Recently I received a link to a video capturing my crossing of the finish line of the recent Akron Marathon in which I ran/walked/stumbled/ambled for 13.1 miles before the race mercifully came to a close at Akron’s Canal Park stadium. I’ll be honest: my first response to receiving that link was anything but excitement. The last thing that I wanted to do was to relive any aspect of that race.
It was my 20th half marathon and my slowest by a long shot. I knew in advance that my time would be bad – the high temperatures predicted for the race would exact their pound of flesh. I knew it would be bad, I knew it would be challenging, but it was much tougher than I thought it would be. The first half was great fun, but by mile 10, I was done. Unfortunately the finish line was still over three miles away.
I often talk to my legs during the latter stages of a long race. “You can do it,” I will say – usually not too loudly. “You’ve done this before many times.” I have a few other things I say as well, but I would rather keep them private. These words almost always help my legs to keep grinding.
This was my legs’ response to my most recent attempts at encouragement: “Just who are you again? O yeah, I remember - that fool who didn’t ask our advice when signing up for this Akron race. You just watch. I can stop running without your permission. I’ll show you who is in charge.”
And sure enough – despite my fantastic motivational talk – my legs stopped running (or whatever you could say I was doing at that time) and began to walk. I realized that I didn’t have a whole lot of say in the matter. I could not will them to go any faster. Haven’t we all had parts of our body independently make choices for the whole group? It is often a knee or a back or it could be a stomach or a bladder. We can be made to feel like we are just along for the ride rather than being the operator of the attraction.
Over those last three miles my legs and I gradually reached an understanding – my legs needed to learn that under no circumstances was I going to quit and that they were coming along with me whether they liked it or not, whether they allowed me to run or to walk or if I had to drag them along like they were attempting a form of civil disobedience.. And I needed to learn from my legs that they were willing to assist me in my ludicrous pursuit of yet one more shiny finisher’s medal as long as I allowed them to dictate the pace and if I used my GPS watch only for personal amusement rather than direction.
Thankfully for both of us, we came to realize that not only was walking just as painful as running, but that it extended the time that we had to put up with each other. So I was able to run more than I walked in those final miles.
Which brings us to that video of the finish line. You won’t see my lips moving – my legs and I had given up talking at that point. But there I am stumbling in with a gait that looks like a old man’s poorly orchestrated attempt to run his 20th half marathon. As I reach that final and definitive “this is the end” black line, my legs stop running one millimeter after I cross it. They had had enough of my baloney, and I had had enough of their rebellion. I got that medal – “Look I am a finisher.” My legs didn’t even look up. I sensed their disgust or was it pity? We had to maneuver a long walk up a hill to get back to the car. I will not repeat what my legs were saying during that time.
When looking at the race results later that day, I was stunned to learn that while 2271 runners finished ahead of me (that was no surprise) 730 people finished behind me. It didn’t make me feel any better, but in most cases I would advise those people to consider a different form of fitness. I was even ahead of about 1/3 of the males in my age group. It might be time for them to turn their attention to Yahtzee before it is too late.
The truth is I respect every runner who finished the course that day – regardless of age or pace. More than one runner failed to reach to Canal Park and others needed medical treatment. Just getting to the finish line was a victory. I salute all who made it.
In the hours following that race, I wondered if I needed to redirect my time to something of more lasting value such as Facebook or my Fantasy Football team. Who needed the pain and humiliation of running anyway? My legs and I didn’t talk for a few days. What could we say?
But yesterday morning – two days after that racing disaster, I turned to my legs and asked: “Hey, you want to run?” “O boy, do I?” they replied. And yes, they were sore and yes, we moved slowly together. But we both loved it. It was like that old man sitting on the stump at the end of the book “The Giving Tree.” We were both happy.
A few hours later I signed up for half marathon #21. My legs and I have a lot of work to do.