Running: Running and failure
If you ran the Philadelphia Marathon or Half Marathon today, you're probably reading this column after you're done. Some of you had a fantastic race. I probably high-fived you at Mile 22, where I was set up for the day.
But some of you, despite training for months, had a bad day. Maybe you didn't finish, or barely pulled yourself across the finish line, and right now are stewing over a beer you don't want to drink at what was supposed to be a celebration party. Instead of laughing with your friends, you're staring at your phone reading this column so you don't need to hear them talk about their great races. You might be telling yourself that was the last mile you'd ever run.
I doubt that you're throwing away your shoes any time soon, or that this was your last race. I know because I've been there.
I ran the Chicago Marathon last fall. My time - 4 hours, 56 minutes, 17 seconds - was a disaster, more than a half-hour slower than I had run the Philadelphia Marathon the year before. I almost quit running entirely after that miserable day.
But I didn't.
I could give you a lot of reasons. I could cite one of the hundreds of studies that show running is good for the body, or that running helps my writing and that I've come up with more than half the columns I've written this year while out on the road.
But it's not a perfect sport. I'm sure I'd be thinner if I devoted myself to some other kind of exercise that also didn't come with a constant, clawing hunger. And it's not as if I'm good at this. As much as I train, I'm never going to be anything more than a middle-of-the-pack runner.
I'm still here, though, seven years after my first 5K, because running has led me to realizations that have nothing to do with the sport. Some are small - like deciding that I needed to end a relationship while out on a short run. But others are big, and coping with failure is one of them.
I flew to Chicago last week, my first trip back since the marathon. The day before my flight, I learned that I had whiffed on an incredible professional opportunity. After I got the news, I lay in the bottom of my shower until long after the hot water had run out, telling myself that I didn't belong in this business and that maybe I should get a job in a field that didn't require regular bloodletting.
When I landed in Chicago, though, I ran to Millennium Park, to the site of the Chicago Marathon finish line. The last time I was there, I was a heaving, shaking mess, my legs and hips screaming, my arms chafed, and I wondered why I had even bothered showing up that day.
But here's the thing about failure: It's all relative. Yes, I considered that race a failure, but I still made it to the starting line that day despite a chronic illness that had stifled my training, and I still finished. And seven months later, I ran the best race of my life, killing both my Philadelphia and Chicago marathon times.
So as I stood in an empty, windy, and cold Millennium Park at dusk, I thought about who I was a year ago in that spot and how quickly I recovered. And I decided that maybe I wasn't a bad writer after all, and that I wouldn't give up my day job just yet.
For those who had a bad race Sunday: I know you're in pain - physically and mentally - and thinking that you threw away 12, 16, 18 weeks of training on a terrible race. But it wasn't a waste. You learned something about yourself in that training, and today you didn't fail. You ran more miles, and faster, than the person who decided to not even try. If running has taught me one thing, it's that there's always, in anything, a chance to bounce back.
Gore-Tex Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon. Wheelchair and handcycle competitions begin at 6:57 a.m.; Runners begin at 7. 22d Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The King's Run 5K, 1-mile walk,
1K Kids Fun Run. At Christ the King Regional School, Haddonfield. 5K at 8:30, registration, pickup at 7:30. 5K and 1-mile walk $20 ($25 race day) and 1K kids run $10 ($15 race day). Registration @ckrs.org or runsignup.com. Long-sleeve T-shirts for the first 300 registrants.
E-mail date, name of race, site, time and fee, plus registration information, to sports editor John Quinn at email@example.com. Put Running calendar in re: field.