I cannot think of one singular challenge in my life that required more of me to complete than those 26.2 miles.
The morning of April 12th dawned cool and damp.
As I looked up from my vantage point inside Corral F at the starting line of the 15th annual GO! St. Louis Marathon, the anticipation and adrenaline surged through veins.
Seven months prior to this date, I had never run more than five miles in one setting.
A month later, I completed my first half marathon (that’s 13.1 miles for those of you keeping track at home.)
Throughout a bitterly cold winter, I logged mile after mile at the tread mill back at Golds Gym, preparing myself for the task I had dedicated myself to merely hours after crossing the finish line at the Rock & Roll Half Marathon.
I made up my mind that I was going to do it.
I was going to attempt the “big dance.”
For me, the next challenge was to complete 26.2.
Those cold months were spent building endurance in my legs and learning more than I ever had about muscle mechanics, nutrition, body composition and chemistry and much more.
They all had led to this day and this moment.
With the command of, ironically, “GO!” I and 15,000 other participants, spanning 5K sprinters to steady marathoners like me, all set off on a journey together
Through the opening all two miles, joggers flooded the streets of downtown St. Louis like a swarm of locusts.
We formed a wall, curb to curb.
A moving mass of polyester shorts, Dri-fit t-shirts and brightly colored sneakers.
We ran through the urban jungle before crossing the Eads Bridge into Illinois. After a short tour, we curved back into the Arch City via the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge
The trek south began with a brief stop at the port-a-john for me. That stop at mile four and then a brief stretch at mile nine would be my only stops until mile 19.
We looped through the historical Anheuser Busch brewery, greeted by the world famous Clydesdales.
From there, we headed north towards the finish line where those who were contesting the half marathon peeled off towards cheers and flash bulbs.
Those of us with the blue race bibs hunkered down (and west) for the second half of our journey.
We rolled west alongside Interstate 64 towards Forest Park. Throughout this time, my speed increased, as did my elation.
I was mastering this race at my own pace.
Upon entering one of America’s oldest (and largest) public parks, however, my pace and endurance began to wane.
The rolling landscape of the park quickly taxed my already depleted legs.
Around the nineteenth mile, I took my first walking period. I re-fired my tired motor and made it to mile marker 21 before succumbing to the same issue.
A brisk walk carried me from miles 23 thru 25. It was at this time that a familiar voice spoke some much needed words of encouragement. Good friend, Stephanie Armistead, jogged up alongside and coaxed me back to a trot for the final dash to the finish.
Though stopping once more to walk in the final two tenths, I knew I had to finish as I started; in full stride. Summoning energy from the very pit of my stomach, I took off down the home stretch. I gained speed as the elevation trended downward in my favor.
It is difficult to describe the extreme opposites that my body was battling at this time. On one hand, I was completely and utterly spent in every conceivable way. On the other, my goal of six months was mere feet in front of me.
I slowly raised both arms into the air as I crossed the final timing line. It was a moment of extreme release. I’m not sure I have ever felt anything like it. Every ounce of sickness, soreness and general depletion was made right. Mentally, thoughts of worry and pain were replaced with accomplishment and relief. I had completed something I believed I would never do.
Following a huge leap into the air and a rather loud yell, I settled back down to earth and was greeted by the warm embrace of great friends and one very special woman.
When an event volunteer gently placed a gold medal around my neck, the reality of the moment truly sank in; I had just completed a 26.2 mile run. Despite pain, agony and (at times) moments of despair, I conquered the course. Was it the time I aimed for? No. Was I mad? Slightly. However, the significance of the accomplishment was not lost on me.
In the 24 plus hours since crossing the line, I sit here, with only sore legs and small blisters, and marvel at what has been achieved. In less than eight months, I went from mere casual jogger to a long haul finisher. I devised a detailed plan, dedicated myself to that plan and worked myself harder than I ever imagined to achieve it. Not only had I pushed my body to the limits physically, I also challenged my mind to never quit nor never accept anything less than the achievement of my goal. This all carried me through those four hours and forty-five minutes I was on the course.
It was difficult, no doubt. In fact, I cannot think of one singular challenge in my life that required more of me to complete than those 26.2 miles. I felt each and every step along that course. My body is tattooed with the marks of intense training and sacrifice. My mind will forever remember those long afternoons of physical activity followed by hours of gut wrenching internal pain in recovery.
I’ve gained profound respect for my fellow runners and to those who compete in even more daunting tasks (talking to you, you crazy Ironman people!) I’ve become a well of advice for those looking to achieve what I now have joined the “club.”
I share this all because I believe it can serve to inspire us all to dream big dreams and challenge us to taking on those giant, daunting tasks. Did I become the greatest at it? Heck no. Will I ever be the best marathoner that ever lived? Nope.
That’s not the point.
The point is that a goal was set, a plan was defined and the appropriate measures were taken to achieve. This is a simple formula that we can apply to a multitude of situations in our lives. Grand goals are achievable if we are willing to dream big, make that plan and work hard. It can have a profound impact on our present and future.
In short, completing this changed my life in a small way. It truly proved to me, once and for all, that I am capable of anything. Whatever it is I decide to do, I will find a way to make it happen. You name the time, place and task; I’ll show up ready.
I’ll show up like I did on the morning of April 12th, with the same anticipation and adrenaline on tap to conquer whatever lays before of me.
You should have that same confidence as well.
Read more from Kyle Luetters on The Good Men Project.
Photo: Paul Sableman (2013)/Flickr