I am a middle-aged, whatever that means, trail runner, ultra runner, etc… I was a dedicated road runner who was afraid to run trails because, don’t laugh, I was afraid of snakes. A few years ago a friend managed to get me out on the trails and now I love running trails. I’m still not fond of snakes but I try not to think about them.
I haven’t always enjoyed running. In high school I hated running. Each day at football practice we would run a lap around the track as a warm up. That one lap was enough for me. My attitude toward running began to change after I graduated from college. I would be heading off to basic training at Ft Leonard Wood soon after graduation and I wanted to be prepared so I started running. I still wouldn’t say that I enjoyed running, but I knew running would be a daily routine in the Army. Basic training is physically draining even if you are in good shape, but it can be pure torture if you’re not in shape. Through basic training my running improved and by the end I was able to max my score on the running part of the Army physical readiness test. Still I was only running because it was required.
My first assignment after basic was at the Presidio of Monterey, California. It was there that I started to develop a love for running. With its year round nearly perfect running weather, flat sandy beaches, hills, redwood forests, crashing surf, Monterey was a runner’s paradise. I soon found myself running for the pure joy of it, not because the Army was making me do it. It was there I ran in my first road race. I also ran on Delta Company’s 17 Man Run Team. That was a unique experience; four teams of 17 runners each, running a 2 mile race in formation on a quarter mile track; eight laps. We won twice while I was on the team.
From those glory days in Monterey to the present, there were times when I went months at a time without running, but I still enjoyed running even when I wasn’t very committed to it. Then in the spring of 2002 my ex-wife signed me up for the Race For A Cure 5k fun run. To say I was out of shape was quite an understatement, but I had about four weeks to prepare. The race was fun and losing a couple of pounds felt great. I still had a few extra pounds to part with, so I decided to borrow a friend’s number and run the 500 Festival Mini Marathon. This is the point in the story where a disclaimer should pop up and warn you to not try this at home. When the day of the Mini arrived, I had run a whopping 40 miles in training including the 12 mile run one week before the race, after which I was so sore I didn’t run again until Thursday morning two days before the race. I was finally able to jog a couple of miles and loosen up some of those stiff muscles. I was ready to go the morning of the race. The race was a blast! I loved it! I was bitten by the bug. The day after my were legs still aching, but my hands felt fine so they got hold of a computer keyboard and signed me up for the 2003 Mini.
It was in training for my third mini that I finally lost my last bit of sanity. I was meeting on Saturday mornings with a Mini training group and for reasons I still don’t understand I decided it was time to run a full marathon. Of course I was dumb enough to tell everyone about this decision so there could be no backing out later if I were to come to my senses. In addition to the mini, I had run the Indianapolis Half Marathon in October the previous two years. They run a full marathon at the same time and this year I would do the full 26.2 miles. I began training in June following Hal Higdon’s intermediate protocol. The training got off to a bit of a rocky start. I strained my left calf during a 14 mile run and had to limp home for a mile. I bruised a thigh playing softball when a ground ball took a bad hop. I eventually lost three toenails because of snug shoes combined with thick socks. I didn’t get discouraged; I kept going and by the time race day came along I had completed two 20 mile training runs. I was ready to run the race.
Just finishing should have been enough of a goal for a first timer, but I had my sights set on Boston. Never mind that the 3:20 I needed to qualify was a faster pace than my PR in the half marathon. I knew it was a risky venture, but if I didn’t at least try I wouldn’t have been content. The first ten miles went fairly well I was only a few seconds off pace. Then came the hill, not a particularly steep hill, but a relentless incline somewhere around mile 10. I was about half the way up when reality hit me; there was no way I could maintain this pace for another 16 miles. I let up a little but still hit the half way point at 1:43:30, a PR for a half. I managed to keep my pace under 10 minutes per mile through mile 17. Then I started walking and stretching my way through the aid stations. Around mile 21 I started to have a sharp pain on the side of my knee, but I kept going. A volunteer at one aid station asked me if I was ok, if I needed a ride to the finish. Was he kidding? Does a drowning man need a life preserver? Of course I needed a ride to the finish, but I would have to be unconscious for them to get me to stop. I kept telling myself that I had to finish because if I didn’t I’d have to do this again and I definitely did not want to do this again. If I could just finish this one race I would NEVER have to do this again. When I reached mile 24 I decided I would walk the entire 25th mile and then be rested for a triumphal run through the last mile and across the finish line. Then I noticed a small hill just beyond the 25 mile mark, so I would continue walking until I reached the top. There was just one small problem with this plan, strategically situated just before the hill were two photographers eagerly waiting to snap my picture. There was no way I was going to let them take a picture of me walking, so I started running again. I even tried to crack a smile. I reached the top of the hill and the adrenaline boost from running past the photographers and knowing I only had about a half mile to go was enough to keep me going. I crossed the finish at 4:20:37. The joy of finishing or perhaps the joy of finally being able to stop running was overwhelming. I got all choked up and shed a tear or two. I had conquered the beast. The joy of that moment was worth all the training, all the aches and pains.
After recovering for about 30 minutes I started shuffling back to my car, barely able to walk I was already thinking about doing another marathon. Since that first marathon in 2004 I have run another 15 marathons and 24 ultra marathons.