My alarm went off at 5:30 and I ate the same meal I eat every morning before a long run. Sue was planning to drive as close as she could to US Bank Stadium before dropping me off. There was frost on the windshield so we sat and shivered in the vehicle while we waited for the defrost to do its job. We eventually got within 6 blocks of the stadium and Sue had time to wish me luck before I set off on the short walk. It was clear and the forecast predicted an absolutely perfect day for me to run my 12th marathon!
I took my position near the back of the first corral, turned on my music and waited for the starting gun. I looked around, and like always. I was amazed to see so many marathon runners in one place. Less than 1% of the population has ever run a marathon, and here I was standing with over 10,000 others just like me. Most of us looked as though we had spent our entire summer outside training. Weathered skin and sun bleached hair were present everywhere as were muscular legs, lean torsos and focused stares of quiet determination. We were all marathon runners and the day we had trained for was finally at hand.
I planned to use the first five miles to gradually “fade in” to my marathon pace of just under 8 minutes per mile (7.5 mph). The skyscrapers of the first mile always mess with my GPS Garmin watch, so while I received many bizarre readings, I hoped I was doing OK. There are a few small hills during the first few miles so I tried to take it easy going up and speed up a little while going down. My Garmin continued giving me readings that were either way too slow or way too fast, so while I attributed some of the fluctuation to satellite signals, I also knew I was likely doing a fairly poor job of pacing myself and that this would come back to haunt me like it always does.
Half way through the 5th mile, I saw a level stretch coming up so I decided to settle into my race pace. I began using my music to take my mind away and allow my body to perform like I had trained it to do for so many months. John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” took me back to Velva North Dakota. I thought of all the kids I went to school with and how so many of them had wished me well during the previous days. Aerosmith’s “Angel” reminded me of my dear wife Sue. I remembered her face from a few hours earlier and like always, her eyes had told me with absolute certainty that she loved me. Foreigner’s “Night Life” made me think of my son Carl. I was reminded that the last time I ran a marathon, Carl was running by my side, and that although he was in Grand Forks on this particular morning, his encouragement was still with me, powering me though the miles.
My stomach, which had been a little upset all week, began rumbling a few miles later. Sometimes if I ignore it, it gets better, but I soon realized that wouldn’t be the case on this day. At mile 11, there were a line of porta potties so I slowed down, but when I saw that there were at least 5 runners waiting, I continued on. By the time I reached the next set of potties, my situation had become urgent so even though there were people waiting, I got into line. By the time I got back on the road 5 minutes later, I knew my dream of a 3:30 marathon was gone, but I thought I could still finish under 3:45 and come away with a new PR.
After the unplanned stop, I got back into my rhythm, but as the miles wore on, I became tired and doubt began creeping in. For some reason I always believe that if I do all the hard training, running the actual marathon will be relatively easy. Reality always hits me smack in the forehead during the late teen miles and it’s at that time I always realize I’m going to have to work extremely hard just to finish! I told myself that I wanted that PR, and I wasn’t ready to give up on it yet.
My stomach began rumbling again around mile 17 and when I felt the first little bit of discomfort I screamed out loud “for Pete’s sake!” There are always bananas passed out in this general area, so when I reached the tables a half block later, a volunteer who had heard my outburst thrust one in my face and said “have a banana!” I grabbed the half and slowed to a walk while my sweaty hands struggled with the peel. I remember from past races that bananas can either improve my stomach or make it worse. Much to my surprise, I felt better and headed back on my way.
I knew the most difficult portion of the race, the Summit Avenue Hill, still awaited me, but I knew that if I worked hard, I could still get my PR. As I labored through the two block incline approaching the Franklin Bridge, my stomach began to trouble me again. Right before mile 20 marker, with the AFLAC inflatable wall, I saw an unoccupied potty so I decided to use it. I thought how unfair this all was. I worked hard this summer and deserved a PR, but I knew it was now officially out of my reach.
I left the potty angry with myself and angry with my misfortune. I looked down and my Garmin was displaying “low battery.” One more strike against me! My feet hurt and I was tired! I would have to bust my butt just to finish in under 4 hours and that made me even angrier. I realized I had plenty of excuses to just give up and walk to the finish line for my shirt. That’s what I was going to do!
AC’DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top” started to play in my ears and it changed everything! I thought of all of the runners that had qualified and competed in the Boston Marathon. Did they give up when it got tough? NO! Did they make excuses and try again another day? NO! I remembered what my friend Stacy had told me after a rough marathon a few years back: “Marathons are not for the faint of heart.” I was reminded that you had to be tough to be a marathon runner. I realized that although my body was strong, I had become mentally weak.
I knew there was a tough “Badass” inside me somewhere so I let the music bring it to the surface. It turns out my inner Badass wasn’t happy with me. It wasn’t going to let me give up. It wasn’t going to accept excuses. It wasn’t going to let me walk to the finish line and get a stupid shirt. It wasn’t going to let me feel sorry for myself and it sure as heck wasn’t going to accept yet another finish in over 4 hours!
I didn’t run fast, but I kept running and I had an attitude. I entered full Badass mode and powered my way up that stupid Summit Avenue hill! I continued down the street muttering little bits of profanity to myself under my breath. My feet hurt and a few new aches began popping up but my Badass persona was now in full control. I passed over the final crest and caught sight of the finish line, down the hill and a half mile ahead. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” started playing and I tackled the home stretch with renewed enthusiasm and fire. Nothing was going to stand in my way now! My friend Megan caught a picture of me at this most determined moment of the day.
I crossed the finish line and returned to my normal self. I thanked the volunteers who were working the finisher area and met up with Sue and the rest of the family there to see me finish. I remembered once again Stacy saying “Marathons aren’t for the faint of heart.” A little voice deep inside me spoke up one final time and said “Yeah, you have to be a freakin’ Badass to finish a marathon!”