Last Sunday night, October 31st, my family and I sat at table enjoying the hospitality of my oldest brother, John, and his family. The main topic was what I had experienced that day – my first attempted and completed marathon, the 35th Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Trick-or-treaters came and went while I enjoyed the company of loved ones and began to mentally process the 26.2 miles and their aftermath.
Today, a week later, I have enough time and clarity of thought to share that experience with you. I wish I could say it was an awesome experience and that I can’t wait to do it again.
How the Whole Thing Started
My first marathon began with a painful back spasm in January of this year that left me barely able to walk to the bathroom for nearly a week. During that time I realized that mobility is a wonderful gift from God, and I was inspired to celebrate mobility by running a marathon. After several weeks of investigation I decided to run the USMC Marathon in D.C. so I could visit with my brother and son who both live in the area.
I knew a marathon was no small undertaking. It could be glorious or hellish, so I prepared as best I could. I’ve found that running is often very enjoyable, even fun; it can even be, if you can imagine, a joyous experience. On the other hand, it can also really s___.
It’s best done with partners, not alone. You need a friend or a club for mutual encouragement, and to help you know when you’re being an idiot and about to hurt yourself. I prepared with friends. We followed a plan. We did long runs up to 20 miles. We did hill repeats (run up, jog down, repeat). We did speed runs, easy runs, tempo runs.
It took a lot of time and discipline, but I was thinking of the payoff: finishing a marathon and enjoying the experience of it. I didn’t want it to s___. I wanted to love it enough to want to do it again, and maybe do it well enough to someday qualify to run THE marathon: Boston.
How the Whole Thing Went S___y
I trained. I planned. I showed up. (90% of success, right?)
But even before the race began, my marathon plans were going to the toilet faster than the line to the port-a-potty. I stood in line for 40-minutes waiting for my turn in the blue, plastic jon with a bottle of water in my hands – a bottle I wasn’t drinking because I was worried about two things (#1 and #2, if you know what I mean).
The race started while I was, um, occupied. After that business, I took off my sweats and took off running for the starting line, leaving my mostly full bottle of water in a parking lot next to the Pentagon.
I felt fine, but I was already dehydrated, and in trouble, and didn’t know it.
How the Whole Thing Passed
I’ll spare you a mile-by-mile story, but by mile 15 I was beginning to sense I was in trouble and wouldn’t make my goal time of 3:45. I said “sense” because I wasn’t able to “think” – at least, not clearly like, “Hmmm…I’m feeling bad. I must be dehydrated. I should pull over at the next water station, take five, and drink as much water as the Marine volunteers will give me.”
Nope. I was running through a less-than-logical brain-desert while I barely noticed our nation’s capital passing slowly by (really slowly by) like a mirage. By mile 19 I knew I was in big trouble and might not be able to make my back up goal of 4:00. My right achilles had been sore since mile 7. My right quad and hamstring kept cramping up. By mile 21 I didn’t know if I would even finish and wished the world would just end.
I did finish. Somehow, I finished in 4:04:27, which surprisingly to me, is above average for a man my age. You can view my race stats by searching on my bib #17388.
How the Whole Thing Ended
But it really s____ed.
After finishing, it took me an hour to find my brother and Dawn. By that time I should have been a bit rested and hydrated. I wasn’t. It didn’t occur to me to actually drink the water and PowerAde the volunteers had placed in my hands. And since I was afraid of cramping up, I never sat down or laid down to rest. By the time I saw my brother, I was wobbly and disoriented. And then I had a series of firsts:
- My first experience in a Red Cross tent.
- My first IV.
- My first experience with a thermometer in public (yeah, that kind…)
- My first ambulance ride (with oxygen).
- My first time being wheeled into an E.R. with what felt like a hundred people crowded around me, while I got all loopy: “Which one of you is the massage therapist?” (Must’ve been the oxygen).
Oh yeah, and somewhere in all this I lost my wedding ring.
What the Whole Thing Means
So, while I can look back and see the humor in it all now, I didn’t love it then. It wasn’t fun, and the experience discouraged me. No, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished this great thing and I have really mixed emotions about whether it was “worth it all” – the inconvenience to my family, the money, the time, seeing Dawn so scared. And, I know it’s stupid to feel this way, but I feel – please don’t send me mail on this – I feel like I’ve been beaten.
Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I need a month or more to process this and get over myself. Maybe I’ll be inspired to celebrate mobility by running another marathon someday. (At this writing, I’m still resting and healing and I don’t want to think about it just yet). Maybe I’ll learn from my pre-race mistakes. But for now, I’m really just thinking about two things:
First, I’m comforted by the sub-heading of this blog: God is great, even when life isn’t.
And second, I’m hoping, really hoping, that after I’ve recovered enough to start running again, that I’ll still love it.
May it be so, Lord.