From the Press Box

Running with my eyes closed

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There are accomplishments in life that one can always look back on and think, "I can't believe I was capable of doing that." Sunday I added a notch to my lifetime-achievement belt, but my body has yet to agree that it was something I should have done.

As I woke up Monday morning my legs felt like two pieces of rubber,with flippers attached for feet. I didn't have enough control or pain tolerance to make it up the stairs so I crawled. Throughout the day my quadriceps periodically locked up and I tumbled as if I had tripped on an imaginary crack in the floor.

The best term I can come up with for these symptoms is "marathon hangover."

Sunday, almost one year after I ended my college career in cross country and track, I laced up the shoes for my newest endeavor -- 26.3 miles at one time.

Going into the race I was confident in my ability.

I'd put in more than 10,000 miles in college.

I'd run some miles to get back in shape the last two months.

How hard could it be?

Well Mr. David "I-don't-need-to train-too-much-for-a-marathon-because-I-ran-a-lot-in-college" Pressgrove learned several things about himself during his jog from Hahn's Peak Village to downtown Steamboat Springs.

First of all, I'm too competitive just to "finish" any race. I went in telling myself that I just wanted to get to the finish line. In order to be near the front runners I needed to stick to my original plan of starting to train in January, but that was cut short by a combination of sickness, laziness and business. With my 17-week training plan shrunk to seven I told myself I wasn't ready to race and that I should just finish.

Despite all of my reasoning, as soon as the gun went off, my instincts were to go to the front. Halfway through the race I was in 11th place, and well ahead of my goal pace of 7 minutes, 15 seconds a mile.

It didn't take long after the halfway point for me to be reminded of my lack of preparedness.

Around the 16-mile mark my legs started to get heavier and each step became more of a labor. But I was still moving, still getting closer to the end.

The second thing I learned is that as long as I could still find humor in things, I was doing all right. My body started to shut down with six miles remaining, but as I passed the final aid station at the 24-mile mark (there are tables set up every three miles to supply runners with water, Gatorade and a gel that helps replenish energy) I looked at the wonderful volunteers handing out drinks, smiled, and asked, "Are my legs still there?" They laughed back and assured me that nothing had fallen off.

Apparently my humor left me as I entered the last two miles because I don't remember anything to smile about. I do remember I was chewing gum and I was able to keep somewhat focused by getting my body to move forward one step every time my teeth clinched down.

As I approached the finish line I learned one more thing about myself. I don't need to have my eyes open to keep moving forward. The last 100 yards I could see the finish line, but it wasn't getting any closer. So I closed my eyes and just tried to keep moving. With my eyes closed I'm not sure I took the shortest route to the finish line, but I do know when I opened them I was at my goal.

I crossed in 3:24.38, which was longer than my "hopeful" goal of 3:15, but shorter than my "realistic" goal of 3:30.

Today my body is telling me that the only thing realistic about the race was that I was poorly prepared. One day it will stand proud again, maybe not this week, but in 30 years when some youngster proclaims he is going to run a marathon I will have the chance to straighten up and say, "I hope you trained, because when I ran yada yada ...."

I hope next year I can write another column, only next time the goal is to have my eyes open, so I can describe the finish of a runner prepared for a marathon as well as the feeling of a body that doesn't hate itself too much the next week.

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