The day I turned 50 is not a day that holds pleasant memories. I didn’t like it. As I wallowed in my self-pity and misery I contemplated several personal goals. One—run a marathon. Yes, I told myself that this would be the year I would take this fat old body and chug it over 26.2 miles. Could I ever do it?
It was just 10 years ago, at the age of 40, when I ran my first race. As I began training in April of that year for Atlanta’s July 4th
Peachtree Road Race, I could barely make it around the ½ mile loop in our subdivision. Yet, I knew of others who were running long distances and I figured I, too, could certainly work up to the 6.1 miles of the Peachtree. Slowly, I was able to increase my distance until finally I could run 5 – 6 miles. I was one thrilled 40 year-old running virgin when I crossed the finish line on Independence Day and was handed the revered Peachtree Road Race T-shirt.
Finishing this race was certainly not a “given.” Not only was I attempting to run 26.2 miles for the first time, but I had waited till age 50 to try it. Four years ago I aimed for a new distance and successfully completed the Alpharetta Half Marathon; but this would be twice that distance! Prior to today, my longest run was just two weeks ago when I struggled to jog back home after 20 ½ miles in the rain. I couldn’t imagine tacking on an additional 6 miles. Furthermore, two experienced marathoners told me this was the wrong “first marathon” because of the hilly course—especially over the last 9 miles. Nor was I fully trained; I lost 6 weeks of training in the winter due to illness and a week of ice in Atlanta.
More so, I am lot heavier than true runners. After registering for the marathon, my bathroom scales hit a high of 244 lbs. If I reach another of my “goals at age 50,” my weight will be the subject of an additional online discourse. For now, I will simply say even though I still fall into the Clydesdale categories of runners, when I weighed in this morning I was pleased to see a 2-1-1. Heavier runners have done it, but I don’t think I could have managed this race without losing 25 pounds in the last 2 ½ months.
On top of these challenges I had an unexpected setback. Race day was March 20, but it felt like December 25 of my childhood. I had dreamed of this day for so long and worked so hard to get here that as I went to bed last night I was too anxious to fall asleep. When my alarm sounded at 4:30 I had only had 4½ hours of sleep. Now, what would I do?
I arrived in downtown Atlanta well before 6 AM and found my way to my corral, (section). The 7 AM start found 16,000 runners eager to run the streets of Atlanta. By the time Coral L made it to the start line 11 minutes had already ticked off the clock. Yet, it was race time.
Crossing the finish line and receiving a finisher’s medal was only a small part of the joy of today’s run. It is a beautiful course that provides a scenic tour of Atlanta where we passed Centennial Olympic Park, The Carter Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church and Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. We toured the neighborhoods of Virginia Highlands, Inman Park, Candler Park and Druid Hills (emphasis on Hills!). We visited Five Points, Midtown and Decatur and wound our way through Piedmont Park. If education was what we needed we could have stopped at Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, Emory University, or Agnes Scott College.
- The race started near Georgia State University. The Mile 1 marker was located directly under my son’s dorm room window. However, a late night at work had him asleep as we jogged. I still waved toward his window.
- At Mile 2 I saw a friend in business, Ted, cheering the runners. I stopped and we chatted a moment. I discovered he recently changed jobs. Surprisingly, my left hamstring and right quads were already hurting—probably had something to do with the lack of sleep last night or yesterday’s yard work.
- One of the saddest moments of the race came on Mile 5. Off to the side was a young lady sobbing loudly with a caring friend. She was a marathon runner who apparently had injured herself and was unable to continue. It must have been agonizing for her to realize the reward of her hard work in training would not be realized today.
A critical decision came at Mile 7. I ran this same race last year as a half-marathoner. It’s at Mile 7 the race officials split the runners. The half-marathoners take a left and the marathoners continue straight ahead. I have vivid memories from last year watching the marathon runners separate from us; I wanted to be like them. Before this race I knew once I came to this point I would have to make a decision to either continue on course for the marathon or peel off and settle for 13.1. My dad’s pre-race talk suggested the half-marathon would be sufficient. Two roads diverged on the black payment and I took the one less traveled …I listened to my heart and kept running straight.
Shortly after the split I picked up a conversation with Janis from Birmingham. She was not new to marathons; this was her 69th—all since 1995.
- Mile 8 took us to Candler Park. I made a mental note to bring Julie back to visit the shops and take in lunch at Fellini’s Pizza, La Fonda or one of the other restaurants along the quaint stretch of the road.
- A pit stop welcomed me at Mile 10.
- Along the way I saw a man who appeared to be a few years older than me and definitely heavier. He was wearing a hat that read “26.2 Finisher.” I asked him about it. There at Mile 11 he told me this was his 32nd marathon. After meeting Janis this wasn’t as impressive until he told me his first was exactly two years ago. Whoa!
- Around Mile 14 I met Michael, another runner from Lawrenceville. We chatted a while and his pace gave me a break—if you can believe that.
- A quick prayer of “thanks” was said at Mile 15 as I ran by Emory University Hospital where, 6 years ago, our oldest daughter had major back surgery–we lived there for about a week.
- I took my first walk-break at Mile 17.
- A special highlight was the water station at Mile 18 where a group from my daughter’s cross-country team from Brookwood High School graciously aided the runners in memory of Amanda Riley. I enjoyed sharing a few moments with the girls and taking a couple of photos. I thought this was the most spirited water station along the route.
- At Mile 19 I saw a young man being treated by medics. I’m not sure what his problem was. I wonder if it had anything to do with the 19 miles he had run barefooted.
- At Mile 20 we were running on Los Angeles Avenue—I felt like I had run to California. However, I knew we were still in Atlanta when I had the very pleasant experience of being greeted by Amber, our oldest daughter, and her two dogs. It was also at Mile 20 where I felt the intense pain of trying to run down a steep hill—I learned that running up is sometimes better than running down.
- Mile 21 was monumental as I reached a Personal Record (PR) for distance. Each subsequent step was a PR.
- It all started falling apart at Mile 22. My feet were in terrific pain and my legs felt like logs. By now the runners were fairly spread out and much of the run was solitary. People ahead of me were walking and my speed was so slow I couldn’t catch them. However, faithful race volunteers and local residents cheered us on and called us by name (printed on our bibs) to encourage us.
- I had three goals coming into the race. I met the first two. One, finish. Two, finish within 5 hours and 30 minutes. The goal I missed was the challenge goal of ending with a pace under 12 minutes. I maintained that pace until Mile 23. One of the cheering residents held up a sign that was certainly appropriate: “Too slow to win, Too dumb to quit.”
- I surprised myself at Mile 24 when I let out an uncontrollable yelp while wincing in pain. I hope no one heard me.
- Mile 25 was a gradual uphill climb toward the finish. There was a cool, refreshing wind—I just wish it would have been blowing from behind.
- Mile 26 was filled with smiles as a long-time goal was in sight. I was once again, here, greeted by my daughter who took photos of her nearly-dead dad closing in on the finish. Seeing her there made this moment so much more memorable. The reunion on the other side of the finish line was priceless.
I’m not hiding my pleasure in finishing this race. However, I know that it would not have happened without the help of many others. As Hillary says, it takes a village. Therefore, I have a lot of people to thank for helping me meet this goal:
- My wife, Julie, for answering the multiple calls when I would be out on a long run and could not finish. “Can you come pick me up?”
- My wife, Julie, for putting up with my grumpiness after totally exhausting myself on a run—and totally disabling any ability to do anything worthwhile the rest of the day.
- My wife, Julie, for putting up my grumpiness if I didn’t get my run in that day.
- My children, (Amber, Seth, Lydia & Anna), who encouraged me in my running and offered sincere “text” congratulations for PRs.
- Debbie Cousineau, my coach at the Alpharetta YMCA, who gave me running tips early in my training and who also introduced me to John Bingham’s book, No Need for Speed.
- The City of Alpharetta for building and maintaining the Alpharetta Big Creek Greenway where I have logged a lot of miles before and after work.
- A host of everyday people who demonstrated to me that running a marathon is possible: Tim Wilson, James Benson, Russell Reece, Rob Ketterer, and many more.
- My friends on Daily Mile who offered constant encouragement and exemplified the discipline of running.
- Mizuno for making my running shoes of choice, (Wave Creations and Wave Riders)
- The Hibbett Sporting Goods on Scenic Highway in Snellville where I buy all my running shoes—coupons and sales are the “trick.”
- Garmin, for creating the Forerunner 305 running watch.
- Gwinnett County for putting sidewalks on Five Forks Trickum Road–Now, I don’t have to drive away from home to find a starting point for a run.
- Runner’s World; Like the Bible for my spiritual life, Runner’s World magazine constantly provides me with expert advice and encouragement for running and all things related.
- My fellow co-workers at BIS Benefits, especially the rest of our Operations Team—Betsy & Maria, who provided encouragement and regularly asked about my training.
- Atlanta HR Prayer Breakfast Host Team who introduced me to the Daniel Fast which played a huge role in my weight loss leading up to the marathon.
- Cross Country Coaches at Brookwood High School who taught me, via osmosis, as they trained my children on their teams.
- The Coca-Cola Company and the Clif Bar & Company for the Powerade Zero and the Clif Shot bloks that keep me fueled on my runs.
- QT for providing well placed pit stops and cold Powerade Zero, smartwater, and band aids.
- Gwinnett International Farmer’s Market where I buy most of my healthy fuel, (fruit and veggies).
- Publix, (where my wife finds shopping to be a pleasure), for taking over the sponsorship of the Publix Georgia Marathon after ING pulled out.
- The multitude of volunteers and sponsors who made the Publix Georgia Marathon possible and enjoyable.
- Finally, though I am not a country music star I star I would still like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by whom I live, move and have my being, (exist).
After the race my daughter, after seeing wide variety of people running marathons, said “I think I want to run one.” Ah yes, a running partner for the next one.