Monday, January 27, 2014

The Timber of My Heart

There are very few days I question why I run marathons. But without exception, they are the always the days before, the day of and certainly a couple of days after any course. As I sat there the last couple of days before the Miracle Match marathon, I couldn’t help but ask why am I doing a marathon that bills itself as “the toughest in Texas, no bull.” While I’m a fan of tough courses and PR’s, it may well show the damage in my brain that I signed up for the toughest course while pushing almost half my body weight…

I’d talked to a couple of friends who had done it and they had less than complimentary things to say about the hills. One of my most realistic friends said, there is 0% chance that you are getting your best time on that course with a stroller because some of those hills you should not look up because it will feel like the hill is in your face (I’m like can’t we make .01% chance). So I asked myself again, why am I doing this? And I could come up with a few answers… I could lie and try to say marathons are fun but that’s rarely true… but this marathon was special both because it prided itself on being a challenge but also what it was for ( They exist not merely for the marathon but to help match marrow donors with people who need them. And it’s put on by firefighters many of which run the course in their entire firefighter outfit, IN THEIR ENTIRE FIREFIGHTER OUTFIT. To keep showing you what these guys are made of four of the firefighter had already been donors. And if that wasn’t enough the medals were handmade and cut by a firefighter. For various reasons, I’m not allowed to donate any of my things because of the medication though I used to donate blood since I’m a universal donor blood type, but when my time comes, my brain gets donated to science research but to me, the people who donate stuff while living are far more generous. The race director showed exactly how passionate she was about the cause by flying out to deliver some a few days before the race and flying immediately back... to south America.

So earning the “toughest” medal in Texas, helping out an unbelievable cause would have been enough sell. While I’ve never DNF’ed on any course, when they announced on their facebook status that you got snickers at the end (by far my favorite candy) they all but guaranteed that I would get to the finish line with motivation (turns out in Europe snickers used to be known as the marathon bar so because of the clear connection every marathon anywhere, please step up).  And then it was announced that another man would also be running his second marathon with a stroller because of his child’s health issues (we were both focused on pre race interview called moms everyday and if you’re tired of hearing me talk in English, aqui hay una entrevista en EspaƱol

My friend Penny, one of the shipmates who was there when they found me on the side of the road, someone who has taken me to medical appointments, someone who is a good friend, a good listener, and a good runner was kind enough to drive Kiana and I up to Waco where we got to stay in a gorgeous river house. We went to packet pickup and Penny signed up for the half marathon when we arrived even though she’d done a marathon one week before.  There one of the locals was showing the race map and describing the race course and hills, flat for the first 5 miles then slowly picking up from 5-13, then some incredible steeps up and downs till 23 or so. And then they threw out the idea that there was this small wrap around a hill that you could skip and take these incredibly uneven stairs called “Jacob’s ladder” and earn a little extra medal. I thought it was really cool but looking at the picture, there was no chance I could do that with a stroller so I quickly dismissed it.

Then, before heading to sleep, trying to get into the right mind frame, still trying to figure out exactly why I was doing this race, knowing that while doing the race, a fair share of people would be at church, I listened to a hymn. It’s not one that we’ll ever sing in church but it’s a song called hymn 101 by Joe Pug and it was literally the very last song that had been added to the race playlist (  As I sat there intimidated, happy, nervous, excited about the biggest hills I would ever push Kiana on, the lyrics were perfect:

I've come here to get high
To do more than just get by

I've come to test the timber of my heart.
Oh I've come to test the timber of my heart.

And I've come to be untroubled in my seeking.
And I've come to see that nothing is for naught.

So that was the mind frame I went into the race with, that with the little girl in front of me on a tough
course, climbing more than I ever had with her, I was going to make this the hardest challenge yet to test the timber of my heart, to know believe, hope dream, that nothing is for naught. It was a 10k, a half, a full all starting simultaneously so there were tons of people ahead of me and I had no clue which was from each race. In rookie fashion, I started a little too fast due to that but would slow down in due time.

One of the locals had said that you don’t really notice the inclines early on in the course and maybe that would have been true without a stroller, but I noticed them with it. Then immediately after the halfway point, there was a sign that said “this is where the actual hills start in case you were thinking about turning around.” And there would be the first of many steep hills and I’d been keeping a sub 7 pace until that point but looked down at my watch to realize with all my effort I was keeping almost an 11 minute pace, at the very top it was 12 minutes… Kiana asked someone during the hill how much longer it was uphill because it was a curving hill and she definitely got directed to never ask that again because well I didn’t want to know.

There would be some flat parts in the second half but I don’t remember them. Someone had yelled at me that I was in 7th place at half and so knowing I wasn’t a contender was somehow both disappointing and comforting. I kept going with each hill making both my calves and quads hurt in different ways because to hold the stroller at the “right angle” required me to run in weird leans and on tiptoes at some points… I am sure had I signed up with a little more notice I would have worked in technique but I was doing improv as best as I could. It would be the first race ever that on a couple of hills the calves objected and tightened up during the course but we kept going.

The signs kept being there, some to inspire, some to make you smile I suppose. At each mile marker, there was a name, someone who had donated part of themselves to help someone else be more whole. There were also signs to make you smile like “last hill,” “okay just kidding this is the last hill,” "look back at the hill you just did, it'll help you feel better" (I did, it did),  “you won’t even believe us if we tell you this is the last hill,” “the race director is a masochist,” “these challenges just make sure you’re getting your money’s worth,” “if this were an ironman you would have covered 100 something miles already.” Earlier in the race they made me smile… later in the race they made me grimace.

Still, there were various friends there from Austin and locally cheering along the course. It was really good to see them each time though they said that I looked more like I was grimacing at them then acknowledging them. There was even one local woman who said she had seen me on tv and that my butt looked better in person… I smiled back at her and if I’d had a little more wit or breath I would have tried to have a comeback.  And then around mile 23… I saw Jacob’s Ladder. I don’t know why it’s called that and Kiana quickly pointed out that it wasn’t a ladder, it was stairs. With a second’s worth of notice, I’m like ah I’m never going to get a race that has this again, let’s do it. And so in what probably took several minutes of actually getting it done time and who knows how much of post ladder performance time, we climbed it. Part of it I did by myself, carrying the stroller and Kiana, part of I did with the help of a volunteer who took the front wheel to get up some of the steepness while Kiana got carried even more princess style and the three or four steepest steps, Kiana got out and I just carried the stroller. Let’s be clear that exercise would have hurt in the middle of a 5k, no it would have hurt by itself and it definitely hurt when at the end of it you still had a few miles to go. I guess the Spartan Races taught me take the challenge of extra obstacles in the middle of a race. Like I said, I don’t know why it’s called Jacob’s ladder but if it’s in reference to the story in Genesis where Jacob gets to see a ladder going up to heaven…. Let’s just say if that's where the reference comes from they sure emphasized that the stairway to heaven gets your heart going.

The last few hills, miles are a blur because the heat kept getting hotter… And for all that “this is the last hill” signs, the last hill was literally around mile 26 as you were up to a bridge which held the finish line. It was a great suspension bridge and accurately symbolized that some of the things that connect us are great little moments of design that connect life. I ended up getting roughly 3:20, not my best time or my worst one but took 9th over all and 3rd in my age group (turned out I had heard wrong and I was actually in 3rd when I went up the ladder and since only one person passed me after that, I guess that’s where I was overtaken but there are bigger things in life than where you place). And I have been on 7 marathon courses, 5 in Texas and two outside of it and it was definitely the toughest one I’ve ever faced, no bull.

After the race, you better believe we got our snickers (Kiana preferred skittles so I might have eaten both of them). And then Kiana and I cheered on the other stroller participant as he finished. After that we went to the local zoo because like the marathon itself, the race was just the excuse, and enjoying fully the adventure of life was the reason. The marathon was more meaningful because it was a bridge where they made matches for the sick and the donors. The races Kiana and I do are just bridges to keep hanging.  And while, I’m pretty stiff and sore right now, I’m grateful to have been part of a race that remembered that none of it was for naught and I believe at least for one day we passed what tested the timber of our hearts.  


  1. Thanks for coming to our little hometown race. Looks like you did awesome and still had energy left to write this inspiring blog. Hope to see you again next year!

  2. This is why I do marathons and ultramarathons. Heroes like this show up.

  3. To keep fighting in the face of all adversity is what makes a hero. Your journey inspires.

  4. Great job, once again! I knew you couldn't pass up the ladder. I hope to see you guys next time I visit.

  5. Iram, when I met you at packet pick-up and you said you were going to do it with a stroller, I was shocked. Knowing the difficulty of the course, I confess I was tempted to try to talk you out of it. Little did I know you were going to smoke me by 20 minutes, stroller and all! You are an amazing athlete, but more importantly, an amazing fighter, father, and human being. You really inspired me this weekend. Thank you. - Chris Doe (don't have a Google account or anything so I'm signing my name)