They told me I wouldn’t sleep much . . . and they were right. The Saturday before I had run the furtherst distance of my life, eight miles. It was a painful lumber in the rain with my fellow “Couch to 5K Graduate,” Grant, on the flattest of Greenways. Now, I was standing with 30,000 other people convincing myself I could go 5.1 miles further on what many consider one of the tougher 1/2 marathon courses.
I stood next to my buddy Roger (who was also running his first 1/2) contemplating whether or not I could make it through the bathroom line in time to get back for the start. I passed and hoped the feeling would go away. Roger and I had the same goal of around 2:10 and started this journey together after a late night photograph revealed we were both turning into whales. We trained on our own, but this race was in our sights for months. His strategy was to listen to three songs with the same cadence over and over on his iPod to keep pace. Mine was to keep running.
The gun went off and our corral inched its way toward the starting mat. I was cold, had to piss, and was suddenly feeling very intimidated by the idea of running so far. I stayed with Roger for about three blocks and his methodical precision started pulling away. My biggest fear was starting too fast, so I purposely went slow, and soon . . . Roger was gone.
It didn’t take long before I started feeling the reality of a 1/2 marathon. As I got to the top of the infamous Demonbreun Street hill, I was barely 3 miles in and apparently falling asleep. This was a risk that seemed like it was sure to have a bad ending.
But, I was on a mission and started using hallucinations to my advantage. For some reason, I thought I had really picked up the pace and started spotting Roger every couple blocks. I’d see him just within striking range and pour on the muscle with plans of flying by with a big back slap on the way. But every time I got close, I realized it wasn’t him. My haphazard racing style was no match for his West Point style of discipline.
For the first 9 miles or so, I was in pain, but nothing like I was about to face at mile 10. I rounded the corner in the Gulch and hit an absolute wall. In all my years of athletics, I have never experienced such a physical meltdown. My legs basically shut off. Instead of running I began to shuffle, and as you can see from the above photo, I was one of the sexier specimens on the course at this time. They wound us into Bicentennial Park and before cutting left toward the finish line, the organizers dropped in a couple of turnarounds that absolutely ground my soul into mush. It took every fiber of my being not to walk.
My shins felt like they may literally crumble at any moment and it wouldn’t have surprised me if there were razor blades in my shorts slicing into my thighs with every step. With less than a mile to go and a downhill ahead to take me home, I still wasn’t sure I could make it without walking. Each step felt like I was putting my foot into a cauldron of boiling acid and that downhill would prove to be one of the more excruciating jaunts of my life. From watching several marathons in the past I remembered the finish line being on the other side of the stadium, but through the grace of God, I was nearly brought to tears when I my creaky ankles turned at the bottom of the hill and pointed at the finish line a mere 50 yards away. I saw the photographers hovering above ready to capture my glorious moment and put every ounce of energy I had left into raising my arms for the photo op.
I was on the verge of fainting and these two girls didn’t seem to give one shit about the fact that my eyes were rolling back into my head. The good news was, that about 10 steps after the finish line, I found myself immersed in a claustrophobic sea of humanity, which may have been the biggest challenge of the race. I was a lost boy without a home (or a medal) and instinctively started shouting “Yo Roger” in the voice of Stallone looking for Adrian.
Eventually I got my medal and found Roger. We were the proudest two guys on the block and immediately started asking people if they were using their extra beer tickets. It was like 9:30 and we were putting them back like true Wisconsin born lumberjacks. We were so impressed with our feats that we wore those medals all day and night. He finished about 5 minutes in front of me and eventually went on to run a full later that year in Huntsville before moving to the Key’s to be a full-time musician. It was quite the memory, and in 3 days, I will be on that same course. No Roger, no fear, and hopefully no pain.