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A chance to reach unmet goal will keep him on course

October 26, 2000

A chance to reach unmet goal will keep him on course



Oops.

Or, to put it another way: I came. I ran. I limped.

A few minutes before 1:30 p.m. last Sunday, I crossed the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon, just a few hundred feet from the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va.

Running the last half-mile of a 26.2-mile course, up a hill, was not the hardest thing I did that day. No, the most difficult stretch came in the miles before, after my legs cramped up for the second year in a row, forcing me to walk.

I feel no shame for walking; it happens. The real test of strength was walking through the pain in my legs, to start running again when I felt I could and to walk again when I couldn't run anymore. The cycle repeated itself for six miles until just before the finish, when no force on earth was going to keep me from running through the finish.

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My final time was 4:50:36, a full 18:21 better than last year. With a little time to reflect, that's not too bad.

On Aug. 3, however, I rather boldly predicted I would complete the Marine Corps Marathon in less than four hours. Oops.

I said then that I would train harder, eat better and act wiser, that having lived the experience once, I would be better prepared this time around.

So, that's what I did. I trained harder, ate better and acted wiser. And it still wasn't enough.

Not too long after finishing on Sunday, I turned to my parents and said that maybe I'm just not built for this type of race. Maybe I should stick to shorter races, maxing out on half-marathons or 15-milers.

Part of it was throbbing leg muscles. Part of it came from a lightly bruised ego.

My problem is this: I don't buy it. I just haven't figured out how to prepare so that my quadriceps don't start spasming like water sizzling off a griddle. I will, though, and when I do, watch out.

What makes us push ourselves to our absolute limits, only to find a way to go even farther when it is still not enough?

Is it stubborn pride? Is it the feeling of invincibility that survival creates? Is it the look of excitement from family and friends that propel us forward when all we want to do is stop?

Or is it less about crossing the finish line and more just getting to the start?

3:55:48.

That was the goal. That is the goal. My second marathon was not my last.

3:55:48 will fall. Maybe not next time, or the time after that, but it will fall and another time will take its place.

I will never finish first in any marathon. I'll leave the record-breaking to professionals. But every time I cross another finish line, I will have won.

Kevin Clapp is a staff writer for Lifestyle.

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