As I have mentioned before, exercise has been an important part of my life since I was a teenager. (See track 37 – Feel It Again) However, jogging didn’t enter the equation until I came to Taiwan. To be honest, I am not sure what prompted me to begin jogging. I imagine it had a lot to do with the fact that jogging was one of the few options for exercise open to me when I moved here. As well, the area in which we were living was gorgeous. The lush vegetation, lack of traffic and warm night air was the perfect compliment to an evening jog. And so within a week of being here I found myself pushing the pavement almost nightly.
It took a couple of weeks for me to build up my stamina. At first I was struggling to complete two kilometers without having to walk for a stretch. Eventually I worked up to the point where I was able to complete a five K circuit with a lung busting hill in a little less than thirty minutes. I wouldn’t say I was addicted to running, but I seemed to find a sense of peace as I passed through the hills of Shiang Ping. Jogging was always a pleasant way to end an evening.
Throughout the years I have kept to a fairly consistent run of five kilometers; however, I have migrated from roads to school tracks to treadmills. This change in venue has everything to do with where I lay my head. Having moved out of the hills, it became a bit of a chore to drive up there for a run. School tracks were a much more viable option. And then we moved into our current apartment which has a small gym on the second floor. It became even more convenient to just pop downstairs after work for a spin on the track. Eventually, I joined the World Gym, and that is where I am now.
Since joining the gym, running has become an easy compliment to my workouts; however it has lost the intrinsic appeal that it once had. Without the rolling hills and sounds and sights of nature to accompany the pounding of my feet, jogging has simply become a functional way to stay fit. It is no longer an activity done for enjoyment. While at the gym, I look around at the other hamsters running along with me and notice the same look of ambition on their faces. Peace has been replaced with focus. However, jogging is low on my list of priorities. I limit my workouts to about an hour a day, and this usually means that long jogs through the country are out.
This being said, I didn’t hesitate for a second when a buddy of mine asked if I wanted to sign up to run a half marathon. Running a marathon has always been on my bucket list. I had almost two months to train, and I was about as fit as I have ever been. Giddy up, I thought. Let’s do this thing.
Upon signing up for the run, I decided that it would be a good idea to hit the pavement again and start some road training. I think I was right. It was a great idea. It’s just too bad that I didn’t follow through. I did manage to get out for a total of four jogs before the winter rains washed away my desire to run. As I said before, I like jogging but I don’t love it – certainly not enough to brave the cool winter rains of Taiwan. What can I say? I’ve turned soft in my old age.
Of the four runs that I got in, only two were for a distance of more than ten kilometers. (10.5K and 11K). The other two runs were my five K regular. It’s sad to say that that is where my training stopped. I didn’t even hit the treadmill again until a week before the race. I guess I figured that since five kilometers was pretty easy for me and I was able to complete ten kilometers with minimal discomfort that I was ready. Had Yoda been my trainer he surely would have said, “Too confident in yourself are you. Train you must. Ready you are not.” Nevertheless, confident is how I felt. Until about a week and a half before the race.
As race day approached, the reality of twenty-one kilometers began to set in. From afar, this seemed like a simple task – just a small hill in the distance. But, as each day brought me closer to the race, I became more aware of how big of a mountain it actually was. At a week an a half before the race, 21 kilometers seemed like Mount Freakin’ Everest.
My nerves had kicked in and I began to voice my apprehension to Rachel. Getting tired of my whining she went on-line and looked up how to properly train for a half marathon. Shit! I hadn’t done anything right. Actually I just hadn’t done anything. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the app on my phone to turn back time so the only option left open to me was to suck it up, get in two more small jogs on the treadmill and hope that Yoda was wrong.
The day before the half marathon was our annual Christmas party. I was a little sad that I couldn’t get all festive and jolly like I usually do. This year, Santa (Don’t tell anyone, but it has been me underneath the Santa garb for the last 14 years. Shhh…) had to limit himself to one glass of wine and a traditional Santa shot. By 9:30 I had left the party and by 10:00 I was in bed. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I had only slept about five and half hours the night before, sleep still didn’t come until approximately 12:30. Two and a half hours later my alarm went off and I was out the door at about 3:30. Two and a half hours after that, my friends and I found ourselves standing at the starting line amongst 100,000 of our best friends. Ready or not, it was time to go.
Exhilaration suddenly replaced the nervous tension that had been settled in my belly for the past week. The air was rich with the smell of adrenalin. People were stretching, focusing or participating in small pockets of conversation. However, no matter how people had chosen to pass the time, everyone there had one eye on the clock. Everyone was eager to hear the sound of the gun.
At 6:57 the elite runners were let loose on the roads. These guys run at a pace of a little more than twenty kilometers an hour. There is no need to have them tripping or trampling over rest of us so they took off first.
Three minutes later the gun went off again and the masses began to move forward. I was ready for a wave of sweaty flesh to thrust me through the first few hundred meters of the race; however, it was something else that carried me forward. Although we were a group of tens of thousands, there was no pushing, shoving or aggression of any kind. Everyone just casually moved forward together. Few people kept the same pace; however, there was never a feeling of pressure. I glided through the first stretch acutely aware for the first time that I was part of a community. The masses had no delusions of winning anything. Everyone was there for the same reason, to prove to themselves that they could do something grand. This reassuring feeling had settled warmly into my soul and helped me find my pace.
The sea of bodies that began to flood the city streets of Taipei was propelled further along the route by groups of bystanders who had amassed at various corners and stretches to do nothing more than cheer on the athletes as they wore their bodies down. The clattering of noise makers, high fives and shouts of encouragement fed the participants with the much needed energy and drive necessary to push forward. They were as important for getting me across the finish line as the water, bananas and chocolate that were provided at numerous checkpoints along the way.
At five K, I felt pretty good. My pace was strong and mentally I was still in the zone. Slowly, however fatigue started to set in and my lack of training became pretty evident. By about nine kilometers my body started to look for the finish. It was not ready for the pounding that I was putting it through and another twelve kilometers of the same grueling pace was looking pretty bleak. And then came 12 K. That was my TSN turning point of the game.
I had often heard of people hitting a wall while running, but I figured it was just an expression. I couldn’t understand how one could just lose the ability to continue on. Running is just something that is mind over matter. Once you get into a rhythm it is easy to will yourself to continue on. Right? Umm…not for this guy.
All of a sudden my legs became like two aluminum baseball bats. Every footstep sent piercing vibrations through every strand of muscle in my legs. My heart rate seemed to soar and my mind lost focus on how much I had finished. It could only see how far I had left to go – nine kilometers. Nine kilometers! I still had to run a distance almost equal to the furthest I had ever run. Shit! Yoda, that freaking little goblin, was right.
At that point I had only one option left open to me. Suck it up and keep on keeping on. I set mini goals for myself. If I jogged two more blocks, I could walk a hundred meters. If I ran to the next rest stop, I could take a couple extras seconds for a breather. And that is how I moved through the remainder of the race. By fifteen kilometers I was thanking the heavens that I had heard my wife’s words and not put my check in the 42K box. (Yes, I was going to be that stupid. Thank god for having a rational wife!)
I remember turning the final corner and seeing the inflatable archway before me. If Peter really has gates to heaven, that is what they must look like. Four hundred meters to go. I was home. I reached into my reserves and poured on the speed. I figured I would pass a couple of people before finishing the race. Legs burning and heart pounding I pushed on through to the finish.
The buggers set up a pre-finish finish line just to mess with my exhausted mind. As I slowed up to catch my breath and watched about half of the people I had just passed overtake me again, I suddenly saw my new inspiration. The time on the clock read 2:09:04. I told myself that I had to complete the race in less than 2:10. And with a reserve that I must have borrowed from another marathoner I charged ahead and clocked in at 2:09:30 (which was really 2:06.30 because the clock started when the elite runners took off.). Victory! I had finished the race. I was alive and still moving.
As I looked up at the giant screen before me, I saw that the elite runners were just approaching the finish line. Ha! Imagine that. I had actually beaten these world class runners to the finish. Not bad for a runner with no training. Suck on that, Master Yoda! Ok, so they had just completed 42K to my 21K. It’s all good, right?
The mood at the finish line was the same as it had been throughout the duration of the race. Everyone had just gone through the same punishment and was feeling the same exhaustion. Everyone had a story to tell of how one of the runners had finished the race without wearing shoes or how they had seen someone collapse only to be helped by others. Everyone felt the same burning stiffness in their legs, shoulders and knees. And everyone was wearing their bronze medallion with pride. Nobody compared times. There was no need. Minutes didn’t matter. What was important was the fact that we had completed something great!
Notwithstanding the pride I felt for finishing the race, I felt like shit for the rest of the day. It was as if I had turned about eighty-five in the course of two hours. My legs were stiff, I limped everywhere I went, I grunted every time I had to bend, sit down, stand up or move and I had no energy. Oy! Why didn’t I train just a little harder? Curse my cockiness.
I taught Siaya a new phrase later that day. ‘Practice what you preach!’ I always implore my daughter to do her best at everything she does. ‘Nothing comes easy,’ I tell her. ‘You have to practice everything you do so you can improve to the best of your abilities.’ It wasn’t until twelve kilometers into the half marathon I realized that I had done none of this. Where was my preparation and training? (Sigh) Sadly it didn’t happen. And so I told my daughter that I deserved every bit of discomfort that I was feeling. Overconfident was I. This foolish I shall not be again.
Hall of Fame, by The Script ft. will.i.am, was one of the songs I had blasting in my ears as I ran the empty streets of Taipei. (I can’t tell you how cool of a feeling that was!) The beat fit my pace and the lyrics fit my drive. If I teach my daughter anything I hope it will be to never give up on her goals. Anything is possible as long as you just believe.
The same friend who asked me to join this half marathon just sent me a link for a 42K in Mongolia. Can I do it? Who knows? Maybe not this year, but with a little more training this young runner might have another stamp in his passport and another line on his bucket list. If I do go, I can tell you this, Yoda will be proud!
Hall of Fame Youtube link