Down but not out in the Desert

The glow of finishing overpowers the pain and discomfort of the previous four and a half hours on the road.

Life happens. I’ve been looking forward to the Mesa Marathon in Mesa Arizona for months. Its fast downhill start and generally flat course along with its excellent support and vibes had me hooked. I trained hard and felt confident that Mesa would be my fastest marathon in sometime. Possibly even a Boston Qualifier. It turned out to be my slowest marathon—ever.

To say that I’m bummed is an understatement. Two days before the start of the marathon I came down with a cold. No! I had been so good at avoiding crowds, sleeping and eating well and wearing a mask at the airport and at a recent concert. But as we all know by now viruses have a way of getting to you and messing up your life.

I was drained the day before the race and was having a hard time getting pumped at the packet pickup at the Chicago Cubs’ spring training stadium at Sloan Park. There was so much energy and excitement around me as I worked my way through hundreds of volunteers and anxious participants while I picked up my race bib and pre-race goodies. My demeanor however was more subdued as I worried how I was going to feel race day morning.

And race day morning came early—way too early. I was up at 2.45 am gulping down coffee and fueling up on some calories including a breakfast burrito with potatoes. A runner knows how important potassium is to muscle performance and two of the best and easiest sources for that mineral are potatoes and bananas. They’re almost always part of my pre and post race meals. As I fueled up on calories and caffeine I kept hoping that my cold would be mild.  I was congested, warm and not feeling very energetic.

Feeling pretty wiped out at the finish

I made it to the staging area at 4:00 am and joined my 2200 fellow marathoners by hopping onto a bus that dumped us off in the desert 26.2 miles away from the finish line in Riverview Park near the stadium area. It was dark and chilly, but heat lamps, space blankets and layers ready to be tossed by start kept us warm. And at 6.30 in dawn’s emerging light we were off! It was a fast start indeed down a dark desert park road. The Superstition Mountains slowly came into view while the silhouettes of saguaro and cholla cactuses slowly revealed their prickly details. You definitely didn’t want to leave the road here where every plant doubles as a lethal weapon!

I started at a good pace but by mile three I knew I was in trouble as I was already overheating. Running a marathon is hard on a body. Colds are hard on a body. And running a marathon with a cold is really hard on a body. At mile 5 after a long uphill stretch I was hurting. And once the course eased I realized I was not going to have a strong finish. I actually doubted at times that I would finish at all. But I’ve spent years training my body for discomfort to achieve endurance challenges. Nothing satisfying in life is achieved without a lot of effort and a little pain.

By the half marathon mark I made peace with myself and accepted that this was going to be a slow and painful run. I began to thwart my negative thoughts into positive ones. Hey, even if I have to walk a little, that’s okay—I ‘m going to complete this run. I’m part of a large collective of folks pushing their bodies and limits and all of whom have had their share of pain and disappointment. Life happens and sometimes you just have to roll with it. Make the adjustments and persevere. Marathoning has taught me much about life and it has made it so much easier for me to face and accept setbacks in my day to day living. No matter how hard you plan and prepare, sometimes—many times, forces beyond your control get the last word—and if we’re going to stay in the race—be it the marathon or life—we have to accept, adjust and carry on.

Arizona-state number three in my quest to run 26.2 in all 50

At about mile 20 or so I passed a homeless person pushing his possessions in a cart in the 70-plus degree sun. My race day suffering and setbacks were quickly put into perspective. I have the means to live healthy and to travel to a distant state to participate in an event with other fortunate folks. Any disappointment and discomfort I feel today does not diminish my dignity and disposition nor leave me in a state of destitute and despair. There is a lot of real suffering out there and sometimes we need to hurt a little to notice it, feel empathy and perhaps feel motivated to help assuage it.

I made it to that finish, and as with all marathons my anguish slowly transformed into elation. And while I was not content with my time, I was with my accomplishment. And as I grow older and have now dealt with an auto-immune disorder for more than two years—the sense of accomplishment means much more to me than ever before. There is something about not letting age and ailments from keeping you from getting the most out of life. I slowly tapped into all of the surrounding feelings of joy from my fellow marathoners reveling in their own victories. Everyone runs for their own reasons. And there were many setbacks overcome, limits pushed, self-doubts discarded and self-affirmations made that day

Recovering from a marathon is always a slow process. And while my body may ache and feel the distance, my soul glows. Good rest and nutrition will help bring the body back. And the glow will last for some time—and eventually lead me to my next marathon. I already have it on my calendar and I am ready to overcome the setbacks of this one. Just like in life, we’re often given another chance. So I’m going to take it!

A Big Thanks to the Washington State Potato Commission for sponsoring me. I’m proud to be a member of Team Potato and to showcase the nutritional value and performance enhancement capabilities of potatoes as I attempt to run a marathon in all 50 states. I started my journey last year with marathons in Washington (my home) and New Hampshire (my home state). Arizona was state number 3. I’ve got a long journey and many miles to go—and lots of potatoes to consume along the way!

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