Over the first ten miles of my Kentucky Derby Marathon, I listened to one song– “Sara” by Fleetwood Mac. Only because this was the first song that came up in my rotation. Ironically, it’s my favorite song– Because Stevie Nicks wrote it for reasons that are very relevant to my own life. I had over seven hours of music on my Nano to choose from that day. You might think I should have been tempted to listen to something more upbeat and faster paced. But, as any seasoned gambler will tell you, when you’ve hit a hot streak you don’t change anything. Besides, I was drowning in a sea of love. And this was where I had always wanted to drown.
Preparation for that day began in earnest on January 2, 2012. The day prior had wrapped up the three day bender to end all benders. Suki and I had been kid-free for quite a while, and for some reason this always meant that good judgment went straight down the shitter. I wouldn’t say that I had hit rock-bottom, but I can say with certainty that I had never grown more distant from myself. Were my left hand to have shaken my right, they would have greeted eachother as strangers. In the weeks leading up to January 2nd, I had become obsessed with a song by James Morrison called “Person I should have been.” Lyrically, it’s a perfect song. Here’s a sample:
I’m gonna start again
This world I painted black
Just needs some colour
I’m gonna live my life like the other
Person I should have been
I ain’t tapping out, no no no no
To this dark and twisted dream
That’s kept me living
I pray to my soul
To keep its fire burning
And when it does
I’m gonna let it shine
I’ll make the best of this life I’ve got left
Got no time for no regrets
Gonna show you just what I can be
The person I should have been
In another section of the song, the artist proclaims “I wanna change my perspective of reality. Be a much better version of me. The person I should have been.” So on January 2nd, Destructive Craig and Productive Craig struck an accord: To apply the same level of intensity I granted injurious pursuits towards the quest to discover this better version of me. And no facet of my life would be spared this transformative process. And, as a final exam, the results of this agreement would be tested on April 28, at the Kentucky Derby Marathon in Louisville, Kentucky.
The first two months of 2012 were spent almost entirely booze free. The first four months were 100% refined sugar free. I had a nine-week timespan where I worked out (either running, spinning, biking or swimming) every day. And my caloric intake (previously overlooked) became a subject of serious family scrutiny. Which can be very annoying. There’s a point to this enumeration: That my tracking down of this better version of me was no half-assed measure. By March I was beginning to see some real results. My A1C (90 day blood sugar average) was now ideal, non-diabetic. I had dropped over two minutes off of my per mile average when running at a 5K pace. I was also dropping weight like it was rainwater rushing off of a cliff. My wife had a better husband. My daughter, a better father. I was in good physical shape. And my spirit soared. By the end of April, I was ready to throw my arms around Louisville– To see what could be accomplished by this better version of me. And I had a number in mind. Five.
(Finally, he gets to the race.)
The obvious advantage to heading into a marathon weekend with confidence is that you don’t need eight shots of Jameson to calm your ass down. You sleep better too. Despite foul weather predictions, Louisville had gifted us the sort of weather about which husky Belgian marathoners could only dream. I lined up with the five hour marathon pace group hoping that those two men and I would be fast friends by 12:30 PM. As 7:30 AM hit, I shuffled forward with the scrum and shot one last smile at Suki. I hadn’t ran a race with finish time expectations before, so a fare face served well to quell the uneasiness that rumbled within me. We poured out of the chute on to Main Street at 7:44 AM Garmin time. I felt tall. And strong. And capable. I felt my quads constrict inside my compression shorts like they were a python applying a death wrap around its quarry. My first eight miles will go down as the best miles I have ever ran, thus far. I was averaging a sub 10 minute mile, so my finish time goal seemed like an inevitability. At mile eight we pulled up to historic Churchill Downs. The next mile would take us through the grandstands and infield track, and the anticipation of runners surrounding me was palpable. As we spilled out on to the infield, we were surrounded by muscled thoroughbreds clip-clopping through the dirt track. Despite Stevie Nicks’ best efforts, I could still feel the weight of their hooves striking in my chest.
The half and the full marathoners parted ways after mile nine. The full tacked south, towards Iroquois Park, where we would see our first series of serious hills at mile eleven. Unfortunately the tone for the remainder of my race was about to take a catastrophic turn for the worse. Nagging me like a bitter old woman was a left ankle that had been progressively building a head of steam. Regardless, my spirit still soared and was buoyed by seeing the likes of Steve Jones and Trammell racing past me. Iriquois Park is actually a golf course. Have I mentioned how much I dislike golf? I have always considered it a nice walk in the park spoiled by a stupid little white ball. Now I can honestly say I loathe the sport. Agonizing pain. That’s how the six miles that passed through that park will be remembered. It’s also where I took my first walking break. As soon as my momentum ceased, the reality of my pain set in. Quickly. I then recalled a passage in a book a had read a while back called “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal. In it, ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek was asked his secret for being able to burn through races that often exceed 100 miiles. Jurek’s responded that he forced himself to leave his own mind and get in to someone else’s. So I spent the next five miles thinking the thoughts of some of the people in my life. Although this is a difficult strategy to master, I can honestly say it works. Some miles were shear joy. Most notably, as I channeled my thoughts into my daughter, Madeline’s mind I welled up with pride. She lives a genuinely happy life. A sign that her mother and I are doing our job. Other miles filled me with anger, betrayal and bitterness. I don’t believe in running with hatred in your heart, so those thoughts were quickly excorcised. The people in my life carried me through to mile 16 and I had decreed that I would reward them by being more honest with them than I had been in the past.
It’s important to note that at no time during this race did I ever feel physically tired. My conditioning felt very Kenyan. But damn that ankle. So much distress was causing me to become mentally exhausted. By mile 16, my stride had officially descended into more of a right leg hop, a la Terry Fox in the movie “The Terry Fox Story.” Quite unlike my first eight miles, miles 16 through 21 will be recalled as my all time worst. Those miles were the death of joy. I walked a lot of it. And my two buddies, the five hour marathon pacers, slid effortlessly passed me with nary a sign of acknowledgement. Today would not be the day that I achieved my finish time goal. I wept.
I don’t know what it is about mile 21, but, for me, for some reason, it always seems to be the Craig Lycke Salvation Show. In my first marathon, in Austin, it was a solitary Asian woman holding a sign telling me she was proud of me. In Louisville, it was another sign, but this time one held by a latina. Apparently my salvation-bearer is very multi-cultural. Her sign read: “Breath. Pray. Run.” So I did. I don’t usually pray. And I’m certainly no Bible-beater, (not that it’s a bad thing if you are) but when your psyche has been beaten down so hard that you would consider anything to escape the pain you’re enduring, you will give anything a try. So I prayed. And with every fiber of my being. I don’t know why I ever associated faith with weakness, but I don’t anymore. Because I won’t argue with results.
By mile 23 I got my mojo back. The day had warmed considerably, but it was still gorgeous and the course was heading back in town. Here it comes. I can feel it drawing near. My legs sensed it too. They quivered with excitement and lunged me forward. Claps of thunder and bolts of lightning pealed away in my wake. An ungainly amble had transformed back into a fluid stride. At mile 25, reality set in just as I saw the two Karens. No, Karen Roberts– I was not giving you the hand. That was a high five, party of one. And I was afraid that if I stopped now, this Flemish draft horse might not make it to the barn. After mile 26 availed itself to me, my spirit leaped. I made the right turn towards the finish chute and who did i see next? The Sole Sisters! BOOYAH! Soooooo glad you ladies came. On my right were Suki, Rachael, Misty, Angie, Kim, Christine, Tim, James and the Joneses. (If I forgot to list your name, and you were actually there, just remember that I was delirious from pain.) Many high fives. I even heard the race announcer call my name out. “Craig L., Columbia, Missouri.” Is “Lycke” really that hard to pronounce? Man, I did it. I finished. Garmin time (the only time that matters) showed 5:29. What the hell. I’ll take it. As I crossed the finish line, my first full sentence to a human being since my race started was “Can I get some ice?” to a race volunteer.
It was the better version of me that was able to finish that race. The other version would have quite. No doubt about it. Oh, and, I found out this past Tuesday that I finished that race with three stress fractures in my left ankle. Finishing a marathon with a broken foot is actually a better story than finishing one with a hangover. We don’t always get the life lessons we want, nor will we ever get them when we want them. So I don’t begrudge my ankle. I embrace it. Destructive Craig isn’t going anywhere. But he sure as hell won’t be such a frequent visitor anymore. Productive Craig has recently signed on to some new, interesting challenges. More on those later.