They say the number 13 is unlucky and it certainly was for me. Up until the halfway point of the marathon everything was going great. The weather was great, I felt great, and I was well within my half way goal pace of 2-hours.
The terrific thing about the old Las Vegas marathon course is that is was completely unimaginative. At the crack of down, they would drive you out of town down the highway for 26 miles, like some unwanted outlaws, and you got to run back to town in a straight line along the highway on the frontage road. Your crime, of course, was being way to fit for a city that thrives on booze and cigarettes.
I remember walking to the buses through the MGM Grand Casino at 5:00a.m on a Sunday morning. It was packed with dull-eyed, chain smoking, slot machine feeding, whisky drinking, gamblers who I’m sure didn’t just get up to go for a quickie bet. These folks had been at it all night, but since there is no night in a Casino, for them, it could have been the middle of the afternoon.
I’ve always had a sort of warped view of power and freedom. To me true power and freedom represent the power and freedom not to do something, versus the more traditional view that power and freedom allows you to do, or be, or accomplish something.
Here’s what I mean. Do you think that Bill Gates of MS carries a cell phone, or does he have people that carry his cell phone? I know that I would love to chuck my cell phone out of the window. It represents a constant Albatross around my neck that keeps me tethered to work 24-7.
OK so that’s a pretty silly example, but here’s another one I hope illustrates my meaning better. When I looked around the Casino at 5:00 a.m. in the morning I didn’t see a lot of people having fun. In fact you rarely see what I would consider an expression of fun and joy on a gambler’s face. They tend to look more like people at work. They seems really intent on what they are doing in a sort of “don’t bother me I’m too busy right now” way that folks get on deadline.
So the question in my mind has always been are these folks truly free? Do they really want to be gambling at 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning? I suppose they could have asked the same question of me. Did I really want to be up at 5:00 a.m. for a cold ride into the gloomy dessert only to have to run back to town for 26.2 miles into a howling headwind?
Actually it was only the last 13 miles that the wind got really nasty. And by nasty I mean that it was so strong that we knew when we were close to a water station before we could actually see the damn thing by the legions of empty tumbling cups that hit our feet as we ran.
And by we, I mean the bike-like draft line that about 10 of us formed to try to beat the wind. Just like a bike team time trial, we would take turns at the front of the group.
Except as I was both the tallest and widest, I seemed to get much more encouragement to stay at the front of the line. The 5-foot 4-inch girl who was ahead of me did a great job in shielding my stomach against the wind, but that was about all. And since my stomach already has a somewhat rounded aerodynamic shape, I’m not sure what good she really did. All I remember is thinking how grateful I was that all of my energy was spent on the wind and not on the course.
I ran a different marathon a few years ago in Logan, Utah were the last part of the race coiled through town like a drunken snake. All I recall was how mentally tough every turn was as the race neared the finish. I didn’t mind running that last 6 miles, but it was all those crazy turns that made the last part a stumbling death march.
Which brings me back to power, or lack of it.
I’ve really come to believe that if you have done the work, your success or failure in any race hinges not on your strength, or fitness, or stamina, but on your mental power. To what extent can you push your mind over what’s the matter with your body or the conditions, or your luck?
Because there will always be something that will limit your performance. In Las Vegas it was the wind. In Utah it was the crazy winding course at the end of the marathon. The biggest difference between the two races for me was my brainpower.
In Vegas I pushed myself through the wind to a personal best marathon time of just over four hours. In Logan I folded like a cheap deck of cards. My body was ready for both races but I lacked the brainpower in Logan to get the job done.
The craziest thing about the Las Vegas marathon was that both my neighbor and I had the exact same time….to the hundredth decimal place. Yes we trained together and roomed together, but there is no way in this world that we could ever replicate that finish time again. I bet that if we tried to run together and cross the finishing mat at the same time (a hundredth of a second is just such a half blink of time) that we could never replicate our identical times.