One year ago I decided to run the Chicago marathon. The only problem: I’m not a runner. Some may call me a liar and point to the fact that I was on my high school cross-country team. I would kindly like to remind this audience that I was the slowest person on the JV team and that they don’t cut anyone. I also have photo evidence of me being beaten by a JV girl in the final race of the season. In case you were wondering, I didn’t join the team next year.
I have become much more athletic since those awkward years, but still used sports to ‘trick’ myself into exercising. In essence, it wasn’t much different from taking your dog to a park and allowing him to chase after a shiny red ball. If I had ever connected the dots between running and basketball I probably would have given up the sport for good.
So what convinced me to run the Chicago marathon? A spoonful of peer-pressure, a cup of pride and a whole lot of guilt. I work for a non-profit that brings a team of 1,000 athletes to the Chicago marathon to raise money for clean water projects in Zambia (Hint: if you want to learn more or make a contribution than visit www.firstgiving.com/zacharydillon). Everyone in the office was running to help raise money, including my boss who works 60 hrs/week and has four daughters. My excuses of being too busy or not a runner quickly fell flat. Then came the guilt: the children walk 2-3 miles to fetch water 3-4 times a day- can you not run 26.2 miles once? Damn, I am running the Chicago Marathon.
Sunday was the culmination of months of training and pain. Luckily, one of my closest friends, Joe, decided that he would not let me endure the pain alone and agreed to train and run the race with me. Unfortunately, his legs began to cramp and spasm at mile 8. We had agreed to stay with each other no matter what. I even told him that, if necessary, I would push over a little kid, steal his radio flyer wagon and drag Joe to the finish line. This line of reasoning stayed with me until mile 14 when I saw my boss pass us. Normally, I would say that I get no competitive drive from a marathon. I mean, who cares if I finish in 11,000th place? That all vanished when I thought about losing to my 50 year old boss. As terrible as it is, I left my friend alone on the side of the road and took off running as fast as I could. Joe, if you are reading this, I am sorry.
Due to the delay from my friend’s injury, I was now running in a group that was much slower than me. It was a great feeling to be the only one on fresh legs dodging in and out of crowds and passing people at will. Bobby, this is what it must have been like for you as a 6ft, 180lb seventh grader. Note: I was a late bloomer and always the smallest kid in my class so this was a novel feeling for me.
My running euphoria was short lived, however. At mile 19, I tried to eat a GU packet- a small pack of energy fuel that reminds me of something out of a Sci-fi movie. I proceeded to throw up 4 times, which is not good when it is 90 degrees outside and you are already severely dehydrated. The next 7 miles were extremely painful. My quads were cramping up, but I couldn’t stretch them out or my hamstrings would begin to spasm. This is when I began to ask myself the question: “What the hell was I thinking? What am I doing here?” I continued to run out of pure stubbornness. As odd and masochistic as it sounds, I eventually began to cherish this sensation. I realized that this was the physical representation of my complete dependence upon God. I had experienced this in the past emotionally and spiritually, but I have never fully felt my own physical limitations.
When people find out I ran the marathon I receive the same two questions: How did you do? When will you run your next marathon? In response to the first question: I finished in 4 hr 55min. It is a depressing thought to know that the winner could have run two marathons in the time it took me to run one, but then I remind myself: ‘I just ran a marathon, a celebration of an Athenian warrior who ran 26.2 miles to warn of an coming attack and than died on the spot.” In response to the second question: I am incredibly glad I ran the marathon and hope to continue running, but I have ZERO desire to run another one, but who knows? Bobby, you want to run with me? (Bobby’s greatest fear is being forced to run a marathon- it gives him night sweats.)