I often look right over any accomplishments I achieve and just press on to the next goal and I'm trying hard not to do that here.
I ran an 8k at a great pace, finished third in my age group and got an award. Pretty cool.
I turned around and ran a 5k immediately following the 8k, and got to run with an amazing young man that taught me a lot about not letting anything get in the way of the goals we set. Pretty great day really.
Working the expo was fun and allowed me to interact with runners for two days straight. It allowed me to learn from some veterans and hear the answers to questions I wouldn't even think to answer. Pretty blessed to have that time.
While at the expo a guy (whom I'd be proud to call friend) found me and said he saw I wanted to run a nine-minute pace, and we agreed to run together. I didn't know it then, but this was a huge blessing later.
Sunday morning came quickly, and after a sleepless night I felt as unprepared as ever for my 26.2 miles. Did I train enough? Did I fuel correctly? Was I hydrated? Could I push both mentally and physically? We were about to find out.
I found Scott, my pacer and now buddy, early on and we lined up together. A quick phone call from Bubs and the gunshot start came too fast.
One deep breathe.
Here we go.
Mile after mile ticked off and we posted sub nine-minute mile one after another. In the back of my head I apprehensively awaited the wall. Mile 10, 13, 16, still solid and feeling fresh.
Scott and I talked about training, life, our past and our futures. There wasn't a point we couldn't talk or were too out of breathe to be able to carry on our conversation.
Mile 21, my phone rings and as I round the bend I miss the call from my wife.
Note to self, tell wife to not call me at mile 21, while I’m laying my everything on a 26-mile course in what felt like 25MPH headwinds.
I called her back and let her know I was at mile 21, feeling great and heading in for the last little bit.
I was lying.
Suddenly I wasn’t feeling great. My knee hurt pretty bad and these head winds were not being very kind.
As we began to run onto the bridge, Scott and I were talking just a bit less and focusing just a bit more.
It was crystal clear to me that he was just as driven as I am, and there wasn’t anything that was going to stop our pursuit of a four-hour marathon time. Not our short careers as runners, not inexperience, not headwinds and certainly not a little bit of pain.
We motored on, and maintained the pace. 8:53 average pace was steadily holding and I hoped I could hang on.
As we ran on we approached the foot of “the hill.” The only significant climb in the course was the bridge, and those familiar may know what I’m talking about. While not a cliff, at mile 22 this bridge certainly didn’t seem welcoming.
My knee was talking back to me quite a bit and although I capitalized on every hydration point, my legs were cramping up a bit.
Early on in the run I realized that Scott was a pusher, and I was glad I had him on my side because as we laid down mile after mile we ran down everyone in sight. Not a single person passed us, save one. The “Stroller Warrior.” This excited and clearly prepared mom had “Stroller Warrior” scrawled on her calves and as we ran through the trails she and I discussed training with strollers and an online Stroller Warrior running club she was a part of. As we exited the trails we slowly passed her and motored on, for a minute. She fought back and I watched Stroller Warrior pull away from us. We made mention of her push, and I think we both had it in our heads that her passing us didn’t sit well. It was nothing more than competitive edge on our part, we wished her no ill will, but I think we both knew we were going to have to run her down.
Mile 19 she slowed to have a small mid-course celebration with her cheering section.
So long Stroller Warrior.
As we crested the bridge I made mention that I intended on letting my legs go for the downhill, striding out a bit to gain some time back.
Ok, here we are, the top; time to relax and stride out.
Not so fast.
The downhill proved just as hard as the uphill. The wind held us in place like a schoolyard bully. I was waiting for it to pick my hands up and start slapping me in the face telling me to quit hitting myself.
Running downhill took just as much effort as running on the flat course, and that was a bit demoralizing. We motored on and at nearly the same time, as if intricately coordinated like a last minute ambush, our legs began to tie themselves in knots.
Everyone says endurance-running forces the athlete to push right through pain and everything else, and in fine fashion pain had shown up to the dance.
She would not be ignored and demanded laser-like focus.
We set our goal, and neither of us was about to quit now, and we didn’t.
Silence had fallen over our struggle and we both had little to add to any conversation.
Enter music. We both dawned our headphones for the fist time and looked for a few notes of inspiration.
The music surged through my body like a second wind, only at this point it was more appropriate to call it a final push.
I picked the pace up.
We rounded the corner and were staring right down the barrel of the final stretch. Just a couple of miles, a couple of corners rounded, stood between our goal and us.
I pushed with everything I had. Scott was quick to catch up and we hammered out the best we could.
I looked down as my watch registered mile 25. 8:53.
We were going to get our four-hour marathon.
Like a maniac I screamed “WE’VE GOT THIS. THIS IS OUR RACE. OUR DAY. OUR RUN!!!”
Scott must have thought I was absolutely crazy; well, if he hadn’t already figured that out along the last three hours and forty minutes.
As we rounded the next corner I swear my body was going to shut down. It was incredible. Nothing in life mattered at that very moment. Not my past. Not my future. Not the pain.
I was fully present. Fully engaged. Fully aware that if I didn’t mash the pedal down with everything I had, my goal would slip away.
The final corner approached and as we rounded it I experienced something I’ve never experienced before.
100% uncontrollable emotion.
I was smiling and in complete euphoria and yet strangely aware that I was in more pain than ever before and somehow experiencing more pleasure.
I have heard many times about “the edge” in running. I suppose it’s different for everyone, but this was it for me.
I can’t explain it well enough for anyone to understand the enormity, the clarity, the purity, the honesty, the utter life altering experience those last .2 miles provided me, but I can say this.
If you never find that edge, that moment, in your running career, in life, then you may never understand what life is truly all about.
I shouted above the crowd and music to Scott, “Let’s go get our sub-four!”
We picked up our pace, and finished in grand fashion, sprinting to the finish as if the last 26 miles were nothing more than a warm-up.
Tears streaming down my face, new medals around my neck, water in hand, finisher’s visor propped atop my salty head, I turned and looked down back down the course.
At that moment I realized that I left more than a little bit of me out there. I left what was the biggest part of me for over 35 years. I left my fears, doubts, and insecurities out there and they were nowhere to be seen.
As I turned I hugged Scott and smiled.
We did it.
We hit our goal and let nothing stand in the way.
As the medics snatched me and sat me down they asked me if I felt all right and I smiled and said I had never felt better in my entire life.
They notice the swelling on my knee and iced it for a minute, and sitting there allowed me to gain some perspective.
Amidst the cheering, clapping, music and electric atmosphere, I realized that I had never felt so peaceful.
I did it.
I’m a marathoner.
I’m not done.
Follow Josh online at https://www.facebook.com/drivenrunner
I am an Army Veteran of over 17 years service, Husband of an Army Officer and Father of three boys. I have been a lifelong runner, but in May of 2004, shortly after my return from Operation Iraqi Freedom, I suffered a Heart Attack after an Army Physical Fitness test. I luckily survived a heart attack my doctor called the “Widow Maker.” Since then, with great physical rehabilitation, I got a second chance on life. I worked hard on getting back to running because I missed it so much.
By 2009, I ran my first Marathon in 4:18. This proved to me I can do anything in running again, just not with the fast pace I once had, but I am still working on it. In 2010, I met a running coach that trained the Fort Lee 10 Miler team and with his expertise I was able to compete in that year’s Army Ten Miler. I ran it in 74 minutes and I felt that was a comeback race. Since then I have run a ton of half marathons, improved my marathon time with hopes to one day qualify for the Boston Marathon, and I started a Fundraiser project for the American Heart Association that consists of running, environmentalism and fundraising. I called it the RecyclingRunner Project.
On every run I wear a backpack and push my twin son’s jogging stroller where I stop to pick up any litter along my run routes which I store in my pack and under the stroller. The items that are redeemable/recyclable I cash in and donate the money to the American Heart Association. This year’s campaign, which runs from Jan to Veteran’s Day, I’ve raised over $1,500 dollars from my collection redemptions and contributions from supporters. Every year I hope to continue to run, think green and fundraise.
You can follow my progress on Twitter: @recyclingrunner and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RecyclingRunner
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