“Dude I need some inspiration because I’m hitting the F’ing wall right now.”
This was the words uttered from my exhausted mouth between breaths to my buddy, Brady, over the phone during a hike break in my 2nd annual after school marathon.
The “After School Marathon” is a concoction invented after realizing that my wife, Lindsey, and I were moving away from Iowa to Virginia. Back in Iowa, I would run from the middle school where I taught almost every single day. I thought that running my very first marathon after work on a random Wednesday would be the best way to commemorate an amazing two years of teaching.
In retrospect, I’ve realized that the 26.2 miles I ran around Ankeny, Iowa could also be considered the “World’s Flattest Marathon of All Time…Ever.” This thought crossed my mind a year later about 22 miles over extremely hilly terrain through the woods of Danville, Virginia.
I had hit a wall. In running terms, I was “bonking”…hardcore. Stupid me forgot to pack enough water; I had about two big gulps left in my water bottle.
“I also need your opinion Brady. I packed a small bottle of whiskey, I’m in the middle of the woods, I’m dead-tired and I’m basically out of water. Good idea or bad idea?”
“When you’re walking on ice you might as well dance.” Came the reply.
This is why you need a friend like Brady: someone to encourage you to do something potentially stupid.
It turned out to be the best decision I made on that run. Maybe it was the sugar or maybe it was the pain-killing effects of the alcohol or, quite possibly, it was just one big-ole placebo effect. Whatever it was, the miracle of whiskey worked its wonders. The soreness (which was mostly in my feet) was gone for the last twenty minutes of picking my way up hills, down hills, over roots, across streams as I finished the 26.2 miles much more triumphantly than my zombie-walking at mile 22.
Life is just one big experiment (this is what I try to remind myself when a teaching lesson goes especially bad). You try something new and it may fail miserably, but it is through these failures that you gain amazing knowledge.
Would I say my 2nd after school solo marathon was a failure? Probably not. In fact, I mostly felt amazing through the run. Would I say it was the image of perfection? Hahahahahaha…no.
Here’s what I learned:
You can never have enough water. I created an aid station at mile 14 where I refilled my water and pounded a couple Nutella peanut butter and banana tortillas, but I left one bottle thinking “I’ll be good.” Mistake noted.
Hills will wear you out. The first half of the race was straight up and straight down. I didn’t feel exhausted at the time, but the pounding caught up to me eventually. It is OK to walk the steepest ones to save your legs if you are running a trail marathon.
Bonk-breaker friends rock. Find your own personal Brady. Someone who is at both times dumbfounded that you are running a stupid distance through the woods and inspirational enough to keep you running (maybe by taking a shot of whiskey).
Smile and enjoy. You are doing this to yourself. No one is holding you at gunpoint and forcing you to run a marathon (if this has actually happened I apologize….and want to buy the movie rights to the story…I’m thinking Tom Hanks could take this on). You might as well enjoy the situation you are choosing to put yourself in. The only one you have to compete with is yourself (which is actually much harder, because no one will know if you cheat or cut your run short) and you will discover amazing things about yourself in the process of putting one foot in front of the other.
Pizza and Beer are the perfect recovery food. As always this is the most important lesson.
(WARNING: no science has been researched by the writer as to the benefit of whiskey to the exhausted marathoner’s body. I can tell you that it tasted pretty damn good though!)