June 26, 2012

Diary of a Half-Marathon Dad

I started running for the same reason everyone starts running: I wanted to be able to wear super short shorts in public. Once that dream was realized, I had to set loftier goals. That’s why, as part of my Year of Amazing resolutions, I set out to conquer a half marathon. 

I know what you’re thinking: Is a “half marathon” the name of a new bacon-covered Burger King burger? It’s not—though, if it were, I surely wouldn’t need any training to conquer that. The half marathon I trained for was a 13.1 run that spanned the beautiful city streets of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It’s called The Flying Pig marathon, named after the official bird of Cincinnati. (Ironically, it’s named after the official pig of Cincinnati too).

The route included the street behind the sports stadiums, two bridges, the monstrous hill through Eden Park and a volcano. Well, maybe not a volcano. That may have been me hallucinating around Mile 7. But I had been training for months, running mile after mile, uphill both ways, in the snow and with permanent blisters the size of Nevada.

I had never been a runner before, nor had I ever even thought about running as a sport I could invest myself in. In the past I cracked jokes about people who ran for fun. But with my body starting to take the shape of a flying pig, I figured it was time for me to take my health a little more seriously. Or, at the very least, burn enough calories to eat large quantities of Doritos Locos Tacos.

During the half-marathon I kept an inner journal of the race that I’d like to share with you here. I must warn you, though, there are no more references to Doritos Locos Tacos. (I know, I’m bummed too). Here it goes. 

The Starting Line: My nerves were shaking as I stood there at the starting line, next to one of my closest friends who not only supported me so much throughout my training, but was also running that day. We waited for our moment. The gun sounded. We crossed the start line and wished each other luck. Then he took off like Doc Brown’s Delorean, blazing off at an unprecedented speed and disappearing into what I can only assume was the future. I, on the other hand, trotted along at a pace envied only by Snuffleupagus. 

Mile #1: Only a few steps in I see crowds of people clapping and waving signs, saying things like “Good luck runners!” and “You can do it!” and “Worst Parade Ever!” Feeling very motivated. Ready to conquer the world. 

Mile #2: Still feeling good, but the motivation is starting to dip. Bridge is ahead. That should create for a fun run and beautiful view of the city. 

Mile #3: Bridge was a BIG mistake. Completely uphill. Did not realize Northern Kentucky was built on a mountain. Make promise to self to only vote for political candidates who are pro downhill bridges. 

Mile #4: OMG, I’m only on mile 4!?! Feels like I’ve been running for a week. Sweat has already soaked through my shirt. And my shorts. And my brain. And it’s not even 7 a.m. yet. 

Mile #5: OK, settle down Brian. Five is your lucky number. It’s the number that carried you to stardom in little league and a championship in the inaugural Bar Game Olympics of 2004. It’s also the number of blisters you can feel forming on the inside of your feet. 

Mile #6: Grabbed a water from a water stand and feel refreshed. Not sure what to do with cup. Everyone is throwing them on the ground, but that’s littering. I don’t litter. Briefly consider eating it. 

Mile #7: I see a volcano. Everyone is running toward it and jumping in the hole at the top. They are being applauded by unicorns. I think I have lost it. My will to finish isn’t strong enough. I can’t go on. This magical moment of my life is over. I’m crushed and so mad at myself. Loser. Loser. Loser. 

Mile #8: Then, as I rounded the corner into Mile 8, I saw this:

And this:
And this:
And this and this and this:

These weren’t just any fans, they were my fans. My super fans. My daughters. My wife. My sister and nephew. My close friends. They were there to support me. I couldn’t let them down. What kind of example would I be setting if I gave up? I need to finish. I will finish. And for each remaining mile, I’ll keep them in mind. So I reminded myself that ... 

Mile #9: I’m doing this mile for Ella. She starts kindergarten soon and needs to know that any challenge is conquerable if you put your heart and soul into it. There will be times you feel like it’s too hard, but it’s the hard that makes the accomplishment great. 

Mile #10: I’m doing this mile for Anna. She starts preschool in the fall and needs to know that you can’t fear trying new things, even when your big sister isn’t there to guide you. It’s the act of trying that will make your life experiences even better--and you’ll be happier for it. Trust me. 

Mile #11: I’m doing this mile for Mia. She can’t really talk much yet but when she does, I want her first full sentence to be “I’m going to be awesome like my dad.” (I’ll also accept “My dad is my hero” and “I’m voting for Dad for President of the House.”) Being awesome means ignoring the moments of self-doubt that inevitably creep their way into any amazing journey. Stay positive and reach your dreams. 

Mile #12: I’m doing this mile for my wife, family and friends who have supported me throughout this quest of mine to become a runner. Without your support, I wouldn’t be super awesome. I’d probably be only kind-of awesome. 

Mile #13: I’m doing this last one for me. This past year has been hard. Really hard. There isn’t a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t ache a little. It’s been a long road with unexpected challenges, new experiences and moments of self-doubt. But I’ve worked tirelessly to make it through. More tirelessly than most will ever know. And it feels good to know that I’ve survived, just like I’ve survived these past 13 miles.

I looked directly up at the Finish Line banner as I passed under it. For the first time in a long time I allowed myself to stop and take in the moment. I teared up. It was nice.  

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