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King of pain.

October 3, 2011
Crossing the finish line.

My legs are hurting all over now. It’s no longer just my quads, which have been burning for the last two hours and bite more with every small downhill I encounter. My calves are stretched taut and are on the verge of seizing up, my shins feel as if they’ve been bashed with a metal rod, my hamstrings are screaming at me, and every foot-fall feels like I’m running barefoot over broken glass. The swirling mess of Gatorade, ultra-sweet carbohydrate gels, and salt tablets is taking its toll on my stomach and I am pretty sure I am going to puke.

Just two more miles and I’ll see the finish line. I’ll hear the crowd and I’ll know it’s almost over. I just have to keep it together for two more miles. 18 more minutes – give or take. No cramping, no puking, no passing out. “Embrace the pain”, I tell myself. “Pick up your feet, Patrick.” “Keep moving forward”, “you got this.” I repeat these phrases over and over. It’s about now that I ask myself the question that every runner asks themselves at some point during every tough run: Why do I do this? Why do I continually punish myself with this excruciating pain and endure so much misery?

This is how I felt around mile 24 of the 2011 Flying Pig Marathon here in Cincinnati. I ran my best marathon, a 3:48, and on a very tough course, but I was seriously hurting that day. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about why I keep doing this to myself. It’s hard, it hurts, I’m sore for days afterward, but I keep doing it. Why?

Every runner has their reasons for wanting to finish their first marathon – it’s something to check off their bucket list or it’s to prove to themselves and the world that they could accomplish something big. But how about we repeat offenders? Why do we keep going back for more? Ask 10 runners and you’ll get 12 different answers to that question, and most say it’s because we are either crazy or stupid. While there may be a lot of truth to that, for me there’s something more.

“I’m never going to run this again.”
–Grete Waitz, after winning her first of nine New York City marathons

I ran my first marathon because I wanted the world to know that things were changing for me. I had just been through a lot – cancer, divorce, weight loss, and I was ready to begin anew. That first race was painful but something extraordinary happened when I crossed the finish line. I felt alive! I had just accomplished something monumental, and I was suddenly overcome with elation. For perhaps the first time in my life I really felt like I was part of something big. The seed was firmly planted. At that moment I knew I wanted more and I’ve been addicted to that feeling ever since.

In the five years since I started running marathons something else unexpected has happened: running has become intrinsic in my life; it’s a huge part of who I am today. I love the constant training. I love getting up early for long runs on cold, dark Saturday mornings and seeing the sun rise over the Ohio River. I love “massage night” with my amazing wife (she’s a five-time marathoner) after those long runs. I love carb-loading before a race. I love the way my body looks and feels when I’m actively engaged in regular exercise. I love being in that meditative zone while running, it discharges stress and empties my mind.

After the 2011 Flying Pig Marathon

My beautiful wife Kristine and me after the Flying Pig - all smiles and feeling good again.

Running the marathon can induce a great deal of pain, but the intense, overwhelming joy and sense of accomplishment that washes over me as I cross the finish line makes it worth every painful step of every agonizing mile. In addition to that amazing feeling at the finish line, running continues to positively transform me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I’m a better person today because of running.

I’m addicted. I love the marathon, and I’m going back for more this Sunday when I line up for the Chicago Marathon where 45,000 runners will take to the streets. For some it will be their first marathon, for others their 50th, but I have a feeling we’ll all ask ourselves “why” at some point during the race. I also know that most of us will have to dig deep to make it through those last few miles, and we’ll repeat our mantras to help us make it through, “embrace the pain”, “keep moving forward”, “you got this”. And then the finish line will come into view and that magical feeling will return once again.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2011 12:37 pm

    Good luck in Chicago!! It’s so true – that feeling of crossing the finish line is unbelievable, and addictive! When I finished my first marathon, I definitely said never again, although I already knew that was a lie since I had found out just days before that I won a spot in the NYC lottery 🙂 And that second race was amazing! I’m running my third marathon this Sunday in Portland – it’s pretty cool that there are so many races on the same day (a bunch in the UK too), makes me feel like I’m part of something really huge, beyond the thousands of people around me!

  2. October 3, 2011 5:38 pm

    Good luck!

  3. October 4, 2011 11:21 am

    You runners ARE crazy! Have a great race this weekend. Your words here at “a life relived” are one of the inspirations for me actually doing something about getting healthy again and not just thinking about it. Cheers…

  4. October 27, 2011 7:36 am

    What a great post. I love running and I am not sure I have ever gone for a run without asking myself the “why” of it all. At some point however, all the questions, doubts and pain all take a back seat to the simple process of running. What a great post.



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