Disclaimer: I am not referring to myself in the title. I’m not the kind of person to ever talk about myself in the third person. The Drew I am referring to in the title is none other than Drew Carey. If you’re unfamiliar with who Drew Carey is I highly suggest you watch this video. Like seriously, stop reading this blog post and watch.
I’m assuming everyone reading this did what I asked and watched the video. Good! If you did, you would have noticed 1) Whose Line is one of the greatest shows ever created and 2) they make fun of Drew A LOT. Like, almost constantly. And one of the things that they pick on the most is his weight. It seemed to be something that he just accepted as part of his identity and something that he went along with for the sake of the show. That’s why I was shocked to hear a few years ago that Drew Carey ran a marathon. I remember reading that headline and thinking that it couldn’t possibly be that Drew Carey. But after doing some research I found out it was in fact the same Drew Carey! I thought that was absolutely amazing. Here was a guy that probably no one ever thought would accomplish a feat like that and he just went out and did it. I thought, “Hey, if Drew Carey can run a marathon then why can’t I?” And so a mantra was born.
I feel like I’m always trying to convince myself that I’m a runner. I ran cross country for three years in high school and was the very definition of average. I was always in the middle of the pack, never really pushing myself too hard. That’s one of my biggest regrets. I wish I had developed a stronger work ethic in regards to running while I was actually doing it competitively. But weirdly, even though I ran cross country, I didn’t really think of myself as a runner. Cross country was just something I did because my friends were on the team. I didn’t just go out for leisurely runs when I didn’t have to. I ran when I had to at practice. No more, no less. It wasn’t until after high school that I really started running just for the sake of running. And I discovered just how freeing it is. Running became one of the best ways for me to think and reflect on life. I no longer had to worry about a time (mostly because there was no coach watching), so I just ran for the sake of it. But I still wasn’t running often enough to classify myself as a “runner.” I was only doing it maybe once or twice a week. It’s not like I was training for anything.
(If you look closely you’ll notice the basketball shoes I wore for my entire first season of cross country. And I wonder why I wasn’t any good…)
It probably wasn’t until about my sophomore year of college that the idea of running a marathon crossed my mind. I always thought it would be cool but totally unattainable. I didn’t really have the motivation to do something drastic like that. Besides, the most I was used to running was three miles, not 26.2. Only truly crazy people run marathons.
That’s about the time I learned Drew Carey had run a marathon. As I said earlier, I developed the mantra “If Drew Can, I Can.” And so for the next 6 years I would go through my annual “runner” phase. I would decide that I was going to run a marathon and I’d train. I’d find a marathon training plan online and follow it pretty closely for about three weeks before hitting the proverbial wall and giving up. And then I’d try it again the next year. And so on and so forth. Half the time I didn’t even look up a marathon to run. I’d just start training for some unknown marathon. And I should mention, I use the term train very loosely. It mostly consisted of running on the days I was supposed to and not actually running the suggested mileage or worrying at all about improving. In my eyes it was considered a success if I ran two miles instead of the recommended five.
No matter how much I may have wanted to convince myself I was a runner, it just wasn’t the case. Then one year I had a totally different mindset. I really can’t quite explain it. For whatever reason I just felt more motivated. This time I actually pinpointed a marathon and found a training plan that would take me right up to race day. It was a 16 week plan, which was pretty ambitious given my history. But this time felt different. I was actually going out with a purpose. I was tracking my times and running the suggested mileage every time out. I made it past that dreaded three week wall. I made it to the halfway point. I was feeling really good, both mentally and physically. This time I’m actually going to do it. And then I got sick. Nothing major, but enough to convince me to take a couple days off. But then it was Christmas. You know, I’ve been working pretty hard. I deserve a week off. And so I took a week off. And then it was time for my trip to Utah with my friends. I figured I’d find time to go out for a few runs. Ha, right. That didn’t happen. So I basically ended up going three weeks without training. Really all it took was a week to kill my momentum and motivation. Sadly, this meant an end to yet another failed marathon attempt. I was disappointed, sure, but I also was very encouraged. For the first time I actually made concrete improvements. I made it beyond the third week wall. I had found another gear that I probably didn’t even have when I ran cross country. So while this was another failed attempt I had hope that a marathon was closer than I had imagined.
Over the next couple years I began to realize that maybe I was approaching this all wrong. In my mind, I was only considering a full marathon. I was trying to go for the big one right off the bat without first working my way there. So then I started thinking about doing a half. A half would still be the longest run I had ever done and would be a natural stepping stone to doing a full. So I began setting my sights on a half. I also realized that I never truly committed to a race. Yeah, I might have a specific race as my goal. But I had never actually signed up for one. Maybe signing up for one would make it more real? And so that’s what I planned on doing. But I had one more realization. Everything is easier when you have someone there to go along with you and hold you accountable. I needed to find a running partner. The first person I asked was my friend Chris. I knew he was a runner (like a real runner, not a wannabe runner like me) and he’d be someone that would push me and motivate me. Long story short, he agreed to be my running buddy. So in December of 2016 we signed up for the half marathon in St. Louis in April.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget our first training run. It was a COLD Sunday morning in January and we were planning on doing four miles. I had about three layers on and still wasn’t warm enough. We take off and less than a mile in I’m already thinking “Why am I doing this? Am I crazy?” Chris was much faster than I was, which pushed me to keep up. By mile two I was already huffing and puffing while Chris was cruising along. I pushed through the last two miles to finish our goal of four miles. I was physically exhausted but felt a strong sense of accomplishment. I had run four miles plenty of times before but never in that kind of cold. I also ran those four miles faster than I typically would have if Chris wasn’t there. So despite being incredibly tired I was also incredibly motivated.
Chris and I agreed that we’d get together every Sunday until the half and increase our mileage each time. That meant I was on my own during the week, which has proven to be a problem in the past. I was definitely worried about hitting that three week wall. But I also didn’t want to let Chris down. I wanted to not only finish the training but get better so it was easier for me to keep up with Chris. So instead of taking it easy during the week I pushed myself hard. I meticulously tracked my times and worked to get faster. If my time was significantly slower one day to the next I’d be disappointed. That just made me want to run faster the next day. This time around I was strictly following a training schedule, running up to 5 days a week. I was running in all weather conditions, only taking days off when I was scheduled to. I was also eating better, not wanting to undo any of the progress I was making by eating a bunch of crappy fast food. PSA: Never eat Taco Bell and then try and run eight miles. It’s a bad idea.
Chris and I gradually increased our mileage each time we ran together. I wasn’t used to running more than four miles, so when we got to our seven and eight mile runs it began to get pretty difficult. I was definitely improving in terms of time and speed but I was still working on building up my long distance stamina. I’d usually get into a groove after the first mile but then hit a wall around mile 6. But I didn’t want to stop because I didn’t want to slow Chris down (more than I already was). Each time running with Chris I discovered a gear I didn’t know I had. I was pushing past limits I had previously put on myself.
During my training I was feeling great in so many ways. First, I had lost about 30 pounds over the course of training. I hadn’t felt that good physically since high school. But I also noticed significant improvements mentally and emotionally. Running became my escape. If I was upset or frustrated I had my run that day to look forward to to take my mind off of things. And when I wasn’t running I was more generally motivated. My laziness evaporated and I was so much more productive in other areas of my life. That definitely included spiritually. I had more energy for prayer and for youth group. I was feeling alive in every way imaginable.
After three long months of training it was finally the day. The race was through downtown St. Louis at 7:00 in the morning, so that meant for a very, very early wake up call. I had a lot of different emotions that morning. I was excited, nervous, anxious, happy, scared, all at the same time. It was incredible to finally get to the endpoint. I recalled that first training run with Chris in that brutal cold. I had a lot of pride in myself for not giving up. I was finally going to fulfill a goal I had been chasing for so many years (well, half of the goal). I was also terrified. Yeah, I had been training, but that was nothing compared to what I was about to try. It’s different running through the neighborhoods of St. Charles by yourself as opposed to through the streets of downtown of St. Louis with thousands of other people. But I was definitely more excited than anything else.
As soon as the gun went off the adrenaline started pumping. Chris and I took off with the crowd surrounding us. It didn’t take us long to settle into our pace. Our pace through the first few miles was faster than what I had been training at but we agreed to continue at that speed as long as we both felt good. I didn’t feel good – I felt great. The adrenaline was in full effect. I felt like I could run at that pace for hours. We also got helpful boosts from Chris’ family and a couple of the teens from the youth group that made their way down. It was awesome seeing them and feeling that support. It was also incredible running by St. Louis landmarks like Busch Stadium and the brewery. Taking in the sights also distracted me and helped me pass the time.
Six miles in and I was still cruising. Our pace hadn’t slowed nor did I feel like it needed to. Just about halfway there. Mile seven was a little different. I still felt pretty good but there was some fatigue starting to hit my legs. They weren’t used to this kind of pace. I figured I’d find an extra boost somewhere along the way so I didn’t worry too much. Mile eight came and went with no boost. I was definitely starting to slow down. My legs were feeling heavy, my breathing was starting to strain, my stomach was starting to hurt. My whole body was starting to tighten up. Mile nine I hit a wall. My pace had already dropped by a couple minutes at least. It got to a point that I had to stop. I was so upset. I hadn’t walked a single time in my three months of training, no matter how much I had wanted to. And here I was on the big day I had been working so hard for…walking. I didn’t want to slow Chris down and hold him back, so he went on ahead of me. I walked for about a minute before breaking back into a very, very slow jog. It was at that moment that I thought to myself “Why on earth would I want to do this twice?! Only crazy people run full marathons.” My excitement had worn off along with my adrenaline. I was paying for running those first six or so miles faster than I should have. I emptied my tank with four miles left. But there was no way I was just going to throw in the towel. I was finishing that race, one way or another.
One of my favorite things about this particular race was that our first names were on our runner bibs. I really appreciated all of the people on the sides, cheering for all of the runners. Keep it up Drew! You got this Drew! Don’t stop now Drew! These people saw that I was clearly exhausted and they knew I needed some extra motivation. Their support definitely wasn’t unnoticed. I also absolutely loved all of the signs I saw along the way. They were something to distract from my aches and pains. There was one sign that caught my eye around mile eleven. All the way down the street I noticed a sign that said “Donut give up!” I laughed out loud to myself and thought that was the perfect sign. I get a little closer and I see the people holding the sign…it was my family! That was the best surprise ever. I knew they were there somewhere but seeing them at that stage of the race was huge. That gave me a little extra that boost that I needed to get through those last two miles.
The finish was under the Arch, which I thought was a really nice touch. The problem is that using the Arch as a destination makes you think you’re closer than you really are, because, well, the Arch is hard to miss. I could see the place I was running toward for the last two miles but it still felt so far away. And at that point I was just ready to be done. I eventually made my way to the final stretch and the excitement came back. There were hundreds of people on both sides, cheering on all the runners as they fought for the finish line. The reality set in that I was actually going to do it. It no longer mattered that I walked, or that my time was going to be slower than I hoped for. My training was going to pay off because I was about to finish. I saw my friends and family (including Chris) on the side. Knowing that I had that support was an indescribable feeling. And then I finally cross that finish line.
I had never felt so simultaneously exhausted and alive at the same time. I had finally accomplished something I had been wanting to do for so many years. I felt a gush of pride and a huge sense of achievement. I did it. And while I’ll never forget that feeling of finishing, I think the most important thing I’ll take away from the entire experience is how special it is to have people to push you beyond your limits. I had tried (and failed) training for numerous marathons. It wasn’t until I finally asked someone to run with me that I finally did it (well, half of it). If I hadn’t had Chris to motivate me and encourage me every week I’d probably still be “training” for that first marathon. I also couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends, both leading up to the race and during. They gave me those extra little boosts exactly when I needed them.
I’m going to skip ahead a little bit and spoil something: I did end up running my first full marathon back in October. But that’s a story for a later blog post (shoutout to Emma for being my marathon running buddy).
Am I a runner? I’m still not sure I know the answer to that. My half and full marathon medals would suggest that I am. But I don’t think it matters all that much. What matters is that I can now identify myself as someone that reaches my goals.
If Drew Can, I Can (this time I am referring to myself in third person)