At 5:30 AM on November 15, 2016 I boarded a flight from Cincinnati’s CVG airport, destination… Cuba. And so began the culmination of a year long pursuit of badassery. It all began one year ago, to the day, when I received a one-sentence message from my friend in Singapore, “Want to go to Cuba?” to which I responded with something like, “I never have before but if you’ll be there…” and she ended it with “Marathon, this time next year.” That was it. I was in.
For the next twelve months I focused my efforts on all things Cuba. After all a goal without a plan is just a dream. My dreams have left me discontented, and my recent life had left me jaded. This was the call to action. I prepared my family (who thought I had lost my ever loving mind) and began preparing myself mentally and physically. I registered for a variety of races to keep me incrementally focused. Some were for fun and some were for the goal. My running friends embraced my enthusiasm and, at times, simply tolerated my begging them to join me on a run.
The Flying Pig half marathon in May was a significant mental set back. Not only did I fall short of my goal, my body failed me and fear set in. The brutal honesty is this; you can not expect to do well if you do not put in the effort to prepare. There is no such thing as a lucky run. You will only perform to the best of your training. Learn from it and move on.
I got the message loud and clear. Official training according to Hal Higdon began July 18th. My schedule consisted of four weekly runs, two days of cross training and only clean fuel entered my body. Don’t think, just do was my self talk. And then came the fall. A small raise in the concrete just before mile 9 of a training run knocked me out cold and I spent the rest of the day in the ER. So I adjusted my training. I ordered a Road ID and haven’t been on a run without it since. I ran slower through the healing process, but I ran. I wasn’t afraid to run. I was afraid of not toeing the line on November 20th.
The Queen Bee half marathon arrived in October. This is a race I have been fortunate enough to run since its inception. In return, she has been kind to me. I have PR’d every year. I was scheduled for a 12 mile training run that day so she worked perfectly within my schedule. What troubled me was how to approach her. I was going for distance and if I left it all on the road in a race, my training could suffer. To come to terms with intentionally not trying to PR was a huge mental struggle for me. It doesn’t matter what conversation I have with myself, something takes over when I cross the start line of a race. This year was no different. I took three minutes off my previous PR. That was when I recognized that the program worked. Believe in your training. Follow the schedule and guidelines and you will see results.
And that was it, the last race before Cuba. The distance continued to increase, and I logged in many, many miles with my good friend Renee, who never once made me feel as though I’d lost my marbles. My village is strong with many offers of help on my home front. I simply could not have entertained the idea of an adventure (or the months of preparation) of this magnitude had it not been for my people.
I arrived in Miami and greeted Michelle (who had been traveling for 27 hours half way around the world!!) The following day we took on South Beach and eventually found ourselves in front of Miami Ink Tattoo Studio. Once again the great instigator, Michelle, says “You should get a tattoo.” There really was very little convincing. What she didn’t know was for more than half my life I had been contemplating a specific tattoo. So in we went. I laid down a $100.00 cash deposit (and got no receipt) and was scheduled for the following Monday at 1:00 with Darren Brass from the show. I can think of no better way to spend a nine hour layover a day after completing a marathon.
And then there was Cuba, but I’ll leave that for another post. On our fourth day, the six of us as far reaching as the Midwest, Singapore, South Korea, Finland and finally California toed the line after a night of no electricity and one bout of food poisoning. It was the hottest, windiest day of the flipping week! My race strategy immediately changed. Do what you can the first half because the second half will be much hotter. Expect it to be brutal.
With runners making up somewhere in the ball park of 7,000 participants, approximately 5,000 of those were registered for the 10k. I believe there were 608 registered for the full. Six hundred and eight… I was going to be on the course by myself. All three distances began with the same gun start.
- It was more than a little strange to start a race without my national anthem.
- US race etiquette was immediately tossed to the curb.
- Many nationalities were represented
- There was a decent number of runners in Chuck Taylors or some other non running shoe as well as attire in general.
- By the end of the race I was known as “Siete veintitres” (723). I have no recollection of any of my race numbers over the years, but I doubt I’ll ever forget this one.
I managed to complete the first half of the race with a sub two hour time (barely), but the second half was a different beast altogether. It was lonely. It was hot. It was super windy and to add to all of that, they opened up the roads to traffic!!! Police are still there to direct, but I was literally running along side (inches away from) cars and transit busses with all of their exhaust, people hanging out the windows with their cigars. Most folks didn’t even seem to notice there was a race in progress. It was hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. The course was hard. The atmosphere was hard. My playlist of donated songs fueled my second half. The second half is alway run with the mind. My mind was struggling. I’d look at my hands with the names of my friend’s son, currently in critical condition, and my dad who is most proud of the work he did in the Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis and is now fighting a battle physically and mentally every day. I’d pray for them and it strengthened my resolve, but there were many times my humanness was stronger than my will.
It’s easy to get lost in the kilometers of a race. I did. My pace was no indication of my normal distance and I couldn’t sacrifice the energy it took to switch screens on my watch. As I approached, what I thought was the finish straight away, I kicked it in. I was energized by the people who had congregated the last couple of miles. I was wrong. It wasn’t the end. I was more than beat and confused when I heard Michelle yelling at me, “Ritchie! You better run!” I did. I finished strong. I PR’d by more than 30 minutes from my last full (7 years ago) but I fell short of my goal. I’m not disappointed in myself. I once read somewhere these words, “If running is hard, you need to run more.”
So there it is. Just a couple details left. The first one is kind of funny. No, a lot funny. I completed a marathon in an international race and placed 5th in my age division and 39/104 in my gender. But what makes it noteworthy is that I represented the United States. I’m okay with that regardless of finish time.
And lastly, I capped off my epic adventure of badassery with a tattoo I am in love with.
It represents me. Who I’ve been for more than half my life. I struggled at first with whether this would pull me back as it was Corey’s nickname for me and the title of a John Mellencamp song. The lyrics speak of a girl he is in love with. She is a product of her environment. I have been that, but this Sugar Marie won’t be defined.
So what now? The last year of my life has been consumed with this challenge and the bucket list check off. Really, I ask you, could there be anything so satisfying as accomplishing your goals? I think no. I have a lot of goals and a long bucket list. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. I better get moving.