3.18.2017 | printed in the Winter 2017 issue of VITAL magazine
Peer pressure. Everyone has succumb to temptation introduced by friends or family. Typically that temptation represents something fun, or otherwise worthwhile. I wasted my moment of weakness on a half marathon. It seems that everyone is completing crazy fitness challenges these days – marathons, triathlons, obstacle races. I didn’t want to be left out. I’ve never done anything close to this ridiculous before, and nothing in my past suggested I was capable of completing such a task. Surely, this was a bad idea. My grandma used to tell me, “Half Marathons are stupid.” (Those may not have been her exact words.)
I’m not completely unfamiliar with the running subculture. My wife runs and wins races all the time. Yes, “wins.” Not, “Hooray, I finished the race, we’re all winners!” More like, “Hooray, I finished ahead of all these other people. I’m the winner.” She’s much more humble than that – trash-talking isn’t her style. Although if I won a race, I would probably…Ah, who am I kidding? That sentence is not even worth finishing. That’s like asking, if your pet unicorn could play the piano, which major key would he prefer? Such an unlikely scenario – it’s fruitless to speculate further. Thanks to my wife, I have an enormous collection of race t-shirts that were too big for her. (That should give you an idea of my manly physique – I’m one size larger than a 5’2” elite female marathoner.) The time had come to earn my own darn t-shirt.
Following months of training, race day had arrived. I had been a spectator at several half and full marathons before, but participating was a foreign experience to me. Various thoughts raced through my mind. If my phone battery dies, do I have to keep running? Does anyone else have a ham sandwich in their fanny pack? What is the appropriate number of times to reapply deodorant during the race? I think these running shorts my wife bought me are too short. One shouldn’t wear white pants after Labor Day and shouldn’t wear running shorts after age 40. I should have Googled “marathon etiquette” last night.
My ponderings were interrupted with a BANG of the starting gun. A wave of fear flowed through my body as I joined a sea of humans shuffling through the starting gate. What...have...I...done? It took a couple hundred yards to shift my emotional state from fear to determination. I had a literal long road ahead of me and the sooner I accepted that fact the better. By the time I hit mile 2, my confidence was high. I was high-fiving race fans along the route. Katy Perry was pumping in my headphones, encouraging me, “You can do this! No stopping you now! You are a strong, beautiful, confident woman…” I should probably find a different Pandora station.
Confidence and general well-being slowly declined over the next several miles. My legs felt heavier with each step. My lungs were on fire. And the chafing. Oh, the chafing. I don’t remember anything between miles 8-11. I’d like to say it was because I was in “the zone,” but it’s just as likely that a good Samaritan found me passed out on the side of the road at mile 8, picked me up, drove me 3 miles, and dropped me off, standing upright. That would be an oddly specific thing for a good Samaritan to do, but I have no recollection to prove otherwise.
I was ready to quit. Maybe my grandma was right. Half marathons ARE stupid! What other grandmotherly insights have I ignored? Perhaps all Presbyterian Church basements DO smell weird.
Then a funny thing happened. The pain faded away. My lungs stopped burning. Euphoria set in. I can only assume this is what they call the “runner’s high.” Also, a guy in front of me tripped on his own shoe laces. Super funny.
I rode this new wave of energy to the finish line where I was greeted with a participation medal and a banana. (Thanks, half marathon!) As the realization of my accomplishment set in, I observed a couple thousand fellow runners. Most appeared as relieved, amazed and disheveled as I surely did. Despite varying degrees of ability, we all accepted and completed the same grueling challenge. I’m not sure how each runner got to that point. Possibly peer pressure. But more likely, we all share a basic life philosophy: whether physically, mentally or spiritually, step out of your comfort zone and work to become a better version of yourself.
Days later, when the pain began to subside, I started planning for next year’s FULL marathon. BUUwwwaahahhahahaa! I almost typed that with a straight face! I’m not running 26 miles – that’s just stupid!
Other Stories in this collection:
Out of Left Field: Half Marathon
by Scott Johnson, Data Systems Administrator, POET