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.


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.