I had six marathons under my belt. Each one had been a beast. But, each one had also been a best.
My streak of personal bests was coming to an end. I knew this as I toed the line for my seventh crack at 26.2. There was no question about it.
At every previous marathon, I had been at my best. I had known I was in the best shape of life or something close to it. This time was markedly different.
I was far from my best. I could finish a marathon, but I couldn’t expect more than this. I was a shadow of the runner I had been just a year prior.
A year prior, I managed to improve my personal best by two minutes. It wasn’t a huge improvement, but it was still a personal best. It was also a triumphant return to the marathon after I’d been derailed by plantar fasciitis for more than two years.
There was little sense of triumph a year later as I scowled at the dark, angry clouds overhead. It seemed they’d been following me around for quite some time. Very little had gone my way the past few months.
My tiny business had become mired in a legal battle that generated enormous stress. The plantar fasciitis that had derailed my running three years ago returned with a vengeance. Rounding things out, my girlfriend dumped me unceremoniously.
Nothing had panned out the way I’d hoped. The dark clouds looming overhead resonated for me. I was dark, stormy, and angry.
While a personal best wasn’t possible given the feeble state of my running the past few months, there was still something to be done over the course of 26.2 miles. I had demons to exorcise.
A coach told me once I ran angry. He was right. I always ran well with a chip on my shoulder. The chip was never larger than it was that morning.
I’d exorcise some of the demons and the darkness that hung over me, maybe all of it.
I rolled back my shoulders. I took a few deep breaths. I stretched nervously. The clouds rumbled overhead. A storm was coming.
The gun fired and the exorcism began. I wasn’t sure if 26.2 miles would be enough to exorcise everything. But, nothing else had worked thus far.
Running was always my go to place whenever something went awry. The act calmed and cleansed me. I was in need of both.
I worked to keep the dark emotions from creeping in the first few miles. They would do me no good early. The frustration, the disappointment, the sadness, the anger, all of it would be useful later.
Still, some unpleasant thoughts crept in. They slithered to the front of my mind. What had I done so wrong? What had I done to incur such a shitstorm? Why does life always have a tendency to hit you so hard when you're down?
There were no answers. So, I ran. At least running makes you feel like you are moving forward. Brooding over unanswerable questions never does.
The battle between the nagging, unhelpful questions and the effort to quiet them lasted for a few miles. 6 miles in, the mind was quiet. I hit my stride.
It wasn't the runner's high, but it was close. I tried to lose myself in the act.
Spend as little time in contact with the ground. Breathe in. Breathe out. Expend as little as possible. Rinse and repeat.
Some people wonder why I run. It's hard. It hurts.
They are right to wonder. Running is really hard even when you are really good at it. Often, it just hurts.
But, then the moment arrives. It could be the runner's high. It could be divine intervention. Suddenly, the hard and the hurt don't matter.
All that matters is the mile in front of you. It's a perfect wave. You have to seize it.
You don't know when it is going to end. You don't want it to. So, you ride it.
If you're lucky, it lasts longer than a mile. If you're extraordinarily lucky, it gets you all the way to the finish line.
I didn't care how long this moment would last. I was just so tired of feeling crappy. I was thrilled to have a minute or a mile of feeling good again.
I had begun to wonder lately if that's really all one could hope for--fleeting moments of happiness surrounded largely by dark, damaging storms. I had weathered too many of them as of late.
Happiness had been hard to come by the past few months. Stress had become me. It was a dark place.
Running had been the only place where I could find even brief, fleeting, ephemeral moments of happiness and a vague hint of hope the past few months. I deserved a bit of it on race day. I earned it.
A few miles later, the dark clouds overhead began to thin and break apart. I was halfway there. 13.1 miles remained.
To be continued....