I have earned many finisher’s medals since my return to running in November of 2009. On the right is a small photo of most of them. Each medal has a story, a context, a tale of triumph, defeat, friends, and laughs.
Why would I only display 9 of them on my medal rack? Because some memories/achievements are bigger than others. These are the stories I want to remember. These are the stories I want to tell.
From left to right…
Knoxville Marathon 2010: The first medal represents my first marathon. In March of 2010, I was less than well-informed about the needs of an endurance athlete. My training was sparse. I had no nutrition plan. I had taken one drink of water on one training run. That was it. Nothing else had passed through my lips on a training run. No calories. One drink of water on one long run. If you know anything about endurance nutrition and hydration, you know where this led. I ran reasonably well until mile 17 and the bottom fell out. My legs locked up and I could barely walk. The skies grew dark and a cold, windy rain set in. I walked the rest of the way. I shivered. I must have looked pitiful, because the medics checked on me frequently for the rest of the marathon. I was determined that I did not need help and I would finish. I did. 5:34:38. Then I could barely move for a week. Good times. I am not a quitter.
Knoxville Marathon 2011: The second medal happened 1 year later. One year of studying running. One year of reading and studying. One year of training. One year of learning about hydration and nutrition. I only ran two races between my first and second marathon, but I trained. I didn’t train every day, but I trained all year. This time when I got to mile 17, I could feel that my body was being challenged, but I knew how to pace myself. I paid close attention and ran as fast as I could without cramping. I gradually slowed down, but never stopped. 3:55:59. More than 1.5 hours faster than the first try. Consistent studying and training pays off.
7 Bridges Marathon 2012: In the fall of 2011, I ran my third marathon, the Seven Bridges Marathon in Chattanooga, TN. I had done more studying and a lot more training. I managed to shave another big chunk of time, finishing in 3:27:27. This was great progress and I was very happy, but it was also painful. I cramped hard in mile 26. I was on pace to qualify for Boston until that moment. I could see the finish line, but I could not get to it. I had to stand and wait for my legs to calm down. My time was 2 minutes and 27 above the Boston mark for my age group. But this medal is from the 2012 Seven Bridges Marathon. Why this one? It marks my victory over two things: cramping and gluten. I had started the 2012 Knoxville Marathon in April, but had to stop. I had been getting weaker during my taper instead of stronger. I tried to ignore it, but I could not. I spent more than half of 2012 trying to figure out why I was sick. Finally in September, I was diagnosed as gluten-intolerant. I stopped eating wheat for 6 weeks. Then I ran the 7 Bridges Marathon. Even though I had been weak for 6 months, I had trained anyway. I was hoping that the slow paces would pay off because of the big efforts that it took to fight through my weakened state. That gamble paid off at 7 Bridges. My slower, weaker, but valiant attempts at training during my illness led to a finish time of 3:22:44. I had beaten gluten. I had beaten the cramps. I had qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time. This medal will always have a place on my medal rack.
Shamrock Marathon 2013: After that, I was healthy and ready to score another big PR. I had now studied three very different marathon training strategies. I had even written a book about running. I was laser-focused. I had very consistent training with a very consistent strategy. It paid off again. Even though I still gradually slowed down, I did my best job of pacing ever. I did cramp just a bit, but I was 100 yards from the finish. I jogged it in for a 3:13:22. My second BQ (Boston-Qualifying time). Not only that, but I had BQed by more than 9 minutes.
Indianapolis Marathon 2013: This one was only a PR by 37 seconds, but this is amazing in and of itself. Why? Because my training strategies varied greatly. I was starting to play with speed. I ran shorter distances and did a lot more speed-work. I was reading and studying like always, but I was testing out my own theories about training. I was also racing A LOT. It was a couple of months from the marathon before I started getting a bit more focused. I was gambling that my endurance base was maintained through out all of the different training strategies. That gamble paid off. Even though I did not make significant progress, I did show that I could maintain my fitness level. This is remarkable because I was 45 years old. At this age, we are expected to gradually become slower. I had not slowed down. I was 15th place overall. Not bad.
Boston Marathon 2014: This was one of my worst races ever. I knew by mile 6 that I was not feeling well enough to run a good race. I gradually slowed from under 7 minute pace down to trying to maintain a 12 minute pace. It was physically and emotionally painful. As painful as this was, I understood that this was just a bad day. I tried to smile and wave to the crowds a lot. I knew my wife was waiting for me. I knew she was worried as my splits kept showing slower times. Every time I crossed a timing mat, I was telling her “I’m okay. I’m still moving.” I spent some moments of anguish in the medical tent until I recovered. I vowed to return. Just over one week from now, I shall.
Savannah Marathon 2013 & 2014: I didn’t really set out to race Savannah in 2013. It was about a month after the Indianapolis Marathon and I would not expect to PR. I was, however, excited to run with my new wife, Muna. We “eloped” on the way to Savannah. We were newlyweds running together. I paced Muna to 3:52:25, her first sub-4. In 2014, I raced. Even though I was doing my first triathlons that summer, I made sure to include enough specific training to prove that the performance at Boston was a fluke. I would at least qualify for Boston again. That is where I aimed and that is was I earned. 3:22:43. BQ by just over a minute. I walked away with the confidence of knowing that I know just how much effort it takes to earn the result I want.
Shrimp and Grits 5K 2015: This is the 5K associated with the Charleston Marathon. I ran a 19:28. Nowhere near a PR, but that was not the goal. I just wanted a fun run. I usually check my pace regularly while aiming for some very specific time. Instead of aiming for a PR, I decided to race. I simply sized up the competition over the first mile and decided who I could catch by the end. I met Tony at the start line. He was 57 years old and in great shape. He started out ahead of me, so I spent more than half of the race chasing after Tony. I eventually got him in the last mile and then just held my position. After the race I jogged down to the 14 mile marker of the marathon so I could run the rest of that race with Muna. She was having a rough time, so my support was more important than ever. She toughed it out and still finished with a great time considering the illness with which she was battling. After we finished the marathon, I found out my friend Ethan had won the marathon and I had won the masters division in the 5K. That’ll do.
These are not all my best races. They are not all personal records. They are, however, all significant. Each one has a story that means something to me. I could leave all of my medals up, but it would be very crowded. I want to see these particular medals when I walk by… and to remember.
“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!” — P. Mark Taylor