Having previously participated in the “Go! St. Louis Marathon and Half,” a weekend featuring foot races of many distances, I found it difficult in 2009 to leave the event off of my calendar entirely. I recently purchased my own fitness business, sent my youngest of three children off to kindergarten, and increased my volunteer activities in the community. My schedule was brimming with activities that my calendar simply couldn’t handle. I would be unable to train for the event and resigned myself to the fact that I would not be participating in the 13.1 mile race for the first time in four years. However, I decided forty-eight hours prior to the event that this would be my greatest half-marathon to date, and, as any experienced distance runner knows, it is hardly about the race but the preparation.
It was while watching a prime time weather forecast late Friday evening that predicted rain for the event that I recall wondering if I would be able to complete the race without a typical fourteen week training program. “Expect cold, wet pavement for the ‘Go! St. Louis’ events this Sunday…” Running in the rain has been something I, gratefully, managed to avoid in all the previous foot races. Running in wet shoes, I imagine, is not a pleasant experience. Imagine cement blocks tied to your feet. I suppose running 13.1 miles didn’t seem like enough of a challenge for me anymore. Add a literal April shower with zero mileage on my feet, I’d consider it.
I went to bed early Friday under a full moon wondering. Could I? Would I? Should I? As my eyelids became heavier, I was still unsure. My rooster would crow at 3am the morning of the event. Crossing the finish line remained in my dreams and the thought consumed me.
As the sun sank low Saturday night, I recall gathering my thoughts which were racing in my head already. Where are my shoes? What should I wear? My thoughts were scattered like the spring storms approaching the area. I needed them to come together like a cold air mass meeting a warm air mass to create the perfect storm.
As if on the saddle of a winged horse, I flew through the house collecting necessary accessories. I put on everything I would wear less than 12 hours from that present time. I charged up my iPod and created a musical playlist to stay entertained on the course. I knew I could do it, but I also knew it would not be easy
I thought a warm bath would hopefully begin the process of relaxation. The steaming bathwater made me sweat more than the run would. I started to map out the course in my head. Anticipating water stops, hill climbs, and iconic scenery of St. Louis, relaxation began to slip away. Anxiety and excitement replaced it.
Finally, I tied up all the loose ends and headed off to bed. After 60 restless minutes, I decided it didn’t matter anymore. I had too many doubts, questions, and valid concerns about my ability to complete this endeavor safely. As the owner of an increasingly popular fitness facility, I wondered how my demise would read as a headline in the newspaper. After all I didn’t even train. I am certainly not coming in first place. No one expects me to run. Therefore if I overslept, I simply wouldn’t go. I could easily forget this childlike motivation I felt for the past twenty-four hours. Everyone knows that it is the training that matters. It is not the race.
At the start of the next morning, which was at three o’clock, I stretched from head to toe before getting out of bed. The excitement did not go away. I was more motivated than ever. Good thing the clothes were lined up and waiting for me. I was anxiously awaiting my coffee cup. It needed to be filled, caressed, and emptied at least twice. I was waiting for the nerves to kick in entirely, but it felt like I was headed out for a recreational run in downtown St. Louis.
“The Star Spangled Banner” began the festivities followed by a gunshot that droves about 40,000 feet over the starting line. Running through landmarks such as the brewery, alongside the Mississippi River, and in front of the Gateway Arch represented the charm of a great city camouflaged in rain, thunder, prodding feet, and athletes of all abilities. My feet began to feel very heavy as the steady rain soaked them to the sole. The rolling hills of St. Louis City didn’t help matters. My thighs felt heavy as buckets of rocks.
I was determined to find a cadence. The perfect song, “American Idiot,” played through my iPod. How appropriate was that? Gliding through the course with an ease I did not expect at mile 10, a confidence allowed my feet to travel effortlessly as the miles flowed under my feet like water under a bridge. As the rain grew in intensity, the wind began to whip through the tall city buildings adorning Market Street. The Old Courthouse was at the top of the hill right in front of the highly anticipated finish line. Sprinting to the end came naturally. I crossed the finish line in two hours and four minutes.
It was a personal record and a mental victory that I will never forget. As a volunteer placed a medal around my neck, I realized that I had indeed trained for this event. It seems hindsight showed me that my life is much more difficult that running 13.1 miles in one outing.
Life is good training. Just make sure you are in good physical condition to run with it.