So I like how everything has become a “survivor’s story” now, even the most humdrum of accomplishments, like “I stood in line for three hours to get tickets to the Lady Gaga concert, and I survived!” Now running a marathon is more difficult than waiting in line for concert tickets, true. But my tongue’s in cheek to call it a “survivor’s story.” If it deserves any mention, it’s because of the Age Factor: 56 is the new 54! There are many ways of training, but for me, it involved five hard months of running 45-50 miles a week, which felt like a grueling task toward the end. I was full of all kinds of Doubt, such as Should I really be doing this? Wouldn’t I rather relax and do something (plot revenge on my enemies, watch the Weather Channel, knit a woolen hat for my cat, play fantasy football), anything other than another ten-mile run? But somehow I persevered, and a week ago Sunday I ran the Austin, Texas marathon, my eighth. My daughter couldn’t join me on the trip due to school, but I like this “remote viewing” drawing she did for me, after I mentioned that I high-fived a little girl (in her honor) and a baby:
I note my age because it became something of a science project to me: How old do you have to be before the marathon is completely out of your league? Well, I still managed to do it and to have great (if painful) fun. I remember thinking early in the process that I couldn’t imagine running thirty miles a week again (which used to be normal for me), much less fifty, but as time went on, it all became “normal.” I did have more injuries than in my younger days: hamstring, groin, feet. Toward the end (all of January) I would have to ice both feet at night (so they wouldn’t hurt in the morning), wrap my hamstring with an Ace bandage, and ice my groin-pull (it hurt to lift my right leg) so that wouldn’t hurt too much, either. I flew to Austin on Valentine’s Day, and went for my last run before the marathon, a four-miler, and laughed to my friends about it, saying, “I can’t imagine running ten miles, much less twenty-six point two, with all my pains.” But come Sunday morning I was in line at the Start on Congress Avenue, jittery and eager. There were some 20,000 participants (most of them in the Half Marathon), but only 93 in my age group: I finished 40th in that bunch, so I was slightly above the halfway point. Note the percentage of that: 93 out of 20,000 being, what? Less than .5%? So I’m in a rare breed. Perhaps not as rare as that 83-year-old Japanese man who recently summited Mount Everest, but rare enough.
So as the Old Guy Marathon Running Spokesperson, I can testify that there were some amusing, even freaky moments. After the first hour I kind of zoned out, and it all became a blur of process, just running and running. My feet and leg muscles hurt, and around Mile 15 I felt really tired, but here’s the freaky part: Miles 13-20 were my worst, but I recovered after that point, and started feeling stronger in the final six miles. When I reached Mile 21, at which point I’m usually acting like an extra in The Walking Dead, I started running stronger, and Mile 26 was my fastest—slightly under 9 minutes. I finished in 4:31 and if not for injuries, should have done it a good 10-15 minutes faster. Was it worth it? That’s debatable, but having run eight marathons now, I’ll point out that I always enjoy them, and maybe I enjoyed this one more than the others. You feel like you’re doing something greater than you’re usually capable of. And that’s a good thing, right? Here’s a picture of me closing in on the finish line.