For the past five years or so I’ve been haunted by a goal. Actually, it’s really become more of an obsession at this point. Sisyphus has nothing on me. Seemingly every time I get close to this goal, the rock falls back down the hill on me and I find myself pushing that rock back up the hill. Foolish? Maybe. Crazy? Likely. But, I’m not ready to pack it in yet.
It all started uneventfully one October morning in Chicago five years ago. I found myself lining up for my fifth marathon. It was a fantastic day and I was feeling as sharp as I ever had. The gun went off and I was rolling. I blew through the first mile in 5:45 and felt like I was walking. Fortunately, I had the good sense to rein things in a bit.
I locked in my target pace and flew through the first 13.1 miles in 1:20. I didn’t have any real target time in mind, but given how strong I felt, I figured a 2:40 or possibly a 2:39 was within my grasp. GI issues would derail this idea around mile 21, but I was left with a more than respectable 2:45 which was a 10+ minute personal best.
I figured I would surely be toeing the line again soon and the goal of cracking the 2:30’s would happen. It wasn’t a question of if, it was just a question of when. Surely, I wouldn’t have to wait more than a year to make this happen. Never take anything for granted.
2006 was largely a washout as plantar fasciitis all but hobbled me. The first half of 2007 was no walk in the park as I was recovering from surgery from the foot demon (as I affectionately refer to plantar fasciitis). As 2007 came to a close, I found myself wondering how 2+ years had passed and I not only had not run a marathon, I had come no closer to that 2:39 time.
2008 rolled around and in an act of near desperation threw out my rigid trainers and threw on the Nike Frees. Veritable miracle workers, the Nike Frees seemed to liberate me from the running doldrums I had been in for the past two years. The summer rolled around and for the first time, I was thinking marathons again. Perhaps I could push that rock up the hill at last.
Naturally, that annoying 2:39 time popped into my head again. I trained harder than I had in 3 years, but the sad reality is that it had been 3 YEARS since I had conquered 26.2 miles and while I was in great shape, I didn’t feel that I was in the kind of shape to pull down a 2:39.
So, I decided I’d go for a 2:45 and anything faster would be gravy. Things went swimmingly and I managed a 2:43. I was happy, but like a demon that can’t be exorcised, the 2:39 lingered, taunting me. Surely, 2009 would be the year to make it happen.
2009 started with a bang. I was running at a very high level and once again the idea of running a 2:39 wasn’t a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Surely, I’d take care of business this time. Once again, I was thwarted as plantar fasciitis made a guest appearance in my other foot. After pushing the rock uphill, once again it came tumbling back down on me.
In an act largely motivated by pride, I showed up at the California International Marathon at the end of 2009 with the goal of 2:39 still taunting me. Once again, I knew I wasn’t ready given my battle with plantar fasciitis earlier in the year. But, just showing up that day was a victory. Surely, 2010 would be my year to exorcise this demon once and for all! Right.
Bolstered by my performance at CIM at the end of 2009, I ramped up my mileage and built a tremendous base for several months. I layered on some quality speedwork in the late spring and looked to the Seattle Rock N’ Roll Marathon in June for my 2:39 effort. I was mere weeks away from FINALLY posting a 2:39 and there was no doubt in my mind I was ready.
My second to last long run before taper got off to an excellent start. I was comfortably knocking out 6:00 minute miles and I had visions of crossing the finish line liberating myself of this goal that had become an albatross. Then, my leg started to hurt. No, my leg REALLY started to hurt. This was nausea inducing pain. I had felt this once before and it was when I fractured my femur in 1999. Sadly, my instincts were correct.
Mere weeks away from running a 2:39 and I was thwarted yet again. It was only in the summer of this year after coming so close did I begin to wonder if there was some kind of cosmic force out there that simply would not allow me to achieve this goal. I shed a few tears, threw myself into some crosstraining, and waited (impatiently) to run again.
In the fall, I started to casually wonder about a spring marathon. My mileage had been gradually, organically creeping up and I was feeling pretty strong. My winter program was about to launch and I thought I could start putting some speedwork into the mix.
En route to a meeting less than 48 hours from program launch, I was rear ended at a controlled intersection. My car was totaled. I had a few broken ribs and for the second time this year was staring down at least 4-6 weeks without any running. That plan for a marathon in the spring of 2011 sadly fell by the wayside.
On the upside, I’m alive. I will heal. I’ve got a new car. I ran a few miles on the Alter-G treadmill. As crazy as it may sound, I’m not giving up on that 2:39. Until the universe puts me down once and for all, I’m going to keep swinging because that’s what being a runner is all about and ultimately, that’s what life is all about. Sisyphean or not, I will keep pushing forward.
In the words of Andre Agassi, ‘I don’t have the answers. I don’t claim that I do. Just keep fighting and hopefully something good happens.’ Keep fighting the good fight in 2011.