Having made the decision to run (though "run" might be a stretch) a marathon, and after a 20 week training schedule, I have decided to attempt an answer to the question of why. At 65 years of age, what makes a man think that running a marathon would be a good idea? This epistle will be my response.
Where to start? A little personal history seems like a natural way. In 1956 a rather scrawny seventh grader, out for track, was wandering around the pole vault during a meet when a senior said, "Hey, Ham, why don't you enter the pole vault? There are only two in it and you can get third place without even having to try." Sounded like a good deal, but after three halfhearted attempts, one of which landed me flat on my back on the runway, I decided I didn't like that event. As a sophomore I tried to hurdle, but two things prevented me from success at that event. One, I was slow, and two, I broke the senior star's fancy hurdle device which enabled him to work on a low form. Scratch hurdling.
Only one thing left...distance (or what passed for distance back then). I spent the remainder of my time out for track running the half mile. I managed a 2:14 or so on a leg of a two mile relay, but I never did take much of a liking to running, I guess. I managed to play enough football to think that I could play in college, and I did for one year - but at 145 pounds, soaking wet, I didn't make much of a splash even at a very small Chadron State (NE) College. I did catch one pass that year! A year later on the cross country team I managed to finish a conference meet somewhere in the middle of the pack, earning a letter in the process. But I still didn't like running all that much! I did try one more thing: I swam on the swim team (250 and 500 free), until bursitis set into both shoulders and I just couldn't handle it anymore.
So ends my less than storied athletic career, at least until about four years ago. I found myself at about 195 pounds, a sorry mess, though I blamed much of my inactivity on a bout with colono-rectal cancer at age 44. January 2004, I decided to get off my duff and do something about it. I started with some treadmill work, and when that got boring I dusted off my 20 year old Giant Nutra and began peddling. Along about April I started hearing about this thing called the O'Rourke Memorial Triathlon. Hey, I could swim, run (hah), and bike, so I gave it a shot. They had a special short version for old guys (100m swim, 3 mile bike ride, and 1 mile run) and so I entered, competed and was hooked. I graduated to full Olympic and Olympic Sprint divisions and have competed in eight triathlons (including the National State Games in Colorado Springs in '07) in the past four years. I threw in a couple of century bike rides as well.
I must add at this point, that my involvement with Team in Training was the catalyst that kept me going with the tris and the century rides. Talk about a life changing experience. I am sure many who may read this will know exactly what I am talking about - and if you don't, well, give me a couple of hours someday and I will tell you all about it. And so would just about anybody who has ever done an event while "wearing the purple"!
While it is difficult to explain Team in only a few words, I will tell you just a bit more. Team is essentially a two pronged organization: first and foremost, it is a fund raising arm of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; secondly, it is an organization which provides athletes with outstanding coaching and motivational support in completing endurance events, which in turn serves as encouragement to Leukemia and Lymphoma victims in their struggle with these terrible diseases. How it all works is the important thing and it takes a great deal of really personal contact. Suffice it to say, it is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.
So what about the marathon? Okay, I'm getting to it. Team has this deal: if you complete a century ride, a triathlon, and a marathon (or half-marathon) you get a triple crown pin. I wanted one of those! Of course part of the reason I wanted one is that my bike coach, Don Gray, who's a couple of months younger than I am, got his in 2006. He sort of "laid down the gauntlet." Since I already have the tri and the century done, all I needed was the marathon. Thus the decision was made that I would do the Lincoln (NE) Marathon.
I began the process of training on December 17. Those who live in warmer climes probably don't know much about the weather in Nebraska in December, but I will tell you that it is cold, and often snowy. Needless to say, the first few weeks involved a lot of treadmill, but of the 341.5 miles that I have run (okay, maybe "jogged" is the better word here) since that first day, only 28 miles were indoors on a treadmill. The rest were outside in temperatures ranging from a low of 15 degrees to a high of 70 (one day only). I competed again in the O'Rourke Memorial Tri in April, so the number of miles I ran is probably a lot lower than most marathon training regimens. I also did some cross training in the pool and on my bike. (I traded my 36-pound Giant Nutra off for a 17-pound TCR2 after that first tri!).
So here I am, ready to run, jog, walk, or crawl 26.2 miles, and it boils down to an ego trip. Or does it? Not really: there is no single reason for doing this marathon; there are, however, thousands of reasons. First there is Rich, a friend of mine with lymphoma. Then there are Charlie and Emma, and countless other youngsters whose lives depend upon finding a cure for leukemia. A cure which lurks around the corner in a research lab somewhere that has been financed, at least in part, by the funds raised by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Team in Training. John Donne said, "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." As a cancer survivor, and the husband of a cancer survivor, I know we owe our lives to people who, by participating in fund raising organizations like Team, have made and are making a difference. Train, Endure, Achieve, Matter. Team says it all.
As I write this it's about a week and a half since I finished my first marathon! I am now recuperating from an abdominal hernia repair (unrelated to the marathon), and I only wish I could remember every minute of the 5 hours and 44 minutes that I spent on the course that wonderful day. The weather was perfect and except for a knee -- which previously had not caused a bit of trouble - giving way, I think I could have met my goal of 5:15. I had to walk a large portion of the last 6 miles. I must honestly say (even if no one believes me) that I really did not hit a "wall". The rest of my body felt very fit, and I wanted to keep running, but my knee just would not hold up to the pounding. I turned the first 13.1 in 2:32 and was at 4:10 for 20.
I still do not know if I will ever do another full, but I am confident that I will do at least one more half. The experience was beyond belief. The wonderful support of friends and family (especially my lovely wife, Lynda) and of Team in Training made the day one truly to remember. In the process, along with 48 other Team in Training athletes we raised over $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. That alone would have made the journey worth every mile of training and every achy muscle. Running (sort of) the last 100 yards with my grandson Brady beside me is something I could only have dreamt of 20 years ago, when grandchildren were only a distant dream, and my doctor first told me I had cancer. Now It is a memory that no one can take away from me. For anyone contemplating a marathon, I can only say: If you want to run, run a mile. If you want an experience, run a marathon!