Pounding Pavement

My relationship with running from loathing to my first marathon

Watching a child with a higher-than-optimal Body Mass Index stumble off the track in exhaustion gave me a sense of hope. I could join him. Maybe we’d become friends and make finger paintings together. In the interest of potential friendship, I further reduced my already Eeyore-worthy pace to a zombie-like shuffle. Eyes fixed on the sweet release of a run-well-quit, I sauntered across two lanes towards the outside of the track. Who was I, a fifth grader, to be running an 800 meter race anyhow? Before a single foot could escape the recycled rubber death-loop, an event coordinator blocked my route shouting encouragement that ranged from marginally-motivating to nearly insensitive. I would have to finish after all. With each step, I laboriously sucked in a sweet mix of sweat, car exhaust, and dying leaves. As the finish line neared, each clap from the crowd of coats and mittens felt less genuine and more of a plea to let them return home in time to watch LOST. My mom says I cried. I probably did. I was young, television was strange, finger painting had gone out of style, and plump kids received special treatment from race officials.

And so began my relationship with running.

Before I ever set foot on a track, my mind wandered around a religiously affiliated school. That particular stage of my formative years consisted of a healthy dose of lego bricks, bibles, and hot lunch. Later, after transferring to public school, I experienced a major shift in the form of cold lunch, evolution, and cursing. Kids swear–a lot. In my experience up to that point, the only thing scarier than Satan himself were the words he reportedly used while defecating. Over the years I grew accustomed to the vocabulary of my peers, but out of principle never joined them–that is, until one fateful day.

Jogging around the same track I had wanted to flee from just five years earlier, I now had purpose. My soccer coach had ordered the team to run eight laps around the track. While I appreciated the necessity of fitness in the beautiful game, my thighs made a strong counter argument. With labored breathing, I finished the eighth lap. That’s when things got real.

“Okay, now you will run as many laps as you can in the next twelve minutes.”

The coach added an additional twelve minutes of running. If a lion were to have sprung out of the pine-filled woods near the track and picked me for a delightfully pale snack, I wouldn’t have fought–I would have welcomed the mauling. Alas, no such ferocious feline appeared and I trudged on. As I rounded a corner, my mind reached its filtering capacity. I turned to a teammate and spouted words that cracked my filter forever. Now, I don’t necessarily endorse its use, but I have yet to find a more satisfying use of the F word in my entire life.

In theory, I should have found success in running. I had the perfect build–what my friends affectionately described as “tall, awkward, and lanky.” I simply never considered running worthwhile.

Then, things changed. Amidst the carols, presents, and lights of the holiday season, a pair of high school friends proposed that we run a marathon. After considering this proposal from the same friends who had consumed eight-patty burgers from Wendy’s just months earlier, I made a decision. My answer was a very articulate “What the hell? Let’s do it.”

The motivation stemming from my certain doom carried me for weeks. I trained, slowly losing “excess holiday cheer” and racking up the mileage necessary to complete the race.

The training continued, off and on, up to the point that my college schedule allowed. By the time my freshman year of college ended, I had completed a half-marathon. Arriving home for the summer, my training lagged. I never eclipsed 13.1 miles. Instead I sporadically ran for random distances when I had motivation. The marathon loomed. With only days left, the lack of consistent training began to frighten me.

At 4:30 a.m. on June 22, 2013 I picked myself off of a friend’s floor to the sound of an irritatingly-cheery alarm. The bags under my eyes rivaled the size of my race-issued sweat bag. More alarms blared as co-runners forced themselves awake. With little more than grunts, we overloaded a friend’s trusty–just not when it needs to start–Subaru.

After a brief car ride, bus shuttle, and shamble to the start line, reality set in swiftly.

I wish I could share details about the race itself. To be honest, however, it was as exciting as a bunch of people’s feet colliding with pavement for a long time through fog and rain can be: monotonous. Yes, I met interesting people, encouraged others, and ate my mile-17 banana with zealous. What matters most, though, is the fact that I finished a 26.2 mile race never having ran more than half that distance. Willpower, friends, and resolve carried me the final few miles. I ran a marathon.

My mother, who vividly remembers my failed attempt at quitting the 800 meter race in fifth grade, tried to reason with me the night before the marathon. She told me I didn’t “have to do it” and that I didn’t “have to finish.”

“Yes I do” I replied. I did.

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