By Matt Edwards
I’m standing in my corral. Some of the world’s best runners are part of the fluorescent mosh pit in front of me. The Chicago skyline shimmers in the sunrise above Grant Park. My eyes well up in reverence of the moment. Good thing I have a meticulously planned outfit for the occasion.
My running story began in 2008 when Marianna took me for a “date” to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas track, her high school alma mater, in Parkland, Florida, for what was advertised as a “5 mile run”. Little did I know that there was a silent warm up mile and cool down mile that didn’t count toward the stated goal of 5. Afterward, Marianna said, “You’ve got a good enough stride.”
By 2009 I was married to a runner, but far from one myself. I still needed to chase a ball and keep score. I was even desperate enough to play several seasons of ultimate frisbee to fulfill my competitive desires. But my Saturday mornings were still spent reading a book and sipping coffee as Marianna left the house for a long run. I didn’t understand what compelled her to step out the door.
I’m trying not to go too fast. My watch is confused by the labyrinth of skyscrapers. It’s spitting out times that don’t make any sense! Just chill. I’ve done this before. Ride the wave of experienced runners. Listen to your breath. Focus on your stride. Let’s chuck these gloves.
The first race to sink its teeth into me was the 8.6 mile Payette Lake Race in 2012. It was significant before it even began for two reasons: One, it would become the longest race of my life up until that point. Two, I bought my first pair of running shoes. A pair of grey and orange Asics helped give birth to the obsessively coordinated running ensembles.
I ran pretty well, for a guy who still didn’t train. But something about that experience was different. It might have been the pristine beauty of Payette Lake mirroring the pine covered mountains in the early morning sun. It might have been my oxygen deprived brain at over 5,000 ft. It might have been the taste of the post-race whole cone hops. I don’t know. But I think something about how much my feet hurt and how gassed I was at the finish line lingered as the most fulfilling part of the weekend: the feeling of truly giving it all I had. Something I hadn’t felt, or hadn’t pushed myself to, since my high school glory days.
I’m doing math as I cross each mile marker to check my pace. The mosaic of multinational runners has been ebbing and flowing, but running wisely. I’m halfway through and only 14 seconds off pace. I’m sticking to my plan.
Early in 2013 I joined the BAR. Marianna had been going for a while, and she finally convinced me to show up to a Sunday morning run at Camel’s Back. I was greeted by friendly faces and a place in line going up Kestrel. This weekly run soon became our version of church.
I ran the Payette 8.6 the next fall, this time in New Balances. I entered the race with an experiment in mind: to see if I could imagine myself sustaining that effort for 13.1. I shaved a minute off my time, won a ribbon that reminded me of my ketchup and mustard soccer days, and left McCall knowing I could run a half marathon.
Screw the math, I’m tired of it. I’m almost to mile 20 and pretty much on pace. Just grind it out from here, but stay chilly. You’re in good shape. A relaxed focus has got you here. Ride it out. Stay in the groove. Breath. But let’s get rid of these arm warmers.
Sure enough, first thing in 2014, Marianna and I picked a half marathon to do together. We settled on the Sun Valley half in early June. That gave us the entirety of five months to prepare. I did whatever Marianna told me to: I ran five days a week for the first time ever. Every Saturday was the longest run of my life. And believe me, my first 16 miler, in a downpour, almost ruined it for me. But, looking back, that run probably decided whether I was going to be a runner or not. The distance and conditions were relative misery, but, on top of that, I was experiencing intense stomach pain. I didn’t say anything to Marianna until we were finished because I knew she would have let me quit. My silence was fueled by my desire to not cut her run short and to avoid wussing out in anyway. And that right there has been the most valuable part about running with others. Whether with Marianna or my BAR-mates, the sense of community helps me give to others while simultaneously benefiting myself.
The Sun Valley Half Marathon came and went…great! I ran with Frank for the first time (we practically held hands for a mile), and I fulfilled my goal of running hard the whole way without losing too much steam by the end. I wore cotton socks for the last time, because of the huge blood blister I earned, I won a decorative dinner plate-thing, but most importantly, I became a runner. I was in.
That fall I returned to McCall for the Payette Lake Race, but this time for the 30k. It was the next notch in the belt, distance-wise, and it gave me great confidence that I could sustain that effort for 26.2. I mean, what’s so hard about running another 7.6 miles, right?
Last mile. Ignore the calves. Ignore the hip flexors. Post a time those guys have to chase at CIM. Damn, that wind almost knocked me over.
The spring of 2015 brought me to my first marathon: the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. I disregarded the advice to run your first marathon ‘just to run it,’ and instead shot for a Boston Qualifying time. I came up short that day, by a few minutes, but somewhere between the satisfaction of staying on pace through 22, feeling like I was in quicksand the rest of the way, fearing my neck would literally snap and let my head skip off the greenbelt and into the Boise River, and the tears I shed after the finish, something impenetrable and eternal happened: I became a marathoner. I did the hardest thing I had ever done, and I knew I had to do it again.
PR. PR. PR. Let’s soak this up and start thinking about New York.