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Five years later, running a marathon

Jonathon Braden running the 2012 Omaha Marathon, about mile 14. JAMES R. BURNETT/THE OMAHA WORLD-HERALD

“Meskha, it can’t be.”

Forty minutes had elapsed since my 5 a.m. alarm. The sky was dark. The air brisk, almost freezing. Gusts passed through the open windows of my apartment.

It was 5:41 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. Omaha Marathon day.

My mother couldn’t believe it, and I could barely myself.

Five years earlier, I had also attempted what tens of thousands of people do every year: dedicate four months of their lives to training for a 26.2 mile race. I was in my fourth year of college and lived in Columbia, Mo., a gorgeous town with a moderate climate and an expansive system of gravel and concrete trails: the perfect place to train for a marathon, I thought.

I built my way up to running 15 miles, only to experience some pain in my left leg, and eventually used that injury and the demands of college — partying, studying — as a good excuse to stop running so many miles.

My inexperience had sabotaged my efforts. When I signed up for the 2007 Kansas City Marathon, I wasn’t running much and mostly wanted to lose weight. I remember initially jogging three miles and feeling out of breath.

What a different feeling this will be in a few months, I thought.

Two years ago, when I moved to Omaha, finishing a marathon had essentially become an official lifetime goal.
I trained and ran two half marathons using a formal schedule, and I hated and liked the discipline that a schedule forced upon me: Staying in Friday nights to run 12 miles Saturday morning, getting up early before work to run five miles because I knew I wouldn’t run after work.
Because of a solid running base, the idea of doing a marathon wasn’t daunting this time around. No, it was something I was fairly certain I could complete.
I finished training with the regular pain and dreadful thoughts, and the weekend of the marathon, I surprised myself by being very excited, even eager.
On Saturday night, I giddily and cautiously consumed my salad and pasta, careful not to overeat but also not to walk away hungry.

Sunday morning, per Hal Higdon’s recommendations, I warmed up some oatmeal, had a banana and drank a glass of water.

At the race, the democratic nature of running stood out more than the 35-degree temperatures. Everyone runs races. Elderly women. Ultra-fit men. Fit young ladies, out of shape former football players. And their reasons are all so personal: running for a lost loved one, a deceased partner, because someone else can’t. I had no inspiring tale that spurred me to run, save for the fact that I wanted to show myself I could do it, and my uncle said I should do it now, at the age of 26, if I wanted to finish under four hours.

The first half flew by, just as a good friend suggested it would. My parents yelled at mile 1 and 6. I ran with a co-worker from mile 1 to 13. He veered right; I stayed the course and saw more than half the pack bail. The good chatter began as the focus shifted to the reason we got up at 5 a.m.

“What are you shooting for?” a fellow marathoner asked.

“Oh, about four,” I said.

We were on pace for 3:47, he said, which made me surprised and excited. Could I keep this up?

“I’ve learned these things don’t really start until mile 20, anyway,” said the man, who wore a moustache and a slight beard and was probably in his 40s.

We looked ahead, to a lean woman on a steady pace some 15 years and 30 yards ahead of me.

“I think she’s going for that,” he said. Going for 3:45. If we can keep up with her, we’ll have it.
More than the cool temperatures and the water stops, the crowd makes the race. Loved the crowd. The random people who would high-five you upon request, who would laugh at you or cheer you by number, who sat with blankets around their legs and beers in their hands, and yelled, “Looking great, runners! Keep it up!”
They made the race, as does your attitude, the willingness to talk with other runners and people in the crowd in order to save your own spirits.
A few turns later, we were at mile 18. Mile 18!? The race seemed to be going fast. Only eight to go. I am actually going to do this, I thought. I can do this. I can run eight more miles. I am going to do this!
When you talk about training for a marathon, people mention a four-letter word: “wall,” a metaphor used to describe what happens during a marathon when bodies stop wanting to run and runners solely rely on mental strength to continue.
Throughout the race, I gaged my body in search of this wall, looking for a time in which I would physically halt for a mile or two. I felt no such urgent pain, but my wall was more of a gradual build-up, as brick by brick attached itself to my body. First my waist, my hip flexors, my IT band on my left side. Then my hips, later my thighs. Lastly, my ankles, calves, and my stomach, shoulders and back.
When I spotted my good friend waiting to cheer me on at mile 20, the aching wall had hammered itself aboard.
“There’s like hardly any left,” she said. She knew better — having ran two marathons — but I adored the enthusiasm.
“Bring it home, Jonny! Bring it home!” shouted my father, right knee on the ground, right arm waving me home.
Four miles later, my father would have what he later called a “messianic” experience. Another runner, maybe hallucinating, probably panting, jogged past my dad, who was wearing a red Iowa State Cyclones hoodie.
“Iowa State,” said the runner. “I went to school there.”
His eyes reportedly stretched. His pace quickened. Later, he would tell my father, you have no idea how much that helped me. Thank you.
Running a marathon is like that, so I’ve been told and have experienced. The tiniest of things boost you up, help you finish. The softest voice in the crowd can keep you going. Or, in that runner’s experience, just a 65-year-old’s presence.
Around mile 24, pure euphoria — and pure dread — joined the “festival,” as my dad would later call the race. I had weaved around waste plants and gravel roads and country paths. I had high-fived strangers who recognized my headband and afro later on in the race. And I had slurped down four Gu gels.
All I had was two miles to go, only two miles. The illusion that two miles is easy, that it’s only 1/12 of what you’ve already done is particularly hilarious once you have ran 24 miles.
Two miles. I still had two two miles to finish.
But I was again saved by a fan: another co-worker, who earlier ran the half, went home, came back and spotted me around mile 25.
“You got it, man. You’re doing it! You’re killing it” he said, running a few paces ahead of me.
“One mile left. Thank God!” I said, wall gaining traction, me slowing down. “Oh, my gosh.”
Finished runners and enthusiastic fans clustered near the finish line, to whom my co-worker would yell, “First-time marathoner. Cheer for him!”
They happily obliged. I laughed. The aches felt soothed.
At mile 26, it is pure joy. You feel no pain for .2 miles. You have heard and now can see the finish line, the packs that have gathered. You try to go faster but don’t really know feelings at this point.
“This is all yours,” a finished runner said alongside the path.
And, finally, it was. The race. The day. Knowing that I wanted to do something, trained for it, and did it.
A different feeling, indeed: it felt great.

Welcome

Jonathon Braden is a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald. He mostly writes about education, focusing on Omaha Public Schools, a school district with about 50,000 students. Before writing about schools in Omaha, Jonathon wrote about Omaha crime and happenings in Columbia, Mo.

This is his site, where he writes about random sightings, a cool thing he saw, tennis and just about anything. Got an idea? Let him know.

OWH: 85 show up at OPS forum

Some things, as a reporter, you sometimes get tired of. As a schools reporter, one of those things can be forums. You heard the word and you think, 10 people sitting around listening to someone talking for two hours.

I thought the same thing would happen the other night. I was wrong.

OWH: 85 show up at OPS forum

They wanted to ask questions when they were supposed to give answers.

What makes up the school district’s benefits?

They wanted to discuss specifics when asked about the general.

What about those administrative positions? Which ones are going to get cut?

They wanted an option D when there was only A, B or C. And they weren’t bashful about being specific themselves.

Many of the 85 people at a public forum Thursday night brought their questions, worries and complaints about the Omaha Public Schools budget.

OWH: Millard board remembers fallen

They bowed their heads, closed their eyes and stood in silence.

After a few moments, the Millard school board did its best to resume regular business Monday night, the board’s first meeting since the Jan. 5 shooting at Millard South High School.

OWH: Millard board remembers fallen

OWH: School left with its own wounds

Omaha World-Herald: The gunfire at Millard South made a long-time coach there shake his head — his school was now the one on television, the one everyone was reading about and the school that would have to recover from its own shooting.

“It hurts a lot,” said Larry Ribble, 67, who retired after coaching boys track and basketball at the school for 30 years. “With time, some wounds will be healed, but it’s just really a setback.”

(Far, far better reads about the Millard South High School shooting on Omaha.com.)

OWH: Calming, familiar presence

Omaha World-Herald:

“Sector 1, go ahead.”

“OPD is en route to South 28th Avenue for smoke in that area,” a female dispatcher says.

The night begins with an assignment, a rarity for Daniel Hagen, an Omaha Housing Authority security guard. Most of the time, Hagen patrols the Southside Terrace Garden Apartments, the largest remaining public housing cluster in Omaha, on his own.

He cruises the neighborhood, coasting down hills, lurching up streets, waving to some people, waiting for eye contact from others.

But he’s rarely told what to do, except for right now, about 10 p.m. on a recent Friday.

The temperature in the teens, the wind in the 30s. And smoke in the area.

OWH: Malcolm X Center opens in Omaha

Omaha World-Herald: Sharif Liwaru moved here from California as a 17-year-old who knew one thing about Omaha: It was Malcolm X’s hometown.

Liwaru became second vice president of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation while attending Omaha North High School.

And on Thursday night, he led a ceremony that fulfilled one of the foundation’s longtime goals: the grand opening of the new Malcolm X Center, 3463 Evans St.

‘Go poop, Mylo. Go poop.’

Every apartment building has some characters. The good ones do, anyways.

And after living in Omaha for a few months, I’ve met some of the residents in my building. Most are kind and cool; others mean well. About a week ago, I met, or I should say, I heard of some characters here.

It was about 10:15 a.m. I was still sleeping; I worked until 3 a.m., probably fell asleep by 4:30 or so. The sun had fought through my closed blinds. And the noise had waltzed through my open window.

Most days, letting the typical noise – birds chirping – and the typical sun – gorgeous – was a good thing. Time to wake up. This day, I heard something different: “Go poop, Mylo. Go poop,” the older woman said.

I didn’t need to hear anymore; I knew who was in the courtyard that sits in the middle of my building, the courtyard that my bedroom window opens up to. It was the woman and her four weiner dogs, scampering around a grass square surrounded by brick walls. Some freedom.

Apparently, one of the dogs is named Mylo. And, apparently, Mylo was supposed to be pooping. He was, however, not pooping.

What also became apparent to me was that this woman had a little boy with her, in addition to the four weiner dogs. “Go poop, Mylo. Just go poop,” the boy said in his prepubescent high-pitched voice, a little whiny but mostly a little boyish.

The little boy must have thought Mylo didn’t hear his grandmother or mother.

I stared my ceiling, thinking this must be ending soon. I was still awfully tired from the previous night; I must not have gotten good sleep.

Then the chorus cranked up their request, the mom first alone, and then two together, telling poor Mylo to go poop already, as if poor Mylo could hear them, as if poor Mylo didn’t want the shouting to stop.

The chanting stopped a few minutes later, or I fell asleep to those chants (I wonder what I dreamed…)

But I went to back to sleep hoping Mylo would solve his apparent constipation and hoping Mylo’s owners would realize you don’t make demands to Mylo.

I also went back to bed realizing this building has more characters than I thought, Mylo, not included.

OWH: Rescued hikers are welcomed home

Omaha World-Herald: They saw signs instead of snow.

They felt warm hugs instead of cold chills.

And the biggest difference for the once-stranded Omaha hikers was the indescribable feeling of being home.

OWH: Flight to Mexico delays justice

Omaha World-Herald: Nearly two years ago, a Bryan High School freshman was shot in the face and killed. Police quickly identified the alleged gunman. An arrest warrant was issued. Today, he remains free, his whereabouts unknown.

Authorities in Omaha think the man is somewhere in Mexico, but so far they have been unable to bring him back to Nebraska to face charges.

The slaying of Eric Tongvanh, 15, is an example of how criminal suspects can evade punishment by heading south. And it illustrates the obstacles authorities can face in trying to extradite people from Mexico.

“I think people who commit murders or any type of violent crime know exactly what to do — and that’s to get out of town,” said Matt Kuhse, deputy Douglas County attorney, who has at least three cases fitting that description.

Omaha World-Herald, Wednesday, Oct. 20