J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

The Long and Winding Road – Thunder Road Marathon Musings Part 2

The half way point of the marathon was exhilarating for me. I was feeling strong, and my time was outstanding. I wondered if I could keep it up, but I remembered several folks telling me that you run much faster than you train, so I wasn’t worried.

Having seen Amy and the girls between mile 13 and 14, I was ready to go the distance.

We smartly let up a bit as our second half progressed, and I was feeling so good that I began to wonder if the 20 mile wall existed. Well, I discovered that it does. At 18, my legs started to tighten. My wind was still great, but the weight of the race was crashing in on me. 8 miles to go seemed like a million.

My running buddy was starting to pull away from me a bit, and every time I worked to catch up with him, I discovered that my legs were getting progressively worse. We passed the 20 mile mark amid family and friend cheers, but I figured I would not be able to keep within eye distance of my buddy for much longer.

At 22 miles, there was wall with a door built into it in the middle of the road. A sign on it read, “Don’t hit the wall. Slap it!” Metaphorically, the idea was not to succumb to the dreaded marathon wall but take action against it. I was happy to make it through the wall at all as my right hamstring felt like there was a baseball sized knot in it.

Twice I told my buddy to run on ahead, but he wouldn’t do it. Finally, I told him, “Don’t worry, there is nothing that is going to keep me from finishing but you need to run your race.” Ultimately, he did, and I’m glad for him. He finished 10 minutes ahead of me.

The last 4 miles were going to be solo.

At 23 miles, the course came to a ridiculous ascent. It didn’t end with a plateau but with a hard right turn and a smaller but no less arduous climb. That was the last time on the race that I passed any one. Folks were stopping left and right, and most of them were stopping to massage out muscles aches. My run was slow but still a run nonetheless.

I kept praying, “God, please help me finish this. Please be merciful to me.”

Along mile 24, we ran beside Panther stadium which took us under a bridge. There was a thunderously loud marching band playing underneath. Their joy was encouraging but the deafening sound was the most motivating. It was so loud under that bridge I had to keep running.

Finally, I hit mile 25, and I knew I was going to finish. I picked up my pace a bit and started scanning for the finish line. I seemingly had forgotten the .2 part of 26.2. That .2 was a final run into a chute that was ridiculously up hill. I crossed with a smile on my face joyfully as I saw Amy and the girls cheer me on.

The volunteers give you a blanket, a medal, and a Gatorade (which I drank in a millisecond). Then I was incredibly aware of the vomit smell as so many before me had been hurling all around the finish line. I hadn’t wanted to throw up until that smell, and fortunately, I was able to hold it down.

As I hugged my family, it felt like the temperature dropped 20 degrees. After so long on the road, you just don’t notice the temperature any more, but I definitely did once I stopped running. I was freezing.

As I walked in circles trying to figure out what to do, I realized I just wanted to go get a shower and rest for a minute. The problem was that our car was at least a one mile walk away which was as painful for me as the last couple miles on the course.

I’ll probably run another marathon, but next time, I’ll be the one in control my pace. But until then, the experience is still a wonderful paradox for me: full of absolutely joy and terrifying misery at the same time.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner. Read it there and help me earn a penny.

December 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

I Ran I Ran So Far Away – Thunder Road Marathon Musings Part 1

I’m finding it hard to process the whole marathon experience.

It was June when I declared to Amy, “I’m going to run a marathon.” I’m glad I was so resolute in the pronouncement because had I known all that was demanded of me, I don’t know if I would have gone through with it.

18 weeks of training, and then one morning, the whole thing comes and goes.

The morning of the race was strange. My buddy Harry and I always ran at 5:00am, so a 7:50 am race time was late. We usually don’t eat before running, but we pretty much had to with so much time to kill before the start of the marathon. This being my first race of any sort, I didn’t really know what to expect at the beginning.

The check in and pre-race was fascinating. There were so many folks going through their rituals and a million people trying to go to the bathroom. I loved watching everyone. Folks were talking to themselves or listening to their ipods with their eyes closed. Most everyone looked like seasoned runners, but despite my relative inexperience, I still felt like I belonged.

My eyes were full, and I was like a kid at Christmas. I couldn’t believe the moment was finally here.

After going through about 5 variations of layers, I finally decided on what clothing to wear, and Harry and I ventured out. We stood in the 32 degree weather for about 20-30 minutes waiting for the opening gun, and I must admit that I started with a huge grin on my face.

The first couple of miles were just me taking in all the sights. Every inch of street was covered in well-wishers to cheer us on. Our friend, Wendy Mays, greeted us early with her two sons cheering us along at the one mile mark. I knew that we were running much faster than our usual pace, but I figured we would settle down into our usual cadence once the traffic cleared out. However, a few miles in, we were still blazing.

I remember at one point around the 8 mile marker that we came up on huge climb. We tried to train on hills, but none of them compared to this one. It was the first true test of our endurance. At the top of the street was a DJ blaring the Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and I must admit, the joy of the moment nearly brought me to tears. That moment on the run was euphoric. I still can’t fathom all my feelings during that portion of the race, but it made the entire experience worthwhile. I was running, running strong, enjoying myself, and things were good.

As we approached the half-marathon marker, I was still feeling strong. We were running a good minute and half per mile faster than usual, but I felt like even with a second half drop off, we were going to finish strong.

And then I saw my family. Amy and the girls were alongside the road yelling and cheering for me, and it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. I ran up to Amy, gave her a kiss, and yelled, “We ran the half in under 2.”

The moments of exhilaration and quick pace were few and far between for the second half of the marathon.

Tune in tomorrow for the second half recap…

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner. Read it there and help me earn a penny.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Rest Stop – Marathon Training Musings

gump running 2I have slightly over a month to go before I run the Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte.  The training is at the point where I have one big run left (20 miles two weeks from today) and then the mileage backs off so the body can heal before the race.  I feel good, and after today’s run, I think my body is ready for 26.2.


I’m still a novice runner, so I’m constantly logging data points about myself throughout the process.  I know what to do to be ready for a run, and I know what I can do on days I haven’t prepared well.  I also know that there is no substitute for drinking water all day long.


The other day someone asked me why I was running.  There are the normal answers like, “It seemed fun,” or “I want to get one in before I turn 40,” but I think the biggest reason is the sense of accomplishment.


In the ministry, rarely is anything ever completely done.  Rarely can a pastor say, “Well, this is accomplished,” and walk away never having to return.  The work of the Kingdom is always about process and change.   Those aren’t bad things, but it can leave one with a sense that nothing is ever achieved.  On bad days, it can feel helpless and frustrating.


Training for the marathon gives me that sense of finality.   There are markers along the way in terms of achieving distance and time.  The marathon itself will be an accomplishment.  If I finish, I can say I did it and it is done.  Mentally, those are healthy things for me as I live and work in a sea of process and change.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments