Lee: Marathon is moment of truth as runner

Emanuel Lee

The moment of truth has arrived. On Aug. 23, I’ll be running my first-ever marathon in Santa Rosa. The starting gun goes off at 6 a.m.; my finishing time, of course, has yet to be determined. My goal is to finish in 3 hours, 27 minutes, 34 seconds, which equates to a 7:55-minute mile pace over the 26.2 miles.
Even though my training went relatively well, the doubts have already crept in my head. Am I mentally and physically ready? Did I train hard enough? Did I properly recover from the grueling workouts? I’m about to find out. The race has been a long time coming. For many endurance athletes, you can only call yourself a true triathlete or marathoner if your calendar is filled with upcoming races.
But I’ve never needed a race to motivate me to get fit and, more importantly, stay fit. I’ve found a higher purpose: training for the sake of training. This mentality has helped me stay in shape year-round in the absence of competition. Besides, official competition isn’t cheap—it typically costs anywhere from $100 to $200 to run a marathon.
However, the lure of the Boston Marathon—my ultimate goal is to qualify for America’s most iconic running race—has come calling. The ironic thing is I’ll probably have a more realistic chance of qualifying 18 months from now—when I turn 40—than today. In order to qualify for the Boston Marathon in my age group (males 35-39), I would have to finish in 3:10, or a brisk 7:15-minute mile pace (no one said it was easy).
When I turn 40, I get 5 extra minutes to qualify, meaning I’ll have to run at approximately a 7:26-minute mile pace. Nine extra seconds per mile is an eternity in the running world, and I’ll need every one of those to qualify for Boston. I only have one other official race under my belt, as I ran a 15K (9.3 miles) Double Road Race in San Juan Bautista in September 2014.
So why tackle my first marathon, at the age of 38? I’ve logged enough 20-mile runs since then to know I’m ready for the challenge. The marathon represents one of the best tests of physical stamina, mental toughness and dogged determination.
It’s also an appropriate metaphor for life: You get what you put into it. There is no luck involved in finishing a marathon—hard work, grit, desire and a willingness to suffer miles upon miles are some of the key ingredients to running the best race of your life. And yet the humbling reality is all of that still might not be enough to hit a personal-record.
What happens on mile 22, when the inner voice is telling you to quit, that’s it’s too hard? That you’ve run 22 freaking miles, and you still have four miles and change to go?
The marathon represents the ultimate moment of truth: You either put in the time to train or you didn’t. When you get to the starting line, there are no excuses. Although there will be hundreds of other runners on the course in addition to hundreds of spectators—the Santa Rosa Marathon is one of the more popular races in Northern California—in reality, it’s just you out there alone, battling your layers of self doubt and willingness to break through mental barriers that for so long have prevented you from achieving your full potential.
Running a marathon represents many things: It’s a chance for redemption, an opportunity to run for those who can’t. Like my dad, Thomas, who died 15 years ago at the age of 49. I still remember him pushing me on my tricycle, saying, “Go son, go!” And off I went.
When I got my first bike a year or so later, he said the same thing: “Go son, go!” There’s another person I’ll be thinking about during the race, and I don’t even know her name. When I lived in Fremont years ago, I used to do intervals on my road bike on a mile-long straightaway.
I rode that strip almost everyday for several years, whether it was for intervals, to finish up a recovery ride and as part of a long riding session. The one constant was seeing an old lady walk that straightaway as if her salvation depended on it. It took her 35 minutes to complete that mile-long stretch, and you knew it wasn’t easy.
Yet she kept coming back, time and again, walking with her cane and showing a fierce determination to never give up. On basically one leg, this lady—her weathered face made her look like she was 90 years old—displayed a resolve that was downright admirable. Run for those who can’t.
The marathon is a battle of attrition, an opportunity to unearth something great out of adversity. In David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell wrote, “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.”
It’s only in those moments of hardship where you can truly grow and become something greater than you could’ve ever imagined.

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