My brother, Austin, and I after the 2017 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
Being a long distance runner for the past eight years, I am used to the question, “What do you think about when you run that far?” At one point in my college cross-country career, I was running 50 to 60 miles a week, probably between seven and eight minutes per mile – that’s roughly eight hours. And honestly, about 90 percent of the time, I thought about getting better. Not for anyone else, just myself.
In college, through the taxing workouts and the Saturday long runs, I thought about the splits I needed to hit to maintain my target. When my brother runs with me, he always comments on how consistent my splits are. Even on easy runs, my miles are within seconds of each other. It has become natural for me to keep the same pace until I need to push it at the end.
It became robotic.
The marathon was nothing like that. Over the 26.2 miles, the pain accelerated and my time decelerated. I went into the race overconfident, with my longest training run at 14 miles. Seasoned marathon runners would laugh at my stupidity.
No surprise, it was one of the hardest runs, right up there with my last collegiate race in the Colorado altitude. It was a new kind of pain I had never felt before. I was emotional, drained, achey, thirsty, and overwhelmed.
My mind shifted gears at some point during the race. It wasn’t “the wall” or the “second wind.” It was being completely helpless to pain and vulnerability, realizing I was unprepared and couldn’t finish it without changing my mindset. It took me 21 miles to reach this point. It was a feeling I never want to forget, and it is the reason everyone should run a marathon.
The start line. My brother, the freak endurance athlete, is overly confident and excited, ignoring his foot injury that recurred throughout his training. I am just ready to get warm.
Mile 2. My ankles hurt. I feel shin splints coming on. I have 24 miles to go.
Mile 5. I really hope Austin wants to slow down.
Mile 7. If Austin tells one more dad joke, I will probably punch him. He also just ran effortlessly backwards up the hill that set my glutes on fire. I really want to punch him.
Mile 10. I’m not even halfway there.
Mile 15. This is the farthest I have ever run, and it was long ago when I was at the height of my best track season.
Mile 16. Worst conditions imaginable. Muddy shoes. Shin splints. Rain. Cold. Numbness. Oklahoma wind.
Mile 17. Austin finally admits he might not make it. When we stop to walk, he can’t put all his weight down on his foot. I would imagine the adrenaline masked the pain and was the only reason he was able to run on it at all. He has to call it quits (after arguing about it in the middle of the course), and I keep going.
Mile 18. Austin catches up to me. Now I really want to punch him. I yelled at him. “Seriously, stop! You could cause permanent damage to your foot.” My anger gets me through the next mile, but I admittedly miss my running partner.
Mile 20. My family is waiting for me at the finish line. I begin thinking of those who lost their lives and how their family would give anything to wait for them at the finish line. This was when I truly understood the impact of the words, “Run to Remember.”
Mile 22. My collar bones are bleeding from rubbing up against my shirt. It distracts me from the pain in my feet.
Mile 24. I turn off my brain and think about finishing. My time already sucks. I just need to finish.
Mile 26. There are no words to describe what I felt when I saw the finish line.
God bless the 168 lives lost on April 19, 1995.