That Guy is close.  That’s all I needed to hear. I am going to wreck the last five miles

By the 9.5 mark, I am right behind That Guy. I am having so much fun reeling him in.  That Guy is fading big time and dumping tons of water on himself.  His soaked shorts are now pretty much transparant and there is no way I am staying behind that. I pass him right at the 10 mile marker and know that there is no way I will let That Guy catch me.

The rest of the race is awesome. I spend a good chunk of it laughing at myself.  I can be such a petty little jerk but stuff like that keeps me going on my races.  Honestly, I really needed the opportunity to bury someone who annoyed me.  Maybe it’s wrong, but it helped shut out everything else and keep the legs moving.

This course hooks up with the marathon course that I have run a couple times (Yeah, I hit my goal and I ain’t ever doing that again) and I enjoy seeing some landmarks from my marathon.  Hey, there’s the mailbox I had to use to stand up after my legs went out.  Oops, that’s where Hip Tattoo hit the ground. I wonder what happend to her. Here’s where the race-official threatened to pull me off the course because I could not run/walk a straight line.    Good times.  It is pretty nice to be able to cruise through areas that were marathon-hell.

As I hit the last quarter mile, I realize that I have been so distracted with my bladder, my foot, and That Guy that I have barely paid any attention to my watch. I round the last corner and see the clock.  I have missed the PR I trained so hard for by 20 stupid seconds.  That is 1.53 lousy seconds/mile.  I literally pissed away my PR.  I immediately rage-delete the stupid pictures I stopped to take.

A lot of people have asked me why I did not just pee my shorts and keep going. Simply put, that is disgusting.  Maybe if I have a scholarship on the line.  Maybe if I could win some big money. Maybe if my kid’s life depended on it.  The fact is, I’m just a fortsexy-year-old man trying to stay in shape and beat some personal records.  Nobody but me cares at all and that is not worth running 12 miles in pee-soaked clothes.  Never considered it and never will. Frankly, I am surprised so many people have asked.

I guess I am OK with how it went. When I was actually running, I actually crushed my PR but it does not count. Poor pre-race/race management blew it. At least, it was not poor training or just being unable to hit that pace anymore. Me just no run so smart.

My foot’s not broken. The podiatrist’s quote was, “You beat the shit out of that foot.” I have taken a few weeks off and will ease myself back into training.  I do not think I can live with missing my PR because of bathrooming and pouting.  I will give it another shot if my foot holds up. I think it will.

At least That Guy didn’t beat me.

 

My Marathon

I ran the Bayshore Marathon yesterday.  It was my fourth marathon.  Click this to read about my run last year. My only goal has been to break four hours and because I did that last year, I really had no goals or expectations for this race. My goals were simply to have fun, take a few pics, not utter an obscenity for the entire race and take the whole thing in.

My first thirteen miles are a breeze. In fact, I decide that maybe I have a shot at breaking my personal record. None of the little annoyances that plagued me last time have surfaced.  Everything is smooth, better than training, and easy through 13.1. I stop at the same porta-potty I used last year just for a laugh (read link above)  I scrap the goal of simply having fun, decide there was no way I am stopping for pics and go for it.

At mile 16, I can tell I am running out of gas a little and start to reign it in a little. After all, I have banked plenty of time during the first 15.  I start to walk the first 0.1 of each mile and run the other 0.9. Precautionary… to avoid the cramps that have shut me down before.  A young woman with a pretty cool looking hip tattoo is on a similar pace.  We pass each other several times over the next 4 miles

By Mile 20 the walk breaks are down to every 1/2 mile.  Hip Tattoo is about the same and we start laughing each time we pass each other because we knew we will catch up to each other again.  I see some friends from college spectating and make sure to look really comfortable as long as they can see me.  I am definitely slowing down but still feel OK and still have lots of time in the bank. I am going to knock 5-10 minutes off my best. Hip Tattoo and I joke about the misery we are starting to feel.

By Mile 24 I know I am in trouble. When my walk break ends, my body will not start running again. I try to dig. I insult myself, I do mental math, I pep-talk myself but my body simply mocks me and I know it is over. There is no question. I am cooked. I fail my obscenity goal. I fail it big.  Hip Tattoo disappears around a corner and I know I will not be catching her again. No matter what I try, my legs will not break a walk.  My hamstrings feel like they were being worked over by the most inept intern from Ramsey Bolton’s School of Massage Therapy. I begin to doubt that I can even walk the last two miles.

At Mile 24.5 a medical person approaches my shuffling carcass and says, “Are you one of our runners?”  I reply, “I’m trying to be.”  She asks me if I am OK.  When I reply that I am, she states “You’re swaying and can’t walk a straight line.”  I am shocked but realize I am staggering like its a 1996 walk-of-shame after a frat party.  I tell her I will be fine and keep going.  I can feel her trailing me for 50 yards but am scared to look over my shoulder because I think that I will get dizzy, fall and then be pulled off the course.  I give her a thumbs-up, yell, “I’m fine. Thank you for doing your job so well” and she leaves.  I stop a few more times and hunch over just to relax the tension on my hamstrings.  My watch passes the four hour mark.  This will be my slowest marathon (3:59,  4:07, and 4:09) but I just want to finish.

At Mile 25.1 I call my wife, Jasmine, and let her know I am going to be slower than expected.  She tells me she is going to walk back on the course and walk me in.  I make it another 0.2 miles and sit down on the side of the road.  I assure a volunteer I am fine, but I can see him talking to other volunteers and gesturing at me.  I know I need to get back up and I do not want my wife to find me sitting, or worse. I get back up and continue my Zombie Shuffle.

My wife meets me with about half a mile to go.  She walks by my side, talks with me, and grabs my shoulder when I slump.  She gets me there.  At Mile 26, I can see the finish line 0.2 miles away.  I look on the ground to my left and see Hip Tattoo.  Hip Tattoo is laying on her side with medics working on her.  Hip Tattoo has saliva dripping out of the side of her mouth. Hip Tattoo’s eyes are glassy and half rolled up. Hip Tattoo has an IV in her arm. Hip Tattoo is not going to get back up today. Hip Tattoo is going to go for a ride. Hip Tattoo is not going to finish.  Hip Tattoo made it 26 miles and went down with the finish line in sight.  My heart breaks for Hip Tattoo.

My wife leaves so I can finish the last couple hundred yards.  I have to stop half way  and walk again but finish on a run. I am so spent that the medal they put on me feels like it’s going to tip me over.  I have sudden empathy for Frodo having to lug that stupid ring through Mordor.

I am done.  I made it 25 miles in about four hours. The last 1.2 miles take me almost 24 minutes. 4:24ish.

Here’s the thing.  A year ago, I would have been crushed. My evening would be wrecked, I would have felt like I failed and would be thinking about the daunting task of starting all over.  Now I realize, that nobody cares.  Why should I? We went back to our B&B.  My wife and I spent the evening walking around Traverse City. We twice ran into college friends. We ate some great food and checked out some cool breweries. I had a blast.  I came home to my two fantastic kids. The rest of my weekend would not have been any better or worse if I had been 30 minutes faster.  Who cares?

Marathon #1 I cried after just because of the emotional dump and having finished something I never imagined doing.  Marathon #2 I sat under a tree crushed and crying because I had worked so hard to break the four hour mark and came up short.  I trained harder than ever for Marathon #3, dialed in and just beat 4 hours.  This one, I am more at peace. My training was more relaxed and my first 24ish miles were my best. End result was my worst one, but I am probably more content and more at peace than after any of the others.

I wish I had gotten Hip Tattoo’s name or had thought to look at her bib number.  I hope that she is healthy and is somewhat at peace with her race.

Four hours, or 4.5 hours as the case may be this time, does not have to make or break your day, weekend or life. There is too much other stuff in the world to enjoy.

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I Run Because I Have To

After three years, I have reached the point where I have to label myself a runner. Three years ago, I could run ¼ mile without stopping. In May, I will be running my third marathon. A lot of people tell me I am crazy or ask why I would put myself through the training. The answer is, “I have to.”

I do not get “runner’s high.” There is no physical feeling that I look forward to when I am on the road. I do not enjoy the blisters, cramps, or dead legs I experience after long runs.

There is no social aspect to it. I do not take part in the “runner’s community” or use my runs to talk with friends. Largely due to schedule and personality, I run alone. I am closing in on 3,000 miles logged. Fewer than 20 of those have been with another person.

I am not addicted to any sense of accomplishment. I can usually finish in the top 3 for my age division for 5Ks and I have finished two marathons. However, until I break 4 hours in a marathon, I do not really consider them successful. I’ve missed by 7 and 9 minutes. One way or another, I am sure you will read about this in late May.

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I do not like what running has done to my body. I am down 35 pounds from when I started. However, I continually hear that I am scrawny, too skinny, or that I need to eat. People who have not seen me in a while have pulled me aside and asked what is wrong with me. I am not bragging. I eat and drink whatever I want and do tons of push-ups but this is the body I have. They will never make a Magic Erik-XS movie. I do not like what I see in the mirror or that running has apparently turned me into Christian Bale in the Machinist. I am not a physically attractive man. I know that. Running has not helped.

I run because, quite frankly, I need to. I have always struggled with focusing on the negatives in life. Failures, lost relationships, mistakes, worry, self-doubt, the ugly-side of humanity that my jobs slams into my face. For years, I have resolved to be more optimistic and positive, but it is not easy because life is so fast… except when I run.

Whether my training runs are 25 minutes or three hours, I refuse to let myself think about anything except positive experiences in my life. No worries, no regrets, no planning. I try to relive, and replay, moments that are important to me and that I never want to forget. The obvious one are there. The birth of my sons, Disney trips, but I try to vividly remember the small, special moments in life. The compliments someone gave me. What was she wearing? Goals you scored in high school. Random conversations you had. Stupid moments that everyone else has forgotten but I hold on to. Little flashes that I enjoyed but will fade if I let them. Friends. A smell. Laughing. The moment in that conversation with a girl when you made eye contact, smiled, realized, “She gets me and we both feel something” and became simultaneously thrilled and terrified.

A Counting Crows song says, “I can’t remember all the times I’ve tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” When I run, I force myself to hold on to the moments. I do not want people and memories to become ghosts.

When I run, there is nothing to do but think and I force myself to make sure those thoughts make me smile. It makes me a better person. It is not easy to do, but I have successfully trained myself to do it. When I am on the road, by myself, tired, slogging through snow and wind with another 8 miles left, I feel surrounded by friends and memories. The time alone on the road is the time that I feel the least lonely. I run because I need that feeling in my life. I run because I have to.

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