And now, a guest post from our very own Roger Long!
“You’re nuts,” was followed by “honey” or “bro” or “friend” when I first told people close to me that I was going to run the Marine Corps Marathon (my first marathon) in Washington, D.C., on October 27th, a little less than six months from the day I made the proclamation. A few experienced friends were much more diplomatic while cautioning me about the rigors of and commitment to the training required to run 26.2 miles. Over the years, and especially the last three, I’ve found that when family or close friends say I’m nuts or crazy when I tell them my plans for a new adventure, I’m usually on the right path for me. Like countless others who set out on similar paths, deep down I just need to know if I can do it.
According to Running USA, 487,000 people in the United States finished marathons in 2012, and had the ING New York City Marathon been held, the number most likely would have surpassed the previous record for marathon finishers (518,000) set in 2011. Of those who finished a marathon in 2012, 46% were in the 40+ age bracket (my age bracket), and the average age of finishers was 38.
I chose the Marine Corps Marathon specifically to honor my sons, both of whom are Marines, and to do something to help other military families. I am running as part of Team Fisher House representing the Fisher House Foundation, which offers free accommodations for the families of ill or wounded servicemembers at their facilities located on federal installations near military hospitals or VA medical centers. I’m definitely not alone in my desire to participate in a sporting event to benefit others; approximately 11.5 million people walked, ran, or biked for charity in 2012.
The decision was made easier because the MCM is known as “the People’s Marathon,” with no prize money offered and the highest percentage of first time marathoners of any major marathon in the United States. Approximately one third of MCM participants are first-time marathoners. For several years I had trouble walking, much less running, due to young onset Parkinson’s disease. I used a cane and a leg brace to aid with mobility. I dreamed of walking normally, and the thought of running again seemed as likely as taking a trip to the moon. When I began what has become my recovery three years ago, I set out to learn how to walk normally again, and after 2,500 miles of walking, hiking, and mountain climbing, I decided it was time to run. I was cautioned by others to start with a 5K or 10K, but I like to dream big. An athlete for much of my pre-Parkinson’s life, I believe if you’re going to climb mountains, climb one of the tallest in the world. If you’re going to run, run a marathon.
I researched running plans, and based on the wealth of information available, I prepared a plan of my own. The spreadsheet on my fridge details every planned run over the course of the 23 weeks between the day I ran my first mile and the date of the marathon. I followed the plan religiously, and the first several weeks of the training program were great as I experienced the joy of running again. Then the injury bug bit. Like many first time marathon hopefuls, the effects of over-training began wearing me down faster than my body could recover.
Five weeks ago my left leg began rebelling (old injuries and a resurgence of a PD-related muscle issue). Every time my left leg strikes the ground is painful. Every day I waver between being confident then doubtful regarding whether I will be able to complete the race within the official time limit of 7 hours. Since this is my first marathon, I don’t know if these thoughts are normal or if I’m allowing the pain and fatigue to play games with my thoughts. I consoled myself with the thought that at least the hundreds of training miles using the Charity Miles app for Wounded Warrior Project and the Michael J. Fox Foundation would make a difference in the lives of others regardless of the outcome of the race.
I look forward to the race, both for the experience and to finally know the outcome of all the effort. At a recent running clinic for those severely injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, two-time Boston Marathon winner Joan Benoit Samuelson said, “The most inspiring stories are at the back of the pack.” Since near the back of the pack is where I will most likely be, I look forward to sharing the experience with others who will inspire me over the course of the 26.2 miles.
Just days ago, I read a story about a Venezuelan man with muscular dystrophy who recently finished the Chicago Marathon. It took him nearly seventeen hours to finish the race. When I thought about the man’s incredible feat of perseverance, I realized that it really doesn’t matter if I get an “official” finish time. All that matters is that I finish what I set out to do, regardless of how long it takes or how much pain I must endure: to honor my sons, to have a personal victory over Parkinson’s, and to have an opportunity to show others, especially those who battle physical challenges, what they’re capable of doing – just as others who came before me showed me the way. The only difference is whether or not I earn a finisher’s medal.