My watch died at mile 20. I have nothing to tell me how fast I’m going except the markers every mile. It’s just me and the course now.
Mile 20, 21, 22…
My world narrows to the head of a pin.
Mile 23, 24, 25…
I’m just a lump of flesh on legs.
I am lungs breathing in and out.
I am a mind telling my ravaged body to take one more step, and then another, and then another.
Not for time. Not to beat anyone. Just to cross the finish line.
This is my 14th marathon. I just turned 38. This is not my first rodeo. I know what to expect. I know it’s going to be agony no matter what.
I know that no matter how good I feel at mile 7, that’s not going to last. Don’t believe your body. It lies. Save something for later. You’ll need it.
A marathon doesn’t begin at the start line. It starts at least 12 weeks before that.
Really, it starts the day you decide you are a runner.
For me, that was in 7th grade.
I was an overweight, sedentary 6th grader who had a penchant for video games and pizza. Then in 7th grade, I discovered open gym basketball. I ran up and down the courts playing pick-up for hours every night.
In gym class, we combined with the 8th graders and ran a half-mile twice a week, every week. I was an average, middle-of-the-pack runner.
Then suddenly, one day I finished first in one of the gym class half-miles. I beat all the 8th graders. I had no idea how that happened. I thought God granted me some sort of one-day miracle.
In actuality, I stumbled upon the concept of training.
Since that day I’ve been chasing that feeling — of breaking through. Of defying your limits. Of doing what you never thought you were capable of accomplishing.
But I know now that doesn’t come without costs.
My very first cross country race in 8th grade, I finished second — and immediately threw up 5 times. It wasn’t the last time I threw up after a race.
My hero was Bob Kempainen, who won the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials while throwing up in the last few miles — not once but twice. For this feat, he made headlines and was featured in a Nike ad displaying him doubled over while projectile vomiting.
I wrote him a letter telling him how much I admired his fortitude and how I, too, threw up after my first race while giving it my all. He wrote me back a handwritten letter wishing me good luck on my cross country season. I kept it taped up in my room for all four years of high school.
Today I will empty all the liquid contents of my stomach. But that will come later when I’m at home on the couch. My kids will run to my side and bring me a trash can.
Right now, I am running down the finishing chute by myself. I am both filled with pain and impervious to suffering.
I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude.
I think of my wife and family who have allowed me this personal indulgence of running for hours each weekend. I think of my friend Jason who has followed me on this course, single-handedly firing up cheering squads as I headed their way. I think of the years and years and miles upon miles that have lead to this point and all the people who have joined me on this journey.
I look up and see the clock ticking past 2:51. I know it’s going to be a massive personal record. At age 38, after 25 years of running, I still have something left in me.
I raise my fist and soak up every second as I approach the finish line. I’d probably cry if I wasn’t dehydrated.
It’s now all come down to this.
Just a few more steps.
I cross the finish line in 2:52:09. It’s a PR of 4 1/2 minutes.
I head straight to the medical tent.
My body feels defeated.
I’ve never felt better.