I had just run 25 miles very quickly, and I was in trouble.
All my life I had not really done much in the way of individual accomplishments. So I decided to run the Everest of physical challenges for mere mortals, a marathon. 26.2 grinding miles of lonely, pavement-pounding monotony.
I downloaded a training app to my phone. There was a daily regimen all laid out from December 8th through race day, April 12th. I'm a obsessive plan-follower, so I completed the plan almost perfectly. The training was over 450 miles. I was totally ready for the race physically and mentally.
Before the race, people would ask me what "time" or "pace" I was aiming to achieve, and I coyly would answer with no answer, preferring not to set expectations really high because I wanted to appear to be modest. But I knew in my head how fast I was running in training, and I knew what would disappoint me. I kept it all to myself, though, because this was all about me. I was going to do this, and people would hear how I did and be impressed. How could they not? I was awesome.
The race itself started out great. I blew by the halfway mark in amazing time. I knew I should slow down, so I actually did. Everyone warns you not to go out too fast, but when you are feeling good, it's so addictive to just run fast. I did slow down a bit, but it wasn't slow enough...
At about 16 miles I started feeling more fatigued than I should have. It started to get lonely, but then it happened. First, my wife Julie appeared with a hand-drawn sign. Immediate shot of adrenaline. At 17 my friends Ben and Melissa were there. My fatigue abated. Then all through Forest Park, Julie and Ben and Melissa kept popping up with encouragement. I was fatigued, but this encouragement kept me going.
At 20 miles I left them and the park behind and headed for home. I started noticing strangers on the side of the road whom I'd ignored before, but now were buoying me through my fatigue. Why were they here to cheer me? What did they get out of this? I was losing steam, but they helped.
At precisely 25 miles: debilitating back spasms. 1.2 miles to go, and I couldn't stand up straight. Visions of personal failure. Shame.
Then an amazing thing happened. Two medics were at my side almost immediately. They asked questions, and I just kept going. They offered their arms; I took them. They kept talking to me while I struggled. They didn't let me quit, but they quite literally carried me for hundreds of yards at a time. I would let go, run a little, struggle and stagger, and they'd be right back to help me again. They wouldn't let me fail, not so close to the end.
I was finally in the closing stretch lined with people. I can only imagine how awful I looked (well, I have pictures so I actually know how awful I looked!), but I kept staggering on, and these thousands of people were all shouting encouragement to me! I get teary just thinking about how these people helped save me, a total stranger, completely spent, encouraging me to reach my goal. Between them and the two saviors on my arms, my solo quest was replaced with a group mission to get me to the end. What an amazing experience. I finished.
Then there were the great folks in the medical tent and, of course, the unfailing support of Julie when it was all over.
Months ago I had planned out a solitary achievement for my own private glory. What I got instead was a life-lesson drilled home: nobody achieves anything in this world alone. Show me the "self-made" man and I'll show you a man without gratitude. That marathon belongs to my wife, my friends, those two medics, the crowd and the medical staff. And me.