{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, February 21, 2013}

English: Painting of Pheidippides.

English: Painting of Pheidippides. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) No, it’s not submissive group porn.

Don’t you hate it when runners talk to you about running? Then you’ll absolutely despise this column. Stop reading and I’ll see you in two weeks.

I ran my first marathon last weekend. Trained for it by running up and down the Pikes Peak Greenway trail, which apparently everybody in the Springs knew about but me. It runs north across the Air Force Academy up to Monument, south all the way downtown. People run, hike and bike it all the time. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

You meet the nicest people on the trail. Runners always greet one another, but you also meet people walking their dogs, sitting on benches, couples hand in hand, a grandmother and granddaughter out for their weekly bike ride. It’s a nice slice of community life.

Why run a marathon? Well, why not? The pain will be temporary, the accomplishment permanent. Six months of training on the trail, and I was on a plane to Austin.

I picked the Austin Marathon because of the most important part of any personal training plan: Run races where you can sponge off family and friends. My cousin in Texas fit the bill nicely.

At the starting line in front of the State Capitol, I review my ancient history. The first marathon was run 2,500 years ago, by a Greek soldier named Pheidippides. He ran the 26.2 miles (more or less) from the Plains of Marathon to Athens to report a great Athenian military victory. Then he died of exhaustion. Somehow this is supposed to be inspiring.

I am inspired to set a goal of not dying. Even better, to finish in under five hours. As I step over the starting strip, the timing chip on my shoelace transmits my bib number to the race timers. Here we go.

Training in Colorado Springs gives you a ridiculous advantage when you run at sea level. I’m taking slow, easy breaths while passing people who are breathing hard at mile 5. What do Texans do with all this extra oxygen, anyway?

One of the great things about big races is that so many people line the course and cheer you on. Runner bibs show your first name, so complete strangers can sit on their front lawns and say “Way to go Barry, you can do this!” It’s very sweet. And they hold signs that can be a welcome distraction. I particularly liked “Worst parade ever!” The first time, anyway.

At mile 13, I’m ahead of schedule; my arm timer says I have a shot at 4:30:00. Flush with endorphin-induced overconfidence, I recalibrate for a more aggressive finish. But at about mile 18, my legs start to mutiny, and a group of runners on a 4:40:00 pace slowly passes me. Gritting my teeth, I wonder: Why couldn’t Phidippides have had the classical Greek sense to die at 20 miles?

Mile 20 turns to 21, 21 to 22, and I start to think that maybe I can do this. Bear down, find the rhythm, one foot in front of the other. Run the mile you’re in. Suddenly, I pass mile marker 25. I bet I can run one more mile. Before I know it, I have.

Rounding the final turn, I can see the finish gate in the distance, and a cheering crowd. This must be “runner’s high”, because my eyes are tearing up and I am shaking my fist in the air. With a blood-curdling yell and a facial expression that would frighten small children, I sprint the final 100 feet. I stomp on the finish line for added effect.

A race volunteer puts a finisher’s medal over my head. I pose for a picture that I am sure I will pay way too much money for later.

Then I stagger to the timing tent and check my “chip time.” Four hours and fifty-two minutes, 2,508th place out of 3,631. The worst ranking of anything I’ve done in my entire life. I couldn’t be happier.