It’s Sunday morning, and I’m recovering from the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon. What a fantastic event. Seriously, if this is the only marathon I run ever again I’d be happy. So much of the race winds through beautiful Cape Henlopen State Park in costal Delaware, the community surrounding the race is the most positive I’ve come across, and the race organizers simply throw down one heck of an event. It’s a race (half-marathon), another race (marathon), and a party (and what a party) all rolled into one. If you’re a runner, you’ll never spend money on a better event.
As I sit here, coughing up a lung and abusing one tissue after the next, I’m amazed I finished the race yesterday. Heck, I’m amazed I was gutsy enough to even show up at the starting line, considering how I felt beforehand. It wasn’t easy, and toward the end of the race I spent a little more than an hour fighting off serious lightheadedness that I’m attributing to dehydration related to a head cold. When I crossed the finish line, I was so thankful that it was over and super proud of the fact that I had finished, despite the fact that I ran one of my slowest marathon times. I gutted it out, and in doing so also saw hope that I’m doing something right, because if it wasn’t for the head cold I know that I would’ve performed significantly better. The lightheadness came out of nowhere and hit me so hard that I was worried, truly worried, for a short time.
That being said, I didn’t NEED to run the race. Nobody was holding a gun to my head. Would I have lost the entry fee? Yes. Would I have stayed overnight in a Rehoboth hotel for no reason? Absolutely. But would I have driven home second guessing my decision to not even give it an attempt? Of course, and I would’ve agonized over that decision for weeks. So I ran.
Unless you’ve run multiple marathons, I imagine it’s hard to understand how someone who has run multiple races keeps going back for more. I know that the people in my life question my sanity, especially when after six marathons I’m still telling them that I have yet to run a marathon that I’m 100% pleased with the results of. Most of my stories involve how badly miles 20 through 25 suck and how difficult it is, and then there are the couple of stories than involve me breaking down into tears way too early in a race. (Is there ever a good time to break into tears during a race?)
Despite all that, I’m already eyeing up my next 26.2, with perhaps a half and a bunch of other shorter races in between for good measure.
So what keeps me coming back for more?
First off, as I alluded to earlier, the marathon is the only race distance I’ve attempted that continues to offer a significant challenge. Yes, I could try to run a 5K or a half-marathon faster, but while a 20-minute 5k (PR of 21:07) or a sub-1:40 half (PR of 1:43:28) would be nice, I’m okay with my peak performances in those races. The marathon, on the other hand, continues to be the distance I’ve yet to tame.
Secondly, I’m 44 years old and have a 7-year-old daughter. I want to be a fit, in-shape, capable father. I want run to around and enjoy her parents vs kids field hockey games, provide a good example of a (somewhat) healthy lifestyle, and hopefully stay healthy enough that when I’m 20 years older than I am now, I’m not slowing her down on a hike through the woods to the local farm. Do I have to run marathons in order to be successful at all of the above? Hell no. But four months of marathon training a year probably doesn’t hurt.
And then there’s my dad, who hasn’t walked in 20 years. He has a disorder called degenerative cerebellar ataxia, which basically means that his motor skills are fucked, have been slowly getting worse over decades, and nobody has a definitive explanation as to why.
The thing of it is, he motivates me two ways:
- I love running marathons because he can’t. I love showing him that I’m not wasting the health I’m lucky enough to have. I love running marathons because I know he’d do anything to take a single step, let alone race any kind of distance, so maybe, just maybe he gets to live vicariously through me when I tell him about the multiple 20-mile training runs, the getting up at 4:00 a.m. to go for runs at 5 a.m., and the race day experience. I love running marathons simply because I hope he finds pride in knowing I do. (Of course, have I ever said any of this to him? You know the answer.)
- I also keep running marathons because right now, I’m on the cusp. I’m very aware I’m on the cusp. I’m within a few years of his age when he was first diagnosed with his disorder, and if you don’t think that’s a massive stone of motivation rolling downhill directly at me, you’ve never seen an older loved one slowly deteriorate over time and wonder if that could be you someday. As I said earlier, nobody has ever been able to tell my dad the definitive cause of his ataxia. That means that it could be hereditary. That means it could be headed my way. That means in a couple years I could be stumbling for no reason, and a few years after that trying to walk with a cane, and a few years after that kicking a wheelchair over because the last thing I want to do is crawl into it.
Of course, it’s very likely that I won’t ever develop my dad’s ridiculously rare disorder because we don’t know that it is hereditary because we don’t know shit about it, but you never know until you know. I probably won’t, but I might.
With any luck, I’ll be running marathons for a very long time. I’d certainly like to until I can’t. My time is certainly better spent going to bed before 10 p.m. to get up early and run than it is staying up late, watching TV or playing video games, eating snacks, and getting heavy. It’s an addiction, but it’s a healthy addiction. It makes me a better person. And at the same time, I’m providing a good role model for my daughter, inspiration for my dad, and hope for myself.