Well, isn’t this dandy? Just when I was ready to turn my back on the sport, it gives me a day like Sunday.
A week ago, I ran the worst half marathon of my life. After months of devoting infinite precious heartbeats to track workouts, hill repeats, and long runs, I delivered a stinker of a race. Not only did I walk at mile twelve, but I spent two whole miles running with Meb Keflezighi without fully comprehending that I was running with Meb Keflezighi.
Meb wouldn’t run with a cutout of his head on a stick! I reasoned. Surely that’s not Meb!
Tip: If it looks like Meb Keflezighi and runs like Meb Keflezighi, it’s probably Meb Keflezighi.
But I can’t blame the head-on-a-stick thing. I could think of nothing but my time goal and the fact that I was not, indeed, going to hit that time goal. I was wholly preoccupied with the minutiae of the race—my breathing is heavy! my quads are sluggish! my mile splits are behind! The struggles of the race distorted my reality.
And, as the old proverb goes, I couldn’t see the Boston-Marathon-champion forest for the recreational-runner-anxiety trees.
I was disheartened and frustrated. All I wanted was a good run—just one good run—to rekindle the fire that a series of letdowns had suppressed. If only I can hit my time, I thought, if only I can PR, I’ll fall in love with running again. And I did need a good run. Only, my definition of “a good run” was too narrow.
Do you know what you get when you look up good in the dictionary? You get definitions like, “the quality of giving pleasure, to be enjoyable or satisfying” and synonyms like, “Superb! Outstanding! Delightful! Jolly! Merry! Peachy! Ducky! Hunky-dory! Smashing!”
Do you know what you don’t get? Anything related to speed, time, or pace.
I made the mistake of equating a good run with a good time. And then Sunday happened.
As some of you know, I have a little annual tradition of running my age on my birthday, and this year, tradition called for a thirty-two-mile run. Per usual, we would start in Wildwood and run to the Arch, using Clayton Road as the main artery leading us from the outskirts of West County to downtown St. Louis.
The “we” in the equation is dynamic. Usually, the number of runners ebbs and flows as the run progresses. A few people run the whole way; others run segments. My brother and sister (to whom I am forever indebted) drive a support car and meet us at designated pit stops along the way, snapping photos and shuttling runners back to their cars when needed.
The birthday run is like a well-oiled machine, folks.
At 5:00 a.m., Jake (a.k.a. Mr. Speedy Pants), Jackie, (yep, that Jackie), and I met in the dark parking lot of the Wildwood Starbucks. The three of us would run all thirty-two miles. The others would join us at different points along the course, growing our group Pied-Piper style. After a brief crosscheck, we tossed our shirts in the car, grabbed our water bottles, and began our four-hour journey to the riverfront.
Let’s do this!
Ten minutes later, it poured down rain.
This wasn’t a summer drizzle. This was a rain that said, “Go build an ark and gather the animals.” For the first few miles, the sky emptied its storehouses on Wildwood, adding cracks of thunder and lightning for effect. As we splashed through ankle-deep puddles and shielded our eyes from the shards of water assailing us, we realized it was going to be a very, very long morning.
We distracted ourselves by discussing the time the guy from Phish played a vacuum cleaner on stage, which led to a comprehensive analysis of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which lead to a discussion about Keanu Reeves’s acting prowess, which led to Jake expounding the plot of Point Break and the almost unbearably acclaimed lineup of Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, and Gary Busey. The topic of surfing bank robbers led to the topic of triathlon (naturally), at which point Jake revealed that he and his buddy Tim once decided they would make their triathlon debut by wearing speedos and riding a tandem bike.
This is why it’s so difficult to answer the question, “So what do you guys talk about when you run?”
Before we knew it, we were at our second pit stop—mile eighteen—where Brad joined the ranks.
“Brad,” I blurted, despite my greatest efforts not to blurt, “this is Jackie, a 2:42 marathoner, Olympic trials qualifier, and GO! St. Louis Marathon and Illinois Marathon record holder. Jackie is an illustrious legend.”
Every time I run with Jackie, I tell myself not to have a fan girl moment. And every time—no matter how many times we’ve run together or how long we’ve been friends—I fail.
My method of introduction prompted a treatment of what it means to be an illustrious legend and how one should introduce oneself should one become an illustrious legend. Two conclusions were made: (1) You’re not an illustrious legend until you run a marathon holding a cutout of your own head on a stick, Meb-style (which I told Jackie I would pay her ten dollars to do) and (2) Jake would henceforth introduce himself as, “Jake Goldsborough, 2013 Midwest Wing Fest 5K Champion and current record holder.”
Let me take a moment to note that Jake is also the Millennium Falcon of running. His exploits in the sport are celebrated, and he can still run at lightspeed. It’s just that it usually takes a few last-minute repairs to get there. At every pit stop, he employed a spectacular catalog of maintenance work: joint and muscle ointments, Advil, knee straps, compression sleeves, and massage rollers. It was impressive.
At mile twenty-two, Jake changed shoes and Seth 1 joined our little posse.
At mile twenty-five, we were graced with the presence of Seth 2.
With Emily and Joe manning the support car, the six of us made our way through Forest Park, the Central West End, SLU’s campus, and Market Street.
The Support Car: Manned by the incredible Emily and Joe!
We were quite the crew, Jake and Jackie and Brad and Seth and Seth and I. I couldn’t help but look at all of these incredible runners—and my sister and brother—and feel anything but humbled, grateful, and motivated. They inconvenienced themselves and sacrificed sleep (and their own training plans) to spend their Sunday morning trudging the streets of St. Louis to help me on yet another crazy enterprise.
Who am I to be so lucky?
Yes, I needed a good run to fall in love with the sport again. But a good run had nothing to do with time. And, if the message weren’t clear enough, somewhere around mile thirty-one, my Garmin—which I had forgotten to charge—ran out of batteries. The screen went dark, and that was that.
As we stood beneath the Arch, sweaty and sore and thrilled to be done, I looked at the faces of the strong, accomplished, and selfless runners whom I am fortunate enough to call my friends, and was almost overcome.
It was a very good run, indeed.
The Illustrious 32-Mile Crew: Brad Kinnear (Boston Marathon finisher), Seth Fagan (10-time marathoner), Jake (Mr. Speedy Pants and 2013 Midwest Wingfest 5K Champion), Me, Jackie Pirtle-Hall (Olympic trials marathoner and GO! St. Louis and Illinois Marathons record holder), Seth Fankhauser (Boston Marathon qualifier and winner of the Best Beard Award).
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.