My husband Brian joins us here again on Of Sound Mind and Spirit to share his experience running the 2015 Chevron Houston Marathon.
It’s 3:45am on a Sunday morning and my alarm is on its second snooze cycle. As I roll out of bed, I pull the short chain under the lamp shade and peer around the room. It’s early, but I’m not tired, not today. In fact, for the first time in several weeks, everything is in perfect order. My clothes are neatly positioned on the foot of the bed as if someone were already wearing them, my shoes are fully open with the tongue pulled completely out, and my gym bag is overstuffed with two pairs of everything. Today is going to be a good day. Today is Marathon Day!
For the past six months my family has endured the monotony and annoying habits that accompany a marathon runner in training. Friday nights have been transformed from late night Mexican food dinners with queso and margaritas to early light dinners and sunset bedtimes. My spouse has come to grips with the simple fact that “us time” and “date night” will always be on a Saturday evening during running season. Furthermore, all of our weekend planning revolves around a 9:00am Saturday morning start time, any earlier is a show stopper. Want to leave town Friday after work? Nope. Skip the Saturday morning run you say? Not an option. There’s an unhealthy level of guilt accompanied with a sharpened sense of disappointment that makes the sheer thought of this unbearable. Rain or shine, hot or cold, sick or heathy, the run happens. Such is the mindset of a runner. Don’t believe me? Ask a runner what they did the past weekend, I guarantee you the first thing they will do is explain their Saturday run, and most likely, you will receive a lot more detail than you really care to know.
This morning I was going to run my second marathon. But even though it was something I had done before, I was anxious and started obsessing about the most trivial things. Did I pack enough food? Did I bring enough clothes? Did I put on enough body glide? Looking back, I think there was a certain advantage to the pure ignorance of what I was about to undertake the first time I did this. I was overthinking it, and I knew it.
I arrived at the convention center at precisely 5:00am. The volunteers opened the doors and I was in. The next two hours seemed to pass within an instant. At precisely 6:30am, the loudspeakers chirped and the announcer told everyone to start heading to the corrals. For those that are not familiar with race logistics, corrals are designated areas in which runners start the race at different times to help balance out the field of runners. In theory, it is a way of managing the flow of runners in throughout the course. I was assigned to the third corral, corral C. I picked up my bag and headed to the exit. At that moment, it hit me. No, not the gravity of what I was about to do, that would have been too easy. No, the nerves had my kidneys going into overdrive and I had to pee. Once that was over with, myself and 30,000 of my closest friends headed out to my corral.
|Starting Line Selfie
The race promptly started at 7:00am. I crossed the starting line at 7:20am. A few minutes before I took out my phone and snapped the obligatory selfie and texted it to my spouse with some kind of ridiculous message like “I’m off!” or “On my way!”. And just like that, it was on. Just like the prior year, the first 8 miles were very congested. Runners are shoulder to shoulder weaving in and out of any open spaces trying to find their pace. This is where you really see the true nature of people. Some are friendly and say “Pardon me” if they bump into you, others are more than happy to give you an elbow and look at you like you just slapped their mother. Such is life.
Mile 8 is really where an air of blissfulness begins to fall onto the course. Mile 8 is where mental clarity and spirituality merge to form a higher level of harmony. But most importantly, Mile 8 is where the 1/2 marathon runners turn to the left and the full marathon runners veer the right. The prior year, this point of the race was a defining factor me. It was uncharted territory. I literally said out loud to myself “Wow, I’ve never been this way before”. It was fresh, it was new, it was exciting. This year, the same feelings persisted, only I sported an immense grin and forwent the comment. I was glad I doing it again, and I felt good.
Up until this point in the race, I had not really rested. I had fast-walked through the first three water stops as to not spill water all over myself and I had not seen my spouse and kids. Mentally I was starting to tell myself that I needed to take a break, even though physically I was fine.
At that moment, I looked up from the pavement could see four people in the crowd wearing bright orange waving their arms and calling my name. It was my wife and kids, and they jumped up and down like puppies that had not seen their owner all day. It was an amazing moment and exactly what I needed at that point in time. I stopped for a few moments, hugged and kissed them all and started back on my trek. A few minutes later I saw some people from office that had come out to support us. They were just excited and it gave me a certain level of pride knowing that they cared enough to come out to cheer us on.
At this point, I knew mile 11 was getting close. Mile 11 is notorious for a large overpass and can be a mental feat on any given day. It was just around the corner and I could see it. Thinking back while on a long run this season, a friend of mine I was running with asked me what my plan was for the marathon. I had never heard of a marathon plan. She informed me that one of the items on her plan was to walk this overpass and conserve her strength for the later mileage. As I came around the corner, this echoed in my mind. I trotted about half way up the hill and walked the rest of the way to the top. Downhill, however, is a completely different story. We are taught the downhill is your uphill reward and that you should take full advantage of it. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see people racing the downhills only to see them walk again at the bottom completely out of breath. I took mine at a ginger pace as to not wear myself out.
At mile 13 I saw my family again and had another milestone, the halfway point. This is a milestone that is easily quantifiable and to be honest, there’s something bliss about hearing yourself in your own voice that you have more behind you than in front of you. After mile 13, I decided to focus on the pavement as a distraction. With my head down and the crowd cheering, I tried to block out the ambient noise and try to make some distance.
About a mile later I happened to look up and directly in front of me was my friend Cintia, she was in the same mode doing the same thing, just focusing on each footstep. I tapped her on the shoulder, smiled and asked her how she was doing. She simply replied, “Brian, I’ve prayed three times already.” I laughed and said “well, I think I did too!” I realized at that point that laughter was going to be my crutch for the rest of the day. From that moment forward, whenever things started to get tough, or my legs started to hurt, I would laugh and try to think of something witty to say about the pain.
Cintia and I ran into my family again at mile 16. She saw my spouse holding up a sign that had her name on it, she ran over and gave her a big hug. I got the distinct feeling that this really meant a lot to her. I just leaned over and said “She’s a fan of yours”.
We continued to run and focus on the positive things that were happening. One of the things that kept our spirits up is and became a running joke was spectators shouting out our names. In order to keep track of the runners, the marathon organizer issues every participant a bib with a unique number on it. This is what identifies you in pictures and links you to your overall time and results. In addition to the number, the marathon also prints a name of your choosing on the front of the bib. Most people choose their first name, as it encourages spectators on the course to call out your name. Cintia had lamented that because her name was not necessarily a common name that people would not scream out her name very often. Sure enough, every few minutes someone would yell “Go Brian!” and my friend Cintia would just shake her head. Again, it was a good distraction and worth a good chuckle.
At mile 18 my friend Sean jumped on the course to run with me from 18 to 22. Sean was great. He did a masterful job of keeping my mind off of the pain in my legs. He was also a witness to my hysteria. I would be giggling under my breath, Sean would turn and ask me what was so funny, in which I would reply, “I hurt so bad its funny.” His humor and quick wit made 18 – 22 bearable.
At mile 22 my entire work crew was there to greet us. It was a great moment and I gained another running partner. Stephanie had agreed to run me in from 22 into downtown. Stephanie was the exact opposite of Sean in terms of her approach. Whereas Sean was a master of distraction, Stephanie was strictly focused on the goal. She started out by telling us that there was some news in the headlines, there was a shooting outside of the Vice President’s house and there was a car chase in process that the Houston Police were hoping would end before it hit the marathon route. “Now we have that out of the way, let’s run!” she said.
At mile 24 I got the wild idea in my head that we should “sprint” the last two miles to the finish. I wished Cintia luck and Stephanie and I picked up our pace. In the beginning, it felt good. After about a 1/2 mile I began to feel a slight cramp in my right quad muscle which rapidly turned into a full blown charlie horse. With only 2 miles to go, my right quad made it feel like 20. When we arrives into the shadows of downtown Houston, Stephanie saw one of the marathon pacers in front of us holding up his pace sign. She instantly became laser focused on directing me to catch the pacer, and at one point I thought I just might be able to.
With less than a mile left to the finish line my leg cramped up again. The grand finish I had imagined of running full speed across the finish line with thousands of people cheering me on was suddenly looking like it might turn into a brisk walk with a dash of hobble. At this point Stephanie had to leave the course as non-bibbed runners are not allowed to cross the finish line. She continued to run with me the last 8 blocks by running on the sidewalk, dodging through people while continuing to encourage me to move forward. I am incredibly grateful for her tenacity and dedication, anyone could have just stopped at that point, but she pushed me to the very end. When I rounded the final block, I could see the finish line and the large digital time clock ticking up the time. I was 100 yards away and I was 2 minutes faster than my total time from the previous year. I had 120 seconds to achieve my goal. I crossed the finish line 1 minute quicker than my time from last year.
The following Monday I had the opportunity to tell everyone in my office the story and the chain of events as they unfolded above. It’s interesting to observe the looks that you get when you are telling your tale and the way people unconsciously shake their heads in a “no” fashion. It is usually followed up with a comment like “I don’t know how you did it” or “I could never do that”. I make a point every time to tell people “If I can do this, anybody can do this”. I think it all comes down to a quote I read the Friday before the marathon that really resonated with me throughout the entire race.
“Running a marathon is 90% mental. The other 10% is just in your head”.
This rings true in every way. You do not really know your true self until you have run a marathon. Don’t believe me? Do it. Get to know yourself. It’ll be the best day of your life.