A runner abroad: The 2012 Tokyo Marathon

Posted: March 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Features, Photo essays, Photography, Running, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

© TOKYO MARATHON

My wife was worried. My mom was worried. Even my nine-year-old daughter was worried. And yes, I too was a little anxious as my departure date for Tokyo drew closer.

I’d never been to Japan before, so the thought of making my own way through customs and then from the Tokyo Narita airport to the Keio Plaza Hotel more than an hour away was a bit concerning. Would I find people who spoke English? Would I have any trouble exchanging my dollars for yen? Would I get on the right shuttle bus to the right hotel? Even though I assumed everything would work out fine, it all was a little intimidating for an Ohio guy who spends most of his days working from home and carting his kids to and from school.

And then, there was that whole marathon thing to worry about. I spent a couple hours in a local ER getting treatment for severe dehydration following the Chicago Marathon last October, and my body powered down for a quick nap in the chute after the Arizona Marathon in January. Needless to say, I was hoping to avoid any such experiences in the Tokyo Marathon, considering I would be in a foreign-speaking country more than 7,000 miles from home. The less post-race drama, the better, and I hoped my body would more easily handle 26.2 miles the third time around.

The good news is, I didn’t wind up in a Tokyo hospital last weekend. Even better, I had no trouble finding my way to the Keio Plaza Hotel upon my arrival, and I even found a small Italian restaurant for a traditional pre-race meal Saturday night. The people of Tokyo — from the hotel staff and the workers at the Shinjuku train station to the more than 2 million spectators who lined the street during the race — were friendly, helpful, patient and incredibly gracious. Many of them even spoke English (to varying degrees), which was a bonus for a Yankee like me who only knew how to say “thank you” in Japanese, and I even screwed that up repeatedly on my first day.

The bad news? I didn’t run as well as I’d hoped, but after the unbelievable week I had in Japan, I’m not really complaining. I’ve learned something about marathon running in each of my three races, with the main lesson from Tokyo being that I can never just assume that I’m drinking enough water along the way. I went into the race confident that my modified hydration and nutrition plan was sound and would help lead me to a PR if I just ran a controlled race, but evidently I didn’t take in enough water in the later stages and faded badly down the stretch before battling severe nausea once I crossed the finish line. The Japanese version of Gatorade brought me back from the dead, thankfully, and ensured that an otherwise fantastic day would not end on a very unpleasant note. I’m frustrated with the finish, but it didn’t tarnish the experience.

Race day started with some photos of our press tour group and, soon after, a realization: Wow, it’s cold out here. Colder than we expected. Fortunately, I had chosen heavier clothes than I otherwise would have, thinking I could ditch a layer prior to the start if I overdressed. Instead, I kept every last stitch on throughout the day, including the earband and gloves. In my right pocket: my little Canon Powershot camera, which I would soon learn is the perfect size for photorunning. (Someone asked if I coined the word “photorunning.” Considering how many photo opps unfold on a typical run, I doubt it, but I like it either way.) A suggestion from a friend convinced me the best method to document the race was to take shots on the move rather than stopping to compose the photos, with the resulting crooked and/or occasionally blurry pictures suiting the event well. Second-best decision of the weekend. (The Japanese Gatorade was #1. Easily.)

More than 36,000 runners gathered in the street in front of and around the corner from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a majestic two-tower structure that now has served as the starting point for each of the six Tokyo Marathons since 2007. At 9:10 am local time, we heard the starting gun from all the way back in corral G and slowly made our way toward the starting line. Eight minutes later, my race had officially begun.

The energy at a race of this size is always intoxicating, but the amps seemed to be cranked up even more Sunday morning. The whole city was buzzing, and I felt honored to be in that place, in that moment, however insignificant my role would be. I snapped a few pictures as we crossed the starting line, went to deposit the camera back into my pocket and then realized I was better off strapping it to my wrist and just keeping it on standby. Every curve in the road brought a new memory begging to be captured, from the sea of runners rising and falling in front of me and the 10,000 cheerful volunteer members of Team Smile, to the landscape of colorful buildings and street signs and the spectators lining the course in crazy costumes, holding up homemade signs and taking high-fives from any runner willing to give them. The runners themselves took part in the fun, with countless participants dressed up in outrageous gear, including one guy who ran as Jesus Christ, cross and all. (The proof is in the slideshow at the bottom of the page.) And every few seconds, I heard someone yell “Ganbatte!”, a traditional word of encouragement loosely translated as, “Do your best!” The word still echoes in my mind almost a week later.

My head was on a swivel, enjoying the sights and sounds with a goofy grin on my face and taking picture after picture after picture (after picture), all while darting through the heavy congestion and trying to stick reasonably close to an 8-minute per mile pace. Unfortunately, there were no mile markers on the course, as we’ve all grown accustomed to here in the States, so I tried to settle into a pace of about 25 minutes per 5km, a plan that worked well in the early stages and allowed me to largely ignore the clock as I made my way through Tokyo, passing the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo Tower (above) and the Zojoji Temple along the way. Before I knew it, I was 20km into the race with the halfway point approaching.

Jamey Codding Tokyo Marathon

Because I was just six weeks removed from the Arizona Marathon, my legs weren’t as fresh as I’d hoped coming into Tokyo. I held up fine through 25km but began to lose some steam after that. I wound up taking more than 300 photos during the race — many of those unusable shots of the road or of blurry landmarks sitting behind even blurrier runners (see the slideshow below) — and considering how few of those came during the second half when I had trouble finding the energy to raise my arm, point and shoot, I’m guessing the photorunning at least partially contributed to my slow finish. Still, I wouldn’t do things differently if given the opportunity. These pics will last a lifetime — I even stopped at one point when another runner offered to take a picture of me in front of the Tokyo Sky Tree (right). I’ll have other chances to run a PR, but I wouldn’t have had another chance to get that shot. (You can check out all the keepers in the slideshow below.)

As usual, the last several miles were a struggle, made even worse by the creeping dehydration. I’m a sweater — not in a Bill Cosby kind of way, but in a “what’s with all the crusted salt on your face?” kind of way — and apparently I need to take in even more water than I thought during a marathon to avoid crashing and burning. Nevertheless, I eventually dragged my carcass across the finish line in 3:59:25, fought back against my gurgling stomach and then slowly made my way through the chute to the gear check area, where volunteers applauded every runner as they came through to pick up their bags. On my way out, I noticed crowds of runners enjoying some time in an ashiyu (“foot bath”) and minutes later, I pulled up a spot and dipped in my feet. Ahhhh…. Who do I talk to about bringing these to the US?

I was still feeling the post-race effects in the hotel lobby Sunday evening when a Japanese man approached and asked if he could take a picture of the medal hanging around my neck. He told me (through an interpreter) that he was one of the more than 300,000 people who applied for the 2012 Tokyo Marathon but he wasn’t accepted. He stared at the medal, awestruck, telling me that I was fortunate to have been one of the 36,000 runners on the course that day. He said he hoped to get the same opportunity someday soon, and then asked how I ran. When I told him my time, his eyes widened and he provided me with my biggest laugh of the weekend, asking if I was a professional runner.

Not wanting to insult him, I hid my amusement as best I could and thanked him for the compliment, but told him there were many, many other runners who finished ahead of me. His reaction to seeing my medal and his deep desire to run the Tokyo Marathon himself one day proved that the organizers of this young race have built something special in a very short time. We learned during a symposium Friday night that the Tokyo Marathon hopes to one day be listed among the other World Marathon Majors, alongside legendary races like the New York and London Marathons. After what I experienced last weekend, I’d say it’s only a matter of time.

Of course, I can’t end this without thanking the Tokyo Marathon Foundation and our guides during the weekend for their incredible generosity. When I signed up for my first marathon a year ago, I never would have guessed I’d be given the opportunity to run a race halfway across the globe. I met so many amazing people, including several runners who have competed in dozens of races around the world. I can only hope to be fortunate (and healthy) enough to try something like this again someday, but after spending the past year training for one marathon or another, I’m just looking forward to a break.

(My official results can be found here. The site has me at 4:02:38, but whereas I stopped my watch when I chose the wrong porto-potty line during an early pit stop, their clock kept ticking. Hence, the discrepancy.)

TOKYO MARATHON SLIDESHOW

Press play below to see all the photos with select captions, or click the thumbnails to see individual shots. I will be posting more photos and stories from the trip in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

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Our press tour group was filled with runners from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Brazil, Spain, the UK and...Ohio.

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Jesus made the front page of the paper the next morning. You can see why. Gotta respect the guy for going all in with bare feet too.

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The Smile Team of more than 10,000 volunteers were awesome throughout the day. And quite happy to have their pictures taken, to boot.

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Always a thrill to see the leaders, even if they are miles and miles (and miles) ahead of you already.

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Zojoji Temple

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BMW, one of the race sponsors, had prime location and a pretty sweet sign in their window.

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No turning back now. Crap.

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Tokyo Tower, which I learned is taller than the Eiffel Tower.

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Mario, in his natural environment.

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Spongebob kicked my butt.

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The Tokyo Sky Tree growing out of the top of my head.

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We were all wondering....

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This guy was walking. Think he needs a different shirt. (Couldn't resist.)

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One of the very last times I was able to muster the energy to take a picture. Glad I did.

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Seriously, we need these in the States.

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Our press tour group was filled with runners from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Brazil, Spain, the UK and...Ohio.tokyo-race-2tokyo-race-3tokyo-race-4tokyo-race-5tokyo-race-40Jesus made the front page of the paper the next morning. You can see why. Gotta respect the guy for going all in with bare feet too.The Smile Team of more than 10,000 volunteers were awesome throughout the day. And quite happy to have their pictures taken, to boot.tokyo-race-8tokyo-race-9tokyo-race-41tokyo-race-10tokyo-race-11tokyo-race-12Always a thrill to see the leaders, even if they are miles and miles (and miles) ahead of you already.Zojoji Templetokyo-race-15tokyo-race-16BMW, one of the race sponsors, had prime location and a pretty sweet sign in their window.tokyo-race-18tokyo-race-19tokyo-race-20tokyo-race-21tokyo-race-50No turning back now. Crap.Tokyo Tower, which I learned is taller than the Eiffel Tower.tokyo-race-24tokyo-race-42tokyo-race-25tokyo-race-26tokyo-race-27Mario, in his natural environment.tokyo-race-29tokyo-race-30tokyo-race-43tokyo-race-31Spongebob kicked my butt.tokyo-race-45tokyo-race-33The Tokyo Sky Tree growing out of the top of my head.We were all wondering....This guy was walking. Think he needs a different shirt. (Couldn't resist.)tokyo-race-48tokyo-race-36One of the very last times I was able to muster the energy to take a picture. Glad I did.tokyo-race-38Seriously, we need these in the States.tokyo-race-39

Tokyo Marathon sneak peek

Posted: February 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Photography, Running | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Thanks to a suggestion from Mr. Awesome in my previous post about photorunning, I decided I’d focus less on composing photos during the Tokyo Marathon and more on taking fun, interesting and unique pictures from the festivities that would hopefully capture the essence of the race. Because of that strategy, I ended up shooting more than 300 photos today. Sure, several were unusable (blurry images, shots of the road and people’s feet) but for the most part, they turned out better than I expected.

I’ll post a bunch of them on bloggerful sometime when I get back. In the meantime, I’ve included a quick preview of a few of my favorites. The race itself didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but after the weekend I’ve had here in Tokyo, you won’t hear me complaining.


The delicate balance of photorunning

Posted: February 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Creativity, Mobile pics, Photo essays, Photography, Running | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The start of the Tokyo Marathon is less than 12 hours away, and what am I most concerned with? Not the weather (should be around 40 degrees at race time), not the course (mostly flat with some intimidating hills near the end) and not my time (though I wouldn’t mind running 3:30). Instead, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to take pictures of everything I want during the race.

I’ve never run a race with the intention of taking photos along the way, but the photographer in me just can’t let this opportunity pass by without at least trying to snap some shots along the way. Of course, the runner in me — the one who would love to break off a 3:30 tomorrow morning) — is worried that the photographer will get carried away and negatively impact my race. It’s a distinct possibility.

To be clear, the tough part isn’t taking the pictures, it’s composing them, as I learned during a couple recent training runs. I brought my camera along with me during my last two long runs, hoping to get a feel for how this whole “photorunning” thing would go in Tokyo. Each time, I wound up stopping for too many pictures (see samples above and below), which took me out of rhythm and gave my body time to cool down. Not good, especially when you’re running 26.2 miles. Muscles don’t need any help to tire out and tighten up during a marathon, but that’s exactly what will happen if I don’t exercise some control tomorrow. After touring the course today, I have a general idea of the things I’d like to shoot; the key will be sticking to my plan and not getting greedy. Wish me luck. (The race starts at 7:10pm EST Saturday evening, for those who are curious.)

I’ll be posting some photos from the trip (I’ve taken more than 400 so far) as well as a recap of the experience on bloggerful and some other fun stuff in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.


Scenes from an 18-mile training run on Super Sunday

Posted: February 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile pics, Photography, Running, Sports | Tags: , | No Comments »

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Ive been fortunate so far, training for two different marathons during an Ohio winter and enjoying gorgeous weather for most of my runs. Today was no different, and it felt good to get this 18-miler in an hour or so before I gorged myself on Super Bowl grub!

Maybe one of these days, I’ll be cheering for the Browns in February….


Marathon Mission: Complete

Posted: January 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Features, Running, Writing | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was sitting against a fence, shivering, my calves tied into knots and my hip flexors threatening to burst into flames, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I’d force my eyes open, take a sip from the water bottle I’d been handed after crossing the finish line, and then my eyes would slide shut again. Open, sip, repeat.

Jamey Codding marathon

At one point, a concerned medic approached me. “Everything OK?” he asked. I forced a smile, told him I was fine, just needed to rest, and then I gave in. I shut my eyes once more and drifted off, maybe for 10 seconds, maybe for two minutes. I’d never been overwhelmed by the urge to sleep after a race, but I’d also never run a full marathon. I finished (just barely) the Chicago Marathon in October, but as I sat against that fence in the chute for the Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, I could finally say that I had run a marathon. Well, once I woke up, I could say it.

In my “Why Run?” piece, I laid out some of the reasons I’ve been drawn back to the sport I’d abandoned in the 15 years since high school. Among those reasons, I wrote:

“I run to challenge myself, to set a goal and accomplish that goal. I run to find my limits and expand them, to redefine my comfort zone, to defy that voice inside my head that tells me my legs hurt too much and my lungs can’t take any more. I run to prove to myself that I can accomplish anything if I’m willing to work hard enough.”

The 3 hours and 44 minutes I spent running through Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe epitomized that paragraph. I bulldozed my comfort zone during the race and did my best to ignore “that voice” for the final six miles or so. I set out to run the whole race, and save for a handful of quick pit stops to guzzle some water or Gatorade, I did just that, even when my stomach started churning and “that voice” was pleading for a break at mile 24. I didn’t run as fast as I’d hoped, but I kept my feet moving, refused to walk, and crossed the finish line almost an hour sooner than I did in Chicago last October. Then I took a nap.

I won’t pretend that I accomplished anything monumentally profound last weekend. Heck, it seems everyone is running marathons and half marathons these days. But it was a significant personal achievement, a moment I won’t ever forget, a moment I once thought would never happen, and yet there I was in the chute, medal in hand, mission accomplished. I was sleeping, but I was there.

I didn’t think I could, until I did

“I run to find my limits and expand them.” In hindsight, this line is perhaps the most accurate in the above paragraph. I remember how awful I felt after finishing my first half marathon, and how fantastic I felt seven months later after my third. My body wasn’t ready for 13.1 miles in Columbus, but by Cleveland, it knew what to expect and I cruised to a PR.

Last Sunday, my body was toast. I crossed the line sore, nauseous, thirsty and exhausted, certain I couldn’t have run another 10 feet. That’s exactly how I felt after my first half marathon. Now, a 13-mile run qualifies as an easy day. Will the pattern hold next month when I hop onto a plane to run the Tokyo Marathon?

Man, I hope so.

Jamey Codding marathon

I know, I know, the hydration belt really makes the outfit.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting Tokyo will be easy just because I finished the Arizona Marathon, but it should be easier. Not only will my body be better conditioned to handle 26.2 miles, but perhaps more importantly, I now know that I can, in fact, run a full marathon. Clearing that mental hurdle is huge. Telling yourself you can do something is one thing, but proving to yourself that you can do it is another.

At the expo the day before the race, I bought a shirt that said “Inspired to Run” on the back. Those three words sum things up beautifully for me. The act of running – of hitting the pavement or treadmill several times a week, braving the elements in the dead of winter or peak of summer, logging mile after mile after mile on lonely roads and rolling trails – isn’t a whole lot of fun. It’s not easy either. But it’s damn sure rewarding.

I’ve accomplished things during these two years of running that I never thought were possible. In about five weeks, I’ll add one more item to the list when I run a marathon in Tokyo. That’s incredible to me. And it’s no coincidence that, with each mental hurdle I’ve cleared in my training, my confidence in other areas of life has soared as well, driving me to pursue personal and professional endeavors that once seemed out of reach and unattainable.

That may sound corny, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason running has exploded in popularity over the last decade. There’s a reason more and more friends and family members are asking me for beginner training tips or advice on picking their first pair of running shoes (I’m no expert on either subject, by the way). There’s a reason people like my aunt, who ran her first marathon last year at the age of 53, fall in love with the sport. She’s done a bunch of half marathons, some sprint triathlons, joined a team for Ragnar last year, and probably accomplished so many other things that I don’t even know about. She also completed her second marathon in Arizona last weekend, and was thrilled to PR by three minutes. That’s what it’s all about. (Way to go, Martha!)

I am a marathoner. I had to wait three months longer than anticipated to be able to say that, but it doesn’t make it any less sweet. I can’t relax yet, though, not with the Tokyo Marathon on the horizon. I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I pick my routine back up Sunday with an easy five miler, but there’s only one way to find out.


Carbo loading

Posted: January 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile pics, Photography, Running | Tags: , | No Comments »

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Who needs pasta before a marathon?


Under the bridge, over the other bridge

Posted: January 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mobile pics, Photography, Running | Tags: , | No Comments »

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I’ve logged hundreds of miles on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath over the past year while training for two marathons. This is one of my favorite spots along the way. Anyone know where it is?

Some day, I really need to grab a bike and my camera gear, and spend some time exploring the Towpath. It’s loaded with great photo opps, but I’d never finish my run if I let myself shoot everything that caught my eye. I’m sure this won’t be the last photo from a Towpath training run.


Why run?

Posted: December 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Features, Running, Writing | Tags: , | No Comments »

Written August 10, 2011

Why run? It’s a fine question, one I couldn’t stop asking myself as I trudged along during a brutal 14-mile training run last weekend. “Why am I out here?” “I feel awful.” “Wish I hadn’t run out of water five miles ago.” “How the hell am I going to run 26 miles in October?” That last one, in particular, has been gnawing away at me in the days since the 14 miler, but we’ll save that for another post. Today, let’s start with two words that non-runners will routinely throw your way when they see you lacing up your shoes or hear about your latest race: Why run?

Sunset runner

Stock photo, © Larry Maurer

Of course, there isn’t one stock answer to this question, and different runners will offer different responses. As someone who ran competitively in high school before taking the next 15 years off, getting back into running has been like reconnecting with a long, lost love. I stopped running after graduation in 1995 because whatever passion I had for the sport had dried up when I stepped onto the Ohio University campus later that fall. Who wants to go for a five-mile run when there are beers to be drained and late-night fast food to be devoured? And after four years of training and racing in both cross country and track, my body (and my mind) needed a break. I just didn’t know my break would last 15 years.

I tried to pick it back up several different times during those 15 years, but my restarts never lasted longer than a month or three for one simple reason: I didn’t have the proper motivation. If someone had posed the “why run” question during that time, I wouldn’t have had an answer. Every couple of years, I’d force myself to go on painful two- or three-mile runs with one abstract goal in mind: to get into shape. And after a couple months, with my times not improving and my body still feeling like crap every time out, I’d throw in the towel and wonder how and why I ever ran in the first place.

Everything changed last April. A friend who knew I ran in high school asked if I wanted to be a part of his four-man marathon relay team in Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon. I hadn’t run longer than four miles in at least 10 years, but something about the challenge of training for and competing in a legitimate road race compelled me to say yes. I regretted it almost immediately. My leg of the race was about 5.5 miles long – the shortest of the four, but also the hilliest. What had I gotten myself into? I had a hard enough time finishing three-mile jogs around my neighborhood, so how was I going to double that up on a bunch of hills in the matter of a couple months?

I had some training to do.

If you’ve had an urge to start running but haven’t been able to either take the plunge or stick with it for any real length of time, I recommend signing up for a race. It’s instant – and very real – motivation. Your training runs take on a true sense of purpose and urgency when you’ve got an actual goal you’re working toward, rather than the abstract concept of merely running to get in shape. Spending $50-$100 on the entry fee helps too. Knowing I had committed to this race in April, and knowing that I had three other guys counting on me to show up on race day, I finally started to see my times drop and mileage increase. I soon graduated from two miles to three and four, then five. I wasn’t setting my watch on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but I was running farther and faster than I had since my high school days after failing to improve during any of my previous false starts over the past 15 years. Then one day, I set out to run six miles and, realizing just how good I felt in the middle of the run, I decided to tack on another mile…then one more. Two months earlier, I struggled through two- and three-mile runs, and now I had an eight miler under my belt. I was back.

Jamey Codding half marathon

Who goes to Vegas to run a half marathon?

We ran well in Cincinnati – not as fast as I had hoped I’d run, but not bad for my first real race in ages. More importantly, I had rediscovered the passion for running I thought had vanished for good. Being in that race environment and talking with other runners who had been working as hard as I had (and harder) to accomplish a goal energized me and served as a wake up call. After my leg of the race was over, we headed back to watch runners cross the finish line at the end of their own half and full marathons. I felt good about what I had accomplished that day, but watching them finish their race, I knew was ready for more. I signed up for my first half marathon a couple weeks later, and by May of this year, I had completed half marathons in Columbus (1:35:31), Las Vegas (1:35:34) and Cleveland (1:32:51), and am currently training for my first full marathon in Chicago this October. How’s that for a turn of events?

So why run? I run to challenge myself, to set a goal and accomplish that goal. Running can be a very personal experience – it’s just you and the road or trail. There’s no coach out there barking instructions, no teammates clamoring for attention, no scoreboard to worry about. I run to find my limits and expand them, to redefine my comfort zone, to defy that voice inside my head that tells me my legs hurt too much and my lungs can’t take any more. I run to prove to myself that I can accomplish anything if I’m willing to work hard enough. I run because, on my personal list of life’s simple joys, crossing the finish line sits near the top, and crossing the finish line ahead of my target time is even higher. I run because it’s time that belongs to me and me alone, time I take to improve my health, achieve my goals, clear my mind, and find some peace amidst the rhythmic sound of my footfalls. I run because I spend too much time sitting at a desk with my eyes glued to a computer monitor. I run because it feels good to sweat. I run because there are few things in life that taste better than cold water after a long run. I run to escape my thoughts, work through a problem or just blow off steam. I run to be part of a community, because the energy at a big race is intoxicating and inspiring, even if you’re just a spectator. I run because my kids see me run, and because we just bought my eight-year-old daughter her first pair of running shoes. She can go a mile or two at a time right now, and she loves it. I’ve asked her why, but she hasn’t figured that part out yet. She will.

Finally, I run for moments like the one I had yesterday. I was still trying to figure out why my 14 miler had gone so poorly – I finished eight minutes slower than I wanted – and challenged myself to make up for my mediocre showing with a quality five-mile run Tuesday morning. Three days after having my worst run of the year, I came back with my best run of the year, beating my target by a minute and running faster than I had for any of my previous training runs. I guess I run for a chance at redemption too.

So now the question is, why do you run…or why will you run?