(Note: The Boston Marathon was yesterday, which inspired this post.)
October 11th, 2009 was the date of what was possibly my greatest personal success.
Waking up that morning five years ago, I was going through a period that could be described as fairly shitty - between jobs, in a terrible economy and with grim prospects. I'd made a serious miscalculation on the future of real estate and was paying a mortgage on an empty house that I couldn't afford for much longer. In short, there wasn't a lot of good stuff in my life happening when I rolled out of bed.
But today was going to be different. Today I was about to run the Chicago Marathon.
Six years ago, I'd been completely sedentary, but I'd been plenty active this particular summer. The one good thing about being unemployed was the free time. As an unemployed guy with lots of free time, I'd logged multiple 80-mile weeks on the rolling hills around San Jose, sinking my stressinto long miles of hot asphalt. I was, inarguably, in the best shape of my life.
I had one goal for the race: qualify for the Boston Marathon. If you're not familiar with it, Boston is the Olympics for the average person. There are very strict time qualifying standards. As an enthusiastic, but not terribly gifted runner, I'd tried several times to run a marathon fast enough to gain entry, but the closest I'd come was nearly 30 minutes too slow and, while I was prepared, I knew a qualifying time would be close to my physical limits.
I lined up towards the front of the 40,000 person field, near the pace group designed to take us to the finish in 3 hours and 10 minutes, my cutoff time for making it to Boston. My plan, for what it was worth, was to stay glued to the pacemaker until I was either physically unable to stay with them or we reached the finish line.
The first half of the race went according to plan. By the time we reached 16 miles, it was clear I was having a good day. The pack I ran with, which had started with several hundred runners, was melting like a snowball as other runners began to lose contact with the pace group. By 20 miles I had the audacious thought that everything was under control.
But the marathon inevitably grinds you down. 22 miles in, I abruptly hit the so-called wall. In the span of a minute or so, someone had handed me an invisible piano to carry to the finish.
Somehow - and I'm really not sure how - I dug into the ugly part of the soul that allows us do things we shouldn't be able to. It wasn't a pleasant visit, but it was effective - for fifteen critical minutes, I held it together. But everyone breaks, eventually. With a couple of miles left I was past the point where any amount of courage would help. I began to slip backwards.
But I'd held on just long enough so the late fade didn't matter. Barely; I limped in with about 30 seconds to spare in a race that lasted over three hours.
That day it felt as though the entire universe was on my side. On my absolute best day, the weather just happened to be perfect and the windy city took a day off. For hours, I skirted innummerable tiny disasters, any one of which would have derailed me.
Funny thing was, I stayed hot: The following week I got an interview that lead to a job. My first book was published the following month. A week later I received my first patent and another month after that my empty house finally sold.
More importantly, the boost of confidence that came with that singular success stayed with me. I still think about that day where I was (mostly) bulletproof, where everything went right. Hopefully everyone gets at least one day like that. Maybe we're only entitled to the one.
And that's what this post is about. I've tried to replicate that day several times, without success. The closest I came was two years ago. Off another block of amazing training I made another credible run at Boston qualifying, but it didn't quite come together as perfectly. I missed by three minutes. Close but no cigar.
Over the winter, I got to thinking about whether I wanted to do it again. Marathon training is exhausting, and requires many other parts of my life to be put on the back burner for months. It might be more beneficial, for example, to work on developing my writing interests.
But it seems I can't leave well enough alone. I'm going to take one more bite at the apple, this time leaving absolutely no stone unturned.
That's easy to say, much harder to do. So far, though, I've been walking the walk: Over the winter I went to physical therapy to correct some mechanical issues that created stride inefficiency and injury.
I'm currently in the midst of an early-season conditioning program designed to slim me down and prepare me for the rigors of hard training. Today will be my 113th consecutive day of running, most of which has been done in the teeth of the wind and snow of Chicago's neverending winter. 16 weeks out, I'll start the official training plan fitter and lighter than ever before. To keep building, I'll be doing everything I can to gain an edge. For example, in late summer I'm planning to move to the mountains for a month of high altitude training.
Why am I writing about this instead of another bland treatise on resource allocation? Honestly, I'm not sure, but I do know it's not the running part that's interesting, it's the quest. Something about being wholly committed to something makes life exciting, makes you feel more alive.
I know this sort of thing is boring to most people. No need to worry - I'm not planning on revisiting this topic anytime soon. Although there may be an update in October...
Next time: A return to regular programming.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.