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What Went Through My Head

Sometime between November - December 2011, I ran a marathon, and I was not in shape. I was in Afghanistan at the time, and in the two weeks leading up to the marathon, I was on vacation in London, surviving on Häagen-Dazs and whiskey, which I consumed at every West End show I attended (War Horse…Pricilla, Queen of the Desert…Les Mis, Wicked, Billy Elliot…). Even without this vacation, I still wasn’t a marathon runner. The farthest I’d run before this was a 10-mile race, and before that, a 5K. I think what I’m getting at is that I was dumb. Utterly and entirely dumb.

But I survived it, and afterward, wrote a letter to my buddy Rickey telling him all about it. What’s below is the abridged version. When writing to a dear friend, I have the luxury of being crass and candid, unconcerned that my momma will have access to my innermost thoughts (even if they’re only expressed to bring out the humor in a crumby situation). In a way, I feel I’m robbing the reader of a genuine Andre L. Bradley experience. I’ll get over it, and you, dear reader, shouldn’t think much about it.

To this day, Rickey is still my best friend. We’ve run a few 10-Milers and half-marathons together, and he continues to the unabridged ride on my thought train.

December 12, 2011 | 9:38 PM


A world of things goes through your head as you run a marathon. If I fall, will I be able to recover and finish the run? Like the Olympic runners, am I willing to piss myself if necessary? How does that guy look from the front? As the race begins, your mind, free to roam, wanders through harmless meadows, touching on simple and stupid thoughts. As it progresses, those thoughts begin to focus more on survival. Do I have to finish? How much longer until it’s over? Towards the end, however, there’s only one resounding thought: screw this.

My brain wandered whimsically throughout the 26.2 miles, and below are the thoughts that stuck with me.

Mile 3: Were the Lion not so cowardly, he would have mauled Dorothy. I’m sure of it.

I was talked into doing the full marathon by one of my coworkers, an Army girl with a winsome personality. Granted, I had the mind to do the full marathon anyway, but I knew I wasn’t prepared. Yet something about saying “I completed a half-marathon” seemed to diminish the accomplishment by the same degree as the attached prefix, so when it was stated that she and two other guys from our office were going to run the marathon and that they hadn’t prepared either, I, like an idiot, committed myself to the challenge.

We started the race as a group—Ms. Winsome, Mr. Warrant Officer, Mr. Sergeant, and I—running along the marathon trail, smiling and laughing in the 5 am cold like idiots off to see the Wizard. It was this thought that came to me as we began the third mile, and I began attaching our group’s character traits to the itinerant ensemble from The Wizard of Oz. Ms. Winsome was Dorothy, Mr. Sergeant was the Tin Woodsman, Mr. Warrant Officer was the Scarecrow, and I, feeling the beginnings of pain, would have been the Wicked Witch of the East just after she caught that house. One of the other Soldier-runners would have been the Cowardly Lion, because out here, almost everyone is a lion, all full of pride. Dorothy wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Mile 10: Would being crushed to death be as bad as having to watch Jessica Alba act in a serious film?

As I ran down the street, a helicopter began to land in front of me. As I got nearer, it got lower, and I began to think back on my calculus lessons with Mr. Dupree. If you have a grown man running at a rate of 1 mile per 8.5 minutes and a helicopter landing at a rate of X feet per second at a distance of Y feet away from the man, what is the rate of change of the speed of the man’s head as it gets sliced off and hurled through the air by the propellers? Upon realizing how difficult that would be to determine, I thought about using my telekinetic powers to push the helicopter out of the way, then I realized that I didn’t have any powers like that, but Sue Storm did. And Sue Storm was played by Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four movies where she moved that helicopter… It was a fun movie, but Jessica Alba struggled through her light-hearted performance harder than I was struggling to make it to Mile 11.

In the end, I just ran, and the ‘copter got lower. The wind began to blow me around, first like a stumbling drunkard, then like a raging alcoholic. I was tossed left, right, then forward, and when I looked down at my Garmin, my speed had picked up to a 6:58/mile pace. At least I didn’t get crushed.

Mile 15: I wonder how fast hellhounds run? Hmmm.

I was in need of motivation, and I thought that vicious dogs would do the trick. But then I worried they’d be too fast, and my breathing would be thrown off; at this point, it’s about the legs, not the lungs. And too, I worried that dogs would have been fatigued miles back, but hellhounds…I bet those things could run forever, or at least longer than my cocker spaniel, Loki, that I wished was there (While thinking of him running with me, my mind also wandered to his and my reunion and how he, like spaniels seemed to do, is going to piss all over the place. For that, one of his sobriquets is “Piss Pot,” and I found myself saying that aloud on my run. Piss Pot. Piss Pot. Piss Pot. People must have thought I was crazy, running 26 miles aside).

Mile 19.2: Just get through it.

With seven miles to go, I just wanted it to be over. My right foot pained me so severely that I had convinced myself my shoe had worn completely through, and my bare foot was striking the ground. My knees ached, my back was stiff, and my arms had long since gone numb. It took convincing myself that the pain I felt was nothing compared to the pain I’d feel when I stopped, so it was best to keep going. I was hurting; I had miles to go, just one at a time. Each mile was only the next thing…

Mile 22.7: Shelley Duvall, I get it.

I started to cry at a few points during the run. Not from pain, really; I’ve felt pain before. I was happy to know that I could do it, that I could run a marathon, and sensing the accomplishment was joyous. To top it off, an older Sergeant First Class was out supporting me, peeling back energy bars and jogging beside me while tearing a piece off. Peeling away orange slices and bananas. It meant a lot to me as I rounded the 3.5-mile stretch, I guess because she was there to help me and not my momma, and at some point, I cried. The tears didn’t last long, as it is extremely difficult to run and weep at the same time. My breath started catching, and I almost tripped. I had to cut that out, seriously. But then I thought about Shelly Duvall and her awful performance in The Shining, running and crying with a prop knife, perhaps scared to death she’d fall and stab herself (ending the misery of all involved in that catastrophe). But I could relate to her at that moment.

I spent the rest of the race looking at the snow-covered mountains in the distance, thinking about how similar they looked to the less-than-tasty candy version and wondering if I looked photogenic for my finish. Which I didn’t, as it would happen to turn out. My entire head was white from salt, and I smelled like last week. But so did everyone, and there were some hot guys out there. Looking like crap, I went to talk to ones that I've been wanting to talk to for some time, having the camaraderie of the marathon to fuel discussion. It was worth it.

Anyway, I finished the run in 4hrs 15mins, and I’m glad it’s all behind me. I hobbled around all evening yesterday and was still in pain when I woke up this morning. But I’m well rested, and that within itself is enough for a ballyhoo.

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