Running with my eyes open

Driving home from Steamboat Springs on Sunday I couldn't decide what I felt about my effort in the marathon I had finished three hours earlier.

Then I read my column about my first experience, "Running with My Eyes Closed," June 3, 2003, and it helped me clarify my feelings.

Last year's column was all about humor. I made fun of myself for not being able to walk for two days, not preparing well enough and finishing the race in so much delirium I had my eyes closed.

I finished the race in 3 hours, 24 minutes and 38 seconds, and I finished in 33rd place.

This year, I finished with my eyes open, started running months before I had in '03 and I can tell you what the finish line looks like.

My time: 3:54.34. My place: 96th overall.

Initially I bet you thought I had run a better race. Then came the time and place and there was probably a little bit of a grimace or possibly the thought of "ouch that hurts."

I also had the "ouch that hurts" thought when I saw the clock at the finish. A couple of hours later it doesn't bother me.

For one, I'm writing this column the day of the race. Last year I was at home passed out on the couch for six hours. Then I woke up, ate something and passed back out for the night. My column didn't run in the paper until Tuesday because, well, I couldn't move until Monday afternoon.

I owe my physical well-being to a decision I made at about the 17th or 18th mile (a marathon is 26.2 miles).

The first 16 miles of both marathons were similar. I felt solid up to that point -- I was in 11th in '03, 10th in '04. Around the 16-mile mark, each step started to become more painful.

Last year, I toughed it out and kept on my pace as long as I could. In doing so, I experienced some of the worst pain in my life and my body completely shut down with two miles to go.

This year I stopped and walked. It was more of a mental decision than a physical one.

I think a lot of things while I run a marathon. I was more positive than the front end of a battery the first 10 miles. I was fifth, everything was relaxed and no women were beating me. Then at about the 13th mile my right knee started to tighten up, several runners caught me and I was no longer leading the women's race (you know what I mean).

My thoughts switched more to what 90 percent of people think when the word marathon is mentioned. "Are you crazy?"

I decided it wasn't worth it to potentially injure my knee just to go after a better time. I didn't even have the desire to finish the race so I walked the 16th mile and was going to drop out at the next aid station.

Then a guy, who never gave me his name, from Greeley passed me and he was in terrible shape, but he was still running.

I decided to jog with him. We took turns encouraging each other and sometimes I would run ahead and then walk to loosen up my knee until he caught me -- tortoise-and-the-hair style.

We stuck with each other until the 22nd mile, which is where the climb from H.E. Double Hockey Sticks starts. It's a steady climb for about two-and-half miles and it isn't fun after two-and-half hours of running. At that point I had regained a bit of a mental focus and since walking hurt just as much as running I decided to pound away. I thanked, and then left, my friend who had, unknowingly, kept me from dropping out.

I managed to finish with three spells of walking but made sure that I ran the last mile in town.

What I concluded my column with last year is the main reason I know feel better about being passed by men and women twice -- maybe even three times -- my age today:

"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."

This year's conclusion: The finish is marked by a tall, white banner; visible for a mile that is similar to a tantalizing mirage because it almost seems too good to be true. Physically I'm not sure I was better prepared because I didn't run enough in April and May. But mentally I was better prepared because I wasn't going to allow myself to end up in a hospital or an operating room with an injury. Last year I would have pushed myself to that limit. For that, my body won't hate me too much tomorrow.

Running 30 minutes slower is almost embarrassing, but what is funny is that I finished second in my age group and I won a free shirt and some socks. I finished fourth in my division last year and all I got was a healthy helping of lactic acid with cramps on the side.

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