How (not) to run a marathon

marathon1The first half went smoothly. Perfect 62 degree weather. A forgiving course along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania. Trees and shade, air and wind, quick steps and sweat in the sun: there is, in my humble view, simply no better way to spend a Sunday morning. And so it was that I felt good, just good, for 13 miles at 7:30 pace, just as planned.


It’s 7 a.m. and I’m filled with hope

At the halfway point, after miles of silence in nature, I found cheerful crowds. And Kelly. She handed me my Tailwind bottle, and told me I looked great. Maybe, I thought. But in truth my lungs and legs and digestive system were protesting. As in: refusing to keep that pace. Saying: we. should. stop. running.

A thought: I can simply pull out and give up, like two years ago. A counter-thought: no. I’d trained for this. Dreamed about it. Planned for it. Traveled from LA. After my surgeries and doubts and challenging recoveries I want this.

But first the stages of grief. Let me create the narrative right now, I thought after saying bye to Kelly. Hitting the trail again I slowed down. The denial (stage 1) was now behind me. I realized this was not the morning for anything like a personal best or a Boston qualifying time. Here was the anger (stage 2). I felt frustrated, cheated somehow by myself; how come I can’t hold this half-decent pace after all my hours of training and preparing? Bargaining (stage 3) was next: maybe if I slow down now, drink more, if I’m tougher on myself, if, if ,if. Around mile 16, a moment of shallow depression (stage 4) set in. I walked and felt my shoulders slump. I wondered how I might really stop and even disappear – from the race, from the world. I had to smile a my own ridiculousness. Kelly was at mile 20, I knew that, and that was where I was going. I remembered parts of the little list I had created for myself and tried to follow these simple tips from me to me:

Breathe calmly
Shoulders down
Back and neck straight
Head still
Swing arms back
Rotate hips
Lift knees
Controlled light steps
Land softly
Be a gazelle
One mile at the time
Don’t give up
Think of NYC 2010

Acceptance (stage 5) came, thankfully, as I made my way through the woods, following runners who had earlier passed me, passing walkers, being passed by faster souls, and opening my gaze to what was around me. I realized I was very lucky to be here, now, doing this. Speed was not the issue, this run in Pennsylvania was – nothing more and nothing less.

351I finished in a time that’s not worth mentioning. And I felt grateful: my knees an foot and back and mind were in good order, even after my first real attempt at the 42K in almost four years.

This was one of the most beautiful courses and one of the best organized races I have participated in. Lovely all around – including terrific volunteers and free beer at the finish. If you’re anywhere close, go run it. Fly in if you have to, like I did. You may or may not qualify for Boston, but you will have experienced something special along the Lehigh River.