I officially can call myself a marathoner.
I worked diligently and consistently during the past five months to earn that distinction.
Those five months of intense training culminated Saturday in the Bayshore Marathon, and included countless hours spent running, thinking about running and planning my social life around running.
The aftermath had me feeling a little deflated. What now?
I was in January a runner of a relatively novice caliber. I had competed in a 15K race, and my longest run was a 10-miler. These I considered major accomplishments given my former existence, which most graciously could be described as unapologetically sedentary.
Almost on a whim, I decided sometime in December I would train for and run the Bayshore.
At the outset, I set the following four goals: to finish the race without walking, collapsing or losing my breakfast, the last of these being of great concern to me following an unfortunate vomit-related incident during my longest training run, a 20-miler.
I'm extremely proud to report I accomplished all of the above. I finished the race in 5:05:39. No walking, minus the water stations, which was necessitated after I somehow splashed an entire cup of water into my eye trying to drink while running. No collapsing until after I crossed the finish line. And, thankfully, no repeat of last month's puke heard 'round the peninsula.
That's not to say this experience always was an easy path. I suffered various and sometimes debilitating aches and pains during the course of training, some of which inhibited me from completing scheduled runs, and nearly all of which had a noticeable impact on my confidence in my own abilities.
The most difficult part of training, for me, was accepting that sometimes it's wiser to miss a run or two to provide time for healing when things really start to hurt.
Some setbacks in the last month, including a 10-day running hiatus because of a serious case of shin splints, caused me to doubt that theory, and the anxiety I experienced as a result of those setbacks led to a restless pre-race week.
However, I started the race pain-free for the first time in weeks -- greatly aided by some liberally applied Bengay -- and never doubted my ability to finish. I was increasingly fatigued, particularly after breaking 20 miles, but I knew, based on all of my training runs, that I could push through it.
I wish I could relay some insightful thoughts that were swirling in my head as I ran those last 200 meters around the track, but I honestly was most focused on concentrating so I didn't trip over my own feet.
In retrospect, however, I can appreciate those final strides as one of those significant life moments that I never will forget.
Nothing can compare to the marathon experience. It's a true test of human mettle, mental as well as physical, with the training just as important as the race itself.
It's an addictive combination of commitment, perseverance and, often, a sense of humor.
It also is about camaraderie. Most of us are competing only with ourselves, whether to beat a personal record or just to prove we can finish. Therefore the race-day atmosphere is supportive and encouraging.
I'm profoundly proud to join the ranks of all those who have conquered the 26.2 miles that comprise the marathon, in particular those I ran with this weekend.
So, what now?
Detroit. 10/18/09. See you there.