Other than the Thirteen Mile poem from last year and not counting the preface, added later, everything in the first eight chapters of this journal, fifty two pages of moleskin scrawl, was written over the course of eight days, one chapter a day. A hundred days later I m beginning chapter nine. The run goes on and the goal remains. But what happened? Yes, I am still running, and there are stories to tell.
After the 5K run with my niece and nephew, I ran a half marathon in Milwaukee, then another in Mackinaw City, Michigan, then back to Madison for a third half, where the preface notes were inspired. I also trained wherever I found myself over the summer: in San Jose, California, along the Guadalupe River; in St. Louis, Missouri, along the Meramec; outside of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, up and down the Sugar Hills; into the farmland west of Champaign, Illinois; back and forth between New Glarus and Monticello, Wisconsin; and along the James River in Richmond, Virginia. I found trails near home, too: up and down beachfront bluffs in Lake Forest, through the streets of Waukegan and then, my most regular route, a ten mile stretch along Skokie Highway.
I went through four pairs of shoes, trading my well-worn Adidas for a pair of cushy Brooks after Milwaukee, then switching to Saucony shoes after the Brooks started cutting into the top of my foot, then a pair of backup New Balance lightweights after the Sauconys couldn’t dry out fast enough after hot summer runs. I gave the Brooks away to Joey, another nephew, who found a more comfortable fit in them.
I ran with family: brother Dan, visiting from Prague; sister Anne, when I visited Champaign. I also encouraged and was encouraged by nephew Joey, Dan’s oldest; niece Allison, who is also running her first marathon this fall in Des Moines; and nephew Tilo, a sub-five minute miler, talking about trying a half marathon next spring.
I stayed healthy. Mid-stride I was stung by a bee once, but that was the worst of it. As the miles increase it’s been tougher to keep the stamina up, but legs are in place, feet aren’t complaining and muscles have been recovering quickly. And I’m doing what I can to keep in shape: learning to run with a water bottle; starting a pre-run routine of planks, lunges and squats; maintaining my weight, with more attention now to supplementing the calories than limiting them. And the run goes on and the goal remains.
Distances are increasing, too: There are still over two months to go before marathon day, and I’m up to 18 miles with some walking, 17 miles all running. The half marathon times over the summer have been up and down but balanced: 1:52 in Milwaukee, 2:14 in Mackinaw (a trail run with an extra end stretch), 1:53 in Madison.
It was my intention, though, at the beginning of this journal, to write daily about running. I did not expect to run every day and had generally settled on a 3-4-5 standard: three runs a week was passing, four was progressing, five was taking it seriously. But I had hoped that daily writing would serve to encourage the run and keep holding me accountable. In one sense, it did, I suppose. These first eight chapters have been read and reread, even rewritten once with an editor’s eye and onto cleaner pages, and the words have kept me going. My own words have held me accountable, the words of others have continually inspired me and the word of the run keeps resonating. The run goes on and the goal remains.
It is too bad that I couldn’t have been more disciplined as a writer these last few months, even as I learned that every run, every day, has a story to tell. Surely there is more to say about that bee sting or the trail run or the runs with my sister or my brother. So much could be said about the backdrops across the country, each giving me different stories to tell. Maybe, in time, I will share some of these experiences, but it will be harder now, with time having passed.
Today, though, coinciding with my return to the journal, I have a story to top all others. It was a beautiful day. I set a good pace and reached a new distance. Along the way I also got hit by a car - but the run goes on and the goal remains!
Let me tell this one moment by moment. I woke up at 5:30 am out of habit, and it was still dark out: daylight hours are waning quicker than I want them to. This gave me time to hydrate and do a few stretches and, as it turns out, to start working on the first part of this journal entry, summarizing the last three months. I wasn’t out the door until 6:45, but the run started right in front of my house. It was a perfect 55º outside, dry and not too windy, and steady cool and cloudy was the forecast. I set out on my usual path, a biking and running trail that passes just across the street from home. It runs north a mile, then forks with a three mile straightaway or, my preference lately, a longer route to th west that loop back southward for an overall twelve mile path. I have been building up my distance here, not yet getting to the end of the trail before turning around, but I can see that this trail will make the approaching marathon distances easy to manage.
My goal today was to run 18 miles, meaning a turnaround after 9 miles, or maybe a little longer southward with a three mile shortcut option on the way home. My pace goal, with the cool temperature and a good buildup routine in the last few days, was to keep under 9 minute miles for at least four miles, then sub-9:30 for another 6 or 7 miles. It is good to understate these goals within goals because it feels so much better when you blow them away. By comparison, I ran a 7:30 first mile yesterday, but that was a shorter run overall. And so it went: mile 1: 8:10. Mile 2: 7:50. Mile 3: 7:55. My pace slipped a bit a I went, but I didn’t slow to 9 minutes until mile 10 and I kept it under 9:30 for miles 11 and 12. So far, so good!
I kept going past the nine mile turnaround point, deciding a good walk at the end wouldn’t be a bad thing, and at mile 12 I reached the end of the trail. It was not the absolute end, though, if I didn’t mind alternative paths: the dedicated off-street runner/biker trail now yielded to sidewalks and a few busy intersections. I was on Lake-Cook Road, roughly ten miles south and two miles west of home, and instead of turning around I decided to veer east into these alternative paths, expecting to eventually find quieter northbound roads back home.
This meant crossing a big six-lane intersection first, then crossing two ramps to an underpassing expressway, but it was now 8:30 on a Saturday, still relatively quiet, and the stoplights and traffic were all in my favor. I didn’t even have to stop. My pace was still sub 9:30, so I could see a new PB —personal best —ahead for the 13.1 mile split. Split! Wow, my distances are actually getting to this point: not just a half marathon plus a little more, but one stage and then the next. I was expecting a sub-1:52 now, and the adrenaline was starting to pump as I reached the next road a block east of the expressway interchange.
As I approached the intersection, a black sedan was pulling up to the main road from my left, ready to turn westbound. This was a small, two lane road with a stop sign, and the car came to a stop just before I reached the street. I thought the driver saw me, but apparently she was looking eastward to check for oncoming traffic. There was an SUV 70 yards east, but I guess she figured she had time, so she gunned the accelerator just as I was passing in front of her, hitting me straight on and throwing me ten feet into the road. The vehicle contact wasn’t so bad —a mark on my extended left hand and a scrape on the side of my left leg —but I landed on my ass and right elbow: ow!
I remember looking skyward for a moment, thinking it was a good thing I didn’t hit my head. But then I got up, a little tenderly, then walked over and leaned on the side of her car. She was just opening her door, and I remember thinking, maybe I could ask her for a ride home now, as the run was apparently over and I was twelve miles down the road. But then I remembered that personal best I was pursuing, so before she could even say anything I waived her off, told her I ws okay the turned back to the sidewalk I front of me and started to run.
I didn’t get very far, though. That SUV driver had now stopped and he was out of his vehicle and running toward me. “Not so fast,” he said. “Are you okay?” Yes, I said. “Are you sure?” Yes, I was sure, and I started blathering on about that PB and the distance I had in front of me. “Hey, I understand,” the SUV guy said. “I ran Boston. But we should call you an ambulance.” That surprised me, had not occurred to me. I looked myself over an saw the skinned elbow and scraped leg and felt that sore butt, but I smiled and again assured him I was all right.
By this time the sedan driver was approaching me, asking the same questions and expressing the same concerns and even offering to give me her name and number. I said no, don’t worry about it, and I showed her my elbow. “Look,” I said, “this is the worst of it. And I’m in the middle of a long run with a great time going and I’d just like to get back to it.” And I shook her hand and thanked the SUV guy and started running again.
Half a mile down the road, even with the setback, my 13.1 mile split was still under 1:54, and I kept running another three miles before I stopped at a Panera for some water. Oh, I was sore to be sure, and I was still about six miles from home, but I gave it a good five minutes at Panera then started on a slow 17 minute walk for the next mile. Then I started running again, an easy 10 minute pace for a mile and a half, and after that I walked a half mile, ran a mile, walked another mile, ran a little more and finally walked the last two blocks to home.
With only that brief traffic stop (!), I had run 16 miles straight and 19.1 miles overall: deliberately, the distance of my two day race last May! With the walking miles, my distance was 21.8 miles and my time was 3:45. Which means, at a 9:30 pace without any walking, my 26.2 mile time would be 3:59 - a sub four marathon! Even with the walk time, if I could run those last four and a half miles I would finish in 4:27. I can do this! But I will try to avoid being hit by any more cars.
Just before I turned back to my run after shaking the sedan driver’s hand, I noticed she was finally smiling. “This’ll teach you to run on Lake-Cook Road so early in the morning,” she said, awkwardly. She had been pretty hook up by what had happened, maybe even more than me, and I knew she was only trying to lighten the mood. I smiled, then looked over at the SUV guy —the Boston marathoner —and saw that he was smiling, too.
...This doesn’t stop us. And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us —to push, to not grow weary, to not get faint, even when it hurts. We finish the race. And we do that because of who we are and we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody’s there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up.
—President Barack Obama,
April 17, 2013.