Monday, December 11, 2006

Run the Rock, by Rob W.

After completing my first marathon in November of ‘05, missing were the feelings of euphoria and elation that most runners indicate as the main motivation for the grueling 26.2.  My race crashed and burned like a Hindenburg into an oil tanker.  My calves started cramping at mile 16, forcing me to do the walk of runner’s shame for the last 10 miles.  In addition, the selection of the San Antonio marathon was an ill-fated one.  It was double out and back course (meaning you run 6.5 miles out, turn around and run back in, then rinse repeat) which forced you to pass the finish line 3 times before you actually crossed.  If I die and go to hell it might actually be a lifetime of running an endless marathon where I pass the finish line every few miles.  On that day, I crossed the finish line exasperated and angry and embarrassed.  I knew even before finishing that there was to be another marathon in my future.  Sunday was my redemption—my “remember the 5:13 at the Alamo.”

Training commenced in July.  I switched up my training routine from last year by adding an extra day of running and ramping up more quickly to long runs.  I also spaced said long runs out 2 weeks, with “shorter” long runs in between.  The first few months of training could not have gone better.  When I completed the first of 3 planned 20 milers, I called my running buddy and told him “I’m ready.  I only worry that I’m 6 weeks out and something screwy might happen.”  The following Thursday screwy happened as I woke up w/ some pretty significant pain in my right knee.  Exercising caution and playing it “safe,” I took what amounted to a week off sitting out a 3 miler, a 13 miler, and a 6 miler, respectively.  That proved to be a turning point as I struggled from that day out.  I completed another 20 miler on “dead” legs.  My third attempt at 20 resulted in me walking the last 7 miles.  I then attempted a 15 miler and had to walk the final 3.  The race was 2 weeks out, and I couldn’t have lacked more confidence.  After a grueling active release massage session, some serious stretching, and many plates of pasta, I was a day out and on the road to Dallas.    

I selected the Dallas White Rock Marathon for the sole reason that it was the antithesis of the San Antonio course.  It was a full loop course that was easy mentally to break up into segments:  9 miles from the start to lake, 10 miles around the lake, 7 miles to glory.  What I didn’t know, what I couldn’t have known, was how great the people of Dallas were in supporting this event.  Of the 16 non-lake miles, I’d say about 12 of them were through residential areas.  And oh how the neighbors came out in full support.  Front lawns were turned into tailgates, sidewalks into stages w/ bands, and a grueling activity into a fun, social event.  As a runner I felt appreciated, respected, and supported.  You couldn’t ask for more.  I definitely left town yesterday w/ a new found appreciation of the city and its people.

My favorite story from the day comes as a result of the residents’ support and humor.  Between mile 7 and 8 there was a group of guys standing on a lawn drinking beer.  They had placed a case of beer on a table w/ a huge sign saying “free beer for runners.”  I chuckled and thought “fat chance pal—maybe at mile 25.”  About a quarter of a mile past this table I run by an older gentleman who’s walking and drinking a beer.  As I pass I say “hey, you took them up on their offer, huh.”  He looked at me and replies “you never, ever pass up a free beer.”  Point well taken.

The race started at American Airlines Arena.  After the Star Spangled Banner and an inspiring F-16 flyover, we were off.  The first 10 miles were cake.  We wound through the streets of Dallas, through the “West End (?),” and into the aforementioned residential areas.  The route really highlighted the beauty of this city.  One thing I noticed is that while it’s definitely a “modern” or “new age” city, it manages to maintain an old town feel.  There’s history in this town and you definitely feel it as you wind through its streets.  At mile 7 I run into the tambourine lady and her husband.  They got an Ipod docking station playing what I later told is the theme from “chariots of fire.”  Unfortunately I can’t hear it due to my own Ipod and miss the opportunity to do the Clark Griswalk arm pumps.  They also have water (praise jesus) and a goo pack.  You definitely have to appreciate, and be humbled by, friends that will drive 4 hours to have at most 2 or 3 chances to spend about 30 seconds cheering for you.  

The first signs of trouble for me surfaced between mile 11 or 12.  The hamstrings were beginning to tighten up and the dead legs were coming.  I think the wall hit at about mile 14 or 15.  I had felt as though I had nothing left and starting at mile 16 I found myself searching for the next mile marker and counting em down in my head (it’s not bad, only 10 more miles left / you can do it, only 9 more miles / bloody hell, how can I freaking run 8 more miles).  The run around the lake was grueling as the crowd support thinned out a bit.  However, every time I thought I was about to fall over there’s a beautiful woman telling me I’m looking good (another neat thing about this marathon is they put your name on the bib—great great idea especially in a town w/ as much eye candy as Dallas), or a little kid holding their hand out for high fives, or a water station looming in the distance.  As they have a contest every year for the best water station, they go all out.  My favorite was obviously the Hooters water station.  Of course, it was a little de-motivating b/c I found myself with the sudden urge to eat some wings or perhaps curl up in a lap or two.  

The “Dolly Parton Hills” start at mile 19.  They are a series of gradual climbs culminating in a 140 foot incline at mile 20 through 21.  At 19, I start walking through the water stations and up hills.  I can’t feel my feet and my calves are a minute from cramping.  I also feel cramps creeping on in my hamstrings and my thighs are raw at this point.  My arms feel like I’ve been carrying 40 pound dumbbells all day and I swear there are knives sticking in my sides.  However, I somehow manage to run most of 19 and grab some water and orange slices at 20.  After walking about a quarter of a mile, Fredo helps out and cues up Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.”  This gets me to the top of the hill and to the 21 marker in full stride.  I pump my fist and search for my theme music who had planned on meeting me at the top, but apparently I had beaten them there.  

To say the last 5 miles were the hardest 5 miles of my life would be a gross understatement.  At this point, my run vs. walk ratio was probably about 60/40.  I feel like curling up in the middle of the street and taking a nap.  In moments like these, you get inspiration wherever you can.  I remember one shirt I read that said “at mile 18, you wonder why you do it.  At 26.2, it becomes clear.”  Mile 22.  I think of another, “I miss you every day mom.  Every step of this is for you.”  Mile 23.  Fredo helps out once again, ~what you see, what you see, what you see is human~  Mile 24.  I see 2 runners practically carrying a third who can barely walk.  Mile 25.  At this point, thinking I’m on a 4:45 pace I see the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen.  Like an angel, Maria the 4:15 pace girl runs by me.  I catch up to her, tail her for a bit, always keeping her in my sight.  So close, yet so miserably far.  I can’t run another step.  I need something.  Fredo steps up in a major way:    ~And now the end is near, and so I face, the final curtain…….  For what is a man, what has he got / If not himself, then he has naught.  The record shows, I took the blows, and did it MY WAY~   As Frank ends his crooning, I pass the 26 mile indicator already welling up.  I pull out the ear phones and try to take in as much of the last .2 as I could:  The crowd screaming, the finish line coming closer, that sweet race clock reading 4:18, the announcer saying “Rob Walter, Austin, TX.”  I cross the finish line, put my hands on my head and break down.  

A marathon is more than 26.2 miles.  It represents months of grueling training.  It represents months of focusing on one goal, on one objective.  You give up weekends, you give up happy hours, you give up trips.  You sit in ice, stretch endlessly, and live w/ pain constantly.  And you roll the dice.  When things go bad on race day, it’s as deflating as any non-tragic life circumstance.  After San Antonio, I didn’t even want to talk about the marathon.  Every “you finished” was a kick to my gut.  I buried that experience yesterday.  From the minute I crossed the finish to the time I put my head down on my pillow yesterday, I was purely happy.  I was completely satiated by a sense of accomplishment.  What’s in 26.2 miles?  In a word:  everything.  


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