The volunteer searched for my name, but couldn’t find it. I didn’t understand why. I was holding the confirmation page with my name clearly on it. “Are you sure?”, I asked.
I was running the Frederick Half Marathon the next morning and was picking up my packet inside a building at the Frederick Fairgrounds. The packet is what they give runners before the race. It includes your specific runner number on a not quite paper, but not quite plastic thing that gets pinned to the front of your runner’s jersey. They call it a bib. Your packet also includes a timing chip that tracks your progress through the race, and some fun freebies. Picking up your packet before a race is part of the experience. But, they couldn’t find one with my name. This was not good.
The volunteer asked to see my printed confirmation and then quickly told me I was in the wrong line. “The table for marathon runners is over there”, he said. The nice man handed back my confirmation pointing to the word MARATHON on the paper. The word HALF was no where to be seen. Ugh!!
Quick context. A few months earlier I registered on-line to run the Frederick Half-Marathon not the Frederick Marathon. The difference between the two is pretty big. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles. A marathon is 26.2 miles. I not only signed up for the half, that’s what I trained for. In fact, I had NEVER run more than 15 miles in my life. Oh, and I was turning 50 in a couple weeks.
Clearly, someone messed up. Eight years later I still don’t know if it was me or them. At that moment standing in line I was pretty certain it was them. I wasn’t panicked, though, because all I had to do was downgrade from the full-marathon to the half. I explained the mistake and asked to be switched to the shorter race. “Not possible”, the volunteer told me, “the half-marathon is sold out and we can’t add you.”
Rewind. When I registered for the Frederick Half I also registered for the Baltimore Half. That second race was more than five months away. The group that organized each event offered runners a fun little extra if they signed up and finished both races. We would get a third medal.
It’s not possible to over estimate the importance runners place on these medals. It’s a BIG deal. The medal represents months of training and the hard work of running the race itself. Did I mention it’s a really BIG deal? It’s the only reason I signed up for the Frederick Half. Seriously. I wanted to run two races and get three medals.
“So, if I only ran 13.1 miles could I get a half-marathon medal?” I asked the volunteer. He paused for a moment and said, “You might be able to convince the people at the finish line to give you one”. Even as he said this I realized how dumb that would sound. I’d have a marathon bib pinned to my shirt asking the finish line volunteer for a medal in the shorter race I wasn’t even supposed to be running.
And, then it hit me. Even if I convinced the volunteer to give me a half-marathon medal I wouldn’t get my third medal for running both races. Since I was registered for the Frederick Marathon I would show up in those race results as DNF. Did. Not. Finish. Running half the distance isn’t enough. Gotta do the whole thing. I would be disqualified for my third medal. So, I sat down and started doing some math.
Fast Forward. I no longer am a runner. I walk now. A lot. And, I love it. Four days ago I started a big challenge. My goal is to get 20,000 steps every single day for a full year. No breaks. I’ve never done this before. To be clear, I’ve gotten 20,000 steps in a single day many times. But, I’ve never strung together a chain of 365.
The real challenge will be those days when I wonder why am I doing this. Nobody, but me cares. Nobody will feel cheated if I take a day off. My fitness level will not plummet in one day if I take a break. I’m going to need a good answer on the days.
Rewind. So, I sat on a curb outside the Frederick Fairgrounds eight years ago holding my race bib and started doing some math. Could I run a marathon the next morning that I’d never trained for? That was the only way I would get all three medals. I could walk it, but I didn’t want a finishing time over five hours for my first marathon. My ego wouldn’t allow that. Could I run with a pace that wouldn’t kill me. That was a serious part of my calculation. Could I survive? I was almost 50! Twenty minutes later I made my decision. I would run the marathon. I would not die, and I would finish with a respectful time.
The next day I completed my first (and only) marathon in a less than five hours. I was handed my medal. Five months later I was handed two more. And, the legacy of that accidental marathon will provide the answer when I wonder why I’m choosing to get 20,000 steps every day for a year with no breaks.
That marathon and this 20k One Year Step Challenge represent three things for me:
- I want to age well. A large part of that is staying fit which only gets harder as I get older. I loved that I was fit enough at age 50 to finish a marathon I never trained for. And, I love that I can get 20,000 steps and not need to take the following day off to recover. Keep pushing!
- I want to keep challenging myself to do hard things. There is great value in that.
- I want to keep the commitments I make to myself. If I say I’m going to do something (like get three medals for running two races) then I don’t want to give myself an excuse just because it gets harder than I expected.
And, there’s one more reason. I also feel strongly about encouraging others to move more and sit less. It’s not about the number 20,000 as much as it is about the adverbs more and less. I believe we all have room to grow here. Including me. I didn’t start at 20,000, but I also don’t plan to end there either. If this challenge encourages someone else that would not be a terrible thing.
On Mondays I will post weekly updates. And on Wednesdays I’ll share a story that I hope will help you consistently move more and sit less. I’m also updating this 20k One Year Step Challenge every day on Facebook and Instagram if you want to follow along. In addition to my daily step totals I’m also adding one thing I saw during my “step-getting” that I’m grateful for. It should be a fun and interesting year.