In many ways, moving to Seattle was the beginning or solidification of running as the addiction it is my life. After graduating in May at Clemson, and literally the day after I walked across the stage, I began a quick drive across the country to a new adventure of living in the Pacific Northwest. I had never even visited the area, but felt compelled to move, and specifically to Seattle. Upon my arrival, my new roommate, Tim, was a runner and preparing to run the Chicago marathon later that year. In my running in Clemson, I had the idea to attempt a marathon and decided to set my sights on the Seattle Marathon which was still a few months away, just after Thanksgiving. Knowing that I could regularly run 7 miles or so before the sicknesses and driving across the country, I felt confident that I could train to finish.
The beginning of that training came within my week or so. Tim decided to take me for a run around Lake Union, a prominent feature in Seattle boasting great views of the city. It is only about a 6 mile trek around the lake. I had no idea what pace I should be running, so just stayed up with Tim. I could not even finish most of the way around! I probably made it about 4 miles before having to tell Tim that I needed to stop. I wanted to blame it on the altitude, but quickly remembered that Seattle is at sea level before I made any claims, thankfully. At this point, I began to seriously doubt my ability to train to finish the marathon. But then I gained some motivation. About this time, my grandfather had one of his legs amputated due to some health related issues. The thought struck me of how incredible it would be to give him the gift of finishing the marathon for him.
I began to search online for marathon training programs, having no idea where to start. I found one that seemed manageable, so I stuck with it. I was so new in Seattle, that I did not know many people to run with or where to run, so I ended up running Greenlake, which is about a 3 mile loop countless times. As the distance of the training runs increased, so did my creativity for mix and matching the only routes I knew well: Greenlake and Lake Union. I began to realize how much I could push myself alone, and I liked it. It was comforting that I did not have to have someone to get me out the door and go for a 2 or 3 hour run. At the same time, I started realizing that it was keeping me secluded from the people I was starting to meet in Seattle. The life of a long distance runner is lonely in that respect. Most people do not understand why you do what you do. Those that do, keep to themselves too.
I continued to prepare for this one as best as I knew how, which was not much. The week of the race, I came to realize that I would be driving myself to and from the marathon. “That will be interesting,” I thought. Race day was gloomy at best. The Seattle late fall/winter haze was in full effect, to the point where the top of the Space Needle could not be seen standing at the base. I was very nervous at the start line. My first marathon. Would I finish? Would I survive? It seems silly now, but my training had only pushed me to about 20 miles, and most of my training was on flat terrain. I was wearing the shirt had made at a local sports clothing store. It was black with red skulls and a high-vis yellow stripe across the back. I wanted to capture as best I could the experience of running the marathon for my grandfather, so I ran with my small digital camera. I also had my iPod, which made for full pockets that moved way too much during the run. About 10 minutes before the race began, I got the guy next to me to take my picture. We talked about the race and my training. He had run the marathon for a few years and encouraged me that I would do just fine.
The countdown began. I was getting extremely excited to run. The announcer mentioned someone was running barefoot, and another person in a full Santa suit. I began to think of my grandfather, the whole reason I was standing at the start line. Then the gun went off, and the race was on! I pushed play on my iPod, with E.S. Posthumus’ “Pompeii” blaring. The first few miles of the race go through downtown and onto the interstate. As I was approaching the first tunnel, I looked up and to my surprise Ruari, a friend and co-worker was cheering me on from the top of the tunnel. He had ridden his bike about 15 or so miles to come see me run. It gave me a great boost in confidence, but it was still early. Entering the tunnel reminded me of a zombie film. Something about running through a tunnel compels people to scream. All the screaming in a tunnel, combined with the thick fog, large amounts of people running in one direction, and soundtrack by E.S. Posthumus definitely made me feel as if the apocalypse was happening.
The race progressed, and I happened upon Ruari again! He took a picture and gave me a high five. Then he rode his bike for a little while along the side of the road as I ran. This was still only about mile 8-9 so my enthusiasm was still carrying me and making me run faster than I should have been. The race continued on. Crossing the half way point, I noticed my ankle was hurting extremely bad. I stopped quickly to assess the situation to find that the chip-anklet was cutting into my skin enough to make me bleed. I quickly strapped it through my laces and continued forward. One runner that I had noticed before because we kept passing each other looked like she was in pain. I looked over at her as she collapsed to the ground, and the medical team was at her in seconds, so I felt fine continuing to run. I began to feel like I was running out of all possible strength to continue at about mile 17 and decided to walk. About the time I started walked I felt a pat on my back and heard “Do not start walking now, you’re doing fine. Here run with me, you are going to make it.” I turned to my left to see the guy who had taken my picture at the start line. He ran with me past the 19 mile marker. After that I was in new territory. I was now going further than I had in training, and the hills was starting to make their presence. I decided to walk up the steepest portion of the race. As the course progressed the hills maintained. It was not until about mile 23 that it began to level off and the thought hit me, “I am going to finish!” My mind started to become flooded of all the cancer victims’ posters I’d passed, the cancer survivors that had passed me, and my grandfather. I was overwhelmed with emotion and was trying to run and breathe while choking back tears. This is not an easy feat!
I crossed the finish line and immediately felt like I had opened up something new in my life. It was an experience that I wish I could describe here, but no words will suffice. I finished in just under 5 hours, which is not a time to write home about, but I had trained to finish, and that is just what I had done. Some friends met me at the finish line to take pictures, and help me gather my bag of fresh clothes and other items. After I felt good enough to head home, I thanked them for coming and slowly walked to my car. It took me a couple of tries to get into the driver’s seat without my legs starting to cramp. At first, I did not think I would be able to get in my car and drive back home, but I eventually made it. Tim congratulated me and then asked if I ever wanted to do another one. “I don’t know, man. That was tough. We’ll see.” The next couple days I felt that runner’s high that people rave about at such an intense level that I wanted to do another marathon. I was hooked.
At Christmas back home in Louisiana, I was able to share with my grandfather my experience of training and running the Seattle marathon for him. It was incredible to see his excitement and thankfulness. Sadly, he passed away a month later.