Average People Need Never Run Alone

USMC Marathon

USMC Marathon

Well, it’s been 3 weeks today since my average marathon adventure. I spent the first two weeks resting, then a week ago I went for an 11-miler with a buddy who is preparing for an upcoming half-marathon. That run convinced me I needed to keep resting until my psoas fully heals. (Your psoas runs through your core on both sides connecting your spine to your hip bones.)

The weeks of rest have given me a bit of perspective on my marathon experience. For starters, the ambulance ride + emergency room will only cost me about a $1,000 out of pocket. Well, it’s less than I feared. And – some good news – my sister-in-law found my wedding ring. Hooray!

And even better, I miss running. I can’t wait to get out there and move my legs again once I can do it pain free. I’ve even started imagining a couple of goals for 2011 to keep it interesting. (By the way, I’m only 21 miles away from completing my 2010 goal of one thousand miles. With only 21 miles to go, I figure I can rest through the last week of December :-).

But the best perspective I’ve gained from this experience has come via friends who are runners. That perspective is: I am not alone.

David from Alpharetta, Georgia

(David and I are colleagues at AutoTrader.com.)

David and I shared many a good, and not-so-good, run as we trained through the summer and fall. He is running the Disney Marathon in January. I was feeling at about my lowest of post-marathon lows, when David really encouraged me just by offering to run a marathon with me next year if I wanted to do it again. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that everything is harder when you do it alone. Thanks David. I might have to take you up on that.

Two other friends, both with a lot more athletic endurance experience than me, emailed me their first marathon experiences which were surprisingly similar to mine. Their stories were so encouraging, so thoughtfully written with the wisdom of experience, that I really wanted to share them with you. With their permission here they are…

Joey from Sugar Hill, Georgia

(Joey and I met at a mens’ discipleship group through Perimeter Church.)

“Lon, your story was incredible. I loved it, I cried, and I am sorry I even laughed a little. I’ve never seen you use so many expl____es.

I ran my first marathon in 2000 at Disney World. After that race, I was done. I could not make myself run. I even had a hard time getting up early to get to work. This went on for a few years. I put on 50 lbs. Somewhere along the way, I decided it was time to run again. I lost all of that weight. I’ve run a couple of marathons since, and I have one coming up this weekend. I love them now. I love coaching and encouraging people to run them (once they’ve decided to do so). I accept them for what they are and that on any given race day, anything can happen. I like going to the edge. I like to be reminded that I am not in control, and that I do rely on His strength. This coming Saturday, I will say more Our Father’s than Tony Soprano would after confession.

So, whether you decide to run another one or not, I am proud of you.

P.S. Even though it hurt to see it, isn’t great to have someone there to be scared for you. You are a lucky man.”

Dale in Temple, NH

(Dale and I marched together in a Drum & Bugle Corps 30 years ago. We have reconnected via Facebook.)

“Thanks Lon for sending the story. I took today off as a precaution just in case I turned out to be in poor shape today. Oddly, I feel better than I thought I would. Everybody’s first marathon and really every marathon is a unique and personal experience. My first one was a transformational thing for me and I learned something about myself that I don’t think I really knew. I remember it was fun for the first half. I was swept up in the event and I felt energized, smooth and strong. Of course as the miles rolled by any good feelings disappeared. By 20 miles in it’s fair to say I was beginning to truly suffer and grim reality had replaced the earlier excitement and enthusiasm. A few more miles and I wanted to quit. Emotionally I was beginning to break. It had gotten so much worse than I thought it could, especially because I thought I was trained and ready. Before I totally fell apart though I found a little help. From somewhere inside a tougher much less sympathetic version of me stepped up and told me to knock off the pity party, stop the whining and get my ass to the finish line. That’s how I finished. It felt like a grim death march and I swore I’d never do it again as I crossed the line. I could barely walk 20 minutes later.

Fortunately, the body forgets the pain and I still felt like I had achieved something… something the most people, even most runners never will. Not right away, but later, I felt like the whole experience had strengthened me and maybe taught me something about myself that I otherwise could not have learned. In our day to day lives we rarely get very close to “the edge”. Almost never do we really approach the limit of our physical and emotional breaking points. The marathon is just long enough to explore that dark region.

Even though you had a rough, perhaps discouraging, marathon I think you’ll be glad you did it. Also consider that each one becomes it’s own journey. Yesterday was a tough course with a lot of hills. I ran most of the race with the same people around me. I spent some time chatting as we ran and some quiet time too. I really enjoy the company and community that runners seem to find with each other. The race went far better than I thought it would and if I hadn’t started to get some leg cramps in the last 4 miles my time would have easily been sub 3:50. I still got a PR out of it though. Most importantly, I truly enjoyed the race from beginning to the end.

Physically I was hurting but not broken at the end. Emotionally I was still high and felt like I had one of the best running experiences of my life. I’m sure when you get back into running again that you’ll still enjoy it and you may not think so now but someday doing another marathon is going to cross your mind. When it does you should give it another shot…. each one is different.”

Thanks Guy

Your words really mean a lot. I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who has suffered and survived, only to be discouraged.

I should’ve known it. Average people like me will always have lots of good company in the middle of the bell curve.

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My Average Marathon Adventure (aka “MAMA!”)

Start of the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon

Start of the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon

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.

It wasn’t…

I can…

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.

Awesome…

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.

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How Many Times Do You Have to Say “Hi”?

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Hey! I need your advice. Got a minute?

Great!

Let’s go for a run. (Use your imagination, now.) I know this great 1.2 mile loop that circles a beautiful lake. We’ll take it sloooow and easy for about 8 laps.

We’re running now…

Some people are walking or running the same direction we are…

Others aren’t…

We say, “Morning,” to an Asian couple and offer a friendly wave as they walk past us going the other way. We do the same for a guy jogging with his Golden Retriever. And a flock of late-middle-aged ladies pumping their one-pound weights with a vengeance (you know the type). And a cute, pony-tailed 20-something who looks like she could run circles around us. And about 30 other people in singles and groups.

And then, we see the Asian couple again.

Here’s my dilemma

Do we say, “Morning,” again? I mean, we’re Christians, right? We’re supposed to be friendly, right? To heck with being shy or out of breath or pre-occupied. We’ve just gotta make eye contact and say hello or smile or something when we pass someone. WWJDWJ (What would Jesus do when jogging), right?

But how many times? Does the seventy times seven rule apply here? No matter how many times we pass someone we have to “Greet them in the name of the Lord?” Wouldn’t that be annoying?

Back to the Asian couple…

Too late. They’re too close. No time to think. We opt for erring on the over-friendly side and throw a little wave their way. They nod in return. There’s the guy with the dog again. Oh good, we’re off the hook. He’s pre-occupied picking something up with a plastic bag. Hey, there’s the pony-tail coming on fast. What do we do? What do we do? Saying anything might be interpreted as flirting (and I’m married to the other half of this blog), so we try to look like we’re serious runners, eyes straight ahead. She does the same. (We try to ignore the slightly disappointed feeling that flits past our egos like a spring breeze.) Uh oh, here come the geese again. They see us coming. They’re already smiling – a little too much. We offer a grunted “hi” and keep up the serious act.

And so we keep it up lap after lap passing people over and over again, wanting to be friendly, respectful, and well, fair, and all the time wondering, “Would somebody please tell us the RULES!?”

Do you know the rules? If you think you might have some advice, please leave a comment.

…I wonder if people who walk to work in New York City have this problem?

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