Not simply because it was the first, more so due to the uncertain future that had suddenly paralyzed the country at the time. It created a defiant and proud energy among the runners, yet there was still a sense of shock lingering from the events that transpired in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on American soil.
Just a few weeks following 9/11, the Bowdon native took to the streets of the Windy City for the Chicago Marathon back in the fall of 2001. Garrett recalls an aura of concern and anxiety that day, but he also gets goosebumps when thinking of how it proved to be a microcosm of the country picking itself back up and uniting as one again.
“What was meaningful about that was there was chatter about them shutting it down because of the terrorist attacks. To see 28,000 people rally together and say, ‘No way. We trained too hard for this. We’re not going to let this scare us,’” Garrett said. “To hear chants of, ‘USA, USA,’ and it just felt like you were doing it for your country. It really pushed you.
“You’re still depressed over 9/11 and worried about the families of the victims, but it’s this patriotic pride that is inside that says, ‘Man, I’ve got to do this.’”
Now 11 years later, Garrett is training for his second marathon, which he will run on Oct. 21 in Columbus, Ohio. The 1991 Bowdon High School graduate was initially just wanting to do the one marathon as a challenge to himself, but after a rather extensive break in between, he got the itch to do another one this past year.
Garrett is one of several local exercise enthusiasts that enjoy pushing themselves to the limits — be it running marathons, triathlons or other extreme competitions that test the entire gamut of an individual’s willpower, physical endurance and mental being.
Billy Pollard of Bremen ran his first marathon last fall in Savannah and he said it immediately had him hooked. A high school basketball coach at Bremen and U.S. Marine, Pollard is currently training to run the 37th Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 28 in Washington, D.C.
“That one is going to be pretty special, being in the Marine Corps. We wanted to do it last year. My wife’s going to run this one with me. I think it starts off near the Pentagon and you go through all the monuments and then at end you end up at the Marine Corps Statue and the Marine Corps Band is supposed to be playing. It’s supposed to be really neat,” Pollard said.
Pollard actually didn’t get involved with long-distance running until after joining the Marines at 28. Following his six years of service, the 1995 Bremen graduate was looking for new forms of competition.
“As I got older and being a former athlete, I liked to compete and I started realizing I can’t compete in the things that I used to do like football and basketball anymore because I’m old. So I had to find some new hobbies. Like tennis, you can play tennis throughout your lifetime. Then I started running and doing a marathon was always on my bucket list,” Pollard said.
Pollard credits fellow Bremen runner Carol Hogan for teaching him how to train for marathons. Hogan, 55, has run 13 marathons, her first one being the Chicago Marathon at age 40.
“A friend wanted to run one and she talked me into training with her. While we were training, she had to have surgery and she had to drop out, so I had to end up doing it by myself,” Hogan said. “It was quite a challenge. It was fun, but it was all new territory. I didn’t have friends who had run marathons before, so I had to figure out the training on my own.”
Hogan began distance running when she was 25 and eventually worked up to the idea of doing a marathon.
“I need a goal in front of me to keep me motivated. I was afraid I would stop running and would stop getting enough exercise if I didn’t have something like that in front of me to work toward,” Hogan said.
Hogan tries to run at least one marathon a year, and she will be among the 45,000 participants in the Chicago Marathon today. Hogan isn’t a stranger to this particular event, but she is hopeful for better conditions this go-around. Record heat shut down the 2007 Chicago Marathon, where one person died and more than 50 were hospitalized due to the high humidity an unseasonable fall weather.
“I was at mile 20 or 21 when we were all informed that they were going to shut down the race and we were to just walk to the finish line. At that point, I had just seen a thermometer on a bank that said 91 degrees — and that’s in Chicago in October,” Hogan said.
Obviously, there are health issues when it comes to taking on the 26-mile challenge. If you are not properly trained and mentally prepared to tackle a marathon, it could be a dangerous thing to attempt.
Pollard witnessed an example of that near mile 20 in Savannah last year.
“This guy was running right in front of me and ‘Boom,’ he fell over. I went down to check on him and he was shaking like he was having a seizure. It happened to be at one of the stops, so the ambulance people were right there. So they took over and I kept running. But I found out later that he died right there in front of me,” Pollard said. “If you don’t take care of yourself during the run, it’s not going to go well. You really have to hydrate and fuel.”
Pollard has used an 18-week training schedule to prepare for this month’s marathon in Washington, D.C., where he would go on runs of three miles, five miles and three miles during the week and then bump it up to four, six and four as his training regimen increased.
“Once you get going, you just keep going. [Hogan] taught me that you ride your route first and you hide waters and Gatorades and snacks and stuff. I’ve got a pretty good road by my house that’s long and straight and goes out into the country. So we usually just run that road and it’s good to have people training with you. A lot of the cross country kids, they’ll go run with us on the weekend,” Pollard said.
Along with the physical strain it takes to complete a marathon, the other major element you’re fighting is the mental component. The term “hitting the wall” is most commonly used for this phase, where the runner begins questioning his or her own ability to continue.
“There have been several in where the last six miles, I felt like I could barely move and was just really slow to finish the last part,” Hogan said. “When you hit the wall, you lose not only the physical ability to keep going, but mentally you just don’t care. It’s like, ‘Why am I doing this? Let’s just stop.’”
Garrett said it’s something every distance runner endures at some point or another.
“I’ve often heard it said that a marathon or any long-distance run is probably 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical because you’re fighting with your brain the whole time. You’re just going, ‘Why am I doing this? This is stupid and ridiculous. Man, my legs are just hurting.’ But once you push through the mental part, then it becomes a lot easier to go ahead and finish it,” said Garrett, who recently took part in the UGA Game Ball Relay, which was a fund-raising effort for the Shepherd Center in Atlanta that saw a group of runners escort the ball from Atlanta to Athens and eventually into Samford Stadium.
Pollard, too, has wondered what makes him want to physically punish himself with the wear and tear of a marathon, but he said it’s all worth it in the end.
“It’s just like being a Marine. People ask you, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ And you’re really like, ‘I don’t know?’ But it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do. Now that I’ve ran one, you kind of get addicted to it and it gives you something to do and something to train for,” Pollard said. “A lot of people don’t exercise because they don’t have something to train for. And that’s the way I am. If I don’t have something to train for, it’s hard for me just to get up and go run for no reason.”
While some people may look at it as crazy, Hogan said there’s a certain level of satisfaction in both training and completing a marathon that you wouldn’t understand until you actually go out and do it.
“You have to just realize that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually you will reach the finish line,” Hogan said.
And as Garrett embarks on his second marathon adventure following an 11-year hiatus, he’s excited about the opportunity — and challenge — that is always one step ahead.
“I’m still getting my mind set back into training because it’s been so long. But like I said, when you get your mind set, you can’t be stopped,” Garrett said.