That Marathon Guy
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
I leaned heavily on the car door and gingerly stepped from the vehicle.
My quads felt like tree stumps as I shuffled to the curb and forced my foot to clear the 6-inch obstacle. The uneven grass challenged my ability to balance as I sought the smooth security of the sidewalk.
My stride opened up with each successive step as my wife quickly joined me. We paused at the street intersection and habitually looked both ways. Instead of cars zooming down the street there were a handful of runners toiling their way along the final leg of the race course.
I had finished the same marathon course almost four hours earlier.
In the meantime, I had taken my time to cool off, eat some post-race food, ice my legs, down a couple cartons of chocolate milk and lay in the grass. Then, I returned to our hotel where I took a short nap and a long, hot shower before packing up and going out for lunch.
Now, I was patiently shuffling along the sidewalk trying to make it to a couples massage session at a day spa, while contemplating how long it would take me to travel the four blocks necessary to enjoy that massage.
Our romantic getaway weekend had begun, in a characteristic fashion if you know my wife and I, with me running the St. George Marathon. It was our first overnight alone in 3-1/2 years and it was clear that I wouldn’t be up for much more than a massage at this rate.
We cheered on a pack of three runners who slowly ambled their way in front of us before crossing.
They were in great spirits and making jokes about how slow they were going and how you couldn’t call it running.
They had a point, because they were barely power walking at this point. But, they were having fun or at least their smiles hid some inner hell they were experiencing.
That afternoon, my wife and I sat on a park tour bus in Zion National Park, revisiting the site of our marriage.
My hobbling must have been a dead giveaway because I was bombarded by questions about whether I had run the marathon that day.
We engaged in some entertaining conversation, before going off about how the people we have real respect for in the marathon world are the five, six and seven hour marathoners instead of those speedy 2- and 3-hour speedsters. Seven hours is a long time to be on your feet for any reason, particularly while pounding pavement for 26.2 miles.
We wondered aloud, “what did those people do to get to that point? What did they look like six months ago? What prompted them to sign up for a marathon? Who are those people?”
“I’m that guy,” a voice called out from the seat behind us, as heads turned in unison. “I’m your typical 6-hour marathon guy.”
Bill hails from southern California. He is a high school principal, vacationing with a couple of colleagues and their spouses.
None of them look like the slender gazelle-like figures you see in running magazines and advertisements, yet all of them are runners.
He described how he got started running late in life when a friend encouraged him to try it as a way to get fit for climbing Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48. After running a few 5K and 10K races, he figured, why not sign up for a marathon.
Never having run over ten miles, he hobbled deep into the 6-hour range on that first effort and thought he was going to die.
But he caught the bug and completed four more marathons over the next 12 months.
He runs a few marathons a year, but has never broken 5 hours and now prefers the half marathon distance, which his wife enthusiastically agreed with.
She too picked up running and regaled us with their tales of travel to distant races and long weekend getaways.
Running became their thing, their reason for exploring new places and spending time together.
His colleagues chimed in with stories of their 24-hour-plus relay race exploits. They put together a few teams a year and pile into a van to run, drive and attempt to sleep in a smelly, sweat-soaked van all day and through the night.
I’ve done two such races and both times have sworn it’s my last.
These guys keep signing up because they say it’s fun, even though they struggle to get the standard 10 or 12 people for a team and end up running extra legs of the relay.
I sat there, thoroughly impressed with Bill’s excitement for the sport. Granted, I’ve met a lot of runners over the years, but Bill was one of the purest embodiments of “That Guy” I had ever run into.
Running, as evident from his stories, wasn’t easy for him. He didn’t win awards and may never break 5 hours for a marathon.
While healthier than he started, he still looked more like a potato in jeans than a distance runner.
My wife and I have often asked ourselves why we run.
Why put ourselves through so much physical pain when running those long races? She says that’s where the passion lies.
Bill runs because there’s a feeling to it that makes you want to keep coming back.
Whether you’re running alone on a cold, dark morning or with a posse of grown men all past their athletic primes, running has a spirit to it that calls to many of us day in and day out.
You can see it on the faces of people when you travel to races.
At the start of any race there is an energy and excitement throughout the pack that is contagious. Even at the finish of a grueling race when everything hurts you can look back on the miles you traveled and see the story you just created.
Those stories, the ones we make for ourselves each day because of the challenges we chose to take on, are the ones I like to make.
Those are the stories that I remember with intense joy, just as “That Guy” does as well.
The couples massage after my marathon was great, heavenly even, but I might choose to get my next one on a quiet tropical beach for our next romantic weekend.
Nah, that’s not nearly as fun of a story as 26.2 miles.
Mike Schneiter is a Glenwood Springs High School teacher and coach, owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides and is a Brooks Inspire Daily athlete.
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