There was a pounding in my head each time my shoe hit the asphalt.
I already knew that the wheels were coming off and as the 16th mile marker came into eyesight, my spirits slowly drained through the pores of my skin leaving me with the hollow feeling of defeat. My mile time hadn’t decreased yet, I was still on goal pace…….. but I KNEW.
19 weeks of training had been a great teacher. It had brought me closer to my body and understanding how it would react under just about any situation during the run. So although the times were still good, and a smile was still on my face for each photographer, under it ALL was the heart of a defeated man. The miles droned on and my mile 16 prediction of disaster began to show it’s true self as I passed mile 19.
It was a small crack in the armor but focus was disturbed. The effort to remain at pace went from “marathon uncomfortable hard” (which those that choose to run 138,336 feet have prepared for and already accepted), this was not the “beautiful pain” of the marathon, it was just wrong. I went deep inside for a little while, I played out every day of training, a cycle of training where I only had missed one run the entire 19 weeks. It wasn’t making sense, why was this so hard? This wasn’t my FIRST marathon, it was number 14 for goodness sakes. How could I still be this bad at running 26.2 miles? What did I do wrong this time?
My thoughts pounded in my head and became the harmony to the melodic sound my feet made as I continued on. But now the music had gone from a song with energy, to a slow jam that would have made Luther Vandross proud to sing over. I was rewinding back to mile 13 where it was simply a party in my head. Math was still coming easy at that time and I was laying out the game plan for how this run was going to end.
In my head……..
- Mile 21 was going to be the jump off point, I was going to find a gear that was going to propel me to the finish line and straight to the pancake buffet, where my medal was sure to be admired by all
- My 21 mile warm up was just a prelude to the real story of this race, the EPIC FINISH. None of this played out in that way, I passed the 21-mile marker and there was no gear to be found, in fact I down shifted to a gear that was both painful and sad
There is so much talk about THE WALL, but when you hit it and I mean really smack your face against it, you are instantly humbled. So here I was shuffling along, having those thoughts about how much I love 5K’s and how I loathe this race of 26.2 miles. I dug out my phone and turned it on to call my wife.
- By mile 22, I should have already crossed the finish line and I did not want her staring down the road, wondering if the next person to turn the corner was going to be me, because I was not turning that corner. I was still fighting one difficult step after the next. So many thoughts rush through your delirious brain at the end of a marathon, but it is so hard to keep them in order so that they make sense.
Think of a word jumble, you see all the letters but you have to concentrate and search in order for the letters to form a word. Experience has taught me to just focus on something simple in order to just get me to the finish line. I chose to focus on my yellow shoes and the design they made in my blurred vision as I took each step. Over and over I watched my shoes until I started to realize something was different, I was sure it was a snake on my shoe, nope…….it was just untied. I slowed to a stop and just stared at the untied shoe, stared like a man who knew what needed to be done, but had no idea how it was going to get done. My foot was so far away and I was scared if I knelt to tie the shoe, because there was no way I could bend over and do it, that I wouldn’t get back up. So right there on the course, I performed some kind of Yoga maneuver, one we will call “Tall Bald Guy Shoe Tie” and tied my shoe, I high 5’d myself.
By mile 23.5, I shuffled on and a ball of energy headed right towards me. My son ran up to me and looked me in the eyes and told me that he was going to finish this run with me. I was excited, happy and revitalized. I showed all of this emotion with a really exaggerated nod of my head, and a grunt, maybe a smile.
We ran that last 2.5 miles together, he never stopped talking, he used sayings and slogans that I have yelled at him as he runs his Cross Country races, he talked to me about the highlights of his homecoming dance, and I am pretty sure we talked about how bad I was looking. The music had changed again, to a comforting melody that didn’t pump me up, but left me relaxed and resigned that I was going to finish, let’s call it a “smooth jazz finish”.
He left me just before the finish line, and I crossed with hands raised as I am sure the winner had done. My wife met me as I crumbled to the ground, reflecting on what I considered a failure, but she just looked at me and asked “What did you learn?” and promised that I was still getting pancakes.
I will run again…I am a runner.