FINISHED! That was the single-word status update that I posted to Facebook after the race (in fact, Amy had to post it because I did not have my glasses on, and–coupled with my near-delirious state–any status updates I would have posted would have been something similar to “%#^F<@)3!!!”), and never before has one word captured so many emotions and experiences. I will attempt to capture the event as accurately as possible.
First and foremost, without question, I need to thank my wife, Amy. Since day one of this journey (April 15), she has believed in me, supported me through the most challenging times (and there were many), and led by example the entire way. I could not be more grateful and more proud of her help and her accomplishments yesterday. In every sense of the word, she has been my mentor, my coach, and my support. Thanks, Amy. I love you!
Next, I must thank my Clydesdale Warrior and Facebook supporters. There are just too many of you to list by name, but you know who you are. I am dead serious when I say that you were with me yesterday every single step of the half-marathon. And Sandy, your post to me early Saturday morning was the last thing I read before I took off my glasses and headed downtown. When it got toughest around mile nine, I heard you cheering me on, telling me that failure was not an option. Sandy and so many others: you will NEVER know just how grateful I am. Your love and support lies deep within me now for the rest of my life. No matter what challenge I face, on a running course, in a classroom, or something much greater in the scheme of our lives, I will have your faith and belief stored firmly within my soul. You are, forever, a part of me. Thank you!
Yesterday, I ran for Kennedy Krieger Institute, and so many people supported me financially by donating to Kennedy Krieger. In total, we raised nearly $500, and Kennedy Krieger raised nearly $100,000 from all of its runners and sponsors. We were the leading charity at the event yesterday, and I am grateful for your support and your donation to a great, great cause. Thank you!
Corrigan Sports ran the Baltimore Running Festival, and I am absolutely blown away by the professional job they did. Their communication with all of us was unparalleled, and I would participate in any event Corrigan Sports was organizing. The volunteers made the experience extraordinary from the moment we arrived until the moment we left. There were over 25,000 participants, and yet I always felt like the race was all about me. They made me feel that special. Corrigan Sports and the entire Baltimore Running Festival made me feel like a champion, and I will never forget that.
During the entire event, I felt like I was in the middle of a publicity commercial for The Baltimore Police Department. Every single officer I met along the way was supportive, energetic, kind, and (again) treated me like I was the only runner in the world. They danced with us, high-fived us, joked with us, and looked us right in the eye and told us we were winners. How great is that? Talk about putting a positive glow on the city image… They were upstaged by only one group.
The Baltimore residents and volunteers along the way stole the show, in my opinion. If you are from Baltimore, and you were any one of the thousands of people lining the streets cheering us on, let me tell you: You made a difference, you mattered, and you changed our lives. As a native Marylander, you made me want to stay here forever. Your signs were amazingly funny (“You think this is hard? Try dating me!” and “Damn you’re legs are sexy!” and “If running a marathon were easy, it would be called YOUR MOM!” and “GO RANDOM STRANGER!”); I smiled at all of them, laughed at some, and felt the swelling pride of being from Baltimore carry me along the way. Some of you offered free food, free water, personal cheers, and incessant claps that are probably still stinging your hands today. One gentleman in particular took great care of me when I was especially dehydrated. He had certainly seen his fair share of hard times, but on this particular day, none of that mattered. He was pure kindness, and I will never forget that. To all of you, thank you for making this experience so extraordinary.
Being a “back-of the pack” runner, I really felt like I mattered as much as the marathon sprinters who had already finished well ahead of me. There was always water, always food offered, and always a word of support or encouragement. Four great examples for you all.
First, at mile 12, with less than a mile to go, a police officer high-fived me and smiled, then patted me on the back. “You’re almost there,” he said. “Just five more miles to go!”
Second, as I approached the finish line, I heard my name being announced by the emcee, and he made me feel like I had just won MY race, which I had. There was great enthusiasm in his voice, and he made me feel like the Baltimore Running Festival valued my effort as much as anybody else. At some of the other events I’ve been to in the past six months, volunteers were packing up or simply gone from their posts. Very sad for our back-of-the-pack runners.
Third, after I crossed the finish line, I felt a little disoriented, and a young man came up to me and put his arm around me. He congratulated me and asked if I was okay. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked. I was stunned. A total stranger making sure I was okay even after crossing the finish line. He spoke gently, with genuine concern, and it mattered. I didn’t get his name, but I hope he knows how huge that was for me and for countless other runners, I am sure.
Fourth and finally, running through the Camden Yards promenade was tremendous. Many people stuck around to cheer us on, and when I ran toward the finish line in great pain (we’ll get to that in a minute), they cheered even louder and carried me across that line with their words and their screams. Amazing experience.
Overall Race Result and Summary
The weather was nearly perfect for the entire race, except for the near-freezing temperatures at the start. I was decked out in a heavy long-sleeved, high-neck shirt with my Orioles shirt over it. I wore gloves, and I had long running pants as well. The skies were a brilliant blue, and within the first mile, I had to fight back the emotion of running through my hometown for this race. I was really running in the half-marathon! I could hardly believe it as the beautiful and historic buildings framed my path.
The course was challenging for the first seven miles, with many hills that seemed to await us at every turn. After we hit Lake Montebello at mile seven, though, everything leveled out, and there was even a gradual decline for the last few miles. If you can make it through the first half of the course, you got it made.
I started out pretty strong, feeling great through the first five miles. But somewhere around mile six, I started to feel pain in my feet, calves, shins, and quads. Then, as I made my way around Lake Montebello, I felt genuine fatigue kick in. I wasn’t getting enough water, and the bagel with cream cheese that I had at 6:30 a.m. had long since stopped fueling my run. Adrenalin was no longer carrying me, and the pain in my legs was getting worse.
By mile nine, I started questioning my ability to finish. That’s when Sandy’s words and the encouragement of everyone else (Marylynn, you have no idea how much I heard your encouragement along the way) really gave me that courage I needed to push through the pain. For all of my Harry Potter heads out there, it reminded me of that scene in Goblet when Harry and Voldemort are battling for the first time, and Harry’s parents come out of the stream and give him the support and courage he needs to survive. That’s how I felt. It would have been so easy to give up. But all of you had reminded me that Failure was NOT an option. Clearly, you made the difference.
What I Did Right
When I look back at the journey I’ve been on, I can say with certainty that I have done a few things right.
First, I have the right attitude. I kept the big picture in my mind the entire time, and I never focused on everything being about “THE RACE.” This is a lifestyle change for me, and I am not even halfway there when it comes to fitness and weight loss. I ran this marathon at 277 pounds. Yes, that’s 40 pounds lighter than I was on April 16, but I am no fool. I have to lose at least 60-70 more in the next 10 months, and that means I have to keep the big-picture perspective through the fall, winter, and spring.
Second, I see this as a fun journey, not something that is overly stressful, and I am certainly not resentful for making this decision to run in the half-marathon or lose this weight. The journey’s been a blast, folks. And the best news is that it will keep going for the rest of my life. Best reason ever to smile every morning when I wake up!
Third, I went public with my intentions. Now, I know this might not be the best decision for everybody, but for me, it’s what I needed to do. I needed that “Accountability Factor” to weigh heavily in motivating me. My friends and community came through in ways I could have never imagined. Whether it was through words or donations (Natalie– the weights have been great!), every single effort has contributed to my success. If you are where I was just a few months ago, or if you are where I am right now, and you are on the fence about going public with your decision to improve your life, I recommend unconditionally a public outing of that decision. Best one I ever made. 🙂
What I Did Wrong
There are a few things that I wish I would have done differently.
First, I wish I would have taken my workouts more seriously after school started. I somehow forgot that my weekday runs only took 30-45 minutes, and my long runs on the weekends a couple of hours. I could have worked that in better, and I didn’t. I will definitely need to make that adjustment from this point forward.
Second, I have never gone a distance greater than 12 miles, and that took me all day while hiking in 1994. Four weeks ago, before I got sick with bronchitis, I did an eight-mile run and felt on top of the world. For the last month, I thought that little success story meant that I would be able to tack on another 5 miles with little problem. I was terribly mistaken. Even in my weeks of being sick, I should have walked when I was supposed to run. I needed to keep my legs strong, and I failed to do that. Huge mistake.
Third, I never trained with anybody, and that needs to change. I enjoyed the solo runs and taking things at my own pace, but I need to step it up and find a running partner to push me and hold me more accountable.
Fourth, I need to do a better job at cross-training. Trina, as soon as I heal up, we’re resuming our bike treks on Sundays, and we’ll work up to an early Sunday-morning Maryland round-tripper (34 miles) before March. And that’s a promise.
Other Things I Will Change
Shoes. I have loved my Asics running shoes, but it’s time for a change to find a shoe that is really designed for my foot. I’m not a neutral runner, damnit, and I am very excited about the prospect of being a Newton Runner. Juda– Let’s talk!
Prescription Sunglasses. I spent the entire journey squinting at people and handmade signs simply because I don’t have prescription sunglasses. It certainly compromised the entire experience, and it is something that needs to change before the next race!
Sunblock. My face is sunburned, and I never even considered that this would be something I would have to worry about. Here’s the thing, though– I will be sure to test different lotions to make sure that, on the run, the lotion doesn’t begin to run into my eyes via sweat streams, and thus blinding me and stinging my eyes for the rest of the race. That would be a bad thing. A very, very bad thing indeed!
Music. I chose to run the race with a well-planned soundtrack, but I really think that I missed out on a lot of the spontaneous conversations along the way. Next year, I’m leaving the music at home and interacting fully with everyone along the way.
Training through illness. The bronchitis I have been fighting for the last four weeks wiped me out, but I should have still walked when I was supposed to run. NO activity was the worst move I could have made. Never again.
Overall Recommendations If You Are In A Similar Situation
Look, this is hard. But that’s what makes it great, too. I got here (and like I said before, I’m not even halfway there) by taking it one day at a time. And sometimes, that day was broken into one hour at a time. I surrounded myself with great support coming from even greater people. I listened to them and absorbed their encouragement. That translated into self-confidence and a belief that I was capable of something greater than I’ve ever done before.
That was hard to fathom in April when I couldn’t even walk my daughter to her crosswalk just 1/3 of a mile from our house. The back pain was severe, and I was breathless. But I kept believing in what was possible, and I let go of the past. I didn’t dwell on how bad it had been; I just believed in how great it was becoming. It was a very powerful thing to dwell in the present and celebrate the good decisions I kept making. And, when I might have slipped a little in my diet or might have missed a run, I didn’t beat myself up about it. That was in the past. I was in control of the present RIGHT NOW, and I had the chance to make great choices.
They add up, those great choices. And today, despite the great pain in my entire body, I know that none of it would have been possible if I kept dwelling on what had once been. Wasted energy. Every thought of it. Abandon where you are coming from and focus on what you are capable of doing today. It’s like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle. When you look at each piece, it doesn’t make much sense, no matter how you turn it all around in your hand. But when they are all put together, they build something pretty magnificent. That’s you! Just start focusing on the big picture, one puzzle piece at a time.
In the last few months, I developed this “never-again” attitude about the half-marathon. It stood for so much in my life, and was such a huge goal for me to reach, but I believed that, once I achieved it, I would cross it off my “Bucket List,” as my sister said to me earlier today. And I really believed that after the race, I would be so thrilled that I would never have to run another half in my lifetime.
But that’s not how I feel at all. In fact, I feel just the opposite, and I am already planning my revised training regimen for the next seven months to prepare for the Maryland Double — that’s two half-marathons in a six-month period: the first is in Frederick on May 5th, and the second is the Baltimore Half in October.
I have a long way to go, but now that I’ve “done the distance” of the half, I know what to expect. There are no more surprises for me about how long the race really is, what the course is like, or what I need to do to be in better shape to finish as strong as I start. I have all the information I need. Now it’s up to me to step it up for next year and really master the training program that will help me improve my time and meet my overall health and wellness goals.
I will continue to offer updates on The Clydesdale Warrior, and I am always happy to talk with anybody who is thinking about starting a wellness program like the one that has helped me get this far.
Thanks to every one of you. I am ever indebted to you for your kindness, your support, and your love.