The Modern Working Musician: The Return (Honest Failures, Honest Art)
Love is Powerful: My Experience Running My First St.Jude Marathon
My alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. Honestly, I slept surprisingly well that night, with the exception of a few ridiculous dreams.
I dreamt my headlamp went out even though we were running in the daytime. I dreamt I stopped for lunch and almost didn’t make the cutoff time.
Six months of training and fundraising had lead to this day, my first full marathon. It would be foolish to say that the butterflies weren’t real.
I drank my morning cup of black coffee and double checked my gear. Thankfully so because I realized one of my small water bottles had mold inside of it. I consumed a small piece of plain toast because I learned very early on in my training that bland food is key to preventing a troublesome gut. My wonderful wife, who volunteered to cheer me on through the day’s adventure, woke around 5:00. She, being the amazing person that she is, helped me at every chance that she could.
My wife and I left around 5:30 to head downtown, which was already starting to fill up from over 27,000 runners taking part in the day’s activities. We were lucky enough to have a friend of a friend who lived downtown so we had a little spot to serve as our home base for the day.
At around 7:15, with our gear checked and rechecked, my running partners and I made our way to the starting line. What awaited us was one of the most awe inspiring sights I have ever seen. An ocean of people as far as the eye could see with one purpose, to run, to toil, and to celebrate the bravery of some of the most brave young men in women in the world who were and are fighting a daily battle with cancer at St.Jude.
The wind chill was more harsh than expected, but the nerves made it quite easy to stay warm. I had some dry mouth but I couldn’t tell if it was from nerves or thirst. This was the first of many lessons to learn on the day’s journey. When in doubt, hydrate. I wasn’t sure of all of the water stops involved but I should have planned ahead. The energy permeating the never ending crowd was electric. Todd, my running partner, was next to me, and we both questioned our sanity. A few minutes passed like seconds. Suddenly, we were off.
Now, if you’ve ever trained for a marathon, you know how much time is committed to it. If you haven’t, let me give you a brief enlightenment. I started preparing for this six months ago in July. At least twice during the week I’d do some kind of workout run and then on either Saturday or Sunday would do a weekly long run. The long runs started at around seven miles and peaked at twenty one miles in October. Needless to say, I had put hundreds of miles under my feet just for this one day. And now I was here, Todd beside me, embarking on one of the greatest adventures of my life.
The electricity from the starting line made mile one a breeze. The chatter from the crowd and friendly conversation made this mile slip by with ease. I took a swig from my small water bottle and we pressed on.
This was easily the most important mile of the entire run. We entered the St.Jude campus and were instantly met with the reason we were there. The brave young ladies and gentlemen lined the streets cheering us on. Some made signs, some gave high fives, some even held signs in memory of those lost. The thought resonated in my might for the next twenty one miles. If they can fight such a battle, then running a marathon is the least I can do for them.
Shakeout time. My knees were starting to bug me but it was also time for a bathroom break and nutrition. Both Todd and myself hopped off the road and took an energy gel with a few swigs of water. Next thing we knew we were back on the trail at the bottom of a very steep hill.
I dubbed this mile “the turning point” in my mind. Essentially, this is where the half marathoners broke away from the full marathoners and the atmosphere changed significantly.
It was lonely. It was quiet. The wind kicked up as we crossed an overpass. It almost felt like running on the moon. Luckily, this was only for about a mile and once we hit the next mile marker, we were joined by more people cheering us on the sidelines.
In the weeks leading up to the marathon I was battling some pretty serious runner’s knee. This was my biggest fear going into the race. I knew it would flare up no matter how hard I tried. It was just a matter of when and how I could manage it.
Mile thirteen was when it started to rear it’s ugly head. Thankfully, and I will say this more than once, I had Todd there with me. Honestly, I don’t know how I could have finished without him.
We stretched for a bit, took some more energy gels, and walked a little while. My knees started to even out a little which made the next little stretch not so bad.
From here to mile seventeen was kind of a blur. We saw the lead runner coming back up the route, which was amazing. We were met with block parties, friendly folks giving out water, gels, chips, candy, even beer and whiskey! We had officially reached midtown.
This was one of the highlights of my journey. We were running through a park when we reached a clearing, only to see and hear my friends, a band called Everdeens, playing. Amidst their playing I heard “Go Keegan!” and “We know that guy!” ring out over the PA. The amount of love I felt from these guys made it that much easer to keep going.
By this time my knees were really starting to give me some trouble. Thank God for Todd, the smile never disappeared from the man’s face as he just kept encouraging me.
This was the beginning of the ultimate struggle. My knees had pretty much deteriorated and I was running on pure will power. We passed a group of ladies handing out pretzels and, at this point, I hadn’t had solid food since about 5:00 in the morning. I grabbed a handful of pretzels and promptly told her if I weren’t married I would get down on one knee right then and there.
Todd was right there with me. Walking when we needed to, a smile still on his face, keeping the mood alive. He could have easily left me at this point, but he stuck it out like the amazing person he is.
This was the beginning of what I can only describe as the darkness. My body and my mind were in a place that they had never been before. I was beat down, broken, hurt, and exhausted. Todd and I were at a walk run, I was zigzagging and delirious. Though I had put calories, electrolytes, and water in my body, there was just not enough to compensate.
I was nauseous, and unbelievably miserable. But Todd’s confidence was unwavering. And, as terrible as I felt, Todd and I were both in awe that we were nearing the end of our first full marathon.
We were walking for a bit when we hit this mile marker. I mustered what little courage I could in attempt to run the last mile in. At this point, with my knees, every step was a feat of willpower. We managed most of this mile before I had to pause one last time.
We could hear the screams of the crowd, the intense positivity, the sound of music from the finish line. We had .2 miles left until we were officially marathon finishers. This and the amount of overwhelming gratitude was enough to give me one last surge of effort to cross the finish line with a run.
The Finish Line:
Todd and I crossed the line together, as brothers.
It’s so funny how people who barely knew each other a few months ago have become this close through such a task. We were handed metals, emergency blankets and water. We stopped for photos and took a few with each other before we made our way to see our loved ones.
I walked to the gate to see my wife standing there. I managed to make it all the way to her before breaking down, but as soon as she embraced me I lost what little composure I had left. I was tired, dehydrated, calorie deficient, but most importantly, loved.
And that brings me to the point of all of this. This experience has taught me how powerful of a thing love can be. I was surrounded by it in the weeks leading up to the race by those nearest to me. I witnessed it in the people I knew who supported my fundraising. On race day I was a part of it, I was emboldened by it, and I was transformed by it. Love for and from those around me made someone like myself cross a marathon finish line.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned here, but the greatest lesson in all of this is one that has been stated and restated throughout human history: love is powerful. It can make people come together for a great cause. It can make people rally to help each other. It can make someone run a marathon. It can pull someone from the deepest, darkest chasm of despair. Love is powerful.
Some Notes on Learning Through Failure.
I’ve never been a crier. I usually cry, on average once, about twice a year at best.
This past Saturday morning I was committed to running my first full marathon in my life, but instead I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed sobbing like an infant while my loving fiancé tried to calm me down.
After my not very brief moment of hysteria ended, I began to ask myself the usual questions: “How did I get here?” “How could I have avoided this moment?” “What could I do to keep history from repeating itself?”
It is my hope that, in writing this down, I will not only be able to keep track of my own doings, but also share what I have learned for comparison’s sake, for education’s sake, and just to let anyone else out there going through this sort of thing that you are not alone. This may seem like a little, this may seem like a lot to you. It may come across as whiny or self indulgent, but the fact of the matter is, I found my limit, everyone has theirs. It’s my hope that maybe, through writing this down, someone won’t have to wind up sobbing on the edge of their bed to know when it’s time to cut some things loose.
Before I continue, I am not a doctor. I am a music nerd who likes to run. It should be obvious that I am in no way, shape, or form able to diagnose or give any medical advice. These are simply my reflections and personal discoveries that I have decided to share.
In the past six months I have: left my previous teaching job of three and a half years with a group of colleagues so close to me that I consider them family in the town I was raised in at the middle school I attended as a kid; accepted an entirely new job with a vastly different job skillset working with an entirely different age group, social group, demographic etc.; taken a second job teaching private lessons on drums, guitar, bass, piano, and voice; managed to find a house to rent while working two jobs and commuting an hour one way to work; moved out of my hometown to a new city; all while gigging in various bands, working on different musical projects and trying to train for a marathon which included battling a previous injury that occurred in May.
Before I knew it, I was working 50-60 hours a week at two different jobs, trying to squeeze in long runs on Friday nights after teaching all day, and still trying to find random times to move my things from my old house to my new one. Every musical project I had was either on autopilot or severely on the backburner. Practice? Absolutely out of the question.
The aforementioned story may sound like a lot, it may sound easy compared to your schedule. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I just kept piling things on while laboring under the excuse that I’m a “workaholic”. I didn’t know this was too much for me to handle because I was simply ignoring my better judgment.
It was a Tuesday night, sometime on or around Halloween that I tried to squeeze in a light 10k. I live in a new neighborhood so I don’t know the terrain or the routes very well, but I did what I could. I took a corner too sharply and felt a slight twinge in my left knee. I should have known then that this was the loose thread that was going to cause everything to unravel.
I woke up the next day to my left knee screaming at me. I tried a brace. I gave my knee rest time, but it just didn’t want to make it happen. My regular long runs were, at this point, around fifteen miles. After hurting my knee I couldn’t make it more than two.
The week of the marathon, I gave it one last shot…one and a half miles was all I could do.
So I finally went to the doctor just to verify that, at this point, the marathon ship had sailed.
And there it was. The thing that’d been hanging over my head since May. The giant star on the calendar that I had been stressing over so long was gone, out of my hands, just like that.
I was pretty okay until race day. I thought I had pretty well accepted my fate. But the night before and the morning of the race was really where my mind got the best of me. It was hard to accept that I had overcommitted to the point of failure. The fact that I was stretched too thin wouldn’t leave my mind, and the marathon just opened the floodgates to the realization that I wasn’t in top form in pretty much any facet of my life. I had let so many things slip through my fingers that it all hit me in a wave.
I had officially hit the wall, bitten off more than I could chew, and faced the consequences thusly. The next thing I knew I was sobbing like a child because of just how out of control I felt.
So what did I learn?
The phrase “knowing your limits” gets passed around quite a bit these days. But I’ve learned that these limits are a habit. Habits have to be formed, and sometimes, tested.
I’ve had a few phrases that have resonated within me for the past few days since my incident, for better or worse, they have gotten me through the brunt of the initial acceptance of my failure:
“If your list of successes is longer than your list of failures, you’re not trying hard enough.”
-This phrase seems like something that many entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, and authors might cook up. But if you study any people of great renown or caliber, you will see very closely that they fail exponentially more than they ever succeed.
“Your mind and body are tools, not toys.”
“Your mind is the vehicle of your soul and your body is the vehicle of both.”
Cars are fun to go fast and do all kinds of crazy things in, but if you don’t take care of them, they break down. Your body and your mind are the same way. We are here on this planet, and sure our minds and bodies are so easy to treat like a playground, but we must maintain, sharpen them, and treat with them with respect to achieve anything worth having. The less we respect our minds and bodies, the less we can expect to accomplish for any good.
Take care of your soul first, your mind second, and your body third. Let your commitments come after these.
So are my running days over? Not in the slightest. But I have found out the hard way that I need to shift some things around and reevaluate my commitments.
To be productive, to try and make yourself useful, is a never-ending quest for optimization. Find the things that work best for the least effort, don’t be afraid to rearrange. Don’t be afraid to quit, and don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is hard. Learn through it, not just from it.