Lessons Learned: Best and Worst Marathon Moments

marathon running

It’s officially Fall, which means the weather’s cooling down, people are craving pumpkin spice everything, andbest of allit’s marathon season! Having run a couple hundred of them over the years, I’ve had my share of memorable moments along the way. Here are my best and worst memories of a life on the run and the lesson they taught me.

Best Moment

Big Sur International Marathon, 2014: The start of the Big Sur International Marathon is in the little township of Big Sur, 26.2 miles down the twisting and curving Pacific Coast Highway in California. Most of the nearby hotels are located in Monterey—near the finish line—so runners start boarding buses towards the starting line early in the morning. Sounds great, right? Not for me.

As someone prone to carsickness, I ran out to the starting line instead. Yes, I knew it would end up being a bit more than a double marathon, but I figured it beat riding the bus. I left my hotel around 2:00 AM—right when the bars were letting out —with a hydration pack, some energy gels, a reflective vest, and a headlamp. I was well prepared to huff it down to the coastline.

This was nothing new for me; in fact, bypassing the bus and heading over to the starting line on foot has become something I really look forward to. Over the years, people riding started noticing a guy running in the same direction; some even watched me run up to the starting line at about the same time the gun went off to run back the other way (I tried to plan my arrival so I wouldn’t have to stand idle for too long).

In 2014, something peculiar happened. As one of the buses went roaring past me, a passenger lowered the window and out popped a banana. “Funny,” I thought, “I’m in the mood for a banana.” I ran over and snatched it from the roadside. Then it happened again. Another banana. Weird. It finally dawned on mepeople were doing this on purpose. It was a supportive type of road assistance.

Since that day, it’s almost become a game. In subsequent years I’ve had energy bars, Gatorade bottles, bags of chocolate-covered espresso beans, and even hand-written notes tossed out the window. At this years race, the Grizzled Vets bus (a small platoon of legacy runners who have participated in every Big Sur International Marathon since inception) convinced their driver to pull the bus over and had hot coffee and an entire platter of food waiting for me. Kind, but also a little evil because I wanted to hop on their bus after that. But, alas, they made me run.

Lesson Learned: Crossing the finish line is gratifying, but the journey along the way is the real treasure.

Worst Moment

Chicago Marathon, 2010: Every runner’s had that uncomfortable feeling. You’re standing at the starting line waiting for the gun to go off—surrounded by thousands of other runners—when nature calls. This real-life experience happened to me, and sets the ground for my worst marathon moment.

Of course, the porta-potties didn’t emerge until the third mile, which was three miles further than I wanted to run. By this point I was in a state of near desperation. I had to go “big potty” as my kids used to say. Thankfully, there was no line. I dashed into the portable facilities and locked the door. From there, things should be quick, right? Wrong. As I tried to pull down my shorts, I realized that I’d snagged my shorts while pinning my race number on my jersey. The two were attached!

The harder I tried to yank down my shorts, the more I just pulled on the collar of my shirt. They weren’t lowering! I started to fumble with the safety pin trying to remove it, but at this point, my dexterity was shot. Ah! In a brief moment of clarity, I decided the most prudent thing to do was tear open the collar of my shirt and pull my whole ensemble down. It worked! Relief. I took care of business and prepared to get back on course, but the collar of my shirt was now ripped to the size of my waist. Resourcefully, I removed that malevolent safety pin and used it to hold things together so that I could keep going. I got a couple funny looks along the way, but it sure beat what the alternative could have been.

Lesson Learned: Use the Food Log in your Fitbit App to track your meals and snacks, and cut back on high-fiber foods a few days in advance.

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