For the last 90 days, I have been on a new and challenging path training for the Baltimore Half-Marathon on October 13 (you can follow my progress at my fitness blog here). One of the most common questions I get when I share this journey with others is about my motivation, and what happens after I run the race.
The answer to the first part of that question, on the surface, is very simple. In the beginning of this journey, that was my focus: What do I have to do in the next six months that will make me conditioned to run 13.1 miles? Everything was about “The Plan.” I studied books by Jeff Galloway, read all of the special features on marathon training in the running magazines, and talked to my friends and family members who have been there, done that.
But that was in the beginning. Now, I see far beyond the half-marathon finish line. What happens after the race is over is, really, just the beginning.
This is not about a race; this is about living in the greatest, most extreme definition of the term.
In the summer of 1991, I took a real risk and failed miserably. I decided earlier that year that I was going to hike a northern section of the Appalachian Trail. The plan was to start with friends at Bear Mountain Park in New York, and then head north toward Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I would spend two weeks with my hiking friends, and then they would leave the trail and I would resume my trek north going solo for another four weeks.
The journey began horribly. Within one mile of the trip, I was bent over on the side of the trail, vomiting. I let that set the pace for the rest of the day, and the negative self-speak and feelings of failure permeated every cell in my body.
The next day, one of my friends got word that he was needed back home a week earlier than expected, and so they decided to cut their hike short by seven days. I pondered this for another day or so. What would I do? How would I let their change in plans affect my original goal of staying on the trail for six full weeks?
On the third day of our hike, the rains were heavy, and I convinced the others that I did not want to hike another 9 miles in bad weather. We stayed all day in a shelter, reading left-behind westerns and repacking our sacks over and over again. It was then that I made the decision that I, too, would be going home with them.
When I had first started training for the hike, I heard a lot of negativity from others about heading out into the woods by myself. And when I found myself weakened by the trail on that first day, I allowed all of that negativity to flow in and convince me that, indeed, everyone was right. I was crazy, and people shouldn’t take risks like that. Plain and simple. This is the kind of thing that happens when you leave your comfort zone.
On the bus ride home from New York’s Port Authority terminal, I was silent the entire way. I was feeding the negativity, the self-doubt, and it continued to work its way in me and in my actions years afterward.
If I failed at anything before the hike even started, it was simply not training for it in a smart way. I didn’t educate myself enough about hiking long distances, and just wasn’t prepared to handle such a challenge. I thought that it was enough to just throw myself into the situation and then just figure it out once I got going.
Since that self-deprecating ride home, I have managed to return to the trail a few times, and one particular 13-mile hike four years later, in 1995, was especially redeeming. Still, these have been isolated redemptions and not the transformation that I have been after all these years.
So as I have been training for the half-marathon, I have received similar comments about being crazy; while many have cheered me on, others have been very negative about my decision, or judgmental about how a guy starting out at weighing over 300 pounds can think that he is going to run a half-marathon later in the year.
This time, though, I am educating myself, and I am listening to the shouts of support and silencing the naysayers. For this journey is so much more than running that race.
To answer the second part of their question — What happens after the race (will you run more marathons? Other races?), I am already shouting it from the rooftops that, yes, 5K races will be a part of my monthly plan. But so will monthly hikes, too, along the Appalachian Trail. I have never been a born runner, but I have been a born hiker. With the same education, energy, and confidence that I have put into this training, I will do the same for my hikes along the Trail from Georgia to Maine. It has been my lifelong goal to section-hike the entire 2,178-mile journey.
And now, as I continue to train for this race and get my body in the best shape it has ever been in, I will be able to take that risk and see just how far I can really go.