Gasping for breath, feeling near death, I looked up. It’s strange what you see in that moment. Some will say your life passes before your eyes, others that there’s a bright light that you feel compelled to move towards… I looked up and saw Big Bird.
As I was contemplating the celestial meaning of my vision, I realized what I was actually seeing was a man in a Big Bird costume as he ran past me at a pace I didn’t think possible from a 9 foot tall, essentially flightless bird.
Yes, I was about 11 miles into my first half marathon, and things weren’t going well. It was 2003, and my wife, already an accomplished runner at this distance, had persuaded me to train for and run a half marathon. We ran near our house on a hilly (for me) course that we modified once (I can’t stress the “once” enough) to include an innocently named, murderous hill called “Cat Hill”. I declared myself ready, and on race day took off at what I thought was a reasonable pace, and crashed early. Towards the end, I thought I was cruising again until a ninety year old man passed me as if I was standing still. I finally crossed the finished line and set a record for fastest consumption of a Snickers bar. Between heaving breaths I told my wife that if I ever did any sport for two hours again, I wanted…to be…on the 10th…tee…not…looking…for an oxygen…mask! She politely agreed (I had slowed her down considerably in this race) and went on (without me) to compete in a number of marathons and half marathons where she did quite well.
The human mind takes about 7 years to forget unpleasant experiences, evidently, because I found myself being talked into another half marathon in October 2010. This one was to benefit adoption and we were going to run it together with our 10 month old son. My training started as most of my runs did at the time, with a lot of knee and back pain, and I didn’t think I was going to make it. My wife recommended a book she was reading on Chi Running, and I started to research the technique and barefoot running. I quickly became an advocate, buying a pair of the Vibram FiveFingers toe shoes and increasing my mileage. The running technique shortened my stride and stopped me heel-striking, which eliminated my back and knee pain in a very short amount of time. It greatly increased my calf tightness at first, but even that went away. We finished the race, pushing our son in a jogging stroller, and I actually felt pretty good. “You’re going to want to do a marathon next” my wife predicted. “Not a chance, I’m done” I said. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that’s not true.
One week later, I signed up for the Go! St. Louis Marathon, held in April 2011, and started training. I also read two books that changed how I thought about running: Born To Run (no not the Bruce Springsteen Autobiography) by Chris McDougall and To the Edge by Kirk Johnson. Both advocated that at a certain point, distance was more about the mind than the body. Sounded like a challenge, so I decided that if I survived the marathon, I’d keep moving the needle to see where my limits were. I also made the decision that if I was going to do what was arguably one of the most self-centered sports out there (even in golf, you’re usually playing with SOMEONE), that I was going to use it to help others. As I broke through my barriers: running the marathon, then a 50k, then a 50 miler, I wanted what I was doing to symbolize the struggles that the kids and the families go through. If I could raise awareness and become more aware of what I was capable of, that would be the perfect combination. Then, I got this idiotic idea….
Next in Part III- From Inspiration to Death Valley
Filed under: About my training | Tagged: adoption, chi, children, half, marathon, run, Vibram | Leave a comment »