Pickett Fences: Marathon Man

On October 10, in exactly two weeks, I will run 26.2 miles in the Chicago Marathon.

I began training for this day in April, via the AIDS Marathon Training Program. This program, which exists in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and sweet home Chicago, trains participants to run a marathon and in exchange we agree to raise money for HIV/AIDS services in our area. In Chicago as of this writing, we have raised nearly 1.2 million unfettered dollars that will go to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's grant making program.

On every level, this has been the challenge of my life. I've never enjoyed, nor been particularly good at fundraising and up until this program, I never really saw myself as athletic. Because I wasn't, Blanche, I wasn't athletic.

I've always maintained an intense aversion to any sort of hitting, throwing, kicking or catching of any sort of cylindrical object. Anything that required some sort of hand-eye coordination? Umm, I don't think so. The torment, the humiliation, always picked last for any team ... While I was a decent swimmer and had actually competed as a young boy, by high school I had become completely mortified by my own body -- especially but not limited to my pale, hairy Planet of the Ape stick legs -- and the thought of willingly spending hours in a Speedo around lots of other people was about as appealing as turning my head and coughing in the doctor's office with my mother in the room. No. I think I'll pass, thank you.

I was also a burgeoning big-time sissy, whether I was fully aware of that or not, and spending lots of time around other boys in Speedos probably wasn't the best idea. Though today it sounds fabulous, among boys my own age (or at least the legal age of consent) of course!

So, I went out for track in my freshman year of high school. Why? I felt the pressure to do some kind of sport. All boys did sports, and I was a boy. Hello. Well, I lasted all of one infinitely miserable day. The asthmatic wheezing, the limping, the shooting pains, the inner screaming and sobbing -- and that was just the warm up -- encouraged me never to return. I'd stick with theater, natch.

So earlier this year, when I willingly signed up for a program that culminated with the running of a frickin' marathon, I was taking a leap of faith into an abyss fraught with painful self-doubt, a plethora of neuroses, bad memories and the very real potential of extreme physical, mental and emotional trauma.

Sometimes denial is a good thing.

I listened to those discouraging, nay-saying voices, both in my head and around me. "Don't do it, you can't do it, you're crazy for doing it. And what about your knees???" I ignored them. Sometimes being a stubborn SOB is a good thing too.

The combination of highly disciplined physical training -- run 3x/week, cross train 3x/week -- and raising funds for a cause that is at the center of my life both personally and professionally, has given me more rewards on every level than I ever could have imagined.

Despite being "not good" at fundraising, I have brought in over $4,000 to date. Despite being an "un-athletic" sissy, I have thrived on the physical training and become a very respectable runner, if I must say so myself. I have already run 26 miles, okay? Despite being someone who avoided competition like a plate of liver and onions ("Christina, eat your meat!"), I have run three races this summer, two 5k's and one 10k. Never done anything like that before. While I went into each thinking, "Oh, I don't really care about how fast I run, I just want to experience being in a race," I found myself really pushing and, dare I say it, actively competing with myself and the other participants. Fast and hard, woo hoo!

A benefit to all of this running and training that was completely unanticipated is the overall feeling of confidence I gained in my body and what my body could do. The level of comfort I have with myself, my abilities, and my potential increased as well.

I mean, I willingly played Frisbee with my boyfriend this summer. Scary but true, it was my idea. Now this may seem like nada to you, but lest you forget, Frisbee involves throwing, catching, and eye-hand coordination. While I am not going to be asked to be the captain of any Olympic Frisbee team, I actually enjoyed it and wasn't absolutely awful, neither.

After 38 years, I finally feel like Baby Jane Hudson, after she has dragged her poor, half-dead sister onto the hot beach and says, "You mean ... after all these years we could have been friends?" That's the feeling I have with me and my body. Eliminating all that psychic garbage has been the greatest gift. And now more than ever, I feel like I can meet the challenges HIV might, and most likely will, throw my way.

Incidentally, my T-cells shot up over 100% this year. The start of 2004 they were around 600. Last count, 1,291. My doctor, who had been, shall we say, un-thrilled about me and my knees doing a marathon, exclaimed, "Must be all that running you are doing!"

Smell them sweaty socks.

Click www.AIDSMarathon.com for more info.

To read more of Jim Pickett's columns, click here.

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