August 21, 2019

Running Past Our Limits (Part 4 of 6)

[If you haven’t read Parts 1-3, I suggest you go back and do it. This will make more sense. They’re short. We’ll wait.]

Winter became spring, and I didn’t have a date for my marathon, but when I started running 12, then 15, then 18 miles, I knew it must be getting close. I did have a time goal: three hours. That’s just under seven minutes per mile. From what I can tell, three hours is a dividing line for marathoners, the level where you’re starting to get serious. One day I ran 8 miles at that pace, took a break and ran 7 more. “You could run all day at that pace,” I heard Coach say, and I knew he was right.

Coach had started showing up not during my workouts, like he used to, but on the way over to Bally. We’d discuss goals and plans for the day, and I’d almost always hit them on the nose, no matter how aggressive they were. There were still days when I had to quit early, but fewer.

I thought I might do my marathon the same weekend as the Colfax Marathon in May, so I looked up last year’s winning time for someone my age, and it was just under 3 hours. Right on target. But then on the last Sunday in April I woke up, and I just knew. Today was the day. I didn’t tell my wife when I left for Bally. I was afraid to jinx it, I guess.

I did the first 10 miles faster than my target pace, but when they were over I had lost all feeling in my ankles and feet. I had to stop to stretch and massage and fill up my water bottle. I wanted to do the next 8 miles in a single stretch, but had to stop halfway for more water and more stretching and massaging. The bottom half of my legs were swollen, one of my hamstrings kept cramping, and the places where I had some fractures were aching. It didn’t look good.

I finished the first 18 and sat for awhile, kicking my feet and trying to get the feeling back, wondering if I was done. And then there was Coach’s gentle voice. “Think you could get back on and go a little further?” My answer was “No!” And then I got back on.

I’d hit the infamous Wall that marathoners talk about. I lasted the next 2½ miles on sheer guts, got off and staggered over to sit down. No way. Again the voice. “Think you could go further?” I did a mile and a half, and got off again. I was done. It was over. I had no feeling below my knees, my ankles and calves looked like Elephant Man. Again the voice. I did another 1.2 miles, at one point looking down at the read-out on the machine to see that I hadn’t lost that much pace. Amazingly, my three hour goal was still possible. Too bad finishing wasn’t.

It didn’t matter that Coach insists on believing that whatever I want to do is possible. He was wrong this time. Impossible obviously had won. I was 23.2 miles into a marathon, and no matter how many times Coach asked me to keep going, it wasn’t going to happen. Even if I could’ve found the will, finishing was physically impossible. My body was in full rebellion. It wasn’t going anywhere.

I sat there in total defeat, and all I could think was, “I’m 3 miles from the finish line! I just can’t quit now!” In a fog of defeat, I got up and dragged myself back to the machine. I picked up my first leg with both hands and put it on one of the pedals, then dragged the second foot up.

[To be continued]

Five years ago, Kevin Rhodes left a successful 20+ years career in private practice to pursue a creative dream. He recently reopened his law practice, while continuing to write (screenplays and nonfiction) and lead workshops on change for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. His latest workshop, Life in the Gap: Getting Over Your Inspiration Hangover and Translating Inspiration into Action, was held April 10, 2012. Watch for another program in the near future. This post originally appeared on his blog on July 11, 2012.
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