I recently accomplished one of the greatest personal feats of my life – running a marathon in less than 4 hours – and I’m at a complete loss for words.
A. Complete. Loss.
I know that I want to write something about the amazing experience, but I have no idea where to start. I think it’s because I don’t know exactly how I’m feeling right now – just 60 hours after crossing the finish line of the The Army Marathon.
Part of me is still trying to process everything.
Part of me is in shock.
Part of me is just happy it’s over.
Someone asked me if I was euphoric. Nope.
Someone else asked me if I was relieved. Not particularly.
I guess I’m proud of myself, because I said that I was going to do something and I worked my tail off to make it happen. But pride is a dangerous emotion.
As I reflect on the race – which took place on a bitterly cold and windy morning in Central Texas – all I can think about are the poignant conversations that I had with myself over the last 5 or 6 miles.
These conversations were extremely loud and exceptionally clear because I was running completely “unplugged.” I grudgingly left my headphones in the car, and my running watch was ceremoniously stolen before the race started.
I hadn’t run like this in a long time. I felt naked.
But you know what? It’s exactly what I needed.
Instead of looking at my watch every 3 or 4 minutes – fretting about my pace – or wondering what the next song would be on my I-Tunes, I stood toe-to-toe with some of my inner demons.
And we talked it out like men.
“It’s so cold…”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself – keep running…keep fighting.”
“I can’t feel my fingers and my feet hurt…”
“Failure is not an option – not today.”
“What’s the point…I’m barely moving because the wind is blowing so strong…”
“But you ARE moving. Do. Not. Stop.”
“Maybe I’m not suppose to run marathons…”
“This is NOT Nashville. Stay in the moment…fight!”
As I approached the 24th mile marker, I thought a lot about Nashville – my last attempt to complete a marathon.
I thought about that question that ended my day – only 2.2 miles from the finish line: “Sir, are you OK?”
I thought about my confidence-shattering response: “I don’t think so.”
Then there was the ambulance that carried me and my disappointment to the hospital. I thought about that, too.
How could I not think about it? That was the last time I had run that far.
But when I hit mile marker No. 24 in the Army Marathon, I just smiled and winked to the running gods. I was feeling strong, and I was focused. I wasn’t sure if the 4-hour mark was still doable, but I knew that I was going to finish this 26.2-mile race.
My inner demons had other intentions, though…
“It’s so cold…”
“You said you were going to do it…Do. It.”
“It’s not the right day to break 4 hours…”
“The right day? When will it be the ‘right’ day? Run!”
“What if I fail AGAIN?!?!?”
“What if you DON’T? What if you break the 4-hour barrier on this crazy, cold day? How sweet will that be?”
Right in the middle of this internal dialogue, I started to pray. I can’t remember the exact point in the race when this happened, but I’m sure my fingers were numb and the 20-mph wind was blowing directly into my face.
I started to express my gratefulness to God. I thanked Him for all the wonderfully great things in my life.
I thanked Him for the love and support of my family and friends. My kids. My wife. My parents and siblings.
I thanked Him for the men and women who have died for my freedom. There were constant reminders about these sacrifices throughout the race. I ran with a countless number of service men and women and their families. A handful of runners were honoring fallen members of the military on their bibs.
I thanked God for my health and the ability to run. I told Him that I realized there are a lot of people in the world who can’t OR won’t lace ’em up and pound the pavement.
I thanked Him for the oxygen in my lungs and the muscles in my legs.
I thanked Him for my drive and determination.
When I finally reached a turn in the course, I thanked God for the wind at my back and the sensations returning to my fingers.
My demons weren’t impressed, though. They refused to give in…
“Uh, oh…a cramp…”
“It feels like a hot knife in my calf…”
“What if they get worse…”
“You’ll keep running and finish.”
“What’s the point…”
“You set a goal. Go and get it.”
“But I’m hurting…”
I asked myself that direct and rhetorical question because I thought back to two remarkable gentlemen that I “got to know” during my training for the Army Marathon.
On several of my long training runs, I “met” Cpl. Pat Tillman when I listened to the audiobook Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer.
In the midst of my training, I also read Lone Survivor and was introduced to the amazing story of Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell.
These two men laid it all on the line for our country. It cost Tillman, a former NFL standout, his life. It cost Marcus Luttrell three of his brothers from Seal Team 10. They were both pushed to the brink of hell to protect our freedom.
All I had was a cramp.
As I ran with pain in my legs, I thought back to everything those guys went through. They were bloody, bruised and broken in one of the most hostile environments on this planet. While Tillman was unable to make it out alive, a lot of people believe that Luttrell’s survival was nothing short of miraculous.
Reflecting on these heroic stories, my cramps seemed irrelevant. They didn’t go away, but they became nothing more than a nuisance as I made the last turn towards the finish line – the home stretch.
I was .75 miles from completing 26.2 miles – and I was running straight into the teeth of the wind. The wind chill had dropped to 22 degrees, and gusts reached 20 mph. It was starting to mist again.
My demons were having a party…
“You’ve stopped before, you can stop again…”
“What if you just walked for a little while…”
“Think how disappointed you’re going to be in you don’t break 4 hours….”
“Think how disappointed I’ll be if I STOP?!?!?”
“No one cares…”
“What are you trying to prove…”
“That if I want something bad enough, I can go get it.”
“Think about all the times you’ve come up short in your life…”
As the finish line came into site, I could see the running clock. It was past the 4-hour mark – barely. It read 4:00.56.
I smiled and winked to the running gods again.
You see…I actually started the marathon almost 5 minutes after everyone else. We ran into some weather on our drive to Killeen and were running a little late. The starter’s pistol fired right when we arrived. I quickly checked-in, got my bib and timing chip and started running seconds after the race director said, “This is the very last call for runners.”
Before I was out of earshot, I heard him say: “Turn off the music. That’s it.”
I was the last runner on the course.
So, with hundreds of other runners in front of me (398 to be exact), I just ran. At Mile No. 1, I started passing people and didn’t stop until I had ran 26.2 miles.
When I saw that clock at the finish line, I figured that I had a 4- to 5-minute “buffer.” My chip time was all that mattered.
The clock read 4:01.51 as I crossed the finish line and the timing mat chirped. I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I accomplished my goal, but I felt pretty good about it. I had given everything that I had.
Approximately 30 minutes later, I received confirmation:
3 hours, 56 minutes and 43 seconds
I pumped my fist and smiled an exhausted smile.
On one of the coldest, dampest and windiest days that I’d EVER run, I had finally accomplished my goal. The most satisfying part, I stared down some of my most destructive demons to do it.
So, after processing everything – and finding “my words” in order to write this post – there is finally closure.
So how am I feeling?
I have a new sense of confidence – ready, willing and energized to tackle the next adventure. I’m excited about the next opportunity to push myself harder and further in order to accomplish something extremely important to me.
I’m already starting to ask myself…