Born to Run (for cheeseburgers)

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My father dangled the bacon cheeseburger in front of my face. “This will taste SO delicious after you cross the finish line.”

This was my father’s idea of motivation. He clearly didn’t realize that the smell of beef does not motivate a marathon runner on mile thirteen. He could have handed me a drink of orange Gatorade. He could have given me a granola bar. But instead, he stuffed a piece of beef near my nose. I tried not to vomit.

Let me be clear, running a marathon was NOT my idea of fun. Cheeseburgers were much more appealing.

But in 2002, I was living in a very small village in upstate New York. I had moved there for my first job out of college and I was having a hard time making the transition from college disc jockey to professional desk jockey. I was 23 years old, healthy, and growing restless. When my incredibly toned co-worker, Maureen, asked me to join her in training for the Ottawa marathon, I told her that I had better things to do.

Unfortunately, I didn’t. I had already tried knitting, cooking and indoor wall climbing (the latter of which was clearly a mismatch), and had failed at all three. So, I had nothing better to do than run.

Training stunk. I lugged around town aimlessly, rocking out to Enrique Iglesias in my walkman while counting down the steps to pizza slices. Yet, I was a decent (slow) runner. I’d pop gummy bears in my mouth from my (weird) fanny pack while I jogged around neighborhoods where the cute football coaches lived.

Over time, my training runs grew longer. My legs grew stronger. Kilometers turned into miles, and single digit miles turned into double digit miles

Finally, it was the big event. When the race started, I was a nervous wreck. I was surrounded by people who certainly looked faster than me. They wore fancy watches to monitor their heart-rates  and expensive running attire with moisture wick fabrics. I wore deodorant and an old yellow cotton t shirt. Yet, when the start-gun shot, there was nowhere to go but forward. And so I ran.

Soon thereafter, I was in the back of the pack, but making perfect progress. I ran the first couple of miles with my friend. Then, she ran faster and I ran slower and we amiably parted ways. I just kept moving, trying to concentrate on the various spectators and pop-up posters on the racecourse. Things were going okay until halfway through the race.

At mile thirteen, my father dangled the cheeseburger.

At that point, I wanted to quit (and vomit). But I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t imagine driving home without having finished that doggone race. And my parents had driven all the way up to Canada from New Jersey to see me run and my mother was not going home until she had a picture of me under that finish line. (She needed bragging rights about her “international” marathon-running daughter.) And so, I kept moving.

The rest of the race is a bit of a blur. There was a singing Elvis on the sidelines. And a friend hopped in and ran a mile with me toward the end of the course. But the rest of my memories are all pain and Gatorade, Gatorade and pain.

After four hours and twenty-one minutes of the marathon, I crossed that gosh darn finish line. I don’t remember who won the race.  I don’t remember taking pictures with family.  I don’t remember the emcee announcing my name as I came to a running halt.

But I do remember finishing the race and thinking, “It’s over.”

Fifteen years later, I still like to run, but not more than four miles at any time. I still own the yellow cotton t-shirt that I wore on the day of the marathon. I still have the picture of me crossing the finish line. I still have the racer’s bib.

But I’m not a repeat marathon runner. While most marathon runners I know have gone one to run multiple races, I’m a one-time finisher. I’m incredibly proud to have finished that 2002 Ottawa race. And I’m even more thankful to have a healthy body which withstood the many, many steps of that course. But I don’t have the desire to ever run a marathon again.

I’d rather be a cheeseburger-eating cheerleader on the sidelines. Go, runners, go.

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