Better than Average.
Yesterday was perfect running weather. It was about 50 degrees when we woke up at 5am, but it quickly dropped to 45. A little windy, but not too bad. Crisp. And 25,000-ish of us lined up to run the Philadelphia Marathon and Half-Marathon. I was a half-marathon runner. As always, BB was right beside me.
We took off at a pretty good clip. Fast for me, anyway. We were running about 9:30 miles according to the marathon clock, which really means a little faster because we don’t run tangents perfectly and we have to weave around slower runners. People like us, in the pack, not elites, always end up running about 1-2% further than the actual course distance that’s laid out.
We passed the 10K mark at 58:51, which is a pretty damn good pace for me. I felt good, and the weather was holding perfectly. It was cool enough that I was sweating a lot less, and that meant I didn’t have to stop for water as much. Though this might’ve been a mistake, strategically. At the 9 mile mark, BB suddenly felt awful, because she hadn’t been taking in enough calories.
She slammed down a package of Skratch chews, about 200 calories of sugar, and then took Gatorade and water at the next station. Feeling better, she turned up the speed. I accelerated with her, and thought about asking her to dial it back a bit, but decided to give it everything I had for as long as I could before easing up.
I had it until the end. We accelerated through the rest of the race. I was watching the time on my wrist, and felt like a personal record was in play. Just running harder and harder for the last mile I felt really good, even though it was a lot of work (My heart rate was well above what the American Heart Association uses as the rough age-guideline max. I hit 190, the “max” is 179.)
We crossed the finish line at 2:02:15. Well BB did. I was 1 second later, despite the fact that we were holding hands. But that’s a new personal record by a minute and twenty-seven seconds. Or six seconds per mile. I know that six seconds per mile doesn’t sound like a lot, but a 10-second difference in pace feels enormous to me. And so I could easily feel the difference in speed between this race and the Navy/Air Force half we ran two months ago.
So far, every race BB and I have run – with the exception of Providence, when we were deliberately running easy with a friend – we’ve set a personal records. The margin keeps getting narrower, but we’re doing it. I think there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to break the two-hour mark when we lace up for Virginia Beach. If we don’t, that’s ok.
But the really cool thing about this result, in Philly, is that for the first time I placed in the top half of both men, and men my age. I finished faster than 52% of men, and 51% of men 40-44. I cannot begin to write about the pride that gives me. After so long, so much work. So many deep sloughs in my life. After being obese, and a pack-a-day smoker, and an embittered, suicide drunk for 12 years. Now, sober nearly 8 years, finally basically fit and healthy, I am finally better than average.
I am better than average. Compared against my peers, at this thing I’ve chosen to invest myself in. For thousands of miles run and tons of weights lifted. Hundreds and hundreds of hours put in. Years of effort. Going from some days unable to get out of bed to face the world. Unable to make it from sun up to sun down without a bottle of liquor. Unable to go an hour without a cigarette. Going from there, to running 13.1 miles in just over two hours, faster than half the men who tried that day.
I’m proud of myself. I don’t know how proud one should be for finally being ever-so-slightly better than average at something. But for this, for now, for me, it’s a lot. And that’s tinged with a peculiar shame and sadness that I can’t quite put my finger on or wrap any words around. But that’s where I am.