#1) FAILURE IN THE WITCHES CAULDRON
There’s no worse feeling in the world than failure — but there’s certainly a lesson to be learned.
It’s mile 23 of the 2019 Hamburg Marathon.
Cheers from the crowd reverberate off the facades of 17th century Tudor villas and pre-war mansions.
The sprawling lakeside meadows in Alsterdorf are a blur as 25,000 runners meet the pavement in a rhythmic gallop.
I can faintly hear the train from the Eppendorfer Baum station.The sound from the tracks drown out as I turn into the final stretch of the race.
This is Mile 23.
It’s called the “Witches Cauldron”.
You turn the corner and there it is. Tens of thousands of spectators roar as I glide into the last stretch of the marathon.
It’s like a movie. Time stops for a moment and everything’s in slow motion.
The atmosphere can only be described as an electric multicultural experience.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s German for “go further.”
It’s a mix of languages filtering through the streets, with flags from all over the world waving in the fresh spring air.
Streamers float gracefully down from rooftops as children perched on the shoulders of their parents hold signs of support.
The German street is delicately and somehow precisely marked with a spray painted blue line.
The blue streaks run throughout the 42.2 kilometre course leading up to the coveted finish line.
It’s a site like no other, a once in a lifetime opportunity, a remarkable, fascinating experience filled with ——
OK STOP... let’s cut the descriptive bullshit.
“FUCK.” My legs are broken.
“FUCK.” I’m dehydrated.
“FUCK.” I can’t move.
Ah, now that’s more like it — a much more “accurate” way to describe this unfolding situation.
Welcome to hell. Population: Me.
Oh dear god, why? Why did I sign up for this? Did I actually pay real money to put myself through such excruciating pain?
My mind is running faster than my legs. The agony makes my quads tighten with every aching step.
I’m cramping. I need salt. I need sugar. I need water. I need a friend.
Oh screw off, won’t you?
I’m trying so hard to keep moving, but that voice of denial gets louder and louder in my head.
I’m nearly there and I’m still on pace to set a new personal record.
I’m visualizing it in my mind.
The finish line. Oh, how I live for that moment when I cross it.
Just think of how proud everyone is going to be of me. Everyone will think I’m so talented, so special, and so inspirational.
I want everyone to love me. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Push through, dig deep, battle.
Slow down, breathe heavy, fall apart.
I look down at my watch. I’m too far back now.
Long confident strides turn into short disappointing shuffles. I can barely move. My whole body is on fire.
This all-encompassing moment is what five months of training has lead up to.
It ends in these last five minutes on the course.
It’s over now. I’ve given up.
This is failure in the Witches Cauldron.
I guess I should probably introduce myself.
My name is Mark Villani. I’m 25 years old and I’m a marathon runner from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Welcome to “Mark in Motion” - a blog of my running journey, but also a look at my efforts to become a better person inside and out.
A bit about me:
I started running for fun about six years ago after I was hospitalized with a rare brain disorder.
I’m not sure what caused my brain to malfunction. Doctors told me it was an imbalance in my cerebellum, although to this day neuroscientists never quite figured it out.
I had mobility issues and I would slur my words. I was told I might not be able to walk or talk the same again, but slowly I recovered.
I arrived at the hospital in January of 2013. 12 tests and 162 needles later (yes, I counted them), and I was finally free to go.
I figured if I couldn’t walk in a straight line, then I better start practicing.
Walking lead to jogging, and jogging lead to a crazy idea.
What if I ran a 10 kilometre race? I had run lots in junior high and high school, but this could be my first big challenge.
Still, that wasn’t enough. I decided to go bigger.
On May 3rd, 2013 I signed up for the Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna, British Columbia.
On October 14th, just nine months after I was hospitalized, I finished that race — wearing green shorts, pink armbands, and overall looking like a watermelon. My fashion game clearly wasn’t on point.
I’ll always remember that moment, the greatest feeling in my life.
I ran for the love of it back then. I ran because for once in my life I felt like I had escaped the depressing world I was living in and entered a safe place.
Running was a way for me to clear my head, to let go of the past and to make some great friends along the way.
So I ran another marathon. And another one, and another five more after that. I never looked back.
Here's a look at some of my past races...
I’ve ran Kelowna twice, Calgary three times, Saskatoon, Sacramento and finally this last one in April, the so-called ‘failure’ I was telling you about in Hamburg.
I’ve always loved finishing each race. Clearly it’s my favourite part because the pain ends, but somewhere in there I lost the love.
I took running too seriously. I put too much pressure on myself to perform and valued the opinions of others way more than I should have.
I started to get anxious about my weight when an elite runner told me I was too “fat” to run a sub-three-hour race.
I’m 168 pounds soaking wet with bricks in my pockets, but that’s apparently not “lean” enough to take it to the next level.
I was told I was too short - 5’9” isn’t nearly enough of an advantage when it comes to those over six feet.
I was too young to race, not strong enough both physically and mentally.
I was even cut from my high school basketball team because I couldn’t dunk and —-
OK, I’m not Michael Jordan...but you get the point.
So I took a step back and I set a goal.
For years I’ve wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It’s the granddaddy of them all, the oldest annual marathon and a major world event.
It’s a big deal, but you’ve gotta put up big numbers to get your spot.
For the 30 and under age group that I’m in, I need to run a time of three hours even.
Seems easy enough, but I’ve ran three of my last four marathons in three hours and 10 minutes.
I need to shave off roughly 600 seconds. No easy task.
Oh, but it gets worse.
In 2019, Boston officials ruled qualifying runners would now need to run roughly four minutes and 54 seconds faster than the qualifying time.
The race has become so competitive that I’ll now need to shave off about 15 minutes.
It seems like it’s nearly impossible, but that’s what makes this so damn exciting.
I’ve already been training for a few months now, but in April I’ll make my way back to the Witches Cauldron. I’m taking on Hamburg again, although I’ve got a new plan this time around.
Most importantly, I’ve thrown out my expectations and I’m going to have fun this time.
So stay tuned for some fun blog posts about running and my everyday life! There's plenty more to come..
Welcome to 'Mark in Motion'