A few people have asked me about the whole running and triathlon thing and I often think back to my first marathon – the Long Island Marathon in May, 2012. I have done 8 other marathons since then including the LI Marathon four times, NYC twice, Steamtown, Philadelphia and the Suffolk County Marathon. It was an amazing experience and the burst of emotion at the end still gets me at every major race. I didn’t break any records that day with a 4:51 but I finished and that’s pretty much the only thing that was on my mind. I went through the typical pre-event anxiety, the sense of false security at 5 miles after settling into a comfortable pace and the sense of dread when the half marathoners split off to end their journey. Then it’s just you and a few other runners on the Wantagh Parkway. Forever.
By mile 15 the “wall” is starting to appear and by mile 17 it’s higher than the one our President wants to build (Sorry; couldn’t resist!). I’ve resorted to this run-shuffle-walk and am bargaining with myself to keep pace to the next overpass, the next dead raccoon or the next aid station. It’s ugly. So ugly.
But I’ve never done anything like this, I had raised more than $7,000 for the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and will be crushed if I can’t finish. I start thinking about whether I’d have to give everyone their money back, but find comfort in the notion that if I actually perish out there on the desolate Wantagh Parkway, some would probably double their donations.
I keep going, but as people pass me, they are asking me if I’m ok. That would be fine – even kind – except they look like crap, too. I start answering them with a little bit of an edge, “Yep, doing great, how about you?” I was much more pleasant at mile three.
By mile 23 or so, I’m annoyed that McDonalds is running an aid station, even though I probably had it for dinner the night before.
I’m feeling a bit better at mile 25 as I pass the Nassau County jail and think, “well, things could be worse.”
I enter Eisenhower Park, feeling like I’m basically done. I finished. Hell, I could crawl across the finish line if need be. Wait. There are hills?What kind of sick twisted bastard puts hills at the end of a marathon? This has to be more than a mile. Are you kidding me? Maybe I could just crawl for awhile and then sprint across the finish line. I need a nap. I want to die.
Then the finisher’s chute appears like a mirage in the desert, the Chariots of Fire soundtrack kicks in and I glide-hobble-stumble across the finish.
Boom. I did something I never imagined I could do. I challenged myself and pushed my boundries. Yeah, it hurt, but so what? I got it done and it was worth every moment.
You probably know that if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. My first marathon challenged the hell out of me, but it also taught me that distance running is as much a mental game as it is a physical game. I’ve also figured out that those emotional workouts build a fortitude and focus that comes in handy even when you are not wearing running shoes.
Finally, as someone who likes to do things on my own, without help, I quickly realized that nobody runs a marathon alone. Your loved ones endure the 5:00AM wake-ups, the never-ending stream of dirty laundry and the pre-race craziness. The energy at the start line makes running a communal sport as we all move in the same direction with the same goal. The volunteers, the sign-waving spectators, those who go fast and those who take their time all help create the momentum we need to finish.
With a country as divided as it’s ever been, it’s not often these days that you hear people shouting words of encouragement and cheering each other on. You hear and see that at every race. It’ a great feeling and it keeps me coming back.