|Personal Worst, Personally Best|
I completed the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, a week before my 50th birthday, in a time of four hours and 13 minutes, 28 seconds, which is my Personal Worst by at least 20 minutes. But I finished.
My inspiration to run the marathon came from two people. The first was Debby Gammons Brown, the niece of my long-time friend Peter Gammons. About 20 years ago, my parents bought a house in Bay Head, N.J., and from time to time, we'd see this petite young lady logging all kinds of miles. That was Debby, whose father was the pastor at All Saints Episcopal Church in Bay Head. Peter had told me about his niece, who ran cross-country at Trinity College. Bragged about her. But Debby and I never actually met.
I recall vaguely that Debby and I spoke on the phone once when she was working for a sports agent in Boston and I was working for ESPN The Magazine. But that was it until Facebook came along and we became "friends." After the Boston Marathon bombings, Debby began posting that she was coming out of retirement to run the Philly Marathon in honor of those who were unable to finish Boston, which prompted me to say, "I'd love to do it, but I haven't run 26.2 in eight years and my knees seem to reject runs over five miles." All Debby said was, "Just do it." So, I started to train...a little bit, anway.
My other source of inspiration was an old college baseball teammate named Paul Devlin, who has been a great sounding board for me the last couple of years as I've been laid off from two jobs. Paul is a talented on-air sports reporter who was also going through some tough times professionally. He took out his frustration by getting into great shape. He competed in triathlons and half marathons and then told me he was going to run his first marathon, the New York Marathon, in November.
About two weeks before New York, Paul told me he was in agony. He did something to his leg and was worried he would not be able to run the race he'd trained for. It was not until the day of the race that I saw Paul's photos from the race. Not only did he complete his first marathon, he crushed it.
As I began to tell Paul how I'd not trained properly, didn't have the time to put in a run any longer than 14 miles (and I walked a good bit of that run), he would have none of it. "It's all in your mind."
Debby and Paul got me to the starting line. But I'd be lying if I said there were no doubts in my brain. Memories of past races started coming back to me. Memories of runners collapsing on the side of the road. Memories of my own struggles (without getting too graphic, I'll just say Port-a-Potty) in past races.
I told my wife, "There's a chance I stop at 13.1," because in Philly, the finish line for the half and full marathon are, basically, one and the same. I also told her and my sons, "This could take a while."
The race started at 7 a.m. and I vowed to run slow. My goal was simply to finish. From my first step, I did not feel comfortable. My calves were tight and my feet were achy. One step at a time.
I do not - cannot - run with ear buds plugged into my ears, so I tried to take my mind off the pain by reading as many signs as I could along the way. Philly is a smart-ass sports town and that was reflected in a few early signs like, "You're not going to win, so why bother?" and "Pain is temporary, but your lousy time is forever on the internet." I must thank these people for keeping me going through the early part of the run.
Now, I have a friend who likes to say, "There are two things I don't want to know about. One is men's breasts and the other is your golf game." So, I'm going to assume you don't want race details.
In a nutshell. I ran a decent half-marathon. And I limped a really horrible half-marathon. But the feeling I got as I stumbled down the stretch, past my wife and kids who cheered for me as I crawled along the final half mile, may have been the greatest feeling I've had in any of my six marathons. I didn't train properly. I've not felt comfortable on any of my long training runs. In fact, I've felt horrendous.
But I finished.