“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
On Tuesday, I looked at the weather for Sunday, decided it was acceptable, and more or less on a lark signed up for the Heartland Marathon, which begins on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River before crossing the Bob Kerry Bridge and running into the cornfields of Iowa and back. Twice. I had been fretting some about the I-35 Challenge and felt that, in the end, running a marathon at a pace that might allow me to finish with something left in the tank was the only way to mentally prepare for such a thing.
Later in the week, I had a meeting with administration at my college, where I shared some big ideas. One of those ideas was, as I put it in the meeting: “The Taliban will fall. This is not a question. The questions are when, to whom, and what will be left when it does. And if by then there is an entire generation of uneducated women, then I fear the nation will not be salvageable at all. What role can we play in this?” It is my hope that the university where I teach may engage in educating Afghan refugees, women specifically. The idea was met with interest, and plan were made to meet again to discuss the idea further.
Sunday morning, I woke feeling rested. Too rested. I looked at my phone: 6:12. My alarm hadn’t gone off and the race began in forty-eight minutes! In a panic I made coffee, kissed my groggy daughter on the forehead, and threw my clothes together. I scarfed a bagel but skipped the peanut butter, failed to poop, and never fully woke up. I made it to the starting line with about eight minutes to spare, never getting a warmup in and worrying the entire time about what I might have forgotten.
Things improved significantly from there. Having run a 4:09 a few months before, 4:45 felt like a safe pace, and while I felt heavy and groggy for a bit, I was able to maintain pace with no difficulty. I met my pacers and we chatted. Every four miles I took one of my electrolyte pills, 500mg of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and 400mg of NSAIDS (ibuprofen). At mile 13 I ate a packet of trail mix, the salt and fruit feeling amazing going down. At mile 20, I ate another, sharing the last of it with my pacer who was lamenting the lack of bananas at the aid stations. Though I carried forty ounces of liquid and the temperatures never exceeded the high sixties or low seventies as I ran, I ran out of liquids three-fourths of the way through the race. My right knee and right foot hurt a bit, but not bad (my right big toenail would, at last, fall off later in the day with a bit of additional prompting from me). Most importantly, I finished not on empty, not cramping, not ready to collapse. I met my wife and kids at the finish line and we had fruit snacks, cookies, and pizza at a nearby picnic table. I had accomplished what I wanted to: I felt confident that next month I’d be able to complete back-to-back marathons.
But. But. I could not overlook one simple fact, and that was that much of my success, my biggest boost of energy, came when I saw my kids in the latter stages of the race. I stopped to hug them. I kissed my wife. Titus and I did our secret handshake. And then they ran with me for a hundred yards or so. I won’t have them for my next race, or at least that’s not the plan. I may need to amend the plan, I realized, looking back on it.
In all, it was a good week, and it went by fast. I spent most of Sunday watching football and resting after my race, and hugging the children who got me through my fourth marathon. The fifth and sixth will be here soon. As ever, thanks for reading.