So I’ll preface this by saying, this is not a story where everything clicked into place, the stars aligned, and I effortless cast myself upon the finish line. This is more like a modern day Disney film. There’s a happy ending, but certainly some heartache along the way.
I woke up Sunday morning with a range of emotions spinning inside my head. I picked out my outfit the night before. Sitting on the hotel room desk was my black and white running shorts and a cotton Livestrong t-shirt that sat comfortably across my shoulders and was just soft enough to prolong any nipple irritation.
Along with my predetermined apparel, I practiced choosing my attitude as easily as I did my outfit. A positive mentality seemed to be one of the paramount tips to running a marathon. Seems easy enough reading it in a 300 word article, but walking at 5:30 in the morning amongst thousands of other runners to stand behind a long, narrow, white line makes it a little bit harder to maintain this focus.
I found my starting corral. They were separated by colors and mine was green. I also found a tall, sturdy spruce tree that was currently unoccupied. I reached out my hand and leaned on it’s coarse bark as I stretched my quads.
I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by all the people. They walked by with all these little running nicknacks. I saw it all.
Gel packs tucked into tiny pockets in their shorts, small water bottles sitting on lightweight belts strapped around their wastes, and flat Camelbak backpacks that could hold two liters of water with a nozzle that would run right to your mouth.
I don’t know if I was stretching or admiring or nervous, but before I knew it people were beginning to line up.
6:57am. They were getting ready to send off the first wave of elite runners. I don’t remember being all too nervous here. To my left was a man wearing a green jets cap who was well into his fifties. To my right was a younger woman. Tall and slender, she had two tattoos of angel wings on her calves along with some more down her arms that I couldn’t quite make out.
I thought to myself, “I can do this.”
As runners took off we got closer and closer to the starting line, until there I was, a few steps away from running 26.2 miles. I pressed play on my marathon playlist and “Ours” by The Bravery came on. I couldn’t help but think this was the perfect song to start a marathon to.
I crossed the starting line. The adrenaline felt like it was thumping against my heart as a cool rush ran up my head. 25,000 people were running in this marathon, but the amount of people watching must have been twice that. We ran through streets piled with people holding signs, cheering, clapping, smiling.
The surge of energy in those opening miles was palpable. “I was doing it,” I thought to myself, “I was about to run a marathon.”
It took my body till about mile 9 to realize that my novice stretching job was going to have some major repercussions. My calves tightened, I started getting shooting pains in my knees, and for some reason the outside of my left butt cheek was much stiffer than the right. And this was mile 9! I still had 17 miles left to run. I started getting nervous.
“Trust your training.”
“You’re only on mile 10.”
“Just be loose.”
“I can’t stop. It’s not an option.”
“Ow, my knee hurts.”
“Yep. Still on mile 10.”
This cycle of thoughts perpetuated through my head like the yin yang of marathon running. With every negative thought came a positive one to follow it, and for that matter, vice-versa.
Before the marathon, the farthest I had run was just over 17 miles. I thought this was quite the accomplishment at the time, but when your body is beginning to break down and you have another 9 miles to run, well, that’s when you understand what a marathon really takes.
My feet ached, my legs were burning, my left knee was starting to give, I was incredibly thirsty, and I was beginning to worry that I might not be able to finish.
By mile 20 my pace had slowed down dramatically. My focus shifted on just moving my feet forward. All this physical pain had created some of the most significant doubts I had ever faced.
Mile 22, photographers. Shit. I’d say about 90% of me didn’t even care about my slow pace being photographed. But that other 10% wouldn’t have it. My pace quickened, as I covered my facial expression with a neutral tone.
Snap. Snap. Snap. Only 4 miles left.
Honestly I’m not sure what happened in these last few miles. I have a theory that, I just blacked out like Will Ferrell did in Old School during those college debates. But what I do remember, was the most memorable experience for me. It was the final mile.
People lined up and down the streets stretching to the finish line. I unplugged my headphones to hear people cheering, “Come on Chris, you can do it!” “You’re almost there Chris!”
The bib numbers had each runner’s name printed on the side. It was quite extraordinary. With the help of literally thousands of strangers, I was able to keep moving forward, keep pushing. And with each step forward, the finish line grew closer and closer. Till there it was.
Like a nomad who has found water in the desert, the site of that finish line was truly sublime. I crossed that same long, narrow white line I had started at 26 miles back and heard two voices off to my left.
There stood my parents. My dad nodding his head in my direction, and my mom with the most heartfelt smile stretching across her face.
I did it. I had accomplished something that at one time I thought of as profoundly ridiculous.
A friend who had run the marathon as well, and many before this, said to me, “now you know.”
He was certainly talking about what it’s like to run a marathon, but he was also alluding to what is possible when you commit to an outcome.
Running the Philadelphia marathon was an extraordinary experience. It was the discovery and rediscovery of one’s potential. It stripped away every other superfluous circumstance and acted as a connection to and instigator of the visceral possibilities that continually lie within us.
As for my next marathon, who knows what’s possible, but I’m thinking New York.
This post is dedicated to two very loving parents who endlessly support and believe in their truly grateful son.
There have been days where I could not wait to put together a playlist, tie my shoes, and hit the pavement. Then, there have been those other days. Those days have the common pattern of excuses and rationalization. “I’ll just run longer tomorrow.” Or, “I’m too sore today.” I’d have these internal discourses many of which came with these self-imposed deals and agreements.
One thing I have found is that I can be very persuasive when I don’t want to do something. Another thing I’ve learned is that when I do wind up going against my default comfort zone, it always pays off. Most of the time the persuasive arguments I would use to rationalize weren’t all that accurate. I’m beginning to understand that default setting tends to be wrong, a lot.
The biggest tool that has helped me is adapting a simple mindset – be loose. And I’m not just talking about proper stretching techniques (although I learned the hard way how critical that piece is). I’m talking about loosening up, letting yourself flow, and feeling good.
On my long runs I’d hit mile 10 or 11 and running would start to become difficult, mentally and physically. When that happened I would start to tense my body up, huff and puff, and probably had this gruesome look of agony on my face. Then questions would come up, like how am I going to finish if I’m in pain now? Can I really do this? Should I stop?
I was not loose. I would just convert most of my energy to my agony. It wasn’t until that I reminded myself be loose that my mindset shifted. Stop trying so hard on something you can do very naturally. Trust in your abilities. You can do this.
I imagine putting myself on autopilot. My conscious energy is merely a spectator as I simply and loosely coast down winding streets in neighboring towns.
Be loose. Coast. Your mind is merely a witness not a commentator. I wish I meditated more, but I feel the times I loosen up in my run and let my body coast, my mind does as well.
The awesome thing about training for this marathon is what I learn on the road in my running shoes applies to more areas than just exercise.
Interacting with a person for the first time can tend to be very rigid and scripted. Meeting deadlines can be stressful. Having a never ending to-do list can be daunting. But we tend to inhibit our own natural abilities to complete these things when we tense up.
The other week I had to make a couple calls for work about one of our team building activities. I’ve run it a bunch of times and was explaining to a person how to facilitate it on their own. I started writing up a whole script of exactly how the conversation would go.
Then I realized there is no room for flow when you have everything predetermined. I tossed the script, loosened up, and talked about what I knew. And it went fantastically. I just let myself do the talking and the rest of myself was just witnessing the magic happen.
We are each are own greatest inhibitors. Extraordinary is visceral, but unfortunately we also come with this unresolved tension that leads us to question ourselves. What I’ve learned from training for this marathon is don’t.
Try it out. Loosen up. Next time you find yourself in that awkward situation or feeling some tension just let yourself flow. It’s quite amazing what can become possible.
It took me a few minutes, but I was able to piece together the previous night of halloween costumes, New York City, and my good friend’s birthday. Now, all I wanted to do was go home, throw on my comfy pants, listlessly throw my body on the couch, and watch a movie.
It took me 45 minutes, but finally got through the list as I sat nursing the biggest glass of water I could find waiting for the trailers to Crazy, Stupid, Love to finish (someone already ordered it on demand).
Just when I nestled into the couch finding the perfect combination of pillows and cushions, the lights started to flicker. The good news was that a couple seconds later the flickering stopped. The bad news was this was because the power went out.
So there I sat, in a dark room, witnessing an unprecedented October snow storm. With the trees full of leaves and the snow packed with moisture it was only a matter of time till branches could not longer hold the weight and snapped, falling on whatever lay in its vertical path.
For me and 280,000 other people without power, one of those branches just so happened to land on my power line.
At first it’s exciting. Getting all the candles out, bringing in wood for the fireplace, and planning out your modified, electric free to do list.
Then, you begin to see just how dependent we’ve become on these electrical lines that weave their way through our communities. I would walk into rooms and repeat the very well practiced routine of flicking the switch waiting for the light to come on. I had planned on running on the treadmill later that day. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that idea wouldn’t work. I also planned on being warm. But that didn’t last long as I watched the thermostat drop to 52 degrees.
No lights, no heat, no TV, no INTERNET, and a lot of snow.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting next to two candles, wrapped in a blanket in my dark basement. And I’m going to have to drive to the closest coffee shop with power to get on their wifi and post this.
But as I sit in this cold, dark room with no internet and no TV, I feel obliged. Once again my perspective has been shifted. It really highlights the power of those almost too simple guidelines to happiness, like be grateful for what you have.
On our bad days being grateful for things like light and heat seem so trivial because they are such a constant in our life. But take them away and you will really get a glimpse of how good we really have it.
When your stripped of modern day amenities, you begin to imagine yourself living in a different era. No doubt different times come with different thoughts and behaviors. For starters, there was probably a lot more conversation. And not just ones revolving around TV commentary, but conversations for the purpose of having conversation.
It was refreshing sitting near the fireplace, staring at the intricacies of a crackling flames, sipping wine, and just talking. The Native Americans would pass along decades of culture and ancestry though campfire tales and stories. Yet, our conversations have lost a bulk of their authenticities as we follow acceptable and predesigned scripts of interaction.
And I’m not just limiting this to conversation. I look around this dimly lit room and am surrounded electronics. Stereos, TV’s, laptops, all of which I had nonstop access to and all of which are now useless.
There is really only one constant in life, and that is yourself. Everything else is just background noise. Conditional enhancements. We’ve gone through time without some and we’ll grow through time with new ones, but in one way or another, the “power can always go out.” What you will always be left with is your own aliveness. Your ability to adapt, re-experience, and LIVE.
So I certainly I’m going to have a newfound sense of gratitude for light and heat when the power comes back on, but I’m also going to have an appreciation for my ability to live without it, and reconnect with something that can be easily clouded by a world filled with background noise.
Blackout stories of your own? How do you keep in touch with your aliveness in a world filled with so much background noise?