We spent this last weekend in Memphis, TN at the St. Jude Marathon. I was very proud of my husband, Blake, who despite all odds and a lot of set backs put in the time and cowboy-ed up to run his first full marathon (without ever having run anything else besides a 5K!!). But the best account of the even comes out of the mind of the man himself in his CullmanSense article. Read his account here!!!
But, I also wanted to feature his words here on my blog...
Running for a Reason
Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 10:17
My entire body is literally wrought with pain. Breathing hurts. Lying in bed is painful. Moving about borders on excruciating. The reasons I find myself in this state starts about 4 years ago with a video I watched about a man named Dick Hoyt.
Dick has a son named Rick that was born in 1962 with severe cerebral palsy and as such, can't speak or even move without assistance. So severe was his CP that physicians told the Hoyts to simply institutionalize Rick and forget about him. Fortunately the Hoyts weren't interested in that option.
Some years ago Rick wanted to participate in a charity run so Dick placed him in an adult sized stroller and pushed him the entire 5 miles of the race. Dick admits now that the race was incredibly tough as he was out of shape. However, at the end of the race Rick was hooked and told his dad "my disability seemed to go away when we ran today". That was all Dick needed to hear and he with Rick began running races and have even now competed several times in the Ironman Competition in Hawaii. To compete in the Ironman Triathlon Dick swims the 2.4 miles tied to a raft in which Rick is placed. He then carries Rick to a special made bike and straps him in for the 112 mile cycling portion. He finishes in placing Rick in the racing stroller for the 26.2 mile run. For what it's worth, devotion and discipline runs in the Hoyt family. Rick went on to graduate from college and lives alone...and still competes in races with, as Dick puts it, his dad's "body on loan."
The Hoyt story very much put words and actions to the amazing love and devotion I feel for my sons. It also hit me that I'm not asked to do anything extraordinary for them. I simply have to love them and frankly they are the kind of sons that make even that my personal joy. Support them, discipline them and train them in the way they should go...that's it. Though many kids don't have even those things, in my mind they are the minimum. I further realized that I ask all three of my boys to do things all the time that seem impossible to them. With their limited experience in life and understandably immature perspectives they don't realize the potential their mom and I see in them and they don't know exactly what they are capable of accomplishing. If only they had an adult to show them how to push their personal limitations. If they could see a training plan develop, witness the discipline to follow through and accomplish a goal at great personal cost and even know the physical toil such an endeavor can take maybe they would understand that they are capable of so much more than they can imagine. And how great would it be if that process was modeled for them by someone in their own home? What if it were me?
I wanted to find something that didn't come naturally to me. I wanted to pick a feat that I had even mocked or at least said that I could never and would never do. I am 5'8 and weigh 215lbs. To say the least, I am stocky. I was not created for long distance running and the closest I ever got to becoming a runner was the mandatory runs I did while a solider in the Army. With that in mind it became obvious to me that running is what I would have to do to accomplish the goal of setting an example for my sons.
I wish I could say that I immediately began training, but I didn't. I procrastinated. The weather was too hot or too cold. I was in a busy season at my office or the holidays were just around the corner. Still in my distant plans remained running a race. About 4 months ago I decided that I couldn't wait any longer. It was time to act. I'm not usually equipped to dream small dreams. I didn't want to simply run a 10k (a little over 6 miles) or even a half-marathon (13.1 miles). I was going for the full marathon distance of 26.2 miles! So four months ago I registered for the St. Jude's Marathon in Memphis, Tn. I agreed to run on a team to honor the son of a friend that lost his battle with cancer several years back. I can now say that I honestly didn't know what a wild ride I was about to take.
I began training immediately and had 2 setbacks due to injury. My impossible goal seemed even more distant with these injuries pushing my training schedule to the breaking point. I was left with accelerating my training well beyond what was recommended or even safe. My thoughts were that I would run this marathon or have a surgical reason why I didn't. I found out exactly why expert runners say, "running is 90% mental and the other 10% is in your head." It's true. Many Saturday mornings at 4:30am my mind said to stay in bed next to my warm wife and many days limping around with sore legs made it tempting to concede that running 26.2 miles is stupid and should not be done by rational humans. Yet the motivation remained and for the most part I stayed faithful to my training.
So after many miles of training and some pretty tense moments of self-doubt my wife and I loaded our boys into the car last Friday afternoon and began the trip to Memphis. About an hour away from Memphis we found a radio station that was having a telethon for St. Jude. Prior to each song parents who had lost children would come on and relive their story through tears and broken laughter. Having to choke back tears myself, it was becoming obvious that this race was a much bigger deal than I could imagine and it served a larger purpose than simply setting an example for my sons.
I was overwhelmed as I did the pre-race check in Friday night. People were selling gear that I had never seen or heard of. People were running in shoes I had never seen while I was running in some cheap New Balance shoes that were not designed to run races. Was I in over my head? Had I committed to a race that I had no chance of finishing? More crushing to me were the thoughts of explaining to my sons why their Dad couldn't finish. Blaming cramps, insufficient training or poor equipment would be antithetical to what I wanted them to learn from the whole thing. I was too anxious to fall asleep and too nervous to stay asleep. So despite the race not starting until 8:00am I was up and alert before 5:00am.
An amazing thing then happened, in the hotel bathroom of all places. While I was stretching and worrying my wife walked in with a sleepy smile. She said, "You know how I'm pretty intuitive?" And admittedly she is. She continued, "I know that despite your concerns that you are going to accomplish a lot today. You will feel great once this is over and most of all...you will finish. I am proud of you". Her confidence in me was what I needed. I knew at that point that I would not quit. I would not let up and if it meant crawling across the finish line on my bloody hands and knees, I would finish.
A couple of hours later the race began. Having never run a race before I was amazed at the entire scene. The volunteers, the people that would just randomly cheer you on and the signs were all motivational. Some signs were hysterical; like the one that simply read, "Worst Parade Ever" or "Toenails are for Sissies" (marathon runners often lose toenails due to the stress of repeated pounding). Other signs created a more somber mood like the one that had a picture of a child, obviously bald from his treatment, that died from cancer that simply read, "Keep on smiling! Jake always did." or the teenager that held up a sign that said, "I am alive and cancer free for 10 years because of heroes like you".
At the 13 mile mark, just shy of the halfway point, the highlight of the race thus far took place. I rounded a turn and looked up to see my wife and 3 boys waving and holding up the signs they made that simply read, "GO DADDY GO". I felt like crying. Receiving that level of love and support from them was indescribable. I had been running for about 2 1/2 hours and seeing them and getting a few hugs from them caused me to feel no pain. After a brief stop to load up on more carb replacement gel and to thank them for being there I started back running on Beale Street with my boys following behind me. I felt great and was well on my way to accomplishing my goal.
Then my enthusiasm and determination took a gigantic hit at mile 15. My legs began cramping severely and reduced me to walking for the first time in almost 3 hours. The pain was intense, but not as intense as the fear of injury. I can handle pain, but a true injury at this point would be demoralizing. I proceeded to run as much as I could and when the cramping became too severe I'd walk as fast as my stiff legs would carry me. Every step became a small victory laced with pain. I began to lean heavily on the marathon music my wife had downloaded to an iPod for me. For future reference, the lyrics "who runs the world...girls" is not encouraging.
I also began to try to go to a different place mentally. I'd try to think of funny things about the people running near me. Like the older woman that appeared to have had a total body skin transplant that had not yet attached as her loose skin seemed to flow fluidly over her soon-to-be-osteoporotic bones. Or the man that was more feminine than the skin transplant woman primarily because his breasts were larger than hers. He needed a man-bra to say the least. When I'd pass a younger, thinner runner with more expensive shoes and all the proper gear I would celebrate. When an older person would pass me I would notice my cramping a bit more. I was determined to finish and a new goal arose within me. Despite my pain I was determined not only to finish, but to not finish last. I began to contemplate how far I would go to finish ahead of someone. I had determined that if need be I would push down a weak old person prior to entering the stadium and crossing the finish line. If one of the wheelchair participants was about to win pushing them over would be too cruel. So for that scenario I simply would apply their wheelchair brakes and then make a mad dash to the finish line. Fortunately I finished ahead of 700 runners so I didn't have to show the ugly side of my competitive nature. Of course I am kidding and wouldn't harm another runner...I would hope not anyway.
There were also other comical events to keep one running, or in my case, limping. At mile 18 a non-sanctioned water spot was handing out cups. It wasn't until some liquid splashed up my nose as I was trying to continue running that I realized that it was beer. Beer in your nose is rarely a fun thing, but it was something different than the water and Gatorade I had enjoyed for hours so I figured it was a good thing for me. It was sometime after this that I could tell the moisture in my sock wasn't sweat. A toenail had ripped, maybe completely off, and blood was filling my sock a little more with every step.
I don't remember much about the last 5-6 miles. I do know that I never felt a "runner's high". I felt a runner's cramp, a runner's beer nose, a runner's ripped toenail and runner's nausea, but never a high. I do recall finally entering the minor league baseball stadium where the race ended. I sincerely wasn't sure if my legs would carry me to the finish line. The cramping muscles were bordering on a painful numbness and my knees weren't bending much at all. Suddenly I heard a man on the stadium PA system calling out hometowns and names of those finishing. Then I heard, "from Birmingham, Alabama...Blake Thompson!" as I was just a few yards away from the finish line. I crossed the finish line and some man stared into my eyes and said, "good job". A more effeminate man would have kissed him right on the lips. The relief mixed with pain caused a flood of emotions. A few steps later I heard my wife scream my name and I made my way to her and the boys at the wall that was normally the wall by 1st base. It was over and I was emotional. All of the training, all of the time and all of the current pain was for a good reason and a good cause.
The next few hours are blurry to me. I remember nausea, a lack of coordination and feeling like I was hung over from a three day drinking binge. I was even delirious enough to let my wife drive...I guess I figured any wreck would lead to me going to a hospital and maybe feeling better with some IV fluids. I was also overloaded with gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude, for my family helping me accomplish such an important goal and supporting me through the process. I was appreciative for a place like St. Jude that has helped so many sick children and their families. If you have never attended the St. Jude Marathon I encourage you to go next year even if you don't plan on running. If nothing else make a sign and cheer on some poor guy like me.
As I reflect today on the lessons I hope I lived out for my sons I know that like all good lessons, the teacher learns much more than the students. I have learned a lot about myself and I am more focused than ever about what matters most in life. I continue to think about a sign that I saw scattered throughout the course. It said, "Pain is temporary. Accomplishments are forever". My pain will go away and my toenail may even grow back, but the lessons I learned, and hopefully taught, this past weekend will never leave me. Here's to more races, more lessons and more memories!