Mark Parvinen conquers the beast

Five years ago I was a 240-pound bourbon junkie.  On Feb. 8, 2008 I accepted Mariah’s Challenge.  I credit it for helping save my life!

“But what if you can?”  This was the answer to a question posed by a future contestant on The Biggest Loser when she asked “What if I can’t do it?” It was just the answer I was looking for.

What if you can?

By Mark Parvinen

I was scared.  I couldn’t even fathom running more than the 13.1 mile half marathon that I had already done and struggled mightily with.  But I was going to face my fear.  I was going to conquer the beast.  I was going to train for and finish the 2011 Missoula Marathon.  At 46 years old how was I ever going to do this?  Simple.  By digging deeper, pushing harder and running farther than I ever had before.  I had to look deep into my soul and find my true self, the one I knew was in there.

I think the hardest part of a marathon isn’t getting to the finish line, it’s getting to the starting line.  The thing about a marathon(or any race) is you really don’t know if you can finish until you cross that line.  If you train well, follow your plan you have a good idea, but a lot of things can go wrong in 26 miles.

Sometimes, most times, it was the only thing on my mind; for days, weeks, months.  Holy crap!  What have I gotten myself into?  But every day I pushed myself a little harder.  I went a little farther.  I pushed.  I hurt.  I ran, for 6 months.

Many days, when the alarm went off at 4 a.m. I could’ve easily talked myself into staying in bed.  I have my wife Jody to thank for dragging my carcass down to the gym or outside for a cold morning run.  Her dedication to her own fitness regimen shamed me into getting up.  Thanks, honey!

There are things you don’t know about until you actually do them.  A non- runner would think you’d just have to lace up your shoes and go for a run.  But when you’re running for distance you need moisture wicking socks and custom fit shoes or possibly orthotic inserts.  Hydration belts to carry water, gels or shot blocks for energy and calorie replacement.  At 120 calories per mile I burn a lot of calories on a 20 mile run.  You have to figure out the ratio of water and Gatorade for maximum absorption to prevent dehydration and cramps even at 20 degrees above zero.  You need extra Gatorade and a protein shake waiting in the vehicle for the ride home when you’re done.  A moisture wicking shirt, wind proof breathable jacket are necessary.  What if it starts to storm half way through a five hour run?  Dry shirt for the ride home for when the post-sweat chills set in.  Where do I go to the bathroom in Elk Park?  And most importantly, let’s not forget the Vaseline and Band-Aids.  Bloody nipples, anyone?

Along the way I remembered many quotes that I used for inspiration, some of which I have taped to my bathroom mirror to read every morning and night.  Among them:  “Sign up, do the work, finish it!”  “You only have to beat the voice in your head that tells you to quit.”  “Realize your dream.  Unleash your potential.  Never give up!  RUN!”  One of my favorites was from Jillian from The Biggest Loser:  “You have four choices; puke, pass out, die or just keep going!”  But the one that brought  the most inspiration and more than one much needed chuckle was when I could hear my daughter Amanda as clear as if she were right next to me saying in her unique sassy voice, “SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP!!!”  Thanks, Manda Bear!

RACE DAY: Up until now this marathon has just been a goal, something to work towards but it wasn’t something tactile.  It was just something in the future which had no real form to grab a hold of.  Now walking around in the dark at the starting area it starts to become very real.  I have to do this thing now! This is a moment frozen in time.  Bonding with other runners (most of whom look a whole more prepared than I feel) total strangers yet all of us have something in common.  You can sense the excitement, the anticipation, the fear, the apprehension, or maybe it’s all just emanating from me.  Finally the cannon booms, the fireworks go off!  I can feel feet start shuffling all around me.  The entire mob began inching forward.  I start my stopwatch, throw my hands into the air and joined the crowd in one final cheer as we passed the starting line.  My journey is over and yet it has just begun.  I’m doing this.  I am running a marathon.

They say that one tenth of one percent of all Americans will ever finish a marathon.  But how many of those can say that they ran the first mile of their first marathon with a former Olympian?  Jeff Galloway and his wife were among the runners at the back of the pack (for a while anyway) offering all of us personal words of encouragement.  Nice folks.  Already this was shaping to be a very eventful day!

The first five miles were going pretty much as planned except that I couldn’t seem to shake the five hour pace group.  It finally dawned on me that I was going way too fast for my hoped-for finish time of 5 ½ hours.   So I forced myself to slow down and by mile eight or so they were completely out of sight.  I began to relax and find my groove.  “I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates…” What the…?   Damn you, Kyle!  My son planted this song in my head the night before the race knowing full well that it would pop up sooner or later.  It was good for a few chuckles along the way and provided an excellent distraction on more than one occasion.  Thanks, Kyle!

At mile thirteen I felt great and was happy with my split time (2 hrs. 33 mins.).  At mile seventeen I was starting to fatigue.  That was when I started running with one of the “marathon maniacs”  This lady talked with and ran with as many people as  she could.  She was from Atlanta and just wanted to meet as many people as possible.  “ Only nine more miles to go” she cheerfully encouraged me.  ONLY nine more miles!? “  That was quite possibly the sickest thing that I’ve ever heard” I thought to myself.

The race was full of Marathon Maniacs(the name says it all)  , 50-50 club members, cancer survivors, charity runners and just plain back-of-the-packers like myself.

Miles eighteen through twenty-two were like a vast no-man’s land.  Nothing there but pain and distance.  Getting close and yet SO FAR to go.  SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP!!!

Mile twenty-three.  Only a 5-k to go!  How many of these had I run in the past two years?  I’m really starting to think that I’ve got this.  I started to think about my family waiting for me at the finish line.  Jody, Amanda, Kyle and April.  Jenny will be there also.  Jenny, my daughter who chauffeured me to and from the Veteran’s Day race and then hung around with me while I waited to get my twelfth place ribbon on a very cold November morning.  Thanks, Jen!

I don’t know if they know how much their support and encouragement has meant to me over these last six months.  I’m so glad they will all be there to share this with me!  Oh, I’m getting closer!

I never did really hit “the wall.”  Perhaps I ran slow enough that everyone else had run through it and it was gone by the time I finally got there.

By miles twenty-four and twenty-five I sometimes couldn’t tell if I was running or walking except my knees screamed at me when I ran and my hips cursed me when I walked.  Boy, do they ever know some foul words!  I kept telling myself, “Forward!  Just keep moving forward!”  The crowd was getting larger and more vocal.  Even if you were walking they kept cheering for you.  You didn’t dare stop.

At this point I really started to notice the human drama unfolding before me:  the carnage of people cramping and tending to blisters and other maladies, some vomiting or sitting in the shade on the side of the road.  While still others were being helped to the medical stations, the look of hopeless desperation on some of their faces.  But I also witnessed the human spirit, the desire, the determination, the courage and the sheer guts it takes to just keep moving forward!

Mile twenty-six!  Only 365 yards to go!  I couldn’t seem to get my legs to cooperate with my mind.  They would just stop without any conscious warning to me.  I wanted them to move faster but they were seemingly mired in cement.  MY mind finally screamed at them, “Run, damn it, Run!!!”

There it was!  The Finish Line banner!  The hundreds of people cheering, the announcer calling my name, I MADE IT!!  Five hours and thirty-two minutes!  I threw my arms in the air, pumped my fists and prayed that I didn’t cramp up or trip.

This feeling was way more than I ever imagined it could be.  I saw my family and the emotions and the exhaustion came crashing over me at the same time and I could feel the tears starting to flood my eyes.  SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP!!!

Overall it was an amazing journey of self evaluation, discovery and realization.  Six months of training.  I ran close to 500 miles and tallied at least that many on the bike.  Getting up at 4:00 a.m. when it’s zero degrees outside, running twenty milers in the rain, wind and snow really seems insane.  But it really lets you know who you are.  I found out who I am.  It’s a feeling I really don’t know how to describe.  I have never been so utterly and completely exhausted.  I have never hurt so bad, and yet I have never felt so good!

I finished what I started.  I conquered the beast.  I AM A MARATHONER!!!

Mark Parvinen finishes the 2011 Missoula Marathon. (Courtesy photo)