Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Slow Joe, the Marathon Man

I was watching the Olympics, and it got me thinking about my own athletic prowess. And then, after that daydream ended, I thought about my actual athletic achievements. Such as they were.

My first attempt at organized athletics came when I tried out for the 7th grade basketball team. I thought I had a pretty good chance of making the team. I was fairly tall, and...well, that was about my best qualification. 

When it came time for the actual tryout, I had a rude awakening. When the coach had us run "killers" (from end line to foul line and back, then to half court and back, then far foul line and back, and finally to the other end line and back) I finished second to last, just barely ahead of the fat kid. (And everyone else was moving on to the next drill before the two of us finished.) I was not athletic. And I didn't make it past the first cut.

There's a reason they call me "Slow Joe from Arimo."

When 9th grade rolled around, I thought I'd try out for the football team. Unfortunately, tryouts started two weeks before school did, and I did not know this. But, in a way, it was a good thing I missed tryouts, because that's when I learned about the cross country team. Desperate for runners, the cross country coach (also the high school basketball coach) asked the few who weren't on the football team if they would be interested in running. I was.

I was definitely the tortoise from the tortoise and the hare. At basketball tryouts they needed fast rabbits, but for the three-mile cross country course, the slow and steady turtle could win the race. Not that I actually won any races. But, I did finish 10th in the Junior Varsity district finals, which, for me, was pretty good. Maybe, by the time I was a senior I could be good at this.

But then the cross country team was dropped after my freshman year due to budget concerns and lack of interest.

That left the track team my only option for athletic achievement in high school. My old joke about being on the track team went like this:

Me: I'm on the track team.
Other person: Oh, really? What do you run?
Me: Slow.

The longer the race, the more I could hide my lack of speed. But, the longest events at track were the mile and two-mile races. I was too slow to be any good at them. And that was the extent of my athletic career.

Until ten years ago. That's when I thought it would be a good idea to try to run a marathon.

At the time, I was pushing 36 years of age. I had just gotten on an exercising kick. I lost about 40 pounds and was working out regularly on an elliptical trainer. I went to visit some friends, and they were going to run a 5K race that day. I figured I was in the best shape I had been in since high school, so I told them I would run with them. After all, 5K is just a little more than three miles, and with all the work I'd been doing on the elliptical, that shouldn't be a problem at all.

I quickly learned that there is a big difference between working out on an elliptical and actually running. But, I did manage to finish the race. My friend then told me he was planning on running a marathon in September. (The 5K run happened in March.) I decided, what the heck, I'd run the marathon with him.

So, over the next several months, I ran to train for the marathon. I would usually run five miles at a time, and I would do this about three times a week. (I later learned that to actually train for an actual marathon, this was not nearly enough.)

And then, it was time for the marathon. The marathon my friend (Daren) and I chose to run in was the Top of Utah Marathon in Logan, Utah. The race starts 13 miles up a country road, so we parked in the city and they took us by bus to where the race was to start.

It was a bit surreal before the race started, because all I can remember are buses and port-a-potties. There were the dozens of school buses that brought all the participants to the starting area, and then there were about 40 port-a-potties. And each of those port-a-potties had a line of about twenty people waiting to get into them. It's not something I would have thought of beforehand, but when you have over 1100 people who are about to run for over 26 miles, all of those people are going to want to go to the bathroom right before the race.

I had never seen so many port-a-potties at the same time. And there weren't nearly enough of them.

The race started, and I didn't feel very good. I was even more slower and sluggish than normal. Finally, about three miles into the race, I was able to get into a bit of a groove. Daren ran with me. It was his second marathon, and even though he could have easily gone at a faster pace, he chose to stay with me at my pace to keep me company.

It's a good thing he did. When I got to about mile 17, my body was done. I was ready to quit. But, Daren stayed with me. He kept telling me, "Let's just walk to the next mile marker, and then you can decide if you want to keep going." And, when we reached that mile marker, he would talk me in to walking to the next one. Finally, when we got to mile 20, I knew I had come too far to give up, and that I was going to finish the race.

At that point, 60 year old women were passing me, and 8 year old kids were passing me. I didn't care as long as I reached the finish line.

That's me on the right, looking like someone who has ran 18 miles and doesn't care to run any more.

But then, it became a race against time. At six hours they take down all the barricades and such off of the roads and most of the marathon volunteers leave their posts. So, we had to push it to get to the finish line before the six hour cutoff.

I finally managed to cross the finish line five hours, forty-two minutes, and thirty-two seconds from when I started. I finished in 1,078th place (out of 1,130 finishers.) 633 men finished ahead of me, and 444 women finished ahead of me (many of them over the age of 60.) But, I don't care because I finished.

That's me on the left, bolting across the finish line in record time! (A record for me, anyway.)

I can now and forever say that I ran a marathon! (Okay, I ran and walked a marathon.) Regardless of how I did it, I did do it. The results are on the internet and everything! (And the internet is forever.)

Here I am with Daren after receiving our "finisher's medal." (I'm the red-faced one who looks like he might die. Daren is the smiling one who looks like he's ready to go for another jog.)
After finishing my marathon, I thought that maybe in a few years I'd try it again. But do better. Ten years have since gone by, and I now realize that it's never going to happen. I'm too old. (Yes, I know that people older than 46 run marathons all the time. Believe me I know, because I saw all those 60 year old women pass me on the course.) But, my feet are too wooggity at this point. And I'm too fat. And my knees get creaky climbing up a flight of stairs.

So, no more marathons for me. I'm officially through showing off my athletic prowess. (Except on the basketball court. I'm still holding out hope that some NBA team is in need of an old, slow, fat guy who can shoot 18% from the three-point line.)(On a good day.)(If nobody is guarding me.)

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