Never Forgetting the First Time

As I settled into a comfortable groove at mile 6 of my first half-marathon, I heard an engine humming behind me and then a voice over a loud speaker.

“You! You need some water? You… Need… Some… WA-TER?

I looked back and saw that I had a tail: The race ambulance.

Though I had a well-earned rep of being slower (and wider) than most runners and my taper felt more like burn-out, I had stuck to my training program, logged the 10- and 12-milers, and was gunning for a good go. I hit the race’s halfway point feeling fresh, but then my self-fulfilling prophecy arrived in the form of bull-horning EMTs who kicked the snot-rockets out of my confidence and downgraded my pace from slow to sorry.

In my first test of endurance, I showed up as the plodding parade horse being followed by men with shovels.

Since that day some 10 years ago, I’ve managed a few minor milestones—I bettered my half-marathon time in the same race two years later, and I even completed a Half-Ironman a few months after that (albeit very slowly). But the truth is that I’m as comfortable with long distances as Meb would be at nose tackle.

It’s not that I’m a total slug. (I play half-court hoops twice a week, do a sports-conditioning workout once a week, and lift weights pretty regularly. And I mostly write about health and fitness; here’s a fun story I did for RW about what runners can learn from other athletes.) It’s just that I kinda move like one.

So why am I here? For the same reason I imagine many first-time marathoners are: To challenge, or to change, or maybe to do both. I want to prove I can cover 26.2 miles, but I also want to do it by avoiding the fried feeling of running too much. During the year, I’m not only going to write about my quest to complete a fall marathon, but I’ll also cover all of the cross-training techniques I’ll use to mix in with my miles. I’ll experiment with slosh pipes, tire-flipping, pool plyometrics, BOSU balls, bikram yoga, and wacky workouts that can make runners of all levels faster, stronger, and better.

No matter what techniques I’ll use, I know I’ll have to deal with obstacles along the way, like the one that came at about mile 11 of that first half-marathon. I was trudging up a quarter-mile hill when a car, driven by a co-worker who was well on his way home after finishing the race, pulled up alongside me as I neared the top of the hill.

“Spiker,” he said, his eyes agonizing over the news he had to break. “I think you missed a turn.”

I looked back down the hill to see how far off-course I was, and that’s when I saw them: The walkers. Sonuva thigh-chafer! First, ambulance surveillance, now I’m getting smoked by people who didn’t train five days a week for the last five months.

I raced back down the hill in the right direction and eventually finished ahead of the walkers. /// insert pity fist bump /// The next morning, my co-worker fired off an angry e-mail to the race directors, explaining how cruel it was that the turns weren’t well-marked. I had run the hardest race, he said, because of the extra miles and minutes.

Though I blamed nobody except myself for my mistake, I remember what he did, and I also remember that I had two much faster buddies waiting (and waiting… and waiting…) to greet me at the end. So as I run, lift, climb, stretch, throw, pedal, and play my way to a fall race day, I’m excited to know what the spirit of the running community is all about.

Only you can be responsible for your training, your body, and your performance, but somebody will always have your back.

Even if you are the back.

You can follow Ted Spiker on Twitter at @ProfSpiker.



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