I can do this
These were the words running through my mind around 8:00 AM on July 23, 2017. I was shuffling around at the starting corrals of the 2nd half of the San Francisco marathon, trying to stay warm in the cool, foggy patch of Golden Gate park. I was nervous. I’m no stranger to sporting events; however, running has never been my forte, nor has it ever been something I particularly looked forward to. I didn’t feel prepared, but I’ve been told that nobody ever feels fully prepared – especially for a first time event. I’d put in over 100 hours and over 500 miles in training since my start last December, but I’d run into some health setbacks in the past two weeks (leading up to the run) that were weighing on my mind – mostly Crohn’s issues, and my IT band. I had already run 13 miles in one go (albeit more slowly) back in February, just for a confidence boost and prove to myself that I can actually do it. Even with all that behind me, here I was, psyching myself up for my first official half marathon.
Growing up, I was very active in many different sports and activities. I moved around a lot (due to being adopted into a military family) so playing sports was both a way for our parents to have us burn off energy in safe environments, and make friends. I enjoyed above average athleticism and was involved in many different sports and activities. Even without the various ailments I deal with today, running distances like this was never an easy feat for me. Sure, to some people it may be very natural, but there is certainly a lot of hard work needed to nurture such a gift – and I am not so lucky. No, for me, running is a monumental challenge.
Crohn’s disease has been a thorn in my side since 1995 (perhaps even literally). In short, it’s an autoimmune issue. I have chemotherapy infusions every 8 weeks, and while the updated medications have been helping, there are days when the fatigue really just sets in and it takes all I have to walk, much less run. I have, however, noticed that with running – that, with consistent effort and practice, things have been getting better. I have less “down” days, and while flare-ups still can bring me to my knees, I recover more quickly and even have better mental fortitude regarding the situation. The other major hurdle is hemoglobin – this is something that was a surprise for me. Initially, it was just suspected that the Crohn’s was causing anemia, but after several tests, it was discovered that I have thalassemia. Thalassemia is a blood disorder characterized by less oxygen-carrying protein (hemoglobin) and fewer red blood cells in the body than normal – so you can imagine how that might affect my endurance activities. Unfortunately, the current treatments I undergo tend to exacerbate the effect, so for now I try to compensate with supplements as best as possible, though there are limits to that. Sure, I deal with other ailments – asthma, tendonitis, fasciitis, and apparently a genetic pre-disposition for power and speed vs. endurance, but the top hitters are really just the Crohn’s and thalassemia. Everything else feels a bit more trivial.
I’ve never really been a “runner.” Running has always just been a necessary facilitator to other activities I was doing at the time : wrestling, soccer, baseball, basketball… even marching band. So, in this regard for running, I’m a total novice. Running for running’s sake has always felt like a daunting task to me – something painful, unenjoyable, and boring. Thankfully, I have seen the light, and I will forever be grateful that I’ve given it a shot. I’m hooked. Basically, I realized that I was holding myself back. The block was a mental one, not a physical one – and I am determined to never let it become a physical limitation. At this point, I am confident that if I lost a leg, I’d be asking the doctor that same day when I can get a prosthetic and start running again. I recognized that I was comparing myself to others that have been running for a long time, or have a gift for it – of course I can’t just get my out-of-shape butt off the couch and run 5 miles at a 7:00 pace. I just needed to be realistic and acknowledge myself – recognize who I am, what I can do right now, and what I want to be able to do. Reading Hal Higdon helped that mindset for me.
In a marathon, except at the elite level, you do not beat others, as you might in a mile or a 100-meter dash. Instead, you achieve a personal victory.
Some runners judge performance by whether they won or lost. Others define success or failure by how fast they ran. Only you can judge your performance. Avoid letting others sit in judgment of you.
Simple, right? That’s all it is – I don’t need to look at anyone else. I just need to look at myself. The first book I picked up to read was Hal Higdon’s “Marathon : The Ultimate Training Guide.” I appreciated his writing style and the information within, and have read some of his other work as well – and his training template is the base for what I do right now.
Even when you have gone as far as you can, and everything hurts, and you are staring at the specter of self-doubt, you can find a bit more strength deep inside you, if you look closely enough.
Anyway, enough about Hal for now. I find him inspirational, with several quotes attributed, but that’s for another time.
I will no longer hide behind my ailments. I hadn’t realized how far I’d removed myself from my determination, from the mindset I’d had when I almost died. I have not been forsaken, I was merely being tested. I’m sure things will come up, LIFE will happen, but my mind has already changed for the better. The mind is such a beautiful thing. Physical strength will get you to the starting line, but mental strength will get you to the finish.
It is not so much that I began to run, but that I continued
I feel that I’m myself again, that I’ve found where I’d diverged in my life and come back to my own foundations of who I am. Instead of looking for excuses not to run, I look for opportunities to get out and move, to be active. If I can’t run, I look for what I can do instead. Running has provided clarity and focus that I thought had been lost. I’m enjoying health benefits and drive that I hadn’t experienced in some time. I’m excited to pour my heart and soul into running, and things like cooking, where I know I can enjoy creating a fine meal that fuels me for more runs. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, sure, but now I feel there’s even more purpose with it. I can better appreciate things in life that I was taking for granted. It’s only been about 7 months, but I’m already seeing progress, which is a huge confidence boost.
Once you see results, it becomes an addiction
The most daunting run I’ve had up until now was this half marathon through San Francisco, so naturally I was nervous. Now, I’m no stranger to hard work. I’ve known success as league-leading goalkeeper in both high school and college, a conference champion wrestler while wrestling above my weight class, and MVP pitching ace. This all requires a lot of dedication and hard work, but running? Running is so much more, to me. While I enjoyed team sports quite a bit, I used to consider more solo – wrestling – my favorite. It’s 1 on 1, skill on skill, strength on strength, for about 6 minutes of 100% intensity and then it’s over. Sometimes it will be shorter, sometimes it will be longer, but the premise is the same. Now, running is my favorite. Why? Because it’s me against myself. There is nobody that can push me harder, or let myself fail. It is entirely up to me, every single time. I am not out there trying to be the best among other people, I’m out there trying to be the best ME I can be. This makes the work so much harder, but at the same time, so much more rewarding. Everything that I do – all of the running, the cross-training, the food that I eat, the rest that I keep, even what I choose to do during my downtime or play with my daughter – there is more purpose, and it all ties into running for me.
Every accomplishment begins with the decision to try.
So there I was, nervous and feeling ill-prepared, trying to psych myself up to run 13.1 miles through the streets of San Francisco. The day for the SF marathon had come at last, but at the same time it was all too soon. I needed to trust myself – trust that the miles I’d covered up to this point were enough. I had a goal of finishing under 11 minutes per mile, or just around 02:24:06. My “stretch” goal was 02:20:00, or about 10:41 per mile. This isn’t blazing fast speed, it’s fairly average – but it was a worthy goal for me. Thankfully, the work paid off. I ran into some IT band issues around mile 7, but ultimately was able to push through it and finish at 02:15:53, about a 10:22 minutes-per-mile pace. I was ecstatic. I ran through a few emotions and revelations, I suppose, over the 13.1 mile course. In the end, the run was tough, but the pride of finishing was much greater than the pain of the run, and now I know without a doubt that I can do this.
This was the first of many races to come. I’ve set the bar, and there may be times I don’t progress as much as I would have liked, or even have setbacks, but there will be no stopping me – not anymore. The only one that can stop me is me, and that won’t happen. I won’t allow myself to quit… I do this for me.
I’m so thankful for the inspiration to begin my journey, and the spark that ignited the fire within. I’ve known runners for quite some time now, impressive runners, even – but it was a special person that really was able to provide that spark and encouragement after all this time. I nurtured that spark into a fire, and now continue to grow that into a furnace, burning through everything I throw at it until I can burn no more. I will forever be indebted for that. My life is my own, given by the grace of God, and I will not lose myself or take it for granted again. I’ve lived through what could be considered many lifetimes, thanks to a plethora of life experiences, but now? This is the beginning. The beginning of the final journey – there will be side quests, offshoots, hurdles, and more – but my life has entered a new chapter, the first of many to come, in the story of the rest of my life: Running.
Every run is a gift. To quote another inspirational runner: To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.