Run for your life

I’ve heard people who’ve completed half-marathons say, “Yeah, I’m only half-crazy.” First of all, that’s selling short one hell of an accomplishment. A lot of people won’t run 13.1 cumulative miles over a lifetime. On the other hand, I’ve never been one to take too kindly to people challenging how crazy I am.

I’ve been half in the bag, done a lot of projects half-assed, and I’ve gone into many situations half-cocked. (If I say “insert penis joke here,” then someone will point out that I said “insert penis,” and I’ll never finish – I mean I’ll never get to the end of this blog entry.) But when it comes to crazy, I’ve always given my all. So that’s why against my better judgment and the laws of nature, I decided to run a full marathon.

Not only is a marathon itself a journey (life’s not a sprint, as the saying goes), but the training process also qualifies as such. It demands a healthy balance of pushing oneself to the point of aching joints and blistered feet along with knowing when to rest in order to avoid injury. That last part takes a little bit of luck too. You can do yourself a favor by temporarily avoiding weight training (which was tough for me, but I did it) and any activity where you’re likely to sprain an ankle or something like that. You still have to live your life, though, and the specter of injury or an untimely upper respiratory infection lingered until race day.

But more often than worry I felt giddy anticipation. I couldn’t stop thinking about Red in The Shawshank Redemption as he skipped parole to meet Andy in Zihuatenjo:

“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at a start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border.”

If you haven’t ever run a marathon, it’s a surreal experience. All those people there in one place to do something totally batshit (As I shuffled around with sore calf muscles and a lot of pride the following day, people either said, “Congratulations,” or “Why’d you do that?”). I had run a half-marathon a couple of years before, and I had gone as long as 18 miles during my training, so I wasn’t worried about the first 75% of the course once I made it to race day without incident. Along the way, I saw the grueling journey take its toll on a handful of my running mates.

Some poor bastard fell out coughing just four miles in. I’m sure he had the misfortune of getting sick before the run and tried to gut it out anyway. At about the 15th mile, a middle-aged man started to wobble, and his eyes had that scary lost look you see when someone’s in severe physical or emotional shock. A police officer pulled him to side as I moved on. I kept up a steady jog up until about mile 18, then I hit my wall.

From that point on, I had to split my time between walking and a form of movement that brought shame to the word “jogging.” Somewhere after the 20th mile I passed the first of two young women laid out in the grass, surrounded by concerned caregivers awaiting an ambulance. After seeing two people who literally looked like they might die, I didn’t care so much about finishing within my goal of 4 hours and 30 minutes. I still wanted to cross the finish line, but I didn’t want to risk a trip to the hospital over an arbitrary number.

The human body and the human mind are two amazing entities, especially when we think about the effect they have on each other. Once mile marker 25 came into view I knew I had a chance of hitting my goal, and I found one last burst. I’ve seen video of myself crossing the finish line, and so I’m fully aware of how liberally I’m using the word “burst.” It’s all relative, though, and I when I busted my ass for those last two minutes it felt like I was running as fast as I ever had in my life.

My finishing time: 4:28.19.

It’s a weird thing finishing a marathon. One the one hand, my time was slightly above average for men in my age group in The Big D Marathon, and on the other I know I would have to cut almost an hour and a half off that time to even qualify for the Boston Marathon. In short, I guess it’s safe to say that I performed a little above ordinary in an extraordinary test of one’s physical and mental stamina. I have some more to say about this, but I’ll let y’all watch the video. At least no one can say I’m only half-crazy.

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