My First Marathon: 7 Essential Life-Lessons Learned at Age 66

marathonAfter I finished writing my book Mr. Mean:  Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome, I decided I needed a physical challenge to get myself out of my head and into my body. In the book I had talked about issues that often make relationships difficult including challenges I’ve had with depression and bipolar disorder.

When I told my son, Evan, he said, “How about a marathon.  We can train together and then do the run.”  I was a bit taken back by his suggestion.  “I’ve never run that far in my life,” I said, “and at sixty-six I don’t know if I can run that far even if I trained for 6 months.”  He suggested that he could run the marathon and I could run the half marathon, which didn’t sound quite so daunting.

I looked on the internet and found a run that sounded wonderful.  The Humboldt Redwoods Marathon and Half Marathon & 5K (just in case, I knew I could finish a 5K).  The description was inviting:  “32nd Annual event. Come run with us along the Avenue of the Giants in the scenic Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  Run beneath a canopy of some of the world’s largest and most beautiful trees.”  Sounded to me like a chance to run with some of the true elders of the planet.

But yikes, even the thought of a Marathon was daunting.  The name Marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon.   It is said that he ran the entire distance (26 miles, 385 yards) without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “Νενικήκαμεν” (We have won!) before collapsing and dying.  I didn’t want that to happen to me.

I had run for fun when I was younger, like twenty years ago.  When we lived in the San Francisco bay area, I had run the Bay-to Breakers, the Dipsea, and a number of fun 10 K races.  But that was a while ago.  I outlined a training routine and called my son in Oregon each week to share our experiences.  I ran three days a week, worked out in the gym two days a week, and did a long run on Sundays, increasing my mileage each week until I was well over 20 miles.

Some mornings in the summer I would get up at 4:00 AM so I could beat the heat.  I would run the first hour with a flashlight and enjoyed the beginning of the day and watching the sun rise.  I’ll tell you running for hours in nature is a wonderful way to commune with yourself and your connection to the Earth.  You learn things about your body, mind, and soul that you didn’t know before.

My son got injured halfway through our training schedule and decided to wait for next year to run, but I was committed and decided to give it a go.

My wife, Carlin, and I made the two hour drive north the day before the race to scope out the course and see that our cell phones worked.  I wanted to be sure she was close and could scoop me up if I needed help. I didn’t sleep much the night before, but the next day was bright and sunny, and not too hot.  It was perfect weather for the run.

Most of us were gathered by 8:00 AM.  I took the advice of a running coach to immediately get in line to “use the porta-potty as soon as you are registered.  When you’ve used it, get back in line again and continue until the race begins.”  It turned out to be very good advice.  No one wants to have an emergency along the way.

I started at the back, knowing that I was slow.  My goal was to go as far as I could go and finish if possible.  It was a magnificent run and I learned a lot about myself and about life.  Here are a few things that stand out to me now.

1. Start slow, finish slow, but finish.

They tell you to start slow, so you can finish strong.  But sometimes you start slow and finish slow.  I was more interested in the beauty of my surroundings and the joy of being in the giant redwood trees than trying to set any records for speed.  I chugged along looking up and around and letting my body get accustomed to the pace.

After 13 miles, my wife met me to give me some additional supplies.  As I started out on the second leg of this wonderful journey most of the runners were on their way back.  I knew if I could make it 6 ½ more miles out, I could make it the 6 ½ miles back again.  But that was more easily said than done.  I was already tired and had 13 more miles to go.

4 miles from the finish, the race organizers wanted to know if I was going to make it.  They wanted to dismiss the ambulance which was costing them $100/hour.  I told them I had the heart of a lion and the feet of a snail, but I would make it.  Carlin met me towards the end and drove along side of me.  We did the last mile together and my son called in for the last 385 yards to the finish line.

Sometimes the best things in life are slow and easy, not fast and furious.

2. It’s your race, run it your own way.

The first time I ran the Dipsea, I got distracted by other runners and ended up losing my footing and crashing.  When you’re running with a lot of other people, it’s easy to lose focus, to run faster than you wanted to run or slow down so you can socialize with someone interesting.

Finding the balance between running your own race and finding the flow of your social environment is never easy.

Unlike other times in the past, I ran my own race, kept to my own pace, and enjoyed the ride.

3. Sex motivates, but smiles and encouragement are even better.

OK, I’ll admit it.  In the past when I was doing a long run, I would stay motivated and focused by keeping my eyes on the backside of a pretty young woman ahead of me.  I would forget the pain and desire to quit and would keep on going.

I still enjoyed the pretty young women in the race, but that’s not what kept me going.  Although most people were as focused on “their race” as I was on mine, a number of people took the time to call out encouragement to me and offer friendly smiles which radiated, “You’re doing great.  Don’t give up.”

It was usually women who were encouraging.  The guys were mostly concentrated on getting to the finish line.  The women were more often running in twos and threes and were more tuned in to an older runner doing his best to hang in there.  I’ll be eternally grateful for the spontaneous kindness they offered.

3. Get strength from the ancestors.

Redwoods have grown and prospered in many areas of Europe, Asia and North America since the warm Paleozoic Era over 160 million years ago.

The Avenue of the Giants – a world-famous scenic drive, is by far the most outstanding display of giant trees in the California redwood belt.

Surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world, running in the midst of these ancient ones gave me strength to keep on going when my energy was running low.

4. Be grateful for simple pleasures and small successes.

Often the things we remember the most are the simple pleasures and small successes that occur in the midst of the big happenings in life.  For me having my wife with me all the way meant more to me than I can say.  Just knowing she had my back made me feel safe and warm.

An unexpected phone call from Judy and Brendan while I was running made my heart sing.  Talking with other friends when my energy levels were drained kept my heart singing with gratitude.

In my earlier incarnation as a younger runner I was concerned about where the after run party would be held.  Now I was more concerned about whether there would be a porta-potty on the route when I might need it (Thank God, there was).

Thoughtful volunteers not only handed out water and sports drink but picked up the cups that were thrown along the route.  They seemed genuinely glad to have us running and wanted to do everything they could to make it a great experience.

I loved the bag-piper who started us off and happy that the starting gun didn’t work (I hate loud noises in a quiet forest).

Everyone and everything seemed to conspire to support and encourage us.

5. Life is a dance we each do separately, together.

I had to train for the run myself.  No one but me could get me up and moving when I would rather sleep in.  No one but me could get me to started again after an injury had side-lined me for three weeks.  No one but me could run the race.

But I couldn’t have done it alone.  My wife was always there to encourage and support.  Running buddies shared their training tips.  Friends encouraged me not to overdo it and other friends encouraged me not to do too little.

And then there were the trees and the birds and the water and blue sky and all of nature singing out their praises of life.

6. At the end, it’s all about love and family.

I started cramping up at the 19 mile mark and I wondered for the first time if I would make it.  Many times I had been able to focus on healing energy and use the tools of Energy Psychology to heal myself as I ran.  But sometimes the body just can’t keep going.

An advantage to being one of the slower runners is that they opened the road while I was still running.  I could call my wife and have her drive out and meet me.  There were few cars on the road so she could drive slowly alongside me playing music and encouraging me with her eyes.

Shortly after she arrived, the cramps left.   She parked and walked with me awhile and we ran the last little leg together to the finish line.  My son, Evan, called to congratulate me on making it.  It really is all about our family, the family of life, and about the love we all share.

Someone asked if “running a Marathon was on your bucket list of things to do before you died.”  Not really.  It started with the spark of an idea to reconnect with my body after a long time exercising my mind.  It expanded to become a vehicle for letting a whole lot of love flood into my life.  What could be better than that?



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  1. Congratulations! I enjoyed the essay. I am confused by the paragraph that starts with “After 13 miles, “. I thought you ran a half marathon (13 miles)?

    • Rick, Glad you liked it. Yes, as I said after 13 miles I got resupplied by my wife and as I noted I was tired and I had only completed half the marathon. But on I went and finish I did.