And with that single utterance to the people of Athens, "We have won," Pheidippides collapsed and died from exhaustion.
Or so the story goes.
Ol' Pheidippides and I; we're kindred spirits now. Sure, he ran his from the plains of Marathon to the city of Athens after fighting all day in full armor while I ran mine through the streets of Fargo (and Moorhead, don't forget Moorhead) after sleeping in the back of my truck. But basically it's pretty much the same deal. And it's kind of a big deal.
I'm a "marathon runner" now. I love that I can say that. And I love that I'll always be able to say that, even if I never choose to do this again.
Races like these are trouble. But without logistical support, they'd be even more trouble. And no one is more supportive than Corinne. She's awesome.
There were 23,000 people signed up to run in Fargo this weekend (bunch of different races) and it seemed like every one of them except me remembered to book a hotel room. Fortunately my wife was able to find a space at what was either a former KOA or a former beet farm (or both).
So Friday night I wedged my Expedition between a rusty fire ring and an anemic maple sapling and we were home for the night.
My training was, again, less than it should have been. (I've got to stop doing that.) I did the Earth Day Half Marathon last month. I did a 10-mile run a couple weeks ago and an 8-miler the week after that. This past Monday I ran to work, so there's 9. Beyond that, I woke up and did 10k a couple of mornings here and there. Last year at Earth Day I ran the 20-miler. That's the longest I'd ever run. So once I reached that point in the race I knew I'd be in uncharted territory. And I was.
On Friday night, after we got into town and picked up my packet, we figured we'd better get something to eat. We stopped at an unassuming little sports bar called Labby's. If you're ever in Fargo I suggest you do your best to avoid it. Since it took approximately an hour to get my cowboy burger, I was logistically forced to have a second beer.
In the morning I was better. I had a banana and a Clif bar to go along with my can of Diet Coke.
I've heard it said that a marathon is really two races. There's a 20 mile race…and then there's that last 6.2. Believe that. It's absolutely true.
The race had pace runners (which is a totally fantastic concept). I found the 4-hour goal time guy (that's 9:10 minute miles, in case you're wondering) and just hung with him.
Six miles? Feeling really good and almost exactly on pace. The halfway point? Still feeling pretty good, all things considered. After that came the 14-, 15- and 16-mile marks. Joints starting to get a little worn down – primarily my hips. By the time I hit 17 miles, I was beginning to realize that I wasn't going to make it the whole way with my pace runner. But realizing that and giving in to it are two different things. So I hung on gamely. He'd start getting some separation from me…and I'd reel him back in.
We went on that way until the 20-mile mark. After that, as the yards between us started to grow, I knew there was no comeback left in me. At that point it became a game of goal revision.
My 4-hour goal was bounding up the street, out of my reach. I needed to come up with a new goal quickly because, if I didn't, my brain was going to start playing with the idea that maybe "finishing a marathon" is a noble goal.
The problem with that is that "finishing a marathon" was never in doubt. I was absolutely going to cross that finish line. No question. So, out on that course, that meant that accepting "finishing a marathon" as my goal was the same as "giving up." I had tried my damndest for my 4-hour goal – and, for 20 miles, I'd been right there. But that wasn't going to happen. So what was going to happen?
I started with "RUN an entire marathon."
That sounded good, but I knew that still left me with a lot of wiggle room. So I eventually modified it to, "run the whole thing, and finish without getting caught by the 4:15 group."
That worked. I did it. I know it wasn't pretty. I could tell by some of the poignantly sympathetic looks I started getting from spectators along those last couple of miles. A few hundred yards from the finish, they had a camera that played video on a big screen alongside the road and also on the jumbo screen inside the Fargodome (so spectators could watch and prepare for when their special someones were about to come in) and I saw myself onscreen there. So I know it was ugly at the end.
But I did it.
I was pretty worried about chafing. For that reason, I diligently lubed up my crotch and my nipples. Mission accomplished there. No problem. I forgot, however, to lube up my armpits. I'd never really had any problem with armpit chafing. That was a mistake. I'm pretty raw.
Other than that, not too much to report. Most of my toes are a little blistered, but nothing painful or traumatic. My right pinky toe is fairly bruised up, but no biggie. My wrist was a little bloody from my watch rubbing on it. Whatever.
I've never felt closer to passing out after a race than I did in Fargo. It didn't help that the finishing chute went on forever and then, when you did get out of the chute, you had to fight your way through the crowd and up two flights of stairs to get out of the building. So Corinne took me by the hand and guided me as I wobbled along the trek toward a door and a soft patch of grass right outside that door. I collapsed in a heap there and waited while Corinne ran to get the truck and pick me up so we could leave. I didn't even wait around to get my official time.
It didn't seem to matter at the time. I'd done what I came to do. I had the shirt. I had the medal… And I had my wife to do the driving on the way home. I was a happy, tired guy.