Try a marathon: Walk, run or volunteer

A parking lot  full of gear from runners and walkers

A parking lot full of gear from runners and walkers

Today I volunteered to work in the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon. This is the second year I’ve worked with other volunteers from the Free Press newsroom. We work at the check-in area called Gear Check. It involves taking the coats, phones, keys, or whatever else participants don’t want to carry with them during the race. They put it in a bag marked with their bib number and we organize them in a parking lot till they finish. Then we run and get the bags for them when they come back. We worked the first shift, from 5:30 to 10:30. I got up at 3:45 this morning to be ready to go by 5.

The runners and walkers are very grateful for what we do. And I know why. I’ve walked two half marathons and part of a full marathon. (I only made it 21 of the required 26.2 miles.)

The first time I walked a half marathon, I walked with my friend and work colleague, Cassandra Spratling. We started training in June for the October event. That means we were out walking 3-4 days a week, doing that gradual buildup of miles to 13.1. We got up in the dark, in the cold, and in the rain. We didn’t miss training days unless it was absolutely unavoidable.

The next year we actually mixed up some running with the walking. We finished again, and I was proud of it. It’s a big time commitment, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t do marathons anymore. They are time suckers. Some people can go out and walk 13.1 miles cold, with no training, but not this 58-year-old.

I got into marathons because a former colleague asked me if I would consider doing it. She was looking for a group. She knew competing wasn’t my thing. I walked for my health, not to show off my skills, but I decided to try. It was the first major sporting event in which I had ever participated, and even now I can’t believe I did it. I was in my early 50s, and really, I found that competing in such a big event later in my life was almost as fulfilling as having a child had been.

The training is hard, but being in the race with tens of thousands of other people is like no feeling I’ve ever had. The atmosphere is electric as participants start the race. The cool air is exhilarating. The air is thick with the anticipation of finishing.

After failing to finish a full marathon, I decided to try running a half marathon. While training for that, I couldn’t run very far without experiencing a lot of pain. I went to my doctor who did an Xray, and I was diagnosed with arthritis in my hip. Three years later I had hip replacement surgery. Although the doctor says I can walk another marathon if I want, I’ve put it aside for now. (Lesson: Excess weight stresses and wears down your joints.  Another good reason to maintain a healthy weight!)

I thought I would miss participating in the race, but when I volunteer, I get the same feeling I used to get when I walked. Maybe I’ll walk another half marathon. Or maybe I’ll compete in another sport, like rowing or biking. Even though I thought I wasn’t a competitor, what I do find is that the competition offers me a little change in my routine. That is not a bad thing. It brings some freshness back to my workouts.

Monday, in spite of my sore feet and legs from standing for six straight hours, I’m going to start a kettle bell challenge. Ten thousand swings in five weeks. It’s good for my stiff immobile hamstrings. And I’m looking forward to the change.

For those of you who walk, for fitness or for fun, please consider doing a half marathon. The number of women participating in half marathons has grown tremendously.  It really is worth the time to do it at least once. You’ll love the rush, the sense of accomplishment, and the feeling that you can compete with other athletes You won’t be sorry.

Don’t wait too long.  You never know how long you’ll have your health.

My stepson Elliott helped me at Gear Check during last year's marathon.

My stepson Elliott helped me at Gear Check during last year’s marathon.

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