I remember once when Irene and I were in New York for the annual U.S. Open Tennis Grand Slam Championship. We had been to the U.S. Open for multiple years at this point of our lives but this one was a little different for me. Our first evening at the Open ended with a big thunderstorm and heavy rainfall. Of course the rainfall ended the night’s tennis match early and now everyone needed to leave the premises rather abruptly.
We contemplated whether we should wait in the very long line for the only subway car that traveled to and from the city, or make the choice to pay for a taxi. This became an easy decision to make, especially with the current weather situation. This was in the day’s before Uber and/or Lift was even available, so if one wanted anything other than direct communication with a driving service, then you took the subway train. Limited options.
Once we were back in our hotel room, relaxing for the evening and watching T.V., a typical commercial break began. I laid on the bed, while not paying any attention and zoning out, waiting for whatever television show we decided to watch to resume. However as it turned out, I wasn’t completely disengaged. A commercial aired showing people running and finishing a Marathon with smiles on their faces, and high-fiving one another after crossing the Finish line. I remember thinking that there is no way people would look so refreshed and exhilarated after running 26.2 miles. Surely one would be exhausted after such a physical challenge. Turned out the commercial for Dr. Scholl’s foot inserts. Little did I know at that time that no one would be foolish enough to use cushioned foot inserts to run 26.2 miles.
I asked Irene if she ever thought of running a marathon and her reply was something like ‘are you kidding?, no way!’ My own question got me thinking…Hmmm, I wonder if I could do it? I had a friend who at the time was always running for sport, and usually training to run a marathon. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I started to think that perhaps I would make a commitment to train and run a marathon but I didn’t want to tell my friend Thomas, at least not yet. I wanted to think about it long enough to form a concrete decision if I actually wanted to go through with it, or not.
I started doing research and became more and more engrossed in my efforts. I don’t remember how long it turned out to be, but ultimately I decided to make the commitment and go through with it. I knew it would not be a simple task, and that ‘just trying’ wouldn’t be enough. I would go through with it all…to the end. I would run a marathon. 26.2 miles. Irene thought I was crazy for even contemplating the idea, but now I was nervously excited.
I’m glad that it didn’t take me long to let Thomas in on my venture because having run many marathons in the past, there was much experience to draw upon. The good, the bad, and the ugly. He helped to set me on a path for success, and his knowledge was invaluable.
Running a marathon is not something one just ‘does’. I suppose some people do, but probably not very successfully. You need to plan believe it or not. If you want to do it right, there is a lot of planning and ‘reverse engineering’ with the entire process. So I purchased a book recommended by Thomas that laid everything out. Day-to-day training, week-to-week…everything. And if you wanted to do it right, the schedule needed to be followed to a tea, including meals a week ahead of time.
I did. Twenty-six weeks, each day with a plan and specific mileage goal. If followed with integrity, success would present itself come marathon day. The schedule began rather harmless with 3 mile days, gradually building up to the ‘long day’, which was always on Saturday. It’s amazing how one’s stamina and endurance improve through regular training. As time went on, I became more confident in my ability and was actually becoming nervously excited about ‘race day’.
When race day finally arrived, I was ready but I was not happy that the sky was overcast and the day’s temperature outlook was going to be ‘cool’. Runners and marathoners love that type of weather for running, even the skinny ones. Me, I didn’t like it at all because I get cold very easily and I wasn’t looking forward to running in weather that I thought was cool from the get-go. I like full sunshine, even for running.
The thing about running a marathon is that you need to stay focused on what you’re doing. One becomes so in-tuned with the body that you begin to notice everything, every little nook and cranny in the street, street angles, curvature and crowns in the pavement. You can feel it. It becomes almost menacing, but you must stay focused. When your body becomes so fatigued and you are aware of every aspect of the process, one can easily succumb to the increasing pain and fatigue.
What keeps you going? The people. The streets are lined with thousands of people who you don’t even know all cheering you on. The looks on their faces as you run by, brings such hope and joy in your heart to all of humanity. That’s what keeps you going. Runners who you don’t know running up beside you and giving you a word of encouragement to pursue. It’s incredible.
I could tell as the miles were adding up that my body was becoming colder. Maybe because I was thinking about it too much, but it made me feel tight and I didn’t feel fluid in my movement. I remember seeing Irene in the last stretch of the race holding up a sign that said ‘Go Sweetie’. She was cheering and with a huge smile and I know the look on my face was anguish due to exhaustion and fatigue. But I could now see the finish line and that, along with everyone’s cheers, gave me the final push to cross the finish line.
Four hours, eighteen minutes, and 21 seconds of non-stop running was my final time. I couldn’t believe how I felt. I wanted to cry. Irene found me soon after I crossed and I stood there with a thermal blanket wrapped on me. She asked how I felt and I told her “I don’t recommend that for anyone!” I was referring to the act of running a marathon. At this point, I felt like I was going to fall apart, literally. I was wrecked and very cold. I didn’t have a smile on my face and I wasn’t high-fiving other people. All I wanted to do was get somewhere warm and sit.
I remember our walk to the car, which wasn’t far from where I finished, but it seemed like a long way away. Irene held on to me because I could hardly walk and I needed to get warm. At one point we came to a tree curb and I knew I would not be able to step up on it, so Irene helped divert me to the area on that curb which was swept down for car entry. Fortunately that was there. Even the 1 inch step at that area was an unwelcome challenge.
She helped get me into the car. I was a 38 year old grown man slowly moving and needing assistance as if I were 50 years beyond that. As we drove away from the marathon site, I could see others who ran the race with their loved ones also providing gentle assistance. Race signs and placards being carried in hand and a lot of smiles.
On our drive home I warmed up. The car’s heater felt so good to me and my body was able to find comfort in the warmth and relax. While talking with Irene about the experience the big picture came into realization. I had just run 26.2 miles non-stop. A feat that only a fraction of the population has, or will ever accomplish. The rush of exhilaration began to consume me, and I felt as if I could climb Mt. Everest. Running the marathon had been my single-most greatest physical accomplishment. This feeling of euphoria was powerful and although physically wrecked at the moment, I knew then that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it and persevere. Determination and perseverance. My stance on running a marathon had changed in under an hour. It was at that point I told Irene “I think everyone should run a marathon”.
I was happy that I ran the marathon and figured this would be my only go at it. I wasn’t a ‘runner’ and running really wasn’t my thing. But I proved to myself that this seemingly impossible feat, wasn’t at all impossible. One marathon was good for me…done. …until after a few months when I couldn’t stop thinking about the race and my Finish time. If I were to run again, could I beat my time? Could I run the race in under 4 hours?
It is sometimes ‘dangerous’ to have such thoughts because they eventually become personally haunting. I am competitive, and now I wanted a personal best. Not only did I determine that I could beat my marathon running time, but now I wanted to achieve 26.2 miles in under 4 hours. Just because.
Six months before the following year’s marathon, I began training again. Crazy. With one marathon now under my belt I now had experience and knew what to expect. I trained just as diligently as I had the first time so I was able to recognize and predict training highs and lows.
The following year on Marathon day the sun shone brightly. It was a beautiful day and I was happy with the temperature. Many experienced runners were complaining about it being too warm for their liking. Not me. I felt loose and relaxed. My body was not tense due to temperature and I knew what I was capable of accomplishing.
Again I ran. My goal was two-fold. I had to beat my previous Finish time and I really wanted to finish in under 4 hours. The look on my face when I crossed the finish line was much different this time.