Many of you logged on Monday as Jeff Bradley, The Magazine's baseball and soccer writer, completed his first Boston Marathon. He phoned in regular updates to ESPNMAG.com before, during and after the 26.2-mile jaunt (quite an accomplishment, considering he had never run a marathon before). Click here to relive the race. Now that he can finally feel his legs again, Bradley offers a few coherent thoughts.
Break 80 on the golf course. Check.
So, let's see, what's next on the Mid-Life Crisis Smackdown Tour ...
· Become fluent in Spanish (beyond understanding futbol terms).
Well, at least I can be thankful that none of those will require immediate use of my legs, which are now as useless as my LSAT scores (God only knows what kind of mid-life crisis I'd be going through had I actually gone to law school back in 1989).
Yes, as I sit here in seat 8F, bound for SeaTac, I'm a hurtin' dude. But I'm not complaining, because Monday was one of the greatest days of my life.
No, I'm not going to compare running the Boston Marathon to my wedding day or the birth of my two sons, but in terms of "sports" experiences, it's at the top. I'd have to say that it was better than breaking 80 in golf because, well, I've come to realize that it wasn't really me, but some impostor, who shot 74 (33 on the back) down in Myrtle Beach a couple of years ago. In other words, it was an out-of-body experience. Dumb luck.
The marathon was me, every step of the way, for 18 weeks, getting my body out on the road, sometimes at home in Manasquan, N.J., and other times, in the city of my Magazine assignment. I remember a 10-miler in Manhattan Beach, a 12-miler in Fort Lauderdale, a 14-miler in Berkeley. I never knew where I was going on these runs, so I guessed I was running at a nine-minute pace and ran until my watch said it was time to stop.
I went to Boston with a similar blind approach. I just put it in my mind that I was going to have four hours (or more) of fun. I was going to enjoy the sights and sounds, take a few phone calls from the folks in the office, and, if all went well, cross the finish line.
And for 20 miles, that's what I did. I had a blast, screaming at the spectators in Natick, "I'm related to Doug Flutie!" and to to the fans in Framinghman, "Lou Merloni rules!" I sang the soccer song (you know, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!) with some guy wearing a Brasil shirt. And high-fived as many kids as I could find with their hand held out.
But over the last 10 kilometers, something changed. I was exhausted. My legs throbbed, my hands went numb, my head got light. I told ESPNMAG.com to stop calling my cell phone; the every-half-hour updates were now history. As I watched a number of runners bow out (a few collapsing), I wondered if I was going to, you know, bonk ... hit the wall. I mean, you don't consciously drop out of a marathon so close to the finish line, do you? I figured something very powerful must be happening to these runners to make them stop.
And that scared me.
A friend of mine who was tracking me on the Internet commented, "I think you slowed down to an 11-minute pace there at the end." He did the math, so I'm sure he's right but, to tell you the truth, I don't even care how slow I was running.
At that point, as I hit mile-markers 23, 24 and 25, I just started focusing on all the runners who were running with me. Notice, I said "with" me, not "against" me. I started thinking about how many of them had to qualify for this race and how privileged I was to get a special "media entry." I can't tell you how many men and women passed me, saying, "Keep going, you're almost there!" as they went by. It was just so cool. I had no desire to keep pace with any of them. I was in my own little world. As I made the last turn onto Boylston Street, and could see the blue-and-gold Finish Line, I felt a lump in my throat.
Over the final quarter of a mile, I started waving and pumping my fist to the crowd on the right side of Boylston. (I would later learn that my wife, Linda, was standing on the left side, hoping to snap a picture). I know it was dorky, but it's what I was feeling.
All that was left was a phone call to the office to tell them I'd finished in a net time of 3:41 (actually it was 3:41:55, so I should have said 3:42). I went back to my hotel later and read what I said ... "I did awesome" ... and laughed out loud. Never again will I mock what an athlete says in one of those Jim Gray interviews. "I did awesome." Good grief.
Then came the highlight of my day ... the e-mails that had been sent to the site during the race. Some from friends and relatives, more from total strangers, one from a guy who I used to play high school soccer against, a bunch from my cyber-friends on the Bigsoccer.com message boards, another from a guy I haven't seen since college. Linda and I sat for more than an hour, sipping a little champagne, reading these notes, smiling and laughing the whole time.
"You better write them all back," Linda said, wagging a finger at me.
"I'll try," I said.
But until then, I can only say thanks to everyone who shared the experience with me.
Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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