My First Marathon

It has been a goal of mine to run a marathon for a long time.  At least since I went into the Marine Corps in 1989 and thought that it was something that I could do.  I had the gumption and at the time I had the strength.  But life happens and I never got around to it.  Funny how years slip by.  I’ve never been much of a runner.  I ran in the Marines but it was an infrequent thing.  I’d run every other month or so in my sparetime, three miles or so, or a couple of runs in preparation for our yearly physical fitness test.  After the Marines I was a semi regular jogger of 4 to 7 miles.  I’d jog once a week or so for a month and then wouldn’t do it again for months.

I got involved in hashing from some friends who were doing it.  I shouldn’t say this (it’ll incur a down down) but hashing has helped my Army APFT runtimes get better.  Even after twisting my other ankle (first one twisted on infantry training) while on a hash I was able to run my fastest two mile ever four days later.  But school started and I stopped hashing for months until the summer started and I began to hash some more.  At the same time we were informed that our Army APFT would be in August.  I wanted to start training for an even better run.  So I went out and bought some great running shoes, a Nike + sensor, and an iPod Nano to track my runs.  And then I began running.  There were runs of only 2 miles that, after running every other day, hurt!  I even quit one a training run because my legs ached so much.

It was during various events that I started to talk to someone and gradually she moved from the ranks of the pretty to those of the interesting to that of the neat and then to those of the datable and so on.  We began a closer friendship and she found out about my running progress.  I had at this time worked up to doing 7 miles without too much pain (it was my long run only three weeks earlier and now I was increasing my distance).  Since I had started running and increasing distance, as a direct result of the social aspect on the Nike website and wanting to add miles to my totals and competing with various other groups on Nike website, I had the idea of running the Portland Run Like Hell 1/2 marathon of 13.1 miles.  I wasn’t able to run 13 miles yet but I felt I could be ready for it in three months.  I had no idea.  But this special someone, with whom I was getting closer to as time went by, told me of her experiences of training for and running the Portland Marathon.  She told me that I was on pace in my training to make it and her confidence in my ability to do it was so sure that I couldn’t help but believe her.  Not only did she believe in me, but she has run it also and it was from this experience that made it all the more believeable.  So I started to think that it was an attainable goal.

Our relationship got closer though we were cautious and slow in things.  Contrary to what some people think as the right pace in relationships we ignored it and did our own thing… several dates and weeks of seeing each other and we had still not kissed.  We were content in laying a foundation instead of a sprint.   At the end of my shifts I would get off of work at midnight and go run my routes, sometimes 5 miles, sometimes 10, and every other week or so I’d do a longer one.  I hit my 1/2 marathon, then 16 miles, and then one week I did 20 miles.  I would have never thought it possible to do 20 miles.  I could see that my goal of running a marathon was never really a goal but a dream and dreams are not accomlished… they are simply hopes without action.  I had long since quit believing that I could ever really run a marathon and here I was doing 20 miles and believing that I could do one.  My hope had ceased to be an unattainable dream and one that was doable.  It was because she saw the potential in me and encouraged me and I believed her.

On my runs I would think of many things and one of the things that motivated me the most was that this run was going to be symbolic for me.  I had a dream of being able to be with someone and allowing them to be with me, that I could be present with a person, that I could allow someone into my heart and past my defenses, that I could ask for help if needed, that I didn’t need to be the stoic hero all the time, that I could let the relationship be truly equal.  I had long since adopted the egalitarian aspects in my views of relationships, that is that there are no roles for the man or woman (or to be fair, the woman and woman or man and man)_ that there is no head of the household and all that jazz.  But I still held onto emotional aspects that as the man I had to be the strong one emotionally.  It is something I come across again and again in my readings about soldiers, PTSD, and troubled marriages.  I would move above it.  I’ve known forever what I truly wanted in a relationship and yet have never got, whether the blame was on me or her or both.  I was determined to do the emotional work on myself that should I meet someone remarkable, truly special, that I would be equally remarkable and special, and that together we could build something amazing together.  That means that I had to do the work.  You just don’t wake up some morning able to run a marathon… you just don’t wake up some morning able to be fully, emotionally, present with your partner.  It takes training and dedication.  And as I trained for the runs I could see the similarity in my therapies, introspection, and life thus far as my training for that something special I wanted.  It was this Summer that I felt I was ready to begin something remarkable with someone remarkable, the first time in years I’ve truly believed.  Again with the hope/dream thing… I’ve hoped for a remarkable relationship but I see that it’s been more of a dream than something attainable.  But doing the work, never quitting, and my heart growing more and over time, I finally felt I was able to do it.  That was before I met her and the timing has been serendipitous.

The date came.  I was nervous.  I had done my 20 miler like a month before and a short 13 miler 2 weeks before.  I worried about peaking too soon, about tapering the wrong way, about not having the right nutrients in my body, about pacing, and so on.  She got up at 4 a.m. and came to my place and we rode to the marathon together.  I am glad she offered.  She asked a couple of times, hesitantly, and I was hesitant in asking her to do so much.  Truth is I really wanted her with me and she wanted to be with me.  So we went together and hung out before the starting buzzer.  It was great to have her with me.  I had on my right wrist a crimson ribbon (with glitter on it) from her as a reminder.  It had been on a present from her two weeks earlier (some gummy bars for runners) and I had the idea to wear it during the race to remind me of the symbology of the run for me, as well as what awaited me at the finish line.  For we had still not kissed yet (though it almost happened several times before hand) and I had asked her a month earlier that if we hadn’t done so if I could have a kiss upon comletion of the marathon (she gladly agreed).

I started up my iPhone with RunKeeper Pro on it, that tracks my run with GPS, time and elevation, and also plays music and gives me updates on pace and such.  I took an easy 10 minute mile pace to warm up for the first couple of miles.  I stopped twice in three miles for quick bathroom break.  Nerves I guess.  Around mile five or so (?) I saw her on the side of the road with her camera.  She was smiling and wavaing and I was glad to see her.  Also during the run my phone would check for email every now and then and I would hear a tiny bing sound letting me know new mail had arrived.  It is usually quiet for Sunday mornings but I had posted on Facebook that I was starting my marathon and I had a hunch that the incoming mail messages were from friends wishing me well.  So while I was running, at miles 5, 10, 17, and so on… I would get a bing and I’d smile at some yet unseen comment from a friend to do well.  Thank you all.  It meant a lot.  Not only that but I later saw a friend had gone online and found my chip time and was sending out constant updates on my progress as I crossed measuring  lines on the course.  Wonderful!  Thank you so much!

I had a good pace.  I would move between 8 and 9.  Around mile 5 I felt a blister on my left food.  I was surprised because I’ve gotten about 200 miles of training in these shoes and have had only small blisters in the beginning.  Why the blister now?  At mile 10 I could feel it bigger, squishy, and moving around.  I stopped thinking about it, knowing that I’d deal with it later but for now now to worry about it.  It stopped being a nuissance and at the end of the day, back home, I looked and was surprised to see a small blister on the edge of a huge blood blister.  Strange.

I soaked up the marathon.  I looked around me everwhere.  When a flock of geese flew overhead I was smiling and counting them.  I saw little kids on the side of the road offering up high-fives (but since they were around age 6 they were really low-fives) and I would run to get every one I saw.  Lots of bands playing and I would shout out to all of them.  People on the side of the road would see my runner card with my name on it and yell out “Go Eddie”.  I began to wonder what this would do for veterans.  It was simple encouragement from people around me and that was a lot.  What if our society gave simple encouragement to veterans.  No hero worship, no kissing ass… just a simple “we are behind you… keep going”.

And also in the merit of the message of dedication and thinking of one’s life (and one’s relationships) as marathons and not sprints.  This hit home several times as I would feel great for a mile, and then I’d struggle to find my groove for another mile, find a great stride/pace in another mile and feel like I could do it forever, and then wonder why I had no rhythm in the mile after that.  Yet I kept going and I knew that it was my days in and day out of training before hand as well as my gumption that kept me going… AND… the knowledge that I had lots of people cheeing me on.  Running to prove something to people didn’t seem important at the time of running… but running with people believing in me… that helped.

Around the 1/2 way point I was going up a minor hill in the NW area of Portland.  The song that came on was not really matching what I wanted for the moment and I did a double-click on my home button and switched to the next song.  Somehow it turned off my GPS and so I only have 1/2 the marathon map-tracked on RunKeeper.  I am disappointed in this a lot.  Oh well.  Life happens.  I didn’t notice this until it was all over.

Around this time I noticed a fit looking guy pulling over to the side with a leg cramp.  Up until then I had not thought about failing… but there isn’t much you can do when your hammy seizes up on you and I had a hint of fear creep in.  What if my legs cramp?  How can I run with cramped legs?  I noted also that fears pop up in life as well when we are reminded of our mortality.  We expect to live this marathon of life and then we see someone our age get blindsided by circumstance and we feel that fear that we somehow ignore all of our days.  I had no choice, really, but to keep running and when to take my gummy bars often and when water presented itself on the run to take it.  Likewise in life I ought to take time to do the things that will help me in this life.  What difference if is it if I live to be a hundred and yet do not have a happy and fulfilling life?

The notorious up hill portion toward the St John Bridge came and I had a great stride and pace and I kept pace with all round me that continued to run up the hill.  Lots of people walked, lots ran. The bridge was fun and we found ourselves running by the University of Portland.  Around mile 20 I felt tight in my legs and around 21 I could feel a cramp wanting to set in.  I growled and clinched my teeth, daring it to cramp up and having a contest of wills with my leg.  But then I felt this was the wrong way to go.  So I relaxed and tried to find myself a gliding pace, a less jerky pace, an easy motion of chi in the body.  Over the next mile it was a game of peek a boo with the cramp until it finally went away.  At the same time Enigma’s “Between Mind and Heart” came over my iPod and I felt like I was on cloud 9.  I positively floated and felt so wonderful!  But that lasted only a little bit… for…the hardest part of the marathon was to come.

After that there was a long downhill and that hurt more than the running up hill did.  I was so thankful when we leveled out.  My pace had diminished a lot.  I was reaching my limit of endurance, it seemed.  Two miles left and time for the gut check that I had written of in an earlier post.

The date of the marathon was approaching my sweetheart told me that people were allowed to run the last 2 miles with someone as encouragement.  She wanted to know if she could run with me.  I was undecided.  I wanted to do this on my own as proof of my own strength… but yet I also wanted her to run with me as proof of the overall symbology of the run to me, that I can do things with someone and let them into my heart.  I was still wavering on the fence when she told me that she’d like to run with me for, along with the reason of support, that otherwise she would not be able to get to me at the finish line for that first kiss.  That sealed it… I wanted her to run with me.  As I approached the 24 mile mark and the wonderful hashers were there passing out small cups of beer (I had two) she  joined me and we finished.  I got disheartened because I was being passed left and right by runners and I felt I was getting slower.  My legs were giving out and I was reaching down for what little strength I had left in my legs to push me on.  She kept running just a little in front of me and was pointing out colors and stuff on the road.  It was a little distracting for I wanted to zone into my running and find a pace I could settle into.  But thinking back on it now I am glad she did that because I might have slowed way down from what I was.  I kept trying to keep up with her instead of zoning out and settling into a pace.  I am thankful that she was with me.  As we neared the last .2 mile, the final turns, I asked her not to run too far in front of me.  I had a resurgence of strength and I pushed it harder, feeling new strength in my legs.  As we turned the corner for that last block I reached out and took hold of her hand and we finished the marathon hand in hand.

Walking over to the side, out of the way of incoming runners, I was overcome with emotion at my accomplishment and here she is with me, not only celebrating it with me, but also a cause in my being here in the first place, the support and encouragement along the way in training, and also experiencing it with me at the end, and I can think of no other way I wanted to cross that line than holding her hand.  We stood there, holding each other and feeling the elation of the accomplishment and then we kissed a kiss that is worth a hundred marathons.

I am capable of doing great things.  I am capable of going the distance, in not letting hills and bumps and pain stop me.  I am capable of letting someone else be with me, of my being with them, of letting them into my heart.  I am capable.

And I can also run a marathon.

Bib: 6343
Name: EDDIE BLACK Gender:
M  Age: 38
Overall: 2974 out of 8103
Men: 1983 out of 3829

Finish: 4:13:36 Pace: 9:41
Tag Time: 4:13:36
Gun Time: 4:19:28

Split Times
10 Km: 59:18 Pace: 9:33
8.9 Mi: 1:25:08 Pace: 9:34
Half: 2:03:39 Pace: 9:26
17.5 Mi: 2:44:47 Pace: 9:25
20 Mi: 3:08:46 Pace: 9:27
21.1 Mi: 3:19:49 Pace: 9:29

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