A Different Sunday Experience!
Way back in February I challenged my Uncle. He had issued a similar challenge a few years ago but because of the seminary schedule I couldn’t take him up on it. Now, as a priest, things were different so I reissued his old challenge – lets run the marine marathon together! Since he had run several marathons it didn’t take much convincing.
So we registered, which was no mean feat considering that all 30,000 marathon slots were filled in a little over two hours! Luckily both of us managed to claim a coveted spot and thus the training began. I’m not going to lie, training in the Texas heat was not the most exciting experience I’ve ever had, especially in late August. But my uncle and I slogged through it, wincing a lot along the way.
Its the wincing and the pain though that eventually became a big part of my marathon story. Roughly around mid September, a month before the Marathon, while I was on a 20 mile training run I ran into a runners worst nightmare, an over use injury. After seeing a doctor I learned that I was afflicted with that most joyful of maladies, plantar fasciitis. Joy. No worries. I had the help of a fantastic doctor and physical therapist who in 4 short weeks helped get me back on my feet and in near running condition. It was then with more than a little apprehension that I set off for Washington DC to run this race.
Here’s a picture of my Uncles children, my cousins and traveling companions, prior to our flight. These kids were awesome to have around and easily some of the best sideline cheerers!
Although I would have liked to believe that my foot was 100% ready to go on race day I knew it wasn’t. No amount of positive self talk could push that nagging doubt out of my mind. How would my foot hold up? Would I be able to finish? I felt athletically ready, I felt my cardiovascular training was perfect, but… my foot – how would it fair?
Here I am at the Race Expo where we picked up our Bib’s and mingled with thousands of other runners.
Very early Sunday morning I awoke and rode the metro down to the pentagon and encountered what I can only describe as an utterly fantastic race day environment! Imagine 30,000 runners nervously and excitedly waiting around, all the while listening to upbeat music, and even more enthusiastic Marines. Each and every Marine seemed ready and primed to encourage and help at every turn both at the start and at every literal turn and water station. I could literally spend an entire blog post singing the praises of the Marathon’s organizational prowess and professionalism of our nation’s Marines.
Following the opening ceremonies the race began and off we went! For the first few miles I ran shoulder to shoulder with 30,000 of my nearest and dearest friends. To say it was crowded and awkward would be an understatement. But by mile 6 things began to thin out as people separated themselves by pace. This was perhaps one of the best moments of the marathon because I was pain free and not only running well but easily hitting a fantastic pace. If I had kept that pace I would have run the marathon in 3 hrs 40 min. Alas it was not to be.
Around mile 10 everything fell apart. Between one step and the next my old injury reared its unwelcome head. Over the next three miles I struggled with every fibber of my being to push through the pain. The pain quickly became over powering and consumed my every thought as each step felt like a small knife had stabbed through my left foot. I wondered if I would ever finish. Had there been a way to stop, a wagon to take me to the finish, I would have gladly taken the option. Oddly enough, this was preciously the moment when things began to change. Near the half way mark, the race organizers had placed hundreds and hundreds of supportive signs all with different various of the same theme, “You can do it. We’re pulling for you!”
That’s when it hit me.
Offer the pain up for someone, do it for them! So I began to pray and imagine the face of one person per mile. I’d envision faces of people I knew or had barely meet in the confessional; I’d recall their struggles, I’d talk to God about their pains, their burdens, the things that had asked me to pray for. From the half way point onward, each and every footfall had another purpose beyond finishing. It was then that everything changed.
It was perhaps one of the most wild things I’ve ever experienced. No matter how far I ran the pain didn’t decrease. In fact, it got worse but it somehow didn’t seem to matter. No matter how hard or painful things got, with each passing mile and intention, the pain seemed to decrease in it’s importance and power. I felt the heat and weight of it but it didn’t matter. The pain was present, I felt the length and breath of it, but it had gone somewhere else.
I don’t know how to explain it beyond that.
Now I only wish my face and outward appearance had properly expressed my interior disposition! The picture below was taken on the National Mall and obviously… I was in a bit of pain.
So there it is folks… my Marine Marathon experience.
If you want to see a bit of video, here’s me crossing the finish line. If you watch the clock I cross the finish right at 4:25:00 or roughly 1 min into the video clip. I’m wearing all back and the bid is on my belly and I immediately put my hands on my head as I cross the line. My real finish time was 4:23:24.
Click here to see the finish line video.