It’s Saturday, October 6, 2007, about 7:00 pm and I’m sitting around a table of Marathoners thinking, “How the hell did I get here?”
It all started back in January when I got a call from my mom, Sheila Gold (who, I’m sure, you all know by now), telling me she was going to do a marathon. My first thought is, “You’re nuts.” Luckily, I’m married so I have been trained not to blurt out my initial reactions. Instead I say, “Really!?!? That’s awesome! I’m really proud of you!” Little did I know how the next 9 months would play out. There is a reason it’s 9 months long, but we’ll get to that later.
It’s about March now and I’ve gotten continuous updates from my mom about this crazy group of people called Marathon Makeover. She keeps saying, “I’d really like for you to run Chicago with me.” So I say, “That’d be great.” Not really thinking she would hold me to that. Next thing I know, she calls me and says, “The registration is almost full so I registered you. That’s your birthday present. Happy Birthday.” Once again, my initial reaction was, “You know, a gift card to Best Buy would have been a great birthday present.” But instead I say, “Thanks! That sounds like fun.” Already, I’ve been brainwashed into thinking that actually running 26.2 miles is going to be “fun.” These Marathon Makeover folks are great motivators. When are they gonna start trying to get me to sign up for one of those Multi-Level Marketing groups? I better not go to one of their meetings because I might buy some Amway products.
Towards the end of April, my mom calls to tell me that she hurt her knee and wasn’t able to run on it right now, but the doctor said she should be good by the time Chicago comes around. At this point I begin to see just how important Marathon Makeover is to my mom. Not a lot of people can say this, but I’ve known her all my life. Really. True story. But I have never seen her as excited as she gets when she talks about Mark and Robin and all of the people she has met through this organization. To think that she couldn’t spend her Saturdays with you guys crushed her. So, what did she do? She went out and bought a bike so that she could ride along side everyone and encourage them on the runs. Also, I hear that she provided hours of enjoyment by wiping out occasionally. But that’s a different story.
At this point, I’m still thinking, “I only have to train hard enough to walk/jog a marathon. Not a big deal. I ran a 10K before. I can add some training here and there but not have to work too hard.” Then we got the news. It was about mid-June when my mom called me. She was crying. One of the only times I have witnessed that. Her doctor just benched her. He said that there was no way her knee was going to be ready by October. She was crushed. Before I could say anything, she said, “I’m still going to Chicago and so are you. I’m gonna be on the Curb Crew, and you are going to run it.” My initial reaction, “Great, now I don’t have an excuse not to run. I was gonna take it easy. Now I really have to train for this thing. Crap!!!” This is where that marriage training comes in. I said, “Are you sure? Well, if you still want to go, then let’s do it.” Why can’t I see through all of this marathon smoke? I just agreed to train hard for a race. Not just the hard training, but training in the South. Are we all nuts or something?
Well, I quickly found a 16 week training routine and got to work. It was hard.
I’d like to take this time to let you all know what a great gift you have here at Marathon Makeover. You have people that have committed to being here with you. You have people that have forsaken the thought of sleeping in on Saturday mornings so they can run/walk/jog right next to you. That, my fellow runners, is a gift that you should not take for granted. Once you get up into those long distances, you’ll gain a greater appreciation for this. I spent many hours on runs by myself. Sure, that’s great reflection time, but I can get the same amount of reflecting done on the toilet. When you’ve been running for the last 2 hours, alone, and you still have 2 hours to go, it gets lonely. Especially, when you are pushing your body to limits that you have never pushed it before. Not only is the company on the runs great, having another person to run with helps keep you accountable. If I know that I have to meet someone to run, I’m more inclined to run. If it’s just me, well, I can blow me off and I know me won’t get mad because me would rather sit on the couch anyway. You have a great support system here. Use it.
All of that being said, I’m back to where I started. Sitting at a table of Marathoners, enjoying a wonderful pasta dinner. We finish the meal and people start telling their stories. Amazing. That’s all I could think. To think I was sharing this room, this meal, with some outstanding individuals. I griped about having to run in the heat, while a lady sitting a few tables away from me started Marathon Makeover shortly after surviving a round with cancer. What have I got to complain about? For the first time, I got to experience first hand why my mom loved Marathon Makeover so much. And it’s for one reason alone: the people. Every individual in that room had had some impact on my mom. All the people in this room were not individuals. They were one. Granted, some may run at different speeds, some may walk, some may jog, but they are all tied together in this community of marathon. I was fortunate enough to meet the founders of Marathon Makeover and enjoyed the stories they had. Mark and Robin, I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate what you have given my mom. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
The next day was amazing as I entered the lobby of the hotel into a sea of orange Marathon Makeover shirts. We traveled to the starting line as a group, a community. Once there, everyone fell into line with their respective pace groups. The race started and we were off.
I won’t go into a lot about my race because I’m sure a lot of you have heard the stories of the 30th Anniversary Chicago Marathon “Fun-Run.” I was at about mile 14 or 15 when I got word that they called it off. What can I say. I’m stubborn. Thinking back, I was probably too stubborn. I went through road blocks to finish the race. And I did finish it. It was a lonely race. Even amongst the 36,000 people that ran it, I felt all alone. I didn’t have the benefit of a group to run with. No one to urge me on. There were times that I almost broke down and started crying. But the thought of my family made me push on. Coming up on the final stretch, I saw my first familiar face of the day: Robin. She was standing there with her camera cheering everyone on. She saw that bright orange jersey I had on and started directing all of her encouragement my way. Robin, thank you so much. My final time was 6:14. It was about an hour and fifteen minutes longer than I wanted, but I finished. When I got back to the hotel (had to walk back because we couldn’t get a cab) I heard more amazing Marathon Makeover stories. I’m sure you all heard that at a certain point in the race, the police actually redirected the runners back to the starting line. You couldn’t go through a road block, they actually made you go back to the starting line. One of the Marathoners from this group kept track of her miles and when she got back to the hotel she finished the 26.2 miles of the race by walking around the block until she had “done a marathon.” Outstanding commitment. Wow.
All of the people around you started this program with one goal: to finish a marathon. What you don’t realize is how this is going to affect the rest of your life. To some, this is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. The discipline it takes to train and complete this goal will have no other option than to spill over into the other areas of your life. The relationships you build during this will last a lifetime. Thirty years from now, when you look back on your life with those friends, you’ll be able to say, “Hey, remember when we ran that marathon.” Not a lot of people can say that. The benefits of this program go far beyond just bragging rights.
I mentioned earlier that there is a reason the training time is 9 months. One would think that it is because of the rigorous training schedule. Others would tell you it’s because that’s how long it takes to work up to 26.2 miles. All of these are good reasons, but I find that it is because it is just like child birth. Speaking as a man, I really have no way to confirm this, but to sum it up, you spend 9 months getting ready for this event to take place. Nine months of experiencing aches and pains you’ve never experienced before. Nine months of eating weird stuff. Nine months of feeling like you are never gonna walk right again (two words: Body Glide). Then whenever that day gets here you have somehow convinced yourself that you are looking forward to submitting yourself to excruciating pain to “enjoy” this moment. After the hours of laboring and all of the exhaustion, you get this medal. This beautiful little medal that is a symbol of what you have been carrying around for the past 9 months. All of the hard work was for this moment. As you are crying tears of joy, pat yourself on the back. You just ran a marathon.
See you in Chicago.
If you want to read more about my marathon experience and all of the events surrounding it, click here.