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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Essay # 8 - Anatomy of a Half Marathon

Friends of ours, Laura and Mike, are involved with a great charity for a hospital in Saginaw.  It’s called Covenant Kids. 

Covenant for Kids provides things like Nintendo Wii’s and other things for kids that are facing health issues that they shouldn’t have to face.   This charity is basically, my Faygo scheme times a thousand.

Last year, Laura organized a great event—the first ever “Go the Extra Mile for Covenant Kids” Street Race.   Laura has been a good friend of mine since college, and it’s a good cause, so I was all in.  The event included a Half Marathon, 10K, 5K, Mile Fun Run.  I took part in the 10K.  I wasn’t prepared for a Half Maratho at the timen.  However, I promised then that I’d do the half this year.

Fast forward to January 2nd of this year.  I’m 240 lbs, and out of shape.  It’s crummy outside.  I know the race is in four months and 8 days.  I ran 2 miles.  The next week, I ran 20.  For the following three months, I ran almost 300 miles, almost all outside, in blizzards, 5 degree weather, up and down bridges, even in the dry, desert heat of Arizona.  All in the name of health and race preparation.
On Sunday, April 10, as I stood on the start line, with a young girl singing the national anthem and my wife and kids looking on.  The anthem made the hair stand on my arms, and took my mind off of my self-doubt, and the fact that I forgot my watch.  I depend on the watch—I’ve never been good at pacing myself. 

The first mile went well.  I kept it under control, learning from my jackrabbit start to the Brooksie last fall.  I let the speedsters take off.  Second, third mile went really well—I had a nice pace (probably ).  As I approached mile 4, I had reeled in four or five of those speedsters.  I was thinking, “man—Coach Karl would be proud!” 

Coach Karl was my high school coach—he was loud, prickly, and knew exactly what buttons to push.  Got a senior who’s coasting?  Stick a freshman in his place.  Knock the senior down a peg, give the freshman a little boost.  I had been the freshman and the senior.  Coach Karl died on 10/25/03.   His death was a kick-in-the-pants for me—it lead to a year of intense training, and my first (and last) marathon, the Free Press on 10/24/04.  I did a , with a half split.  More importantly—I’ve been running ever since.

By mile 6, I was starting to feel it.  Coach Karl always said “Jerry—you’re best when you have your stride.”  So I opened up my stride.  He also used to tell me that “looking back means you’re doubting yourself.”  So I didn’t look back, but I cheated.   Laura had stationed volunteers at each mile marker.  I counted the seconds between their cheers for me, and the cheers for the people behind me.

By Mile 8, fatigue was full-on.  I popped a few Clif-Bloks.  I thought about how my wife and kids had made the trip, and how I didn’t want to disappoint them.  By now, I had slipped from approximately 7th place to approximately 11th place.

I remembered my last race—by Mile 8, I was in pure hell.  I wasn’t in hell this time—I tried to turn that into motivation.  It was getting harder now.  I was counting the number of workouts I ran above 8 miles this year.  I did one 9 miler, and a 10 miler.  I need to do more next time.

At Mile 9, I really tried to keep my stride open, but it wasn’t working.   When you’re brought up as a “racer, ” when someone passes you and you’re fatigued, it’s demoralizing.  It feels a lot like Castaway, when Wilson is floating away in the horizon.  I feel helpless and lonely.  I think I was now in 15th.

At Mile 10, the skies were threatening rain.  At this point, I really didn’t care.  Rain would make a great excuse, and my family wouldn’t see me sucking at the finish line, because they’d be in the school (I’d told them to stay dry).  I needed motivation.  I started thinking about all the good work that Laura had done.  Setting the race up.  What a great course!  Organizing volunteers, police, fire, etc.  Publicizing, setting up an outstanding activity area, finding the perfect little girl to sing the anthem, and at the end, they had raised money and awareness for this great cause.  That made me feel better, but not faster.

Then, I thought about a kid I grew up with.  He was in my Boy Scout troop.  Nicest kid in the world—soft spoken, quiet, everyone liked him.  A few years later, I learned that he needed a bone marrow transplant.  I remember that it was unsuccessful, and he passed away.  I remember thinking of  four or five other kids from my childhood that I didn’t like, and why couldn’t it be them instead.  Anyway, I thought about “Joe” and how much he’d like playing the Wii, and how maybe it would have taken his mind off of some of his suffering.

The thought of Joe sort of carried me through, until Mile 12.  I toughened up.  17th place now, no more people passing me, dammit!   I thought of other races—times when I toughened up.  News Herald 1989, a teammate and I duking it out for the last All Downriver medal at Willow Metropark (which I claimed).  A time on the Wyandotte track in 10th grade when Coach Karl put two upperclassmen in my 3200 race to “seal a victory.”   A time in 11th grade when he replaced me in the 400 with a freshman, and had me run JV.   I always raced better when I was angry.

So there were two guys behind me who had me in their sights.  That made me angry.  Not really, but I needed to be angry.  So I looked back at them like “okay, let’s go.”  I sped up.  A good song came on my mp3 player.  They chased.  I ran.  Then, we hit mile 13. 

With .1 left, I could see the finish line crowd.  I remembered how I always tell my daughter when she’s swimming, to finish strong.  I sprinted.  It felt great and terrible at the same time.  I crossed the finish line, .  3rd in my age group, and I beat some whippersnappers.  It felt great.   As you get older, these things are more and more special, and I like that my kids will remember these races as they're feeding me tapioca and helping me onto the crapper.

As a follow-up, today, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a little girl that needs a bone marrow transplant.  I hurried over on my lunch hour, to the grade school in Southfield (barely made it--they closed at ).  I let them test me, and now I'm registered. 

I hope I’m a match.

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  1. Dang...nice race!! And...thanks for registering to be a donor.

  2. Thanks sAm! I always feel so good when it's done. And I was happy to register.