In the summer of 2005 I was 40 or 50 lbs overweight and no matter how much I exercised, including with a trainer twice a week, yoga and running 3 miles or so another few times a week, I could not lose anything. I didn’t eat like a pig either. However, I was woefully undereducated about thyroid issues, adrenal issues, hypothalamus issues, gluten intolerance, etc., all of which were contributing to my outward appearance as Fatty McFat. Plus I was sure I knew a lot about nutrition, and that made me arrogant and unwilling to say, go find a decent endocrinologist. It was a moral issue for me and I was determined to control it somehow.
My wonderful trainer, Melissa, suggested I sign up for a 5K “Fun Run” and since I was taking most of her suggestions seriously, I did. The 2005 Stadium Stampede in Denver promised great fun and a finish through the newly named Invesco Field at Mile High. Naturally I pictured ending this first race in a triumphant, nearly effortless glide through the stadium packed with enthusiastic Denver residents cheering mainly for me.
The day dawned warm, I think it was in May or early June. I misread the brochure and showed up almost 2 hours early. There was only 1 car in the vast parking lot. Two very thin women of suspiciously low body fat percentages lurked outside their Subaru doing gymnastic-type stretches. Their car, plastered with racing stickers, made me feel instantly angry. These women were tiny, very serious runners of an ilk I became familiar with early on in my racing career. They mostly hailed from Boulder and over the course of my three years as a runner, I became accustomed to seeing their hind quarters for a few seconds at the beginning of a race. That was because they always dusted me in the first 1/10 of a mile or less.
These two came in first and second that day, beating most of the men. I think they were from Eastern Block countries and steroids may have been involved. But no matter, in the predawn light I could tell they hated me as they looked me up and down with disdain. My response was to start stretching as if we were all going for Olympic gold.
At the starting line, I saw my trainer, who forgot her racing bib and was wearing her mother’s. She was laughing about it. After the race, her mother received a phone call from the race director congratulating her on her amazing time and asking for an interview. I’m not sure if the truth ever came out about her 29-year old fitness trainer daughter running in her place.
This being my first race, I positioned myself at the front of the starting line, because my ego and my running capabilities were somewhat misaligned. When the gun went off, I started too fast, that being relative of course, because even at my own breakneck pace, thousands of runners stuck behind me were forced to make their way around me in the first few minutes of the run.
We ran along the South Platte and within a mile I had shin splints that forced me into a slow, painful hobble. A kindly race volunteer made sympathetic sounds and suggested I consider throwing in the towel as I gripped the railing of one of the pedestrian bridges. I might have been moaning in agony. I scowled at this irritatingly cheery person and moved forward. How dare he?
By the time I entered Invesco Stadium, most of the race walkers had passed me. And no one was in the stadium except a camera crew as I hobbled through at my breakneck 12.5 minute per mile pace. I looked up and on the big screen it was thrilling to see myself, but it was only for about two seconds because the camera panned past me to a septuagenarian woman who was gaining steadily, clearly trying to beat me.
The finish line crowds were just outside of the stadium for the last 100 yards or so. In all my jiggling glory, I tried to speed up. As I broke out of the stadium to make my way to the finish line, a cheer rolled through the crowd just as I imagined, but it was not for me. It was for the aged granny who was going to beat me in the last seconds. They were definitely rooting for her.
Kind Fred was at the finish line looking worried and then somewhat puzzled as I elbowed granny out of the way to beat her by a few feet and finish the race with a blistering 13 minute per mile average pace. I was so disappointed in myself I ran past Fred and everyone until I made it to the far end of the parking lot, away from the maddening crowd. I met Fred at the car and we left quickly, just as the two steroid-infused Boulder androids were receiving their first and second place awards on the podium. Bitches.
Instead of considering another sport, or perhaps an obscure, fat-shortened life filled with cake, cookies, ice cream and a lot of television, my racing really took off from there. I ran a few more 5Ks and two 10Ks, and then completed the Boulder Backroads Half Marathon, finishing last out of hundreds of irritating people in better shape than I. Between my inauspicious beginnings at the Stadium Stampede 5k and the fall of 2007, I trained for 6 marathons and completed 4. I made it to mile 13 in the Estes Park Marathon and definitely would not have completed that race that day. I was stopped at mile 18 in the Chicago Marathon because the City of Chicago shut down the race due to heat. I believe I would have finished that one though. I also ran 5 half marathons and a 17-mile race. There were other 10Ks and 5Ks too. After Arizona, I joined a running group where, although I was again routinely last, they were remarkably nonjudgmental about my ineptitude.
I’ve been passed by morbidly obese racers in a fast waddle as I’m running and some were even in their 70s and 80s. I am a strong finisher though. Even if over 6 hours have elapsed and I’m limping, I manage to run hard to the finish for the photo, because the effort must be saved in false glory for posterity. My ego loves that money shot, even if I’m last. I’m not proud of that but it is remains an important part of my running career as an overweight, middle-aged athlete persevering, thank you very much.
My first marathon was the 2005 Phoenix Rock-n-Roll Marathon. It took me about 15 hours and I’m not disabled. OK, maybe 7 hours. Granted I fell down an entire flight of cement stairs at Meteor Crater in between Winslow and Flagstaff the day before this first marathon. So I was beat up, stiff and sore when I arrived at the starting line on that mild January morning in Phoenix. Actually I was nowhere near the starting line. I was back in the 6 hour group of non-runners, walkers and really fat people trying to prove something. Although I was fat too and certainly had something to prove, I still felt I should be a just tiny bit closer to the Kenyans and Ethiopians.
By mile 7 I was hobbling with shin splints and eating Advil like M&Ms.
By mile 14 I switched to Tylenol and was snarling at all the incredibly bad bands in this “Rock and Roll Marathon.” Clearly they were picked to play so people would speed up to get the craptastic “music” behind them as soon as possible.
By mile 21 concerned, well-meaning First Responders were asking me if I wanted to sit for a while in their ambulances. “Um, no thanks, just having a bad day, Fuckers.”
Plus the Colonel and his new wife Carolyn were waiting for me at the finish line and I was going to make it, even if I crawled on my swelled up hands and shin splinted shins.
Around mile 24 the really fat people began passing me as I jogged, many of them simply walking fast, their blubber shaking as I watched their backsides pull away from me. I kept thinking, “Well at least I’m fucking running.” But I was barely doing that. And striving for an air of superiority while being passed by herds of obese people in the last stages of a marathon can rankle even the most positive person, which I am not.
I crossed the finish line with a housewife from Michigan who became my friend in the last 2 miles. I saw the Colonel and Carolyn, looking tired and slowly getting down from the bleachers to greet me. I stumbled towards some sliced oranges and cups of water and someone who put a medal around my neck. Then a very kind person removed my shoes and bloodied socks and placed my feet in some awesome rubber sandals. I would not have been able to do that since I could not bend any part of my body. Then, like any world-class athlete with only middle age and a paunch holding her back from international glory, I burst into tears.
Carolyn and Dad gave me a ride back to my hotel. It took hours due to my inability to communicate directions or find true north. We circumnavigated Phoenix, which is a lot like L.A. but without a nice ocean. I had to be helped out of the car by the concierge.
It took another hour or so to make it through the lobby to the elevators and up to my room because I could only walk in straight-legged, tiny steps, like a small Japanese woman in a confining, floor-length kimono. I was also really cold, even though it was about 80 degrees.
The next day I drove all the way to Santa Fe. I stopped at a motel, where again I had to be helped out. The front desk man looked at me shuffling towards him and said, “You’re lucky because we only have one disabled room left.” I paid for it gratefully and used the rails in the tub and other amenities that evening. The next day I drove the rest of the way back to Denver, having learned nothing from my painful few days trying to prove something.