OGDEN — Running is hard.
OK, so I suppose I’ve always known this on some abstract, theoretical level. But until recently I didn’t have an actual, working knowledge of the self-evident truth.
And now I do.
On Saturday, this fat, aging journalist staggered through the 5K portion of the 2018 Ogden Marathon. That fact isn’t particularly newsworthy — at least, no more so than the hundreds upon hundreds of other people who stretched beyond their physical and emotional comfort zones that morning to insist on doing what their minds and bodies told them was not a particularly bright thing to do.
No, the real story of the 2018 Ogden Marathon was the highly conditioned athletes who ran the 5K in less time than it took me to figure out how to attach the timing chip to my shoelace. Or the dedicated fitness folks who gutted out the entire 13.1 miles of the half-marathon. Or the truly psychotic, hard-core runners who figured they’d just go ahead and do the equivalent of TWO half-marathons on Saturday morning.
But for me, at least, Saturday’s race was something of a personal milestone. Although my father was a runner in high school, his son clearly inherited none of those genetic abilities.
Indeed, in a shoebox in a closet somewhere there’s an old black-and-white photo of my father in his high school track uniform, gazing off into the distance like he’s picturing himself on the winners’ podium at the end of a glorious footrace. While my children have photos of me gazing off into the distance like that, it’s usually squinting to see if the “HOT NOW” sign is on at the Krispy Kreme down the street.
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Bottom line? Saturday was the very first time in my almost 59 years on the planet that I’ve run a race. Any race. Ever.
It all started three months ago, when the powers-that-be at the Standard-Examiner thought it would be great fun to make a confirmed couch potato run in the Ogden Marathon. Soon, the GOAL Foundation (organizers of the annual Ogden Marathon) and McKay-Dee Hospital were in on the conspiracy, providing all sorts of expertise and equipment in an effort to overcome nearly six decades of abject inertia.
Underwater treadmills. High-tech running shoes. Personal trainers seemingly bent on my utter destruction. And a registered dietitian — registered, mind you, not one of those fly-by-night unregistered types — to make me feel guilty about virtually everything I put into my mouth.
In 90 days, I basically went from a fat, lazy, middle-aged guy binge-watching Netflix every night after work to a fat, lazy, middle-aged guy who could only dream of binge-watching Netflix every night after work because he was constantly training for that stupid race.
In fact, prior to Operation Make Mark Exercise, the extent of my fitness regimen was my beloved wife nagging me into going for a walk with her. She lovingly refers to these events as “walking the Mark,” as in: “I’m sorry, Sylvia. I’d love to go to a movie with you, but I really should walk the Mark tonight.”
It’s like walking the dog, except the missus doesn’t have to bring plastic bags in the event of an “accident.” (She makes me bring my own.)
On Saturday, just before the start of the 5K, an elderly red-haired woman walked up to me at the starting line. She recognized me from the newspaper and said that she and her husband were running in their fifth 5K at the Ogden Marathon.
“I’m 79 years old,” the woman then proclaimed with a smile, “and I’m just hoping I can beat you.”
And all I could think was: “Oh, great. On top of everything else, now I have to worry about the humiliation of getting smoked by a pair of nearly 80-year-olds.”
I’d really hoped I might be able to run the entire 3.1-mile course on Saturday. But five minutes into the race, the combination of excitement, nerves and a heretofore-sedentary lifestyle took its toll, and I slowed to a walk for one minute to catch my breath.
It was clearly time for a Plan B. I quickly decided that for the remainder of the race I would run for two minutes, then walk for one minute, then run for two more, and walk for one more, and so on.
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That way, I figured, at least I’d be running twice as much as I was walking.
I’d love to be able to say I felt this amazing sense of accomplishment wash over me as I approached the finish line of my first race, but all I really felt was total exhaustion. I couldn’t savor the moment, as I barely remember crossing the finish line.
I do remember stopping, hands on knees, and asking no one in particular, “Is it over? Am I done? Can I stop now?”
And the sadistic answer from one of the medical personnel: “No, we need you to keep moving so you don’t get sick.”
“Keep moving?” I thought. “Beyond the finish line? Did I not sign up for a 5K, not a 5.1K? Listen, if I’d wanted to keep moving past this point, I would’ve signed up for the half-marathon.”
I will say the folks at the GOAL Foundation do know how to put on a marathon. At the finish line there was this incredible party vibe going on. It was like downtown Ogden realized her parents were out of town for the weekend, so she invited all the cool kids over to her place for an all-night kegger. With just a little less puking.
But not much.
If I’m reading the results correctly, I finished with a time of 44:20. That was good enough for 331st overall, and 14th in my “division.” (That division possibly being “Dudes Over 55 Who Should Probably Take Up Shuffleboard. Or Pickleball.”)
And in the end, I didn’t even beat that 79-year-old woman. Near the completion of the race I caught a glimpse of her ahead in the distance, crossing the finish line.
I did, however, manage to just edge out her husband.
And for that, I’m quite certain, my runner father would be proud.