This blog is a special shout out my to my training partner for the Chicago Marathon, 4:05:58.
Unfortunately, on May 4, 2014 at the Pittsburgh Marathon, I missed my dates with a PR of 3:45, 3:50, 3:55, 4:00, and even 4:05. Physically I was trained to run 3:45 or better. Mentally I was not focused enough to run my race the way I wanted. As happened in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Disney, my head got in the way. So for the last 20+ weeks, you and I have spent a lot of time together, 4:05:58.
I have you engraved on a medal I despise, that I look at everyday, out of disappointment.
My profile picture comes from the day we first met, and I hate looking at it everyday, but won't change it until we finally part ways.
I constantly think about the sinking feeling as the wheels fell off of that marathon, with downtown Pittsburgh straight ahead of me as I ran towards the city, my Garmin reminding of the time that kept slipping away. This wasn't the first time it happened. As mentioned above I experienced similar race train wrecks in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Disney. I have never really talked about them, admitted what happened, or discussed it with anyone. I always thought it was because they were destination races, and travel and stress contributed to the issues I had. My times were always respectable enough for me to just shrug it off and act like everything was fine. Not this last one. Not you 4:05:58. I can't shake you. This happened at home. I knew the course, the hills, the bridges, the towns, the crowd. You snuck up on me out of nowhere. The feeling of heading towards the finish line was not one of excitement, it was a feeling of failure because of what could've been. And there you were waiting for me 4:05:58, the prom date I never wanted, the blind date that I would've run from if I had the chance.
In the last 20+ weeks you have motivated me in ways I have never thought possible. I have lost 45+ pounds in that time. Completely changed the way I train. I took on an advanced training plan I didn't even know if I could finish, because you convinced me I needed to do more if I wanted to be better. You have taught me to fuel, hydrate, pace myself, and approach each run with a strategy. I have done more speed-work in one week this training cycle then I had ever done in the past. I consistently run negative splits, and have even been able to finished long runs with sub 6:30 miles the last mile. This is not the pre 4:05:58 Mike. You have made me more focused then I ever thought possible. The times in my training when I would have previously pulled back or gotten overwhelmed, you have convinced me to push through, work harder for one more hill, one less second, one last mile. In some ways, 4-5 miles of falling apart may have been the best thing to ever happen to me, because if I had never met you, I may never have lit this fire inside myself on my own.
Just over 2 more weeks from now, and we get to dance on the streets of Chicago together. What will make this different then the other races? I will have something for 26.2 miles I never had before, I will have you. I will be talking to you a lot, reminding myself of how you have made me feel for 5+ months. You are the main ingredient to the glue that has kept my head together through this training cycle, 4:05:58, and I intend to use you for everything you are worth. I hope to never see you again, but I will say, you have been one hell of a motivator. I hope I find a replacement that can push me even harder.
There is no finish line.
It has taken me a long time to accept who I am, accept and embrace my faults. It has taken even longer to acknowledge me weaknesses, admit them to myself, and struggle with how to overcome them. Its funny, because its been through running and being sober that I have been able to find out what my biggest weakness is, my fiercest demon, my biggest adversary: no matter how strong or how far I have come physically, I am still weak mentally. That doesn't make me a weak person. That just makes things more difficult. Racing in particular.
Obviously, most of my reasons for not leading a sober life for over 32 years had to do with my inability to handle my emotions and the events going on in my life. I thought I was independent, tough as nails, and walked through life without a care. In reality, I was scared, frightened, and hiding, using drugs and alcohol as a mask to hide behind. Since becoming sober close to 2 years ago, I have experienced stress, anxiety, sadness, heart brake, fear, anger, and various other emotions, and they hit me like a freight train. I don't have a crutch to lean on anymore. I don't have a mask to hide behind. That's a good thing. But its a struggle. I get lost in my head. I frustrate those around me. I frustrate myself. I feel weak and alone, and I get in moods that I know annoy the people I care about. I say and think stupid things. Its tough to accept that you are this way, and its even harder to know that it makes you a difficult person to be friends with or close to. Communication is difficult because I never even shared these feelings with myself anymore, how do you share them with someone else? That's where running comes in.
I don't run from these feelings, I run with them. In training its fine, however my problem has been racing. I struggle to race because my head is all over the place. I have had some successful races, but have never put it all together and accomplished what I think I am capable of because I get lost in my thoughts and I mentally sabotage myself. I have spent close to 21 weeks now training for my next marathon. I have logged more miles then ever, lost over 45 pounds, worked on speed, hydration, fueling, and feel great. I think I am ready to take a huge leap as a runner, but that big question mark still looms over my head. Can I handle it mentally? Will I finally be able to get to the start line, look up, smile, and do what I've worked so hard for? Or will success get stuck somewhere between the thoughts of fear and failure that have loomed inside my mind for as long as I can remember?
It won't be long before I find out. I see so many people struggle with injury, injuries have never been a big obstacle for me. I have always been able to draw motivation from within to keep going, even when physically I feel unable. Last year I learned what it takes to mend a broken bone and was able to keep training and become a better runner because of it. Now I have to try and mend a broken mind.
Its fitting that October 10 I will travel to Chicago alone, taking a trip to run a race against the person who has always stood between me and success, happiness, and peace of mind: myself.
On October 12, when I run the streets of Chicago, I am going to run with the last skeleton in my closet, the one I have never been able to face. Its not alcohol, drugs, suicide, my parents, divorce, it's me. After 26.2 miles we'll see which one of me wins.
There is no finish line.
Am I injured or am I hurt? I ask myself this every morning before the sun comes up, several times throughout the day, and after the sun goes down. You can run if you're hurt, if you're injured you can't. And it hurts. Ever day it hurts. My calves scream. My heals throb. My knees are tight. Scar tissue is built up in my ankle. My back feels like boulders are sitting in it. Headaches make it hard to take my head off the pillow. None of these are injuries. This is everyday.
Sometimes people act like running a lot of miles every week is easy. Because RunJunkEes sponsors some of us that we have superhuman recovery. This is not the case. I will let you in on a little secret: my legs hurt more today, after running a 90 mile week, then they did when I first started running. It has never gotten easier for me. I can just push harder, go faster, and run stronger. I run with pain that would keep some people in bed for the entire day. This doesn't make me special, or superhuman, or anything like that. Anyone can do it if you want it bad enough.
As for injuries, I have had plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, it band problems, ankle problems, on and on. Smart or not I ran through them all. Except one. Last August I got the bright idea of doing one of those zombies are chasing me mud runs. I fell a few times, and unknown to me I got a stress fracture in my tibia. To make the fracture worse, I went for a 20 mile training run the next day. It hurt, but I thought that was normal. I couldn't walk afterwards. Stubborn as I am I still thought I just hurt myself. Tried running two days later and couldn't make it 10 feet. Off to the doctor's I go.
After being diagnosed the doctor told me I'd be off my legs for 12 weeks and couldn't run my full marathon in November. After some back and forth he agreed to do another MRI after 9-10 weeks and if all was clear I could try to run. But how to stay in any type of marathon shape when I couldn't? It was not the time to be depressed, get lazy, or give up. I found other ways to keep training.
I got up everyday and was at the gym when they opened at 4 a.m. I lifted for an hour and a half to two hours. I got a pool running belt, shoes, and a heart rate monitor and simulated all of my runs in the pool for 1-3 hours a day. It was boring. It sucked. But it worked. Once my leg felt little better I was able to go on the bike. And I did this everyday. For two months. It was boring. I wanted to cry. But I was not going to give up. My ass was going to be at the start AND the finish line on November 17th in Philadelphia for the full marathon, fracture be damned. If you want something bad enough you will find a way. If not you will find an excuse. Being injured would not be my excuse.
I was cleared to run after 9 weeks. Within a month after being cleared I ran a 10k race, a 10 mile race, and a full marathon. Each of those races remain my worst time because I had lost a step. But I finished each of them strong, standing upright, because I didn't allow injury to make me lose sight of my goals or diminish my motivation to keep moving forward.
Each of us has to decide what they want out of everything they do. Running is more to me then a recreation, then a hobby, or a way to keep in shape. It is part of who I am. Whether injured, hurt, depressed, heartbroken, afraid, anxious, lost, it doesn't matter, I have running, if nothing else. So no matter how many obstacles life throws at me, I am going to bust my ass to make sure I am the best runner I can be, even when I can't run.
There is no finish line.