by Tim O’Brien 

This story is a year in the making… literally! 2006 had become a pretty lousy year in my life. Nothing bad like health, but other things that wore me down significantly. The 2006 Quad Cities Marathon fell on my birthday, and I thought it would be a terrific way to wipe the slate clean and have a new beginning. The marathon’s motto is “4 Cities, 3 Bridges, 2 States and One River, the Mighty Mississippi!” My Dad’s side of the family lives there, so it was a good way to see some family, too. Birthday, new beginning and family…three birds with one stone…err…race!

Even though I am a Birmingham Alabama Track Club(BTC) member, I trained for this myself. Race day was great, family was there. I was bound to hit my PR and run a great race. Beautiful weather and it was easy for several miles, it was smooth going along and over the Mississippi River into Iowa and back into Illinois onto the Arsenal Military Island which zig zigs through. Boy did I push it. The whole time I felt like I had something to prove. I ran a lot faster than I trained for, and didn’t take in enough fluid or food.

At Mile 24 I remember slowing down to a walk and was able to see the bridge 2.2 miles away that is by the finish line. At that point, (so I am told because I don’t remember it), I stepped over onto the grass and laid down. I came to in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I spent most of my birthday recovering. No birthday party, just 5 bags of fluid and feeling like crap in the ER. It was not the highlight I was hoping for on this day. So much for a brand new start…so much for a birthday party…when I did get back to my Aunt’s I was getting pity instead of congrats from everyone. I still got the medal, but it’s a pity medal that was even hard to look at. I was humiliated.

The day I got back to Alabama I e-mailed the BTC for help. I knew I had to run again, or I would feel true defeat. DannyHaralson (current Past President) e-mailed me back with a few people, including him, to help train me. I hired Danny and he certainly had his work cut out! He knew my mental state was worse than my physical state and he had to rebuild my broken spirit.

His first words were “Been there and done that.” I was not the only one to make this mistake, and that’s all it was, a big mistake, not a true flaw. He soon had me PR’ing 10K and Half Marathon. He had me start running with people….a new concept to me! I started running with the Birmingham Track Club and their weekly run groups. Who knew there were so many runners out there who have had an experience like mine, or close to mine!

I started looking forward to running with these people that I would normally not hang out with in life. Some of my best friends I have today are in this group. I trained for two marathons that I ran successfully and set a PR under Danny’s guidance.

As great as all of this was, I didn’t feel fulfilled though, because I still had to conquer the Quad Cities standing up. In my mind, the clock was still ticking from the 2006 Marathon.

I started training for it with several people and joined up with the Marine Corps Marathon training group whose race was a few weeks after me. Everyone was supporting me and helping me train to gain my personal goal of doing the QC07. I hope they realize how much their support meant to me as the day was slowly approaching.

So, this year, I showed up again at the start, nervous but prepared. It was on the eve of my birthday this time around. I started running. Anxious and memories were coming back, and so was the fear. But, I was ready.

Although I didn’t run the pace I was hoping for, I ran a smart race in the brutal heat and enjoyed the experience. My family showed up all over the place to cheer me on. The crowd was incredible, the volunteers were great….it was a wonderful experience. At Mile 24, it felt amazing to run past where I laid down one year earlier. I had to stop a couple times on the last 3 miles because ambulances had to cross over to treat other people. I sure felt for them, they were in for a long day. My only hope was that they would learn from it the way I did, and grow from it; and not be disheartened. It was fulfilling. My demon had been slain.

So, I owe a lot to the Quad Cities Marathon. It’s where I had my low point and my redemption. Danny always says that it’s not the marathon, but the training where you find yourself, that’s a truth I now know. The poet Charles Bukowski wrote “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Well, because of Danny, the BTC and the friendships that I developed, I have become a better runner and a better person. And really, isn’t that all you could ask for?

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