Running for It, Epilogue: In which I finally wrap up this whole wretched exercise

I put on the ol’ green eyeshade today, whipped out a calculator, and did a little figuring on just what this marathon thing has entailed. To wit:

  • Number of weeks spent in training: 32 (calendar-wise, just over seven months)
  • Number of miles run in training and in actual races: approximately 754.3 (that’s like running all the way from Kansas City to, say, Glenwood Springs, Colorado)
  • Number of emergency dumps taken: innumerable
  • Number of blog readers and Facebook friends alienated by constant scatological references: all six of them

That’s kind of humbling, actually. In the midst of it, when I was just taking it one run at a time, I certainly didn’t think of it in those terms. Doing so probably would have scared me off the thing from the beginning. So I guess it’s for the best that I did these calculations now, instead of back in late February when I started this thing.

Wow… late February. It wasn’t that long ago, really, but looking back on those early posts it’s like I’m reading words written by a completely different person. Look at the guy complaining about having to run six whole miles! Look at the guy stunned–stunned!–when he learns that you can’t run 10+ miles on an empty stomach! Look at the whiner complaining because a run did not go absolutely perfectly! So sweetly naive, I was, with so much to learn about what it would mean to give up every weekend for the better part of a year to run for hours on end with nobody chasing me.

Something’s different now. I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m not the same person I was when I–perhaps rashly–made the decision to run a half-marathon and a marathon in the same year, despite never before having run more than three or four miles competitively. I don’t quite understand how, but I’m just now beginning to see that somehow a switch inside me has been flipped. Frankly, I’m not sure I even grasp quite what that switch controls, and I’m willing to bet the wiring isn’t up to code, but that switch was thrown anyway, and I am not the same.

It wasn’t just crossing the finish line in Chicago after nearly five hours of perspiration and effort… it’s just as much a product of the long road I ran to get there. The early mornings when I dreaded the sound of the alarm… the exhausting, sweat-soaked exertions of July and August… the peaceful, long runs in the cool of September… They changed me. I am not the same.

After all these months of training and cross-training, I am unquestionably a better runner, a better athlete. I’m not necessarily a faster runner, but that’s not what this was about, even if there were weeks when speed was all I could think about. No, for me at least, it’s been about learning to endure–to push on when you want to stop, when it seems like the only rational thing to do is quit, when the little voice inside your head suddenly turns BIG and will not stop screaming for you to QUIT because FOR GOD’S SAKE why are you trying to kill yourself? You endure.

I endured.

And I’m going to do it again. Oh heck yeah, I’m going to do it again. I’ve run one marathon now and I have to say that I’ve developed a taste for it. I can’t let all these gains fall by the wayside. I can’t just check the “run a marathon” box off my bucket list and move on to the “climb Mount Kilimanjaro before the snows melt for good” box (note to self: need to discuss the African mountain climbing with the wife). I want to do it again. I want to do it better.

And I want to do more: maybe I’ll do a triathlon. Or an ultra-marathon. Or one of those crazy runs where you have to jump through fire and crawl through mud and dodge wolverines and stuff. Some have suggested I try for the Ironman. (Let’s get real, people. I mean, come on.)

Then again, who knows what the future may bring? Besides, of course, the inevitable robot apocalypse.

But… perhaps I’ve said too much.

And so ends “Running for It,” this weekly series of blog posts which have chronicled the struggles of an aging, bony nerd to prove that he still has a little life in his aging, nerdy bones. I hope they’ve been worth your time, maybe even inspiring in a way. Look, if I can do something crazy like this, then what can you do? Probably more than you think you can. So get up! Try something audacious, something rash, something that seems impossible! Just remember what yer old Uncle Price taught you:

Endure, endure, endure, endure, endure… and always stay within sight of a toilet.

Running for It, Week 32: In which I RUN A MARATHON

Fine. It’s done. I did it. I ran your precious Chicago Marathon. Are you happy now? Are you?!

Because I am.

I, Price Horn (you know, that weird funny-looking guy who named his son after Captain Kirk and who reads comic books at lunch and who has dolls action figures all over his house), just ran twenty-six point two freaking miles, babies.

Which is not to say that he ran them well. But, before we get too deep into that, let’s jump right to the numbers:

  • 4:45:58
  • 19950th out of 35708 finishers
  • 12934th out of 20255 male finishers
  • 2170th out of 3300 male finishers 40-44

Note that I used “finishers” instead of “runners.” That’s because the marathon results website thingy only counts people who actually finished the race, completely discarding the results of anyone who started but did not finish. And I say to the people who are responsible for compiling these figures: BOO TO YOU. 45,000 people registered for this thing; what happened to the other 10,000? (And don’t give me that noise about the wheelchair participants; there were only like 50 of those guys.) I understand that a bunch of them didn’t even show up, because of illness or apathy or alien abduction. But how many started and then crapped out before the end? Look: my numbers would seem so much better if you counted everyone who ran, even if they didn’t finish. So let’s work on that for next year, shall we?

And speaking of those numbers: 4:45:58?! That’s not just slower that I expected to run, it’s WAY slower than I expected to run… slower, in fact, than I have ever run, even on the worst of my long runs back in the sweltering summer. What the heck happened? In the midst of it, when I was too busy putting one foot in front of the other, I wasn’t really worried about pace. I was just running what felt right at the time, and for whatever reason, what felt right that morning was wicked slow. I’m not sure why, but I have some theories:

  • I didn’t sleep well the night before and woke up with virtually no energy.
  • I ate something on Saturday that didn’t quite sit right, and thus woke up with a (very) minor case of the Hershey Squirts. (That’s the last time I consume a burrito that I find on the sidewalk.)
  • It was a little warmer than was strictly comfortable, pushing 80 by the time I hit the finish line, and most of the race was in direct sun.
  • Localized time warp?

To be fair, I’m not the only one who ran slow that day (and even with that time, I was still in the top two-thirds of finishers in my specific categories, and just a hair off the top half in finishers overall). Every single runner I talked to afterwards–and I mean it, every single one–complained about how slow they had run that day. I can’t tell you how many times I heard some lean, sweaty marathon vet griping about his or her “worst time ever.” Most blamed the weather… sure, sounds good to me. It does make me feel a little better to know that everyone was struggling (everyone, of course, but the Kenyan who won the whole thing and set a course record that day). And I could tell, just looking at the faces around me, that people were working a lot harder than they had expected.

I really enjoyed passing those people.

When I could squeeze past them, of course. It was, shall we say, crowded. The starting gun went off and it took more than twenty minutes to get to the starting line and actually start, you know, running. During those first couple of miles as we made our way through the skyscraper canyons of downtown, I probably could have stopped running and just been carried along by the participants to either side of me. We were wedged in pretty tight there for a while, is what I’m saying. Trying to get around someone moving slower than me (yes, there were a few of them) was an exercise in futility, like trying to extricate myself from a maze whose walls kept moving.

And more than once, I was one of those walls for someone else. Somewhere around mile eight or nine, a tiny little lady–four feet and change, max, with disturbingly muscular legs–had to slide past me and she threw some weird, angry gesture at me as she passed. (After that, the girl in front of me got the business end of Tiny Angry Lady’s elbow.) That was kind of an unpleasant experience, I suppose, though not as unpleasant as the tied-up plastic grocery sack full of fecal matter that I passed on the march to the starting line.

But that’s nit-picking. Other than my oddly slow pace, it was phenomenal. Just being surrounded by tens of thousands of runners (many of them marathon newbies like me) as we waited for the race to begin, as we wound through tree-lined neighborhoods where perfect strangers had risen early to cheer us on, as we plodded on through assorted ethnic enclaves where we were loudly celebrated in assorted tongues… it was thrilling. Adrenaline-boosting. Especially around the halfway point and around mile 19 when I caught sight of the family and friends that had made the trip to Chicago, catching trains and buses all over the city to watch me do my thing at various points along the course.

they wrote “go” but forgot to write “away”

Of course, cheer-based adrenaline can only take you so far: ’round about that last sighting of the cheering section, I was really starting to feel it. Call it “The Wall,” call it whatever you want, but my feet were aching, and I was feeling the first glimmers of a raw, steady burn in my quadriceps. I was tired. By mile 21 (”I still have another five miles?!“), I was in uncharted territory. I had never run that far before, and my body would not shut up about it. All I could think about was stopping.

Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop running. Stop running now. It hurts. It hurts. Stop running.

But I didn’t, of course. I may have been running slow, but BY GOD I wasn’t going to stop. People were collapsing, dropping out… but after sinking months of training into preparing for it, spending all that money to register and to travel, there was no way I was going to throw it all away just to disappoint everyone. That’s right, the only things keeping me going were cheapness (sheer skinflintery!) and fear of looking like a chump. (Well, more like a chump.)

By mile 24, it was all I could do to move forward–just take a step, and then repeat. I was grunting like an animal, my legs quivering, burning. Runners around me were reacting similarly to the ravages of the race: weeping, panting, puking in the middle of the street. It seemed like I had been running forever, and that I would have to keep on running, forever.

This is never going to end. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. Stop. Please, stop.

But then, a sign: “800m.” Only 800 meters left in the race. I could hear the loud, raucous cheers of the finish-line crowds, the pounding music from the loudspeakers, and right then I knew: I got this. And at that moment, I forgot about the pain and the crippling fatigue, and ran faster in that last mile than I had run the entire race.

600m.

400m.

The 26-mile mark, right in the middle of the final hill of the course. So close. (And so focused was I on finishing strong that I completely missed the cheering section who had traipsed across town to see me finish. Sorry, folks, but I had a thing.)

200m.

And then it was done. Finish line. Medal. Photos. Bananas. Cold towels. Cold water. Cold beer.

I let loose with a manic war whoop, threw my cap in the air, and cared not one whit what anyone thought. Maybe it was slower than I wanted, but I did it. I ran a marathon. I was exhausted, and stepping up on a curb felt like I was stabbing myself in the leg, but I ran a marathon. I smelled like death, but I always kind of smell like death, and

I.

RAN.

A.

MARATHON.

And here’s the best part: because I got it all out of my system at the port-a-potty before the race, I ran 26 miles and 385 yards–a life-changing experience that took nearly five hours–and didn’t have to stop even once to take a dump.

Call it what you want, my friends… I call it victory.

thumbs up for medals, thumbs down for deep, crippling exhaustion

Running for It, Week 31: In which it’s all over but the cryin’

A week from now, it will all be over. (If it’s not–if I’m still running in the late afternoon of Race Day, then something will have gone seriously wrong. For example, perhaps I will have been thrown by an immensely powerful wind gust deep into Lake Michigan, forcing me to battle cold and deadly rip currents to fight my way back to the race where–weary and soaking wet–I will have dutifully taken my place at the back of the pack and plodded forward. More likely, I will have overslept and missed the whole thing.)

Anyway, by this time next week, I will be overwhelmed with one or more of the following:

  • triumph
  • exhaustion
  • humility
  • a deep, abiding shame

Or possibly all of the above.

There’s a part of me that is so wrapped up in the minutiae and effort of training that it has not really had time to contemplate what’s about to happen. Unfortunately, it’s a very tiny part of me. The other 97.39 percent of me is cripplingly obsessed with contemplating what’s about to happen, with ridiculous questions bubbling up over and over again inside my noggin.

  • What if I hurt myself between now and then?
  • What if the weather is terrible?
  • What if I oversleep and miss the whole thing?
  • How fast should I run on Race Day?
  • What if I choose a pace that’s too fast?
  • What if I choose a pace that’s too slow?
  • What if I choose a pace that’s just right, and then I’m eaten by a family of bears?

As I said, the questions are a little on the ridiculous side, except for the one about the bears. Here’s the one that worries me the most:

  • What if I’m not prepared?

I’ve been training for a long time. It feels like it’s gone well, but how am I supposed to know what feels right? I don’t have a coach to give me feedback. Sure, I’ve been using a plan devised by an old–and I do mean old– pro, but I haven’t been training with anyone else. Some friends that are marathon vets have given me a little advice here and there based on my Runkeeper stats, but they’re on the other side of the country. They’re not inside my head. (As far as I know, anyway. No, I know they’re not in there. No one could survive such an experience.)

So how do I know what feels right?

For example, I burned it up on my 20-mile run a few weeks ago, going much faster than I ever had before on a long run. And then, these past few weeks as I’ve been tapering off my distances, I’ve been going relatively fast on my mid-week runs and also on my long-ish Saturday runs. For example, on my 12-miler last weekend I was doing better than a 10-minute mile, and on yesterday’s eight-miler at Smithville Lake (the final Saturday long run of this here training regimen) I ran faster than I’ve run in months, even on my short mid-week runs.

look close and you’ll see where I took a wrong turn at the end

Crazy! I don’t know if that was the right thing to do or not. (And I know for a fact that I shan’t be running that fast next weekend. Not even close.) I know that it felt right at the time, but because I’ve never done this before, I don’t know if I’m the best judge of what feels right. What if I do what feels right during the marathon, and it ends up being wrong and I crap out (please, I beg you, not literally) before 26.2?

Then again, here’s the elevation map of the course:

almost as flat as a pancake, but not nearly as tasty

That’s the flattest course I will have ever run. (If I am reading the map correctly, those spikes are bridges over assorted waterways.) Truly flat courses are hard to come by ’round here. The closest I’ve come is my 20-miler, which felt flat, but which actually gently rolled up and down. I can’t compare the two courses, really. They’re just different, is all, and while my performance on one probably says something about my performance on the other, I have no idea what it says.

If I run as fast as I did for my 20-miler, I can probably finish the marathon at around 4:15. If I slow down just a bit, and run about the speed I ran for some of my slower long runs over the summer, I can do it in 4:30. As luck would have it, there are these “Pace Teams” that run at set finishing times, and you can sign up for them when you pick up your race packet. And yes, there’s a 4:15 pace team and a 4:30 one as well. But which one to sign up for? They say to sign up for the slower one and then just run ahead of them if you feel like it. I’d feel pretty stupid if I did the 4:15 one and had to fall back, so yeah… I’ll probably sign up for a slower one, if I sign up at all.

In the meantime, I have only a few runs left before the Big Day: a three-mile and two two-milers. (Running two miles almost seems like more trouble than it’s worth, but so Hal Higdon has written, so shall it be run.) It feels really weird to be running these short distances again–flashing back to the early days of training when that was the best I could do–and in fact, some days they feel harder than they probably should. I’ve been assured by my running friends that that’s normal.

(But then, I don’t know if I can trust the judgment of anyone who talks about me while uttering the word “normal.”)

See you at the finish line, folks. (I’ll be the stinky one.)