I received the email with my official marathon photos. You know the one. I clicked the link to access the proofs, knowing full well I wouldn’t like what I saw.
In this case, it was proof that I was indeed suffering during the race. This was January 2013.
One particular image so finely epitomized my experience that I grabbed a screen shot of it—though I couldn’t bring myself to pay for the download. The screen grab stayed where I saved it, on my computer desktop, for over three years. Occasionally I’d call it up and look at it, and I’d recall the misery of that moment.
It was past mile 20, after I’d hit the wall. I’d given up on my plan to walk only through the water stations and was instead willing my body to keep moving at all. I’d also given up on my time goal, cursing my failure to achieve what I worked so hard for. I hated the taste of my gels. I hated a lot of things. I was past the point of exhaustion—physical and psychological—and I had an eternity to go before I could be done with it all (and, not surprisingly, go directly to the medical tent).
I look at the picture now, and the pain is as real as it was then.
This week, I finally paid for the digital download. $24.95 on my credit card. Three years after the fact.
Why in the world would I keep the screen shot on my desktop for so long—or maybe more curious, why would I ever spend hard-earned cash on such a forgettable photo?
Because I don’t want to forget what happened. I don’t want to forget how I failed, or how I felt. Ever.
Two weeks ago, I ran the marathon of my life, and I have all the happy pictures to prove it. (I bought them right away.) I’ll cherish these photos, along with the memories they evoke, for as long as I have room for them in my brain and on my hard drive. But I’d better not forget that awful 26.2 in 2013, either. And now I’ll always have that picture to look back on—in unsightly 300 dots per inch. I want to zoom in and see the anguish in my face and remember the wall and the water stations and the wayward goals. I want to remember what went so terribly wrong on the racecourse that day.
It’s by reflecting on our failures—and learning from them—that we lay the groundwork for improvement. I’ve elevated every aspect of my running since 2013, I’m pleased to say, and with this awful picture now in my possession, I’ll know by exactly how much.