No this post isn’t about Dustin Hoffman, although wouldn’t it be sweet if it was?
If you’re ever at a point in your life where you feel you need to become more humble, I only have one suggestion for you. Try to run a marathon. I don’t mean just go out and run one with no training or preparation, because that would be extremely ill advised. I mean go through the months of training that most go through. Develop a plan and rehearse it. Make sure everyone is aware of what you are doing. Go out on social media and update all your friends and family on your training on a semi regular basis. Really put some time and thought into your training runs, and your diet, and your overall physical condition and care of your body during this time.
Then, when the time comes, go out and run a marathon. It will humble you. A marathon will humble anyone.
I recently did exactly that.
A little background before we go any further. I was at one time a pretty decent runner. Some might say I was competitive. I ran Cross Country, and Track and Field, all throughout high school and college. During that time I collected a number of medal and plaudits along the way. Had I been a bit more committed or driven (I hesitate to say talented), I might have been able to take it to the next level beyond my college years. Alas that simply wasn’t in the cards. I was fine with that, I accepted that. I knew that wasn’t my path in life. At some point during that time of my life I did a few marathons. Three to be precise, I tried for a fourth, but I got injured during training. I missed qualifying for the Boston marathon by a slim margin.
Fast forward to 15 years later and I decided that I wanted to try again. Not to qualify for Boston, those days are long behind me. But to run a marathon again. I had remained a recreational runner over the years and had done a few shorter races, the longest of which was 10 miles. So this wasn’t a completely out of the blue consideration. Sometime in the middle of 2014 I decided to sign up for the 2015 Rock n’ Roll DC marathon. In September of 2014, just as my training was really getting going, I broke my foot. That was it. No more marathon for me.
Eventually I was able to start running again, and for the most part that was going well. The time came again towards the end of 2015 for me to make a decision. I decided to sign up for the 2016 Rock n’ Roll DC marathon. Knowing full well how my previous attempt went I was as cautious as I could be with my training. Training over the next few months went extremely well. I was feeling good and confident that I would complete the task at hand. My body was giving every indication that this was going to be a good race and that I would do relatively well.
I never sleep well the night before a race. I never have. I never get to sleep at the time I plan to, for some reason I’m never tired enough the night before. I always wake up several times and I always wake up early. True to form I tried to go to sleep by nine o’clock. At ten o’clock I was just starting to drift off. I woke up at midnight. I woke up at one, and then two, and finally at three thirty-five. My alarm was set for four. I decided to shut it off and get up. I took my time, got dressed, did my morning routine and headed out. I still felt good. I got to the start line in plenty of time. I got to the port-a-potties before they were overused by the masses of over 24,000 runners. Everything was going according to plan.
I dropped my bag off at the bag check and I was in my corral a full 10 minutes before start time. Not too early, not too late. Everything was exactly as I expected it to be and I felt great.
Mile one was fine. It was fast, faster than it should have been, but I recognized that and backed off immediately. Mile two was still a bit quick but I was still adjusting my pace. Mile three I was in the zone. My pace was where it needed to be and I was comfortable.
The DC marathon takes you through some of the best parts of DC. As it should. I would have designed the course slightly differently, but over all it was great tour of DC.
Mile four and five were right through my main training grounds. I was intimately familiar with every turn of the road at this point. The hill at mile six I’m sure sent a bit of a shock to a number of runners, but I was doing just fine. Mile seven and eight and nine were all right in line with what I expected as we cruised through the Adams Morgan neighborhood. The course was aptly aligned with fans from all around the city and from further away. Mile 10, 11, and 12 brought us near to where the finish line would be. It did this because that is where the half marathoners would turn off and leave us marathoners to continue on.
Mile 13 brought me to a bit of a slow in my pace. The glut of runners had thinned out considerably. It was clear that only a select few of us had decided to do the full marathon, compared to the 24,000 + runners who had started the course. The cheering crowds that lined the first half of the course were all but gone, the race began to get decidedly lonely. As unfortunate as that was I was resolved in carrying on. Through mile 14 I was doing fine, although I was slowing.
Mile 15 marked the beginning of the end. I finally decided to stop for a bathroom break and an extended water break. I thought it was fine. I planned for this. Mile 16 and 17 and 18 showed me that it was not in fact fine. By mile 19 I had stopped considering my pace. I was reduced to spurts of walking for a minute and running for a minute. Mile 20 flattened considerably and I was able to go back to running consistently. Mile 21 gave me some reprieve as well. Mile 22 and 23 was a devastating hill. While it was through what I perceived to be one of the most beautiful unknown parts of DC to me, it was absolutely soul crushing to run at the end of a marathon. Mile 24 gave me the downhill I needed, but by then it didn’t matter. It didn’t give me a speed boost of any sort, it only allowed me to keep moving if only due to gravity. Mile 25 was a blur. We entered the final straight away to RFK stadium and I barely remember any of it. I was running, but I couldn’t tell you how my feet were shifting one in front of the other. It certainly wasn’t with any noticeable amount of energy. A kind soul found me as we headed into the final corridor. For the last .2 miles the crowd roared us in. We finished, and we hugged, and I cried.
I cried but no tears came out. I was too dehydrated for anything to come out of me. I got my medal. I got my finisher’s jacket. I took a few pictures. I was upset. I was disappointed with my time. I finished, but just barely. I honestly thought the sweeper truck was going to catch up to me. It was by far the worst performance I had ever had in a race of any distance. I tried to cry more after hydrating. It was still no good. No tears, just mindless gasps for air, for anything. Anything to justify this abomination of a race. By all accounts, in my head, it was a total abject failure.
The day somehow got worse. I went to pick up my belongings from the bag check and my cell phone wasn’t there. Somehow it had come out during the time I dropped it off and I picked it up. I searched frantically for a lifeline. The bag check crew directed me to the lost and found. The lost and found had nothing. Somebody kindly lent me their phone. I wanted/needed to call my wife. To let her know I was okay. I had already taken over an hour and a half longer than I intended to for the race and some extra time after that just to find a way to contact her. But finally I was able to. Still upset, still devastated, I somehow got her the information I needed to.
It turned out my phone was picked up by someone else. They called her after searching my contacts. They gave her the information needed so that we could pick it up. That person offered me some light at the end of the tunnel.
I was hurting, a lot. I still hurt, a lot. I have a new found respect for toddlers who are learning to climb stairs. Walking up and down stairs takes an incredible amount of muscle and coordination. Neither of which I have at this point. My toenails hurt. Did you know that toenails could hurt?
I managed to get my phone back. And that light at the end of the tunnel grew. I checked social media and found that many people had left posts tagging me, mentioning how impressed they were. I was in awe. Some people had taken it upon themselves to personally text me. It was uplifting in every way that I needed. My wife and my children were incredibly supportive and excited that I had finished. My son even drew a picture of me running, something I’ll cherish forever. The sheer number of comments and “likes” was overwhelming. In short, I was humbled.
In all of that. No matter how miserable things had been for me, there were still a large number of people rooting for me, even when I couldn’t. I was humbled.
Will I do another one? Maybe, probably. Definitely not this one. Upon further reflection I realized that this was an extremely difficult course. The final times of the elite runners show that. The first place runner came in at around two and half hours. Most marathons are won with a time of less than 2 hours 15 minutes. Given the trials I had just to get ready for this marathon, and the fact that it was an exceedingly difficult course, I realize that I should be happy with finishing. And that my time is just one of many, many who also probably had a really hard time with this course. In the end my time doesn’t matter, nor does my place.
So I’m going to go on. Humbled and happy.