Five and a half years ago I crossed the finish line for my first marathon.
I think that means something different to everyone who has finished a marathon. For me it was the achievement of the impossible. Up until 2 and a half years before, I had been a professional couch potato. Already in my 30s I had worked out only occasionally and run a mile perhaps 4 or 5 times in my life (and most of those in grade school). I was one of the least athletic people that I know. I had stumbled into running while walking around the indoor track at the Y after the birth of my second daughter. One thing that I knew, with a sedentary job and two young kids, was that I absolutely needed some way to move around and burn off some frustration, anxiety, energy. Walking was a nice start, and then it gradually turned into running for a few laps, and then it went all the way up to running a mile. After a few months of that I gradually upped it until I could run maybe 2 miles at a time. I was very proud of this! I can remember distinctly being on the track and thinking "If I can get to doing 2 miles at at time, every day, that would be amazing!" Having made this step I decided I should go buy some "running shoes." When I told the guy at the store I was running maybe 10 miles a week he bluntly told me it didn't matter what kind of shoe I wore (because the distance was so short) and I ended up with a pair of Nike (and this is the real name, here) Extruders. Yup, my first shoes were Extruders, and I never did find out what they extruded, other than failed marketing and bargain bin chic.
Eventually my older sister also got into running and, in typical older sister fashion, jumped way ahead of me by signing up not for a 10K, not for a half marathon, but for a full marathon! I couldn't believe it. I had no plans to do a marathon, the distance was ridiculous, but I did agree to come out and do a half marathon with her. And that's pretty much all it took. From that point on, I was hooked. The first half marathon had a disappointing finish time, I knew I could do better, so I started to run longer and harder. Once I knew I could do 13.1 miles, I knew I could probably do more, so I hooked up with a few people from work and trudged my way through the training for a fall marathon in 2006. As I said, it was an incredible feeling, one of the most emotional in my life (not so intense as the day I married my wife, or the birth of our kids, but right up there with the way I felt when I got my PhD). I had done what I should never have been able to do!
Then I started to think. I had done it, but so had literally 10,000 other people. That day. In that one race. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people were going to run a marathon that year. Heck, Oprah has done it! So while it was very cool, it wasn't exactly distinguished. So I decided I wanted a new goal. Lots of people have run a marathon - but how many have run two? And how many have run three? And how many have gone all the way up to 10 or more? Turns out, lots more than you think, as I came to find. But it was still a new goal, to finish 10 marathons. If I could do THAT, then I would have achieved something.
So for the past five and a half years I've been moving towards that goal. Sometimes running towards it, other times jogging, other times barely walking, but always moving in that direction. I've worn through a few pairs of shoes, run off a few extra pounds. Got some new aches and pains. As I said, I've since come to find that there are many, many people who have done things like this, and some who routinely do still more (any ultra runners reading this??). But it's a goal and as of tomorrow, if all goes well, I will achieve it. I'm not planning on a fast run, or even a good run. I'm reasonably trained, but not for speed, and it's going to be a hot day. One of the things I've learned over 9 other runs is that if you just slow down you can finish most anything, and that's going to be my strategy tomorrow. I seriously doubt that this will be my last event - I've got some plans! In many ways it'll be just another run, just another race. But in that one important way, the "number 10" way, it will be more than that.
Wish me luck.