Marathon of Running

by Keith Kanderski


So, I’ve made every excuse in the book to not eat as healthy as I should, and I have found legitimate reasons why my exercise routine is anything but routine. None of that matters now because the big day had arrived, and it was just me and the 26.2 miles of pavement in front of me. 

On Sunday, April 26, I was doing my 18-mile training run (I don’t think I had made it past 10 miles successfully yet this year). I was feeling great. My time was a little ahead of schedule. I was listening to music for the first time on a run this year (I kept pretending the band, Restless Habs, were following me, and I needed to get away as fast as I could). 12 miles in, I was all smiles, even though I felt my legs start to get a little shaky. Wow, I said to myself. I keep up this pace, I’d finish the marathon in a little over 5 hours. Out of nowhere, at 12.75 miles, I start to walk, and I see these little white flags being waved from my legs. It wasn’t that wall that runners get that you can climb over. I was done, and I mean done. In under a mile, I went from smiles to How the Hell am I going to get home?

If these legs could talk, they’d be screaming.

I texted my wife, who was at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens with our kids and her mom, and I decided to keep on walking. I was probably a good 4 miles from home yet. I tested the wall theory, but my legs were not having any of that. Eventually, I made it to Crocker Park (local shopping center for you out-of-towners) in Westlake, where I went to a Robeks and ordered a smoothie. Within a minute of stepping out of Robeks, my wife pulled into the parking lot to save the day. During the walk, I had come to a conclusion. Although I did not want to disappoint my millions of readers, I made the choice to downgrade from a full to a half marathon. I was probably a good 3 – 4 weeks behind being able to run a successful marathon, but I had proved to myself that I could do a half. I’m a planner. I like to go into things with a plan. I couldn’t actually downgrade from the full to the half until I picked up my running packet a couple of days before the race (and I cannot downgrade if the race is sold out), so, just in case, I spent the last couple of Sundays training as if I was doing the full marathon.

At the Expo on Friday the 15th (I arrived shortly after it had officially started), I was able to quickly and easily downgrade from a full to a half, which is good since I had barely ran since my 12.75 miles on April 26th.  I think I completed a couple 2 mile runs, and that was about it. My plan on May 3rd was to see how far I could go after returning home from a Cub Scout camping trip, but I just wasn’t up to it. On May 10th, I was hoping for at least a 10 mile run to make me feel good about the race, but I only went 2 miles before my body required that I return home. On a positive note, it was a really good 2 miles.

May 16th, I had that healthy pre-race dinner that you always hear runners talk about. I had a brisket sandwich (the Cleveland Beef, to be exact) from River Dog Café  and then a Strawberry Shake from Mitchell’s Ice Cream. Oh, wait. Wasn’t I supposed to do pasta? I drank a couple bottles of water, at least, so I figured that should help with the hydration.

Cyclists getting ready to take off.

After falling asleep early on Saturday night, I woke up early on Sunday, ate a bagel, and then headed out of the house before 5:30am because the roads were closing at 6:00am. Oops. Nope. Roads were already closed at 5:30am. After navigating the vehicular obstacle course, I parked my car in the same lot I usually do for work and walked up to the starting line. I was feeling…ambivalent. I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew I could finish the race. I just didn’t know how much of it would be walking.

After sitting on the curb for a little while and stupidly checking Facebook (because I don’t have the greatest battery, so I was already down to 75% before the race started). I eventually made my way to the back of the pack. Some people were stretching and getting loose, others were talking and taking selfies, and I stood there like a cretin. After a nice downpour of rain that lasted a few minutes right before the start of the race, I heard the horn blow to signal the race had started. Now, when you are in the back, it takes a while to actually get to the starting line. It’s almost like it’s a punishment for being slow. Okay, slow-pokes, you get to go an extra quarter mile or so.

See the starting line? Yeah, me neither.

When the full marathon was my plan, I had planned to run/jog the first mile and then every mile after that would be to walk the first quarter-mile and then run/jog the last three-quarters of the mile and repeat until the end, hoping I could save myself for a burst for the final .2 miles. Now that I was doing the half, I decided to see how close to 5 miles I could get before starting my jog/walk hybrid. I made it 3 miles. The jog/walk was going well, and I was actually on pace to have my best time ever.

It was hot and humid. I think it was some time during mile 6 or 7 that my walks started extending a little more than a quarter of a mile. At mile 10, I think I started switching things up, doing a quarter-mile jog and three-quarters walk. When I realized that beating my best time was now out of the question, I allowed myself even more time to walk.

Snapped right as my phone died.

After stopping to snap a picture of the finish line (I was going to take a better photo, but my phone died right as I clicked the button), I jogged at a pretty good pace to the finish line (may have even made it into the lower levels of running). 2:52:02 was my chip time (the time from when I crossed the Start line until I crossed the Finish line), which is just over seven minutes slower than my best. I got a bottle of water, bottle of chocolate milk, banana, and bag of pretzels. Took one look at the beer line, opted not to wait, and walked down hill (thankfully) back to my car.

What did I learn from this?

I had a lot of time to think when I was doing my various runs, it helped me learn why I do this in the first place. It gives me time to think. Sometimes, it gives me time to not think. While reading Hollie Gantzer’s piece on this site, Stumbling Towards Zen, I had the realization that running is my meditative practice when I am at my best. Breathe in. Breathe out. Right Foot. Left Foot. Turn. Go Straight. Of course, it helps keep me in shape. I want to get fit and lose weight, and running is an excellent component in that plan.

I learned I need to be focused and know myself. If I am not going to dedicate the time to get my body ready for a marathon (as stated before, marathon training is not my top priority), then maybe I should wait until I have some time to dedicate to it. In the meantime, I should possibly stay focused on shorter distances.

I learned I am easily discouraged. I like the process of running. I love creating plans. When I’m not meeting my expectations or am unable to follow the plan, I get down on myself and don’t see the need to not have that milkshake. I need to be more forgiving of myself. If I have a milkshake, fine. Just don’t make it a habit. Drink it but get right back on the right path instead of wallowing for a couple weeks before I finally motivate myself again. I think not training for a race may help this process because I do not need to be at a certain mileage or certain time on a given week. Running can just be part of my exercise routine, and, if I miss a run, it’s not a big deal. Or, if I don’t feel like running this week, choosing to do weights or bicycling or cardio, then that’s perfectly fine; it won’t put me behind.

Finally, I learned that runners come in many different shapes, sizes, and skill sets. At the end of the day, I think maybe I was wrong.

My name is Keith. I am a runner.



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