Do your family and friends regard you with some combination of amusement, awe, and confusion? Mine do. I'm going to believe that yours do too or you probably wouldn't be here. That is, unless you're one of my family and friends. If that includes you, then you already know my backstory, so you can stop reading now and wait with breathless anticipation until I actually start blogging from the other side of the world. On the other hand, for those of you who caught wind of some two hundred and somethin pound bald guy named Dave who intends to run 7 actual public and official marathons, one on each of the 7 continents including Antarctica, in a week... I feel I owe you a little bit of an explanation, something to put this quest in its proper perspective.
I hate running. That's where we need to start. I'm not kidding. This tale won't turn out to be some bait and switch where I blather on about how serene my 4:30am runs are or how I simply can't imagine a day without a light-footed jaunt along my favorite path beside the tranquil streams. The fact is, when I've ever taken inventory of the things I least like to do, running has always risen quickly to the top. Taking that inventory is exactly what I was doing pursuant to a psychology experiment I wanted to try on myself... and that is where my love-hate relationship with endurance sports was born in October of 2012.
I was a hopeless nicotine addict since middle school. My parents didn't smoke, no one in my family or close group did, so that meant someone had to fill the void and I was just the right kid for the job. I had figured out how to convince stores to sell them to me, I'd found all the unguarded cigarette machines, and I'd mastered ninja concealment methods to evade the uber-vigilance of my poor mom by the time I was in 6th grade. I got to college with a 2 pack a day habit among others. I went to West Virginia University and we were the ones who solidified WVU's return to the #1 party school in the nation and the couch burning capital of the free world. I had a friend (Hi Joanne!) who ran in college, but I never could understand why. Madness. Why would anyone party all night then get up and go torture herself on purpose? What good could possibly come from it?
We can skip over the next 18 years because all that happened in that time was cultivation of body mass, more smoking, and eventually a switch to any and every other form of nicotine I could lay my hands on after I quit cigarettes to prevent being a bad influence on my toddler son. For a few years in there I would rub, chew, and snort tobacco, then got into cigars, patches, gum, and finally Snus pouches. By October of 2012 I was 285 pounds, kept Snus in my mouth 24 hours per day, and was accused by my brother of looking like Butterbean in my XXL American Flag swim trunks. (see pic below).
After a particularly heavy weekend of drinking at a WVU game, I was on the 9 hour ride back home to Western Kentucky when I decided I wasn't having any fun anymore. Nicotine was my master and alcohol had just cost me a much anticipated reunion with my friends. So, I tried to think of the thing I least liked to do of all volitional activities I could participate in. And that is when I, not for the first time mind you, identified running as the thing I most hated to do. So, the idea was to pair my hatred of running with my urges toward nicotine in an attempt to force myself to hate nicotine and think of it as terrible torture, just like running, every time I got the urge to use it...
Starting October 28, 2012, I began to take off running every time I wanted to use nicotine. In theory, I would keep on running until the urge had passed. Steel toed boots, dress shoes, jeans, coat, whatever I had on didn't matter, I just took off running. That first evening, I took off down my driveway, hell bent on running the love of nicotine out of myself. My lungs burned, I poured sweat, I may have even cried a little... a couple hundred yards later I limped back to the house with an internal drill instructor-style verbal whipping that went something like this: "Did that feel good? See what nicotine cravings get? Huh? You still want nicotine? Do ya? Don't make me run you again!"
Oh, but run I did. 20 times a day. Spontaneously. For a couple weeks I was prone to just take off in whatever direction at work, at home, after dinner at the restaurant, after pulling over in the car... whenever. I was dead set on making my body understand that nicotine=pain and we wouldn't stop running until the cravings stopped making the trip down my neural pathways. So this is when I discovered my love for running right? Wrong! I hated it worse than ever. It was inconvenient, it hurt, and it now it also represented the additional torture of not getting my precious nicotine fix. But I didn't relent. As a matter of fact, the running did get easier, which was a double edged sword. Now, instead of running down the driveway to beat up my urge, I had to run down the road. Just a few weeks in, with very little sign of hope in the quest to suppress nicotine urges, I decided that if I was going to be doing this much running that I was going to get in shape while I was at it. But that wasn't enough, I mean, Hell, if you're gonna run like Forrest Gump, you might as well get something out of it, right? So, one evening I walked in from an impromptu run and announced to my wife that I was going to run a marathon. She laughed. A couple days later I had gotten my hands on Marathon! by Jeff Galloway (very outdated by late 2012), bought a Timex Ironman watch with an interval timer, and signed up for the Kentucky Derby Marathon 6 months hence.
That winter I followed Galloway's plan like it was the Bible. It didn't matter what I did, I was going to get in my prescribed workout. I just knew that if I missed a single run that it would give me the permission to miss another and another and that I would be right back on the couch with Snus in my mouth just as sure as anything. So I would do things like work all day, go eat a big steak dinner with colleagues visiting from out of town, then come home and run in the dark until 1am. Cold, rain, broken foot, tendinitis, orthotics, blisters, didn't matter- I ran.
As Spring broke it was all about marathon training and nicotine urges were a thing of the past. I still hated to run but now I did it through commitment to the marathon goal instead of to tamp down nicotine urges. I learned what "Long Training Runs" were all about. I dreaded them more than dental work and proctology combined. When I saw a prescribed LTR of 25 miles was on my schedule for 3 weeks before the real marathon, I simply couldn't imagine enduring that alone, thirsty, and hating every single heavy footfall. So, I looked online and found that the closest city to me was hosting a marathon that weekend only an hour from my house. The way I figured it was, what's the worst that could happen? So I don't make it all the way, at least I got a bunch of miles in and someone else had water waiting for me about every mile. And hey, if I do finish, I'll get a medal and then I'll not only be the first guy I knew to finish a marathon, I'd do 2 in 3 weeks! My friends, who knew that I was really just a fat guy pretending to be a runner, warned me of the inevitable heart attack, aneurism, or broken hip.
So, on April 6, 2013 I completed the Southern Indiana Classic in Evansville, IN. Afterward, the 2 small toes on my right foot looked like they had been put into a meat grinder. The toenails were separated, the blood blisters were so big and purple that the toes resembled grapes. This concerned me because I still had a race on the calendar in 3 weeks and the "no excuses" mantra I'd developed in training was still firmly in control of my senses. After a trip to the local Podiatrist who yanked my toenails and cut off the ends of my toes while blood poured into his trashcan, I bought a bigger pair of shoes and prepared for the Kentucky Derby Marathon, after which, I was certain I'd never run another step.
As I write this, the KY Derby Marathon certainly did not turn out to be my last run, but it still stands as my fastest 26.2. 4:46:44 felt much better than 4:54:40 had felt 3 weeks earlier. It was cool and flat and about as close to enjoyable as running could be. And, at the end were a cheeseburger and a beer, 2 things I hadn't had in 6 months. That's where all this would have ended if not for the Marathon Maniacs.
During the SI Classic, I met 2 wonderful masochistic people on the course, Diane and George (most Maniacs will know who I'm talking about). George was pushing 70 and wearing a shirt that said he had completed a marathon in all 50 States! Diane was wearing a yellow top that said Marathon Maniacs. I passed George about the halfway point and mumbled some awe-filled compliment about his shirt. As my thighs were cramping up about mile 23, Diane came up behind me and gave me a few hints about how to run up hills and told me that my successful finish wasn't in doubt. At the very end, I narrowly beat George and then he congratulated me when he finished. I told everyone within ear shot that this guy had run over 100 marathons. He said that was nothing compared to Diane who was standing 50 feet away eating a food truck chili dog... a chili dog! I had just trained for 6 months, felt like dying minutes ago, and hadn't eaten anything good since I started training and there was this woman suckin' on a chili dog like we were outside the Tastee Freeze. Later I went over to thank her for her help and found her and George discussing where they were running their respective marathons in other States the next day. Was this a dream? Are these people for real? Both were older than me, neither looked like a super hero or an alien... these were just seemingly regular people who were pounding out marathons like I wanted to pound that chili dog! I was just stupefied. I can't express how confused I felt standing there having accomplished the impossible at much peril, and these 2 were getting ready to drive 5 hours to run marathons in other time zones tomorrow!!
This shock re-emerged when I saw all kinds of yellow Marathon Maniac shirts in Louisville 3 weeks later. I needed to know who these people were and what the world they were doing. I found Elaine (again, Maniacs will know who this is) in a skort and MM jersey, picking up coins along the course as she ran that day. I asked her if she ran as many marathons as the 2 wackos I'd met a few weeks back. She answered in a modest affirmative and indicated that she knew George and Diane to. I found out the club had nearly 7,000 members and many ran 2 marathons most weekends. While I was tripping all over this concept and trying to keep pace with Elaine who was obviously not having any trouble doing this, she dropped the bombshell: "If you run 1 more in another State in the next 3 weeks, you could be one of us". I laughed, then I got giddy... since then I've been consistently reaching for more and more.
"More" in my case means that I ran a total of 17 marathons in 17 States and a 72 hour footrace (112+ miles) from April 2103- April 2014. I did my first "double" that year with a Saturday marathon in Harrisburg, Illinois and a Sunday marathon in St Louis, MO. Though I ran half of the IL and the whole MO on a dislocated foot, nothing compared to the suffering of running the Disney Marathon with a fresh case of terrible, debilitating food poisoning that had me puking and pooping the whole 26.2. After that, I added another 104 miler (48 hour footrace), a few more marathons, then got into triathlon.
Hopefully you aren't terribly bored yet with my self-indulgent stroll down Eternal Endurance memory lane. In the next installment, I'll bring you up to speed on learning to swim the crawl, learning to ride a real grownup road bike, and continuing to hate running right on through 2 Full Ironman triathlons and a few halves. By then, I will have finished a marathon or Ultra in 27 States and I'll be ready to try out real-time blogging at my first Quadzilla (4 marathons in 4 States in 4 days at the 4 Corners Quad December 8-11), then on to the 777 Quest January 25-31, 2017. I'd be honored if you stuck with me till then!