Monday, June 6, 2011

Christopher “Jersey” Harrison is a marathoner


This is a post I wanted to do on Tuesday. Originally I wanted a post after the last training run for my marathon. Not for anyone else, really, but just somewhere that I could gather my thoughts and reflect on later. But unfortunately, my body didn’t cooperate. Or specifically, my Achilles' tendon didn’t cooperate. At mile 6 of the last long run of my training it became sore. And it remained sore for the next 5 days. To the point where I was seriously concerned I wasn’t going to be able to run the marathon.

259456_2081239960019_1515661702_2353647_3094538_oThat made last week an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve heard some people say that the training is the hardest part of a marathon. While I don’t think that does the event itself justice, there certainly is a lot of truth to that sentence. Since the beginning of this year, when my brain really turned to training for the marathon, I’ve logged 505 miles. You don’t log 505 miles, or about 80 hours, unless it’s something you love doing and you’re building towards something you really want to do. I can’t put into words how much I wanted to run that marathon[1], and the thought of not being able to do it depressed me to no end. I wasn’t able to run until the Saturday before the event, and it was a tentative two miles at that – just to test the tendon.

Fortunately, the tendon felt just fine. It won’t make any sense, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to run 26.2 miles the next day.

And on that Saturday I wanted to sit down and write up this blog post. Again, I wanted to be able to reflect on where I’d been and where I am now before the race. Unfortunately, Saturday was much busier than I had hoped or planned. There was last minute shopping to be done, packet pickup, and just general life to be lived. So unfortunately it didn’t happen on Saturday.

As a result, today is going to be the day that it will happen. The day after the event. The second day where I can say, “I’m a marathoner.”

That accomplishment is the culmination of an 18 month journey from being an overweight, out of shape, unmotivated, wrong side of 35 man to being a marathoner. It started out as a slow jog/walk around Fiesta Island. And over the last 18 months it’s seen me complete 4 half marathons, two 10Ks, two Warrior Dashes, and now a full marathon. I’ve shed a solid 40 pounds, gained a new level of self-esteem, and now feel like I truly can do anything that I set my mind to.

Because I’m a marathoner.

The race itself is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I wish I could compare it to something, but I really can’t. It’s a solid 3-4 times harder than a half marathon, if not harder. This is not to say that a half marathon isn’t an accomplishment, because it is – the vast majority of people will never run 13.1 miles. But to put perspective on the challenge of the marathon and the number of people that attempt it, the San Diego Rock n Roll half marathon had just over 17,000 complete the race. The full marathon had over 8,000. There’s a reason – it really is that hard.

The training is hard. You have to run 4 times a week; 5 is better. You peak at a distance of 20 miles. Your intermediate run hits a solid 8 miles. And you spend a good majority of your training time on your own. It’s just you, the road, and maybe a podcast or some tunes. Many days you’re excited to get out and get in your run. It’s still a great high, and it’s still a great way to see a city, and it’s still a great way to reflect on life. But there are other days when you just don’t feel like getting out there, or you’re stressed/pressed for time, or you’re sore. And you start thinking, “Who will know if I skip this run?” You have to drive yourself through the training.

As a side note, it’s also why I always tell people that they have to love running to do an event. If you hate it, if you loathe getting out there, you simply won’t stick with the commitment that’s required. You have to want to do it; nobody else can talk you into it.

The event is hard. It will push you mentally and physically in ways you won’t realize and can’t prepare for. In particular, miles 16-19 did me in. For that stretch of the San Diego Rock n Roll marathon, you’re running uphill for the first half of that, in an area where there are no spectators, no cool scenery, no bands, no nothing. It’s just you, the road, and your mind. On top of that, there’s a switchback halfway through that you can’t see, but you can see the runners who’ve already made the turn coming back towards you. It’s demoralizing beyond words. And that sapped my emotional energy. By the time I made the turn for 20 I was mentally spent. My body broke down shortly after that, with nausea setting in at mile 23. I had to walk a good portion of that last three miles simply to avoid throwing up, and to make sure I had enough in me to run through the finish – I was not going to walk at that point.

But then you see that finish line. You see the cheering crowds. You see your friends cheering you on. And you step over that line, where you cross from being a runner to being a marathoner.

Christopher “Jersey” Harrison is a marathoner.

And of course the question becomes – “What’s next?” That question was by far the one I heard most frequently when I started talking with people about running the event, as if running the marathon wasn’t enough. But I think a big part of that is because anyone who’s watched me over the last 18 months knows I’m not going to stop here.

The answer is, I don’t know. There will be another marathon – that part I do know. One common goal is to post a time that qualifies you for entry into the Boston Marathon. Right now that would require shedding 1 hour, 11 minutes off finishing time. That’s not going to happen in the near future. Another one is triathlons. Unfortunately because of my travel schedule that’s just not practical. The last is ultramarathons, which is just not even on my radar right now, although I’d consider doing a 50K at some point.

So I don’t know. There will be another marathon. Maybe at the end of this year, maybe next year, and almost certainly the San Diego event again.

What I do know is this – I would not have been able to finish this or any other event without an amazing support team.

There’s Karin, who of course is my centering point. She keeps me sane, and she allows me to disappear for half of a Saturday, even if that’s the only day I’m home for. She completed her first half marathon – and on her birthday no less!

There’s Scott Gay, who was my training partner. He finished the full marathon, and he helped get me through many of the long training runs.

There’s Dave “Jumbo” Baxter, who first dragged me out to Fiesta Island 18 months ago. He serves as an inspiration to me, as he’s been able to accomplish more than I could hope for.

There’s Susan Ibach, who made a simple bet with me, a tradition which continues to this day. She’s my virtual running partner, sounding board and a continual source of inspiration and information.

I love all of you more than you know. It’s because of all of you that I can now say, “I’m a marathoner”.

[1] I sat on that sentence for a good minute trying to figure out some way to put it together and I really couldn’t phrase it in any way that conveyed my emotions.


Sarah said...

My uncle's part of a running club in NC. He flies to do a lot of races. Some I know he's loved are Grandma's and Hood to Coast.

jersey said...

I'd love to do Grandma's, but it'd mean not doing the San Diego RnR, which would be hard to give up.

The Hood to Coast sounds like a lot of fun!

Brian said...

Dude - congrats! I am impressed...and maybe just a little inspired.

jersey said...

Thanks! And I'm telling you - running can be addictive.