So—I did it. I ran 13.1 miles in the 2015 Mercer Island Half Marathon, a race that raises funds to fight colon cancer. I personally also raised funds to support two other causes. In the course of all this, I learned a lot about myself, my body, and what I want to do—how I want to live—in the here-and-now of my forty-something life.
I’ve said to clients that I fly a chair every day in my work, so I need to play in a way that takes my body to the limit. Back in September 2014, I started working out in earnest, and by December I had a wild idea: what if I signed up for a race? I had been using the row machine at the gym, and it felt unsatisfying expending all that energy going nowhere. I started running on the treadmill, and soon recalled the thrill of running—really, it’s just the thrill of high-impact cardio work—when I was 17 years old, back in the 20th century. My 17-year-old self got in shape much faster (and could eat all the cookies he wanted), but even now I can readily see and feel the results of hard exercise. I’m hooked.
Then, in late January, I injured myself. I got ‘Pes Anserine Bursitis’ in my right knee, the result of poor running form in which I radiated my right foot (and knee) outward each time I took a step. It was painful, but the worst part was its persistence: I didn’t start to feel even a little better until mid-February, after a scary three weeks of physical therapy, acupuncture, and a sinking feeling that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race, or even compete: at its worst, I couldn’t run an eighth of a mile without severe pain.
But then that lifted, and I was back on my training schedule. I ran seven miles, then ten, then twelve, with alternating short runs in between. I learned that long runs (for me) are little spiritual exercises in persistence and patience. I learned to find the balance between taking care of myself and pushing harder. I’d be in the middle of mile eight, say, and feel utterly fatigued … and I’d keep going.
I started doing simple math on runs, which became a form of meditation. Every five minutes, the runkeeper app on my phone would tell me how I was doing, and I’d crunch the numbers while I ran: “I’m 6/16ths done now … so that’s 3/8ths … almost half …” Then, one fine day, the app malfunctioned and I didn’t get the updates. I ran in silence. I noticed that without the jabbering of the 5-minute updates, I could focus better, notice what was going on with more intention, and run more efficiently. In running, as in so many things, less is more.
On race day, last Sunday, March 22, I felt excited but not particularly nervous. I knew by then that I’d make it, and it was just a matter of doing it. I was more nervous about all the other runners and the unfamiliarity of the event: this was my first race, except for a little run I halfheartedly did about a dozen years ago, which was so halfhearted I don’t think it counts. My goals were to finish, and to not walk at any point on the course. Done, and done. The eighth mile was once again one of the biggest challenges: my right foot started to hurt, and it was hard to shake the thought that I had several miles to go. I said a little prayer to my higher power and punched through it.
Then there was the twelfth mile: brutal, because on this course most of the twelfth mile is a long, steeper-than-it-looks incline. I refused to walk it. I was slow, just chugging along, but I made it. A nice guy ran alongside me and encouraged me. Runners are kind to each other in these races, I learned.
It felt so good to finish. I felt alive, awake, alert. And of course, I thought, “Yeah, I want to do this again.” I don’t know if I’m up for a full marathon, which is a different race entirely, requiring more than twice as much training as the Half. The Half is challenging enough, I think. But my next goal is going to be about strength: I’ll keep running, but focus more on muscle development and physical strength.
I love to encourage clients to live life fully, so in a real sense this whole project has been a part of my job, even a part of my business plan. It’s important that I live what I suggest, to put my running shoes where my mouth is. And it’s a gift not only to myself, but to my family and friends too: when I’m in good physical shape, I’m in great emotional and mental shape. I’m a better friend, a better husband, a better neighbor.
I didn’t do it all perfectly. The injury taught me that. But I did it thoroughly, I scared myself with a daunting challenge, and I enjoyed my life while I did it … and that’s all I wanted.
Is it time for you to scare yourself?