Sometime in 2001, David convinced me to sign up with him for the next year's Big Sur Marathon. The actual 26.2-mile run. The real deal.
Now, David was a runner in high school, cross country and track, but me, I'm just a plodder. I worried that I'd hold him back, but he assured me he'd train with me and stick by me—he wanted my company.
I'd done the 21-mile Power Walk several times by then, so knew more or less what to expect. Assuming I trained well—and knowing that if push came to shove, I could always walk—I figured that, yeah, it could be fun. So I said sure.
That year, the BSIM folks were conducting marathon-prep clinics at the local hospital. We attended those, and got good training tips. I started running—plodding . . . okay jogging—regularly, on dirt roads behind a nearby industrial park, or along the coastal rec trail.
Then came 9/11. After the Twin Towers were brought down, I, like Americans generally, did some soul searching. One question I asked myself was what would I regret not having done if I were to meet my end unexpectedly. The answer, strangely enough, was going dog-sledding in Alaska.
I searched online and found Sourdough Outfitters, out of Bettles, 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle. They offered a five-day trip into Gates of the Arctic National Park. I signed up.
This story is not about that experience, but here's a picture of my team and the glorious landscape we traveled through. The trip was in mid-March, and I was fortunate to hit a "warm" spell, with temperatures in the teens and twenties. (The week before, the mercury had been hovering around minus 20.) Still, there was plenty of ice. On day four, I was taking a lunchtime stroll by a frozen river. I wasn't paying attention, and ended up on a patch of slick ice. Down I went, boom: smack on my tailbone.
I managed to limp my way through the rest of the trip (running up hills, to give the dogs a break, was quite painful), but once I got home, I more or less stopped any jarring movements. Including—or maybe especially—running.
Skip forward to late April. The marathon was a few days away. David had been keeping up with his running. He informed me that he was going to run the marathon. After all, he was in shape, and we'd paid big bucks to register.
Well, heck. FOMO hit me bigtime. I thought it over and decided that I, too, would go, on three conditions. First, that I woke up in time to catch the 4:30 a.m. bus. Second, that there was no wind—not that wind or lack thereof at my house would mean a thing for the marathon course, but still: it was a condition. I've forgotten what the third condition was, but whatever it was, it, along with the other two, was met the next morning.
And so, off we went.
Although I hadn't run in six weeks, my last run had been a solid 13-mile loop—a half-marathon—in rolling hills near our home. I hadn't been especially fast, but I'd felt strong and good. And today, as I'd told myself at the outset, I could always walk.
To make a long story short, I did finish. For 25 miles I plodded along at a pace of exactly 12.5-minute miles. I felt pretty good, and I never hit that physical "wall" of overwhelming weariness that long-distance runners talk about, whether it's from lactic acid build-up, muscle-glycogen imbalance, or blood-glucose depletion.
However, round about mile 22, 23, my insidious mind started muttering mutinous comments—for no good reason. I felt fine. A little weary maybe, but fine. The voice got louder and louder, though, and more and more insistent. Until finally, at mile 25, I gave in.
I immediately felt queasy, and had to crouch on my heels for a good five minutes, staring listlessly at the pavement and at the clomping feet of my fellow runners. Eventually, I shakily stood up, pointed myself at the finish line, and started walking. As we neared the chute, I broke into a slow jog. I would run across the line. And I did.
David stuck with me the whole way. Now, that's a good partner.
Ever since then, David has talked about trying another marathon. Me, I did it once. And once is enough.