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Marathon Man

Marathon Man
by Kim Anderson

Beware of dreams born in the dead of winter, they usually lean toward some form of escape.  These dreams usually involve lounging on a warm beach in the tropics or skiing perfect powder snow in the mountains.

As I was looking out the window at the cold rain falling this past January, however, I realized that my situation didn't allow for many options. I had no vacation time banked up, weekends and evenings were devoted to parenting three teenagers, and the budget was tight.
Even if I had extra time and money, my kids would come up with more needs, suck up my paycheck and exhaust my credit card like a black hole.  Hence the question: “What can I do over the next months to keep focused?”  Somewhere from the abyss came the words, “Run a marathon.”  I didn't know whether to laugh or shudder over this despicable thought.
As I mulled the thought over, I conveniently realized that the Wenatchee Marathon was just over three months away.  Perfect timing.....or was it?  I started weighing the pros and cons in my head.  On the plus side, I was already running short distances a few times a week.  I had also just completed cardio-testing confirming that my heart was beating.
On the minus side, I had never run over ten miles in my life and had no idea what lay beyond.  The infamous “hitting the wall” also loomed like a dark cloud. "The Wall" would be an experience like we see in the Olympics as those at the end of the pack crawled with bleeding knees across the finish line and sobbed, “ I just needed to finish for my country."  This wasn't a big motivator.
To save face, I decided to start training without telling anyone.  If, before long, I could run the ten miles around the loop and still function the next day, I just might be able to finish the daunting Big M.

A couple weeks later, I made it around the loop.  Now I was stuck: I had to verbalize it to someone and doing so felt like I was telling them, “I'm going to grow web feet and swim across the North Pole.”  Well not exactly, but saying that I was going to run a marathon sounded just as farfetched and ridiculous.
The next step was actually something I am good at: Find someone smarter who's done it and ask for tips.  As I look back, the advice gained here proved to be critical  -- it gave a logical training plan. 

During the training ahead, the biggest hurdles were the ever-longer long runs. The weekly long run from 10 to 12 to 14 to 16 and, ultimately, to 20 miles. Every Saturday morning, I remember crawling out of bed wondering if I was going to make it. I would focus on what I could do, which was start running. I couldn't focus on finishing which seemed impossible. And every time I was shocked when I accomplished something new by completing that distance.
Skip forward three months after I had adopted a new way of eating, suffered minor injuries, and logged lots of running. On race day, I had a few key thoughts in my head.  One, because the race is broken up into three legs (six miles out-and-back and twice around the Loop), don't do the first six miles very fast; do the second leg around the Loop at a stronger pace, and just make it home on the third leg.Two, drink water at every aid station.  Three, don't watch the clock, only listen to my body.  Four, leave my pride behind and don't judge myself  by what anyone else is doing.  Sticking to this plan, I figured, would be much faster than getting chased down and then taken across the finish line in an ambulance.
The first six miles of the run were surprisingly fun as all the 10k and Marathoners ran together.  The number of people, however, became much sparser as 80 percent stopped after six miles. Suddenly all the runners either faded in the distance behind me or disappeared on the horizon ahead. 

The first circuit around the Loop, which took me from six to sixteen miles, went off without a hitch.  Now I was a bit tired and had a couple blisters building as I faced the final lap and the potential enemy - The Wall.  I slowed a bit but kept a good pace until the 20-mile mark; then the clouds parted and the sun started to bake down on the dwindling field of runners.  I could feel my body running out of water.  This wasn't a thirsty feeling, but a drying of every body part.  My pace lagged, but I was passing people who looked like they had “The Wall” engraved on their foreheads.
I started my reverse psychology tricks on them.  Instead of a grunt, I would smile and say, “Isn't this fun!”  They'd give me a look that said, “If I had the strength, I'd trip you and break your legs.”  I didn't make friends the last six miles, but I did distract myself from my throbbing head and blistered feet.
As I turned the corner to run the last 100 yards, I got a burst of energy that carried my aching body across the finish line.  I was elated and shocked that I had also accomplished my second goal, which was to finished in under four hours.
I then had only two things on my mind: Find food and sit in the cold water of the fountain. After about an hour of constant eating, drinking, and soaking, they started giving out awards. I didn't win any "official" awards but, unofficially, I was the fasted finisher not struggling with anorexia.

What I did gain from the whole experience? Knowledge that through planning, focus, and perseverance I could accomplish more than I imaged. What once seemed audacious, like running all the way around the Loop, had become something I actually enjoy. 

Will I run another marathon? Heck no! I learned my lesson and am saving money for a trip to a warm beach.