by Jesus Pineda in Stories, image by lululemon athletica

From 26 beers to 26 miles: A non-runner’s journey to the finish line

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I used to say that I was drinking a lot because there were a lot of parties, that I had gotten severely out of shape because of the weather and that I had become a couch potato because I found great shows and you cannot stop watching. I had to make a decision, I either die at 35 or I change my life. With the right motivation and knowing exactly what I could expect from myself, running seemed to be one activity that I could start doing on a regular basis.

Physical training

From May 1st to October 23th I ran almost 600 km. I had a plan, I bought books (about running), running shoes, I started to follow people on Twitter, I started to read blogs and the new me was born. I missed many parties and I started to perceive food as fuel. Once I thought I could, there was nothing that could stop me. I ran under the rain, with gray sky, sun, fog, in the morning, in the afternoon, at night, etc. I ignored pain, exhaustion, demotivation, mood, hunger, thirst, etc.

Psychological training

I did extensive research on the topic; therefore running became my new research interest. I was learning about the human body and interesting issues such as the controversial theory that humans evolved to become long distance runners to hunt. I read about the history of the marathon: the legend of Pheidippides, among other fun facts. I learned about fueling, recovery, clothing, injuries, etc. It was amazing how I could use my nerdiness to become a marathoner. I had my motivational music, motivational videos, documentaries, etc.

The marathon

(BMW Frankfurt Marathon: October, 30th 2011)
I approach my first marathon like it was my thesis defense, my first conference or even my wedding. I followed all the recommendations to avoid a cold, an injury and to be ready on time. I went to the Fair to pick up my stuff and tried not to walk too much. I just needed to pick up my number, buy my finisher’s T-shirt and get my portion of pasta. At 8 pm I was in bed thinking about the race and revisiting my initial goals. I woke up at 6 am because after all the training and the reading I knew exactly all the right steps to avoid blisters, chafing, sore nipples and other runner’s problems, therefore I needed to spend more time in the bathroom than a woman. I left the hotel and while I was heading towards the start line I said to myself: this is it, either glory or an ambulance.

Km 1-35

There I was, running the big event and I remembered one quote from the documentary “Run for your life” which goes “We can’t all be actors, we can’t all be singers, we can’t perform on the stage, but for that one day, for that time you are out there, it’s your stage, it’s your moment… ….”. I felt amazing and went through the first 10 km like I was going to win the marathon. It was difficult to keep my emotions at ease, a great lesson for my life. I had trained up to 32 km so I was able to enjoy those 30 km and I even performed better than during training, which I assume is normal given the circumstances, the adrenaline and of course, all the pasta and taper period before the race.

The breaking point (Km 35)

By Km 35 I felt the worst pain I have endured in my life, incidentally in a place where I never felt pain before (the bones in my feet). It was a terrible situation because I couldn’t face something that I was not familiar with. I had taken care of all the details (hydration, pace, respiration, power gels, etc) so I was still strong and motivated but that pain was beyond my tolerance. I basically started crying at that moment. I had to walk until the next aid station and one lady even hugged me. It was then when the real challenge started because I couldn’t imagine 7 km under that pain. Up to that point I had divided the race into 10 K goals. After this my best hope was one kilometer or so but I was not sure if I was going to be able to make it. I tried to keep it together and analyzed the situation objectively. I looked at the time (4:45 or something like that) and calculated my worst case scenario based on realistic expectations. I don’t know what happened but I kept going using the “one foot after the other” principle. The only thing that mattered to me was looking at the floor and walking-running as much as I could. I was not willing to give up after all I had gone through. My mind would ask me to stop and some part of me would disregard.

Km 40 and the runner’s high

When I reached the 40 km mark, I met a friend who had gone there to cheer me up. I stopped and exchanged a few words while drinking a coke he had bought for himself. I told him that I had like 20 minutes left to make it (there was a 6 hour limit). All of a sudden the pacemakers (5:59) reached the place where I was with my friend and I said “this is it, if I don’t continue with them, I won’t finish”. I approached one of the guys and asked him “are we going to make it?” and he replied “Auf jeden Fall” (something like “definitely”). After that I couldn’t feel anything anymore, I left my needs aside and ran those last 2 km with them as I was a professional athlete from Kenya. Those last meters were definitely the best run I have ever had. I finished in 5:53:03 and after I crossed the finish line I cried like a baby for a few minutes. I had never invested so much energy, time, passion, dedication, motivation and pain in anything.

There are no shortcuts in life, now I understand that and the marathon can be used as a life experiment in many ways. I learned a lot about myself “on the run” because you basically have to be with yourself for 6 hours. You have to be patient and now I feel that I can do pretty much anything, I just have to find the right method. This pain must be felt, the alternative, at least in my case, was much worse. That huge amount of pain is what makes this beautiful, what makes it special, what makes it worthy and the reason why you are reading this. The bright side is that this pain is not alone; it is accompanied by something else. It comes with hope and that is where you are once you finish the marathon. I struggled for almost 6 hours somewhere between agony and optimism and I triumphed over adversity. So, I’m human, I bleed, I cry, I feel but I’m also alive, healthy and that is what we have.

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