Week 18: The finish line is almost here
A lesson from John Bingham
When I was twenty-six years old, I ran twenty-six miles for the first time at the Bermuda Marathon. I had trained with a group of friends every week for four months leading up to the race, which ran in late January.
If my memory is correct, I lost twenty-five pounds over the course of running all those miles during those months. I felt great, fitter than I’d ever been at any time in my life before.
On race day, the starting line was in downtown Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital city (shown from the air in the photo above). The island is small — the entire surface area of Bermuda is just over 20 square miles — so the organizers had us run a 13.1-mile course twice.
The experience was as blissful as I’d imagined it would be. Everyone my friends and I met over the long weekend there was friendly and welcoming. On the day of the race, our names and bib numbers were printed in the Bermuda Sun, the local newspaper, so that people shouted out our names as we ran past their homes throughout the island. Kids ran out from several of the houses to join us as we ran by.
(When we were still on the course, we had no idea how they knew our names! It was only later, when we saw the paper on the street, that we figured it out.)
At the start of the race, I felt strong. Like a thoroughbred leaving the starting gate, even. As the miles pass, though, I slow down to a more measured pace, as I know how many miles I have ahead of me.
By the time I reach the second half of the course, especially around miles 18 and 19, I start to struggle a little. I walk through all the water stations, to give myself brief breaks. It’s enough for the time being, but I’m really huffing and puffing by the time I get to mile 23 or so. This is when I realize that running a marathon is HARD, dammit… and I think, what exactly have I gotten myself into here?
By the time I reach the 24th mile marker, I’m so tired. But I also know, the finish line is just two miles away. Two miles until I won’t have to run anymore. Until I can take a break. Until I can rest, and rest, and then rest some more.
That’s when I see her.
A short woman with gray hair, running at a pretty good pace ahead of me. She looks to be somewhere in her 50s or 60s. She doesn’t look tired at all. She’s looking strong, still with great form even though we’re more than 24 miles into this thing. And she’s been ahead of me for the entire race!
I look at myself and think: I’m 26 years old, I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m as chiseled as Michelangelo’s David, and I’m… lagging wayyy behind this woman.
Needless to say, that put a little fuel in my afterburner. Suddenly I found a burst of speed I hadn’t felt since around mile 10, which catapulted me past her and kept me going until I reached the finish line.
Do I feel proud of this? Not particularly 😃 I laugh at myself now, of course, but I learned something: even though I was exhausted and ready to limp towards the finish line, actually I had more in the tank than I thought — and I might be capable of more than I believe I am at any given moment.
If you’ve been following along with our training program these past four months — it’s kind of hard to believe we’re here, isn’t it? — then you know what’s on tap for this weekend: 13.1 miles.
Whether you’re running yours as part of an organized race or all on your own, I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you. At this point in our training, there’s little left to do other than to stay rested, get in a good (and short) run on Thursday, and then get a good night’s sleep before race day.
I was thumbing through old books today, looking for some words of wisdom that might inspire, when I came across a book that I turn to often: John Bingham’s The Courage to Start, which chronicles his journey from being “overweight, uninspired, and saddled with a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoking habit” to a life transformed by running.
The book is filled with so much that inspires and helps me, but the passages that stood out as I thought about you all and this weekend the most were his thoughts on how to approach a race.
Bingham says he never tries to run a race as fast as possible; instead, he likes to slow down, to enjoy the moment for as long as he can:
“I do not stand in judgment of those who see every race as the moral equivalent of war. There are times when testing my own limits is important. There are times when finding out whether my training is working or whether I can still feel the pleasure that comes from giving a total effort is important, even necessary.
I am saying that there is another way to look at the time it takes to run a race. Oddly enough and much to my surprise, I began to have better times as I concentrated more on having a good time.”
Why do this? Why slow down? I think it’s because Bingham knows what we all know, deep down inside — that this moment can’t last for very long, so he wants to get as much out of it as possible:
“Running teaches us to truly enjoy the moment — to find the happiness that eluded us in the past, the happiness that may not be there in the future — and to concentrate on living in this time of our lives. If we’re honest most of us will find, in looking back, that there isn’t much to which we want to return. And looking forward is still like staring into the abyss.
Running teaches us that the only time we have is now. The moments that we don’t enjoy are lost forever. The smile you miss on a young volunteer’s face will never be there again. The opportunity to finish someone’s first race with them will only happen once. You must learn to recognize these moments as they are happening, not an hour or a week later.
As you get better at seeing the moment you’re in, you’ll find that you can stop waiting for the good times to roll. You’ll find that you’re content to let time march on. And through your running, you will have learned that having the time of your life is often as simple as giving in to the joy of the moment.”
This weekend, I hope you have an amazing run — one you’ll remember for the rest of your life, even. If you’re planning on running your half marathon this weekend, share it in the comments along with where you plan to run yours.
I always love hearing where you all are in the world — and if you’re not running 13.1 this weekend, feel free to share too.
P.S.: After this week, I’ll be taking a break from publishing for the next couple of weeks. Not for any reason other than I need a brief break, and some time to go away and dream up what’s next for The Half Marathoner. (If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!) I’ll see you again in late May 👍
Our training plan for this week
Everything we’ve been working for over the past few weeks, all the miles you’ve put in — it’s all for this weekend. Are you excited?
Here’s our mileage for this week:
Thursday, May 5 — 4-5 miles
Saturday, May 7 — 13.1 miles (!)
Sunday, May 8 — Some well-deserved rest 😃
Be sure to let me know how your 13.1 miles go this weekend — in reply back to this email, or we might even host a discussion thread on Saturday or Sunday. Stay tuned!
Something I loved
My friend Nishant Jain, a fellow Substack newsletter author who draws the amazing SneakyArt Post, went to the starting line of this weekend’s Vancouver Marathon to capture what the runners looked like at the start of the race:
Nishant is a runner too, and shares that “running is a blessed alone time for me”:
“The steady rhythm of physical movement puts me in a state of flow. The rigours of the long run shrink the scope of my thoughts, anxieties, and worries — indeed, the scope of my world — to only the essential concerns. I think about my next breath. I think about the next step. I think about the next bend at the horizon. I think about the sound of my steps syncing with the cycle of the wind and the lapping of waves.”
You can check out his full post, with lots more of his drawings of the marathon, here: