You never forget your first. Or second. Not even your third. There’s the anticipation. The performance anxiety. The months of training.
We are both talking about marathons, right?
So now that you’re with me, here’s my theory. Normal people might forgive Paul Ryan his “mistake” in stating the wrong time for his marathon. Runners, and particularly marathon runners, will not. They won’t forgive because forgiveness requires acknowledgment and you can’t acknowledge a lie by calling it a mistake. Paul Ryan told a lie. A bald faced, unmitigated fabrication of the truth. And here’s how I know it.
In 2007 I was a “recreational runner” when my wife announced that she and a friend were going to run the Las Vegas marathon. I’m sure after chuckling, I said something completely unsupportive like “good luck with that” and went about my day. As the months passed and she and her friend trained, I decided to join the fun and run the Las Vegas half. At the time a half marathon seemed plenty far for me. So to Vegas we went in December 2007. My wife wanted to drive the course so we drove the course. I remember at one point she turned in the car and said “we’re still driving!” Do it some time. Drive 26.2 miles for no reason but to drive 26.2 miles. It’s a long, long way. My wife and her friend got a good night’s sleep. I went out drinking and gambling with a friend. And in the morning we ran. We ran past the marathon’s run through chapel. Only in Vegas! And then we ran some more. And then we kept running. Only I stopped at 13.1 miles and they kept going. For me it was fun and I’ve run a couple of half marathons a year just for fun ever since.
In 2008 we did it all again – my wife and her friend running the full and me running the half. Suddenly a half marathon seemed pretty doable and still fun. The full marathon seemed just stupid. Still does. But now I’ve run three of them and am about to run a fourth.
In 2009 the three of us decided to run St. George. There was no chickening out for me as St. George doesn’t offer a half. It’s 26.2 miles or bust. And so we ran. My goal was 4:30 or better. If all went well, maybe I could hit 4:00. After all, not only is running a marathon a challenge at any number of levels but I was running my first marathon at 47 years old. It was a beautiful, albeit cold, morning up in Snow Canyon. I wore sweat pants I could throw away. Being a novice, I didn’t think about what was involved in taking them off. It meant sitting down, untying my shoes, taking off the sweats, putting my shoes back on. Then I had to stop to go to the bathroom. In all, I bet I lost eight minutes. At least that’s what I’ve told myself since I crossed that finish line in 4:04. 1738 out of 5618 finishers. Top 30%. Not bad. But why do I dwell on those sweats and the bathroom break and the resulting eight minutes? Well any marathoner can tell you why. Because that eight minutes made the difference of being a four hour marathoner or a “sub-four hour marathoner”. What matters is the number that starts that time. 3:59:59 is NOT the same as 4:00:01! That first digit is a matter of pride. It’s about the months of work and effort, sweat and strain, pain and glory. It’s about ignoring the kids on Saturday morning and running at 5am instead of catching another hour of sleep.
In 2010 we moved on to Chicago – our home town. We were cruising. At the halfway point, we were bona fide rock stars. Sub-four was going to be easy. And then, as it is prone to do in Chicago, it got hot. Really, really hot. We took a turn out west by the United Center and the thermometer shot up. Ambulances appeared more often than they should. The entire race – and I mean the entire race, elite athletes and all – slowed by 20 minutes. And my sub-four became four plus. And there it was. Depressing as all get out. 4:14. Ok, blame the heat. 11,466 out of 36,088 finishers. Again, top 30%. Still not bad.
In 2011, my wife and friend left me on my own. The 2nd Annual Layton marathon sounded fun. Run Antelope Island, the causeway, then into Layton. Flat course. 196 full marathoners. 7.5 people per mile compared to Chicago’s 1,377 people per mile! They don’t start till everyone gets to go to the bathroom. Again, if you’re a marathoner, you’ll know why that’s so funny. It was cold and raining. And so few people mean fewer people to pace you and help you keep going. It also means no spectators to motivate you. And did I mention that in the summer of 2011 I forgot something. I forgot to train. Sure, I ran a bit but to run a four hour marathon takes training. Serious training. All the more so at 49 years old. But I did it anyway. There’s a reason the book is called Four Months to a Four Hour Marathon! The most painful marathon of my three. And the most depressing yet. 4:27. And still middle of the field. The best time was 2:58. You know, eight minutes slower than Paul Ryan if Paul Ryan were telling the truth. The slowest finisher was 6:05.
Well, it’s 2012 and in four weeks I’m heading back to St. George. I’m 50 now. I’ve been training. I feel pretty good. I want a 3 at the beginning of my finishing time before I hang it up and go back to half marathons. Half marathons are fun. Full marathons are stupid. And Paul Ryan is a liar.
Wish me luck!