I got on a big yellow school bus at 5:30 in the morning. It was 42 degrees outside and the widows of the bus were fogged up from all the adrenaline compiled in such a small space. I was sitting next to my good friend Nate. He was putting vaseline on his armpits and getting pumped up to some Led Zeppelin music.
I looked to my left and there was a cute little grandma in hot pick running shorts lacing up her shoes. She looked calm. I was anything but calm. My heart was pounding and the self doubt was setting in. Had I bitten off more than I could chew. Had a trained hard enough? What if I couldn’t finish?
This was the morning of my first marathon. I started a conversation with the cute little grandma. I asked her how many marathons she had run. She quietly said 24. My eyes got big and she asked me how many I’d run. I’m sure she knew, given my deer in the headlights look. I said this was my first race and I was nervous. She asked me why I decided to train for a marathon and I told her how it had always been a dream of mine. I told her I was livin’ my dream today. Shen then asked me what time I wanted to finish in? I told her Nate and I were shooting for under four hours to which she nodded….then I added that we made a commitment that we weren’t going to walk a single step. She looked at me a little skeptically and I thought to myself, does she know something I don’t?
We drove up the canyon 26.2 miles. Even driving there seemed like it took forever. As each mile passed I thought to myself, I have to run every step of the way back. When we reached the top, everyone was stretching and grouping together to stay warm. At precisely 9am, a man pulled out an old fashioned rifle and the countdown began. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Pow!! The starting gun went off. I was so excited. The first 100 yards I kept turning to people around me and saying, livin’ the dream… just livin’ the dream. Nate and I were chatting it up with various runners. Everything was great. At mile 10, we passed a man wearing black dress socks with his running shoes. Classy. At mile 15, a small group of sisters passed us. They were running in honor of their mother who died of cancer a year earlier.
Somewhere between mile 18-26, every marathon runner has something terrible happen to them. For me, it happened at 21. It’s called “the wall”. What happens is your body reaches the point of exhaustion and it starts screaming at you to stop. You glycogen stores are depleted and you’re literally running on empty. I looked at my watch at this point and we were way ahead of schedule. I turned to Nate and said, “I need to walk…my knees are killing me and my muscles are giving out.” Nate looked at me sternly and said, “we can do this….keep going”. We kept on running to mile marker 22 and I said the same thing again….”Nate, I cant go on…I need to walk”. I limped through mile 23 and 24, each time telling Nate I couldn’t run another step. As we came to the mile marker at 25, guess who passed me? It was none other than the cute little grandma in the hot pink running shorts. She turned and looked at me with a smile and a wink and said, livin’ the dream. I kept putting one foot in front of the other until we came to mile 26, where we turned a corner and there was the finish line. Only .02 miles to go. I wasn’t sure it was a mirage but Nate turned to me and said, “lets finish strong”. I sent a message from my brain to my muscles to sprint to the end. I started sprinting but I was still going the same speed. I collapsed at the finish line, not having walked a single step and finished 18 minutes ahead of our goal.
That was my introduction to running. The time when all the hard work, training and pain paid off. Running to me is livin’ the dream. It means doing things most people only dream of. It’s accomplishment. It’s motivation and discipline. It’s a feeling most people will never know.