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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Take honest steps to achieve goals

After training, Daily Cougar Sports editor Robert Higgs was able to run in the San Antonio marathon last year, finishing in 4 hours 43 minutes. | Courtesy of Robert Higgs

The least surprising thing about running a marathon is that 26.2 miles is a long, long, long, unnaturally long distance to run.

Last summer, when I began training for the marathon I planned to run only a few months later, the longest distance I had run was 6 miles in the cutely named Turkey Trot of the previous November.

The month of Thanksgiving also happened to be when my marathon was scheduled. In the course of a year, I’d go from having run 6 miles to 26.2; except I had lazily dallied through seven months, not running more than 5 miles at a time.

I’ve always been a glutton for punishment, so it was fitting that I’d only given myself five months to increase my endurance the last 76 percent of the way necessary to assure I wouldn’t end up a crumpled fetus somewhere between mile-marker 7 and the finish line. What can I say? I work best under pressure.

The most surprising thing about training for a marathon is watching yourself do something you know you can’t. When you’ve only ever run 6 miles, you know there’s no way you can run 20 miles, or 16, or 12, but you can run 8. So you lace up your shoes and content yourself with doing what you can while those longer distances loom like bogeymen.

Those specters, the doubts that say, “No way can you do this,” stay with you as you manage 10, approach and pass 12, attain 15, until somewhere along the way it hits you in the face like a well-aimed water balloon full of courage, “Look how far you’ve come, you can do anything you put your mind to.”

The marathon got its name and distance from a possibly apocryphal story from the Greco-Persian wars of the fifth century BCE. The Greeks were up against daunting odds, facing a massive fleet under the command of Persian king Darius I.

After the Greeks shockingly managed to turn back the colossal Persian force, a Greek messenger, as the legend goes, by the name of either Pheidippides or Eucles or Philippides ran the 26.2 miles from Marathon, the site of the battle, to Athens, bursting into the assembly to exclaim “Nenikékamen,” ‘We have won.’ He subsequently collapsed dead on the spot. There’s something to be said for going out on top, but for me, I wanted the triumph without the dying.

The day of the marathon, Nov. 15, came, and by that time all doubt was gone. I had progressed past 18 and finally reached the dizzying heights of 20; I could feel an inkling of vertigo when I’d look back to the time I could only run 6.

My girlfriend, a marathon runner herself who I’d been training with, told me, “Once you’ve run 20, the last 6 are a piece of cake; only mental.” I tell you, I never wanted to believe something so much in my life.

On the course, as the mile-markers loomed and fell away, so did so many of the fears a person accumulates over the course of a life. “I’m not good enough.” “There will always be more things I can’t do than can.” “Why do I hold myself back?”

As the finish line appeared before me, I took a moment to indulge in the fantasy that I was a kindred spirit to that ancient Greek messenger, thinking, “I have arrived, and I bring astonishing news!”

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