Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Relentless. Forward. Progress.


I've been having a whale of a time starting this story and worse giving it some type of order because I am now absolutely certain that there really is no clear starting point and in my head it is not remotely linear. This is attempt number seven. Maybe I'll reach the end this time.

Better still, let's start from the end.

I DO know I've finished a marathon. A MARATHON. My God. ME. 26.2 miles. I've flitted between so many emotions in the past few days I cannot pin down which lingers but pride is usually on top. Close second is pain or maybe irritation. I'll get to that.

I am one in a million (or maybe one in the next million if that's how it pans out). That is no small feat and I feel an entire new shade of technicolor coursing through my veins for that and that alone. What a huge achievement. There aren't words.

No. Bullshit - there are too many goddamn words. Maybe that's been the problem. How to be succinct when you are trying to describe something that really and truly does mean everything to you? When you want to describe every second because you dare not let any of them escape your heart? I want to hold them all. I don't ever want to forget any of them. I want to feel them and live every minute as I lived those six hours nine minutes and eight seconds. Even the pain and the irritation.

Even that.

There aren't words and there are too many words. Which to choose? I will try and only begin with what I know.

I have finished a marathon.
I know there is a man who fell trying to do the same. I know this has made my own story feel so small and I thought about not telling it.
I know when I can run again, I will honor his memory by running 3.2 miles in tribute.
I know that is all I can do.

I know I still want to tell this story because it had a beginning and it had a middle so it has to have an end.

So here is that end. But you know it will only be another beginning. Still. Turn and turn. Skate and loop and begin like spring begins. New life from a void.

I know barring the finish, my favorite moment of that race was rounding the corner somewhere around mile 12 and seeing that beautiful Tower Bridge, clasping my Chicago-flag-covered-head with my hands and saying 'Oh my God, this is so f-ing amazing' the entire way across. I know I kept that up til the bitter(sweet) end.

I know I felt honored and moved for the full 26.2 miles last Sunday. From the minute I woke up, those steps through Greenwich with all the other foot soldiers ready to go to personal war on those streets. From the reception afterwards, the warmth from fellow charity runners and employee friends, gratitude for the fundraising when it is I who am most grateful for the opportunity. The chance of a lifetime to have the time of my life.

To support that charity with those words ringing through my head for the duration - speak of power and intensity and something that drives your feet forward and I will share with you that story. "Tell it right. Damn it, tell it RIGHT". Once I wept when those words came to my thoughts, and then the glory of the moment captured me again and with that renewed purpose sent my feet soaring along down the next curve.

I know the closer I got to the finish, the more my body weakened yet oddly my mind grew stronger and my will more purposed. It was the damnedest thing to actually feel personal power and mental endurance rising. It's as if every footfall was a power charge, revving up my mind for the rest of the battle.

I know I wrote on my arm that day what a dear runner friend suggested I remember: Relentless. Forward. Progress. And I know I had to ponder it well over a dozen times.

And I know just how much those three words helped me.

I know I wanted to stop cold and lie on the floor. Often.
I know I did not.

I know when I finally made that finish line I cried floods of tears in relief for all those days and months I'd feared I'd not make the start, but more so for all the hours in the midst of that 26.2 miles when I feared I'd not make the finish.

I know I did make the finish.

But let's back up.

I know I found an American quarter in my bag the night before and was thereafter without question that my Spirit Pops would run it with me. I know that moment cleared my entire body of tears and I found it hard to stop them falling.
I know hearing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' over the PA next to the bag check took my breath away and nearly made me lose it again. Dad's all time favorite song then? There? You cannot be serious.
I know I ignored a call from the last possible person on the planet I wanted to talk to the night before my first marathon. I know how glad I am that I did.

I know I screwed up my taper by accepting the offer of a TV interview that never materialized - that full day's worth of house cleaning, on my feet instead of feet up.
I know I'm still livid about that. I know I will probably always be livid about that.
I know me.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I know I further screwed up my taper by dragging luggage half a mile to and from a hotel the night before and morning of the race.

I know that may have been the proverbial straw. Pop goes the calf at mile 20. Game over?


Relentless. Forward. Progress.

I know I finished that race with a seriously strained calf which felt like two ticks away from a serious tear every time I tried to keep running. I didn't want to lose London but I sure as hell wasn't going to risk losing Chicago. I hated that I had to walk the final six miles.

I do NOT know how I kept going. But walking didn't hurt as much so I did.
Even with the double vision that kicked in, I kept going.
As you do.
I was surrounded by people in worse shape who were still moving.
Such collective power at the back of the pack.
Such human dignity back there.
Such intensity and strength and conviction.
I know I was on my feet three times as long as the guy who won the race.
I may be slow but how bloody tough am I.

I know Blackeyed Peas 'Boom Boom Pow', Coldplay's 'Clocks' and Charlotte Churches 'Crazy Chick' are damn fine power walking songs. Even when you put them on repeat 17 times apiece.
I know I had a perfectly paced top 19 miles until that injury took over and that fills me with ridiculous pride and confidence that my training wasn't wrong. I lost five weeks and I was still well on pace for my original target til the calf went boom.

I know seeing that 'on a yard' sign and receiving those magnificent Realbuzzer hugs below it at mile 22 was nearly as beautiful as the sight of Tower Bridge ten miles prior.

So I finished.
Me and that injury, we made it home. I'd called it cramp but knew it was worse. But worse may have made me stop. Cramp is treatable mid-race. Lies lies and damned lies.

(What if I can't finish?)
That started building in my head.

I required a St John's Ambulance stop, a vicious calf massage and a 20 minute mile. All those people tracking me wondering why I had stopped moving.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required a stern talking to myself.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required angry lip syncing while power walking.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required a whopping motherload of gels.

I am deeply pissed off about all of that.
Because although I had been saying 'I just want to finish, that will be good enough.'
It's just...not. It's nowhere near good enough. I wanted more. I trained for more.
I bloody EARNED more.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I gritted my teeth and kept moving.
I never did recognize a 'wall'. I may have smashed it to crumbs with anger. Maybe I didn't see it through my double vision.
And the kettle boiled and the steam built up until there appeared an angel tapping me on the shoulder on the Embankment. My fellow Team 21-er, who had also worried in the dark of winter that she too would not make the start due to injury. We'd promised one another we'd walk together if we needed to.

We needed to.

She saved me from my own head and we laughed our asses off all the way down the Embankment. When all else fails, throw jazz hands. Stop and photobomb at six hundred metres.

And then we were at Point-Two where we agreed we'd run. Even that was excruciating.
And we crossed the line side by side. Two in a million. My hands shot up into the air and I threw my head back thinking I did it! I did it! Pops, I did it! I bloody DID it!!
Out of my throat comes this glorious tribal whooping and wahoooing, wild as the crowd at a Blackhawks game, every last ounce of joy escaping before I nearly suffocated on my sobs. Two million more tears.
Never such joy.
Never such pain.
The Yin and Yang of the journey returns for a curtain call at the most perfect of moments.

I will never again have a first marathon and I loved it all. Even the parts I hated - which was only the pain, because I really loved it ALL.

My mind has been a blank sheet for days. I am utterly spent.

I know this all happened but it feels like a dream.
I know I now have a grudge match with 26.2 miles.
I know I will now heal and train even harder for Chicago.
I will figure out what went wrong and banish it forever.
I will run in my home town this fall with pride beyond imagination.
I will run better because I will prepare better.
I will prepare smarter.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I know I am today equally proud and equally disappointed.

I know I am today a marathoner.
I know I will never be the same.
I know beyond the fundraising, that those two things are exactly what I was after.

Who says you have to descend the mountain once you've reached the pinnacle? I think I'll find a higher mountain and keep on climbing. With Relentless. Forward. Progress.

Like I do everything else.


  1. What an amazing run story! Congratulations, Max! You did this!

    1. Ah thank you Kristy :) Aside from seeing my son for the first time, that was the best day of my life.

  2. The Amazing Run! I'm not sure if you're familiar with the Lumind 'Run for Down Syndrome' program but you should check it out: