Originally published July 4, 2014 on unfiltered.me
Last week I wrote about my heart attack, and the “BHAG” (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that was set — running a full 26.2 mile marathon in a single race.
There should probably be quotes around “running” because let’s face it; I mostly walk. Granted it’s a speedy walk, not the hand-weight swinging “power walking” you see old ladies doing in the park.
There is after all, some level of dignity to maintain. Walking at a 12-13 minute per mile pace however will result in passing some “joggers.”
It will also get you in shape.
Shortly after the heat attack I purchased a FitBit fitness tracker, one of those gizmos that keeps track of the steps you take.
It has a “social component” so overly competitive types can compete virtually with their friends. While the long-term goal was to finish a marathon, the short-term goal was to take more steps today than yesterday.
In the beginning, I was lucky to get around the block. The day 1,000 steps showed on the FitBit was a milestone. That’s about half a mile — a long way from 26.2 miles.
The First Step
The original goal was to finish the Seattle Rock & Roll Marathon in 2013. That little plan got sidetracked when I developed a neuroma in my foot; a benign tumor wrapped around a nerve.
It began with feeling like there was a pebble in my shoe. It grew to feel more like a golf ball. So they cut it out. That’ll put the brakes on a marathon training plan and make one feel real sorry for themselves.
Never give up. Just repeat that over and over.
Several months of recovery and therapy ensued, then it was time to hit the road.
The FitBit now has over 9 million steps on it. Over 4,400 miles — the equivalent of walking from Seattle, down the west coast to LA and across the continent to New York City.
Training in the rain of Seattle, and the blistering heat of Phoenix. There were days, so many days, that I didn’t want to train. So many times I said to myself, “Suck it up cupcake. Get out there and walk.”
Enter the 2014 Seattle Rock & Roll Marathon. In an interesting twist of timing and karma, the race was scheduled for June 21, 2014. Twenty-six months to the day after my heart attack. 26 months, 26 miles. Seemed… fitting.
That Saturday morning, as summer was breaking over Seattle after two years of training, the marathon loomed.
It was… grueling. Miles 1-18 were actually enjoyable. Miles 19 – 26, not so much. I wasn’t fast. In fact, it would take almost six and a half hours. There was actual running involved because an interesting thing happened during all those hours and miles of training.
I got in shape. The 70 pounds the doc wanted me to loose? Gone. Not having to carry around what amounts to a 10 year-0ld on my back greatly reduced the knee pain that plagued me for decades.
In fact, I had to incorporate running into my training in order to get my heart rate up and increase the cardiovascular benefit because by golly I was in shape.
Volumes could be written about the emotions experienced during the marathon. Standing there in my starting corral amidst 15,000 runners and walkers I felt remarkably alone.
There was one singular goal–finish the 26.2 miles, hopefully without having to crawl across the finish line. As my starting group moved up toward the start line my damaged heart, and my mind, began to race.
Had I trained enough? Had I trained properly? What would my friends and family think if I couldn’t finish?
What would I think if the finish line never appeared?
Focus and do your best, Jay, that’s all you can do. You’ve trained for this for almosttwo years. You are ready. You’ve got this. Queue the playlist, crank up the volume and put one foot in front of another.
One Step at a Time
The miles ticked away. At mile 8, the full marathon course split off from the half-marathon course. 12,500 people doing the half turned left, 2,000 new friends and I turned right.
It just got real.
10 more miles, glorious miles, slipped by. Stunning views of Mt. Rainier came up and I found myself lost in thought.
Mile 19 arrived and I discovered what long distance runners call, “hitting the wall.” At that point, I truly was alone.
Faster runners had long since moved ahead. Between water stops, no one was there to help me.
Reaching for the energy bar in my pack, I discovered that thanks to the cast on my broken wrist and thumb (don’t text while climbing stairs people…) I couldn’t unwrap the snack that was so desperately needed.
“Great, I’m out here trying to give the finger to heart disease and now this stupid broken wrist is going to stop me.”
I cried. Literally openly wept. Me, a grown man, trotting down the road crying because opening an energy bar is an impossible task.
There was no way finishing would happen without some sustenance; that bar had to be opened. Stopping for the first time, placing it on the ground I opened it by dragging it across the pavement with my foot.
It was delicious, albeit a bit gritty.
That was stout wall, but thoughts of my family waiting at mile 24 to cheer me on, thoughts of all my friends rooting me on virtually pushed me through it.
As mile 25 was rounded, the tears came again. Happy tears this time. Proud tears. An overwhelming sense of accomplishment flooded me as an unknown on-course race coach at mile 26 stuck out his hand, shook mine and said, “Congrats man, you did it. Bring it home.”
Now as I finish this post sitting in a Starbucks, I’m misty again. People are looking at me funny.
And I don’t care.
April 21, 2012, the day the odds makers say I should have died is a date that cannot be forgotten.
Now there’s a new date, a happier date forever engraved in my memory.