When we step onto that starting line, being so far from where we started, it is no longer a question “Can we make it around the lake?”
But “How much fun can we have doing it?”
It seems like every time I put pen to paper, I always have something worth writing about. I never have to add any hype or exaggeration to it. All I do is add details. After all, we all live a life worth telling. We are all blessed with opportunities to shine even if we may not see it.
Now think of this: If you had a friend who decided to run a race would you think for a moment, “What If?” Well, I have many times in my life looked at the achievements of people and thought there is no way I can run that far or reach that high. But whether I was speaking literally or figuratively, it is a trigger for me because as soon as it is labeled impossible, it immediately becomes something I want to try. I have the thought, “Why not?”, with slightly stronger language. I have found many things I am good at using this thought path.
I realize I am intrigued enough to want to try something by looking at where it could take me, and that always intimidates me as many great things do. But having identified how much interest I have, I then make it a challenge. As you might know, that for me is the number one thing that drives me. Upon further consideration, I have a quick thought-half logical and half crazy-about the achievability of a task. Then comes the great motivator, honest question:
“Why not me?”
What does this have to do with running a marathon you might ask. It has everything to do with it. Marathons would not exist without hundreds of people looking at the challenge and asking themselves “Why not me?”
(I felt had to write this out, for I often forget why I originally took this path, back when I was 17.)
Now, let me tell you about what happened to me three weeks before my second running of the Hayden Marathon. I was commuting to work to run with a group of runners who I have been training with to run the Hayden Marathon. They have been the best training partners with a perfect blend of crazy and committed. We were willing to get up at all hours of the day to get our training in. That is something we would not have done if we were training on our own. So this morning I was riding down on my road bike wearing normal running shoes on clip pedals. Halfway there, I was pushing off my pedals and my left foot slipped off. I tried to save it, but I tipped to the side and slightly over my handlebars. At impact I slid on my left side, and purposely dug my helmet into the ground to protect my face. I got up, nothing was too bad except for the initial pain. There was one witness; he expressed concern asking if I was OK. Half joking also, he asked if I needed an ambulance. I told him I was good, just in a little bit of pain and then thanked him for his concern. He then wished me a nice and slow rest of my ride.
With the handle bars slightly out of alignment, I coasted all the way and met my training partners. I had to opt out of our long run for obvious reasons and got my brother to give me a ride back to take care of myself. So that is how my taper week started. I barely did any running to avoid possibly straining anything damaged by the crash, which was, in the end, the best decision because I felt the damage on the three little runs I did in the last week before the race.
So, race morning I arived to the race along with all my fellow runners and training partners. The air was brisk but not cold, there was barely any wind blowing off the lake, and no fog, just a few clouds in the air. We still stood around the heaters as the minutes ticked down. There was a sense that this was going to be a much more relaxed race than last year. As the lineup and start came to pass, the vibe carried on through the first miles. We were still running fast but no one was visibly trying to take the lead. It was just a rhythm that formed as we climbed the hills, we all fell into our own paces.
I was at a pace that was breaking away from the pack but falling behind the leaders. I watched my brother on a few switchbacks where sight was good. He was leading the race and would be the one to chase today. My nutrition was good, today I was eating at regular intervals and was drinking just enough. It was cool so I did not have to hydrate much. I was a little annoyed by the fact that I brought gloves and an extra hat that was just sitting in my back pockets. As I was descending, I remembered why I loved this race. The trees were dense and a vibrant green. I loved the moss covered trees and the smell of the wet pine needles. The course itself was a challenge and an adventure. The hills were not hard to chug up and your quads did not burn on the way down. The local schools were out there supporting the race at every aid station.
By mile eight, I knew I was going to have a good race but it was going to be slower than last year. I was fine with that as I was moving along at a 3-hour marathon pace. I have not been around this course on foot since last year. No surprise there but I was reliving my experience from last year. I was remembering every place where I caught sight of the leader, which hills I put the pressure on and every place that I got water before. This was nice because I knew which hills most likely had aid stations at the top. I would start eating a gel at the bottom of these hills and was able to throw away the wrapper at the top.
As the year previous, I approached mile 18 and found much of my strength disappeared as I had to climb the steepest hills to the English Point Aid Station. Mom and Dad met me here, gave me a little OJ to drink and took some of my extra gear which I was very grateful for. This was the breaking point in this race. I was in less pain than last year but I was moving slower however I still had a good cruise to carry me onward.
I may not have seemed like I was prepared to run and even I did not even know how ready I was to run in the days leading up to today. In any low moment, you forget why you run. That is the whole reason I run long races: you have the time to feel those highs and lows and realize how little they matter. What matters in running as in life is that when you are faced with success or failure, you keep moving. That is the biggest lesson I have learned in my years of running and life. Run like not finishing was never a question.
As I rolled through the final miles, I let that feeling I had at the start come to a peak. I finished right where I thought I would by a mental assessment of my own fitness. I was sure I was strong but I knew I didn’t have the legs to truly chase that day. When the finish line was less than 30 seconds away, the world faded. Inhaling deeply, I leaned forward and willed an incredible amount of force into my legs. I shifted from looking like a struggling marathoner to a mile sprinter. with ten seconds to go, I shifted to a speed I am always surprised I can reach. I reached the line with a jump, clap and click of the heels.
At this point, I wonder if there is any other way to finish a race. One thing is sure, I will never be happy unless I truly reach for that moment and believe that miracles can happen.