Back in 2007, I ran the Los Angeles Marathon. I did not win, but I am still pretty proud of it- and it may be the only one I ever run. It takes so much time and dedication, but that's not really what makes training for a marathon hard. The hardest part, I realized, is the initiative.

See, when I tell people that I played football for UCLA, they are usually impressed. When I tell them that I was a starter, they are sometimes even wowed- well, guys are. Women, by and large, including my wife, don't seem that impressed by it.

I am proud of those five years in my life, but I am just as proud- maybe prouder- of having run a marathon. Just one marathon: a few months of training, plus four hours or so of running is something I compare to five years of intense physical work, injuries, hazing, humiliation, glory. I mean, we love college football. When we were at our best, we'd have 70,000 show up when we were playing shitty teams. We were on TV. People even now- fifteen years later- remember specific things about specific games, for better or for worse- sometimes better than I do. It's incredible.

And for every win, every moment of glory, there was a month doing the work that no one celebrates very much. The practices, the weightlifting, the running, the interminable film sessions. The getting yelled at in the film room for something you already got yelled at about on the practice field, even though you had no way to change the film in the time between the original fuckup and the film session. It was tough.

But here's why it wasn't as tough as running a marathon: because I was just a part of a machine. I was told where to be, when, and what to do when I got there. Sure, I worked hard, but I was a company man. I did the right things most of the time, and the things that look like success now, followed. I became a starter, eventually. We won, eventually. And before I knew it, I was looking back on a rare experience; one that few young men get the opportunity to taste.

Now, could I have made it further in a football career? Maybe, maybe a little. I could have been more physically gifted, I could have been stronger, but what really would have made the difference? Initiative. Doing things that no one told me to do. Studying film, pushing myself even harder than the coaches, who were very well compensated, pushed us. That is the difference between me and the guys of my rough physical ability who actually had a cup of coffee, or maybe more, in the NFL. See, most of the time when I watch pro football, I look at the guys that play my former position and I feel like they were born to do it; like their DNA dictated that they become professional football players (e.g. Darnell Dockett, Ndomakong Suh). Most of the time I can't even believe that I played the same position as those guys. But every once in a while, I'll see myself out there: a barely passable physical specimen, inhabited by a guy who learned about initiative a little earlier than I did. Or maybe he had a little more than me, naturally. He won't be a Hall of Famer- he might not even be around long enough to earn the NFL pension- but his initiative has taken him to a higher "level of incompetence" than mine did.

You know who had initiative? My freshman year roommate, Cade McNown. He was gifted with toughness, but not with startling physical ability or height (he was a quarterback). He got thrown into action our freshman year, and had some good games and some terrible games. But he never stopped watching film, never stopped calling voluntary throwing sessions, and never stopped getting in the faces of guys that did not volunteer to participate. His sophomore year he was better, his junior year he was all-conference, and his senior year he was a Heisman Trophy finalist. He was the twelfth pick. overall, in the NFL draft. I truly believe that most guys with his physical abilities would have stayed- and probably been content as- mediocre college football players.

No one ever made me play football, but I was kind of funneled into it. I loved the sport already- it really is in my family's blood, and we often joke about how many damn football games my poor mom has had to sit through, with my dad being a coach and both her sons playing through college. And now my brother coaches, assisted by my dad, basically assuring my mother of a full lifetime of booster club baked potatoes, cheerleaders and trumpet players in braces, and nacho cheese. It's a good thing she loves the game.

I never played organized football until high school, but I always assumed I would be good. This was based solely- solely- on preteen cockiness, mind you. But I was pretty big, and I think by the time I got to the varsity level I had developed a little bit of actual goodness. I had good coaches that cared about what we were doing, made us do the right things, and I got pretty single-minded about it. I did what they told me to do, and then I was all-league. I kept doing what I was supposed to do, and I started getting recruiting letters. Then visits. Then a scholarship.

Same thing at UCLA: I showed up and worked, and did not quit- which was often tempting. Guys graduated, guys got hurt, and I started playing. Then I was a starter. I was a working part of the machine, solid enough that, when the machine was running as it was supposed to, the machine was pretty damn good. Did I stand out? Rarely. Rarely in a good way, and (hopefully) even more rarely in a bad way. We had our stars; the guys every team needs to do something impossible at just the right moment, the guys that break games wide open- the guys that wow. We had them in Cade and DeShaun Foster and Danny Farmer and Larry Atkins. We needed them, but we also needed guys like me.

One of the proudest moments of my whole career came during our extremely mediocre 1999 season- the last one I would ever play. From 1995 to 1998, Terry Tumey coached the defensive line at UCLA-  he was the only position coach I knew in college for four years, and he believed that heavily rotating our personnel was our best strategy. It is clear to me now that the reason he believe that is because we had a very few standout performers, so the staff must have figured that hey, if everyone is just so-so, then we might as well keep them fresh. I'm sure that if we had Warren Sapp or Steve Emtman on the squad, they would have let those guys play until they were near dead. But we didn't, so a bunch of us played 25-40 snaps a game.

My senior year was different. Jethro Franklin was our coach, and if you were a starter, you were playing at least 75% of the snaps, so my playing time practically doubled. I was playing as many snaps in the first half as I had been all game the year before. He stuck with his guys, and I think I improved more in one year under him than I had over the previous several seasons. I also got more intravenous fluids during halftime that season then in all my previous seasons combined.

Like I said, my senior year was a rough one. We ended up 4-7, and were thoroughly unimpressive throughout the year. However, something clicked for me in the third- and second-to-last games of my career: an ugly loss to Arizona, and a very unlikely win against a heavily favored and theretofore Rose Bowl-bound Washington team. Against Arizona I had 13 total tackles (assisted and unassisted), and in the Washington game I had 11. These were not plays that would wow anyone, but I was in on ending about 15% of the plays their offenses ran, which was very good for a lineman. I wasn't setting the world on fire, but something had happened that put me in the right place at the right time a lot more than usual on those two Saturdays.

During one of those games, they ran a trap to my side. A trap is when they deliberately leave one of the defensive lineman unblocked and let his eagerness work against him. Here's how it works: the DL, on every snap, has been firing straight ahead into one or two 300 lb. OLs who are trying to drive him off the ball on every play. All of his strength and momentum has been going into not being driven off the ball. All of a sudden, on one play, the DL is left unblocked; his momentum carries him forward, plus he probably sees the QB or RB with the ball right in front of him. It is there for the taking and seems too good to be true- which it is, because by coming upfield you have given an OL from the opposite side a nice broad target into which he can lay his 300 lbs. But you don't see him, because you are looking upfield, salivating over the ballcarrier who is so close, yet so far away. Next thing you know you've been blindsided by the pulling OL and you're laid out flat on your back, gazing at the twilight sky and humming Summer Breeze.

The first time I got trapped was in my first game in high school, and it happened many times that game. But I thought I was doing fine because I did not know that the trap was something to worry about, I was so green. Our awful coach gave me shit about it, and I was like "I got what?" I had no idea what he was talking about- I thought I had done great (the pre-teen cockiness, again). The worst time I got trapped was my freshman year at UCLA, during a practice. I was playing end, and when the tackle in front of me blocked down I came upfield instead of squeezing down with him, like you're supposed to do. That was the last thing I remember before I heard the "oooooohs" coming from the guys on the sideline. It's kind of like they say in the poker movie Rounders: if you don't know who they're "oooooooh"ing at, it's you that got blown up. There's a silver lining, though: it was live-action He-Man and NFL Hall of Famer Jonathon Ogden that had dished out this particular humiliation, so looking back it is well worth the story.

Anyway, during one of those games during my senior year, they tried to trap me. We had studied film of their offense all week, and they had not shown any inclination toward running a trap- it didn't seem like it was in their playbook, and we had not prepared for it, but they ran the play, and left me unblocked. Instead of rushing upfield at the unattainable carrot of the ballcarrier, I squeezed down on the guard, turned and dipped my outside shoulder and blew up the trapping guard, forcing the RB to bounce outside, into the waiting arms of Robert Thomas or Tony White or one of our excellent young LBs. I did not make the tackle, and to the casual fan it probably just looked like a run for no gain. No big deal.

But when we watched the film, Coach Franklin rewound the play, paused it, and looked at me, silent. Eventually he spoke.

"How'd you know it was a trap, Pete?"

I shrugged. I don't know how I knew. Here was my coach asking me how I knew it was a trap, because it was something that he had not prepared us for in this particular game. But for that moment, 8.9 years into a 9-year career, it seems that everything I had learned in every practice and every game had come together and resulted in me doing the perfect thing at the right time, impressing and baffling the coach that, in all honesty, had probably taught me how to do it. I had such respect for him- and he made such a lasting impression on me- that I will never forget that one moment, that one play, when I impressed him.

But that was the result of showing up and working because I knew I had to- and I had someone holding me to it. The marathon was different. No one made me. No one really cared, and no one would have blamed me if, halfway through the training, I had decided that I was just too busy, or that I just didn't really want to do it. No one had any expectations about it, and I would have let down no one by calling it quits. I mean, don't we all have friends who have started training for marathons and triathlons and 1/2 marathons but, once they realize what it takes to actually do it, decide that happy hour is a much more immediately rewarding way to spend the afternoon after work?

But for some reason I stuck to it. I would measure out my runs in the car, sometimes stashing a Gatorade or Powerbar or GU behind a bush at the library so I could have some mid-run sustenance. I also ran at Santa Monica College when I didn't have the time to plan out a surface-street workout. On those tedious days I would pass my nutritional stockpile over and over and over, and I had rubber bands that I would wear on my wrists, transferring one from the left to the right every four laps- that's how I kept track of the mileage on those mind-numbing days.

I planned on a 3:42- that would be a pace of 8:30 per mile, which seemed quite attainable at the time, as I was running many, many miles in training faster than that. But I thought I was being prudent and conservative, and so 3:42 stood as my target time. I was sure I could do it.

I had friends and family in town, and they took the subway around to watch me go by at different points in the race. The first ten miles I mowed down like they were nothing. I would check my watch every time I was approaching a new mile marker, and every time, as I passed under the big inflatable archway, I had several seconds, sometimes more, to spare. I was chugging along, doing great.

I realized I was slowing down when I saw the mile 19 marker ahead and looked at my watch- I had about ten seconds to get to it, and it was at least a hundred yards away. No problem, I was only a few seconds behind. Somewhere during the next mile, however, I looked down at my watch; I should be crossing under marker 20 right now.  I looked up; no marker on the horizon. I was practically crawling.

All of a sudden, I realized that those obnoxious stickers, t-shirts, etc. that say something to the effect of "The race starts at mile 20" were disturbingly, deeply true. I had heard that cliche many times before, but of course, only when you are really in the shit do cliches reveal themselves as entrenched, infallible wisdom. During my training, six miles was nothing; a jaunt, a warmup. And though six miles was no farther now, every step was agonizing, and I felt as if my hamstrings and my quads might cramp up at any moment. My biggest fear, though, was that I would be so laid up and crippled after finishing- or worse yet, not finishing- that I would be unable to get vertical for dinner that night. I had gone ahead and made a celebratory reservation at Fogo de Chao, and invited my parents and a whole bunch of my friends. I imagined them toasting me and my impressive finishing time and rising out of my chair- slowly of course- raising big glass of red wine back to them- and to myself, the conqueror.

Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian churrascaria; basically a steakhouse where, instead of taking your order, the waiters circulate carrying giant impaled hunks of meat and materialize tableside, carving knife quivering at the ready, with a look that says "what, you're gonna say no to linguica?!" It is a meal from King's Landing, regal in its excess, but hey- when is excess appropriate if not after running 26.2 miles?

At one point during that last stretch, I walked. But it felt like quitting, so I somehow started running again. By then, crossing in 3:42 was a distant dream- now we were talking pure survival. And I made it. I made it to the finish. More importantly, I made it to dinner.

I really don't have some poetic way to wrap this whole long story up. I guess I do see a lot of similarity between how I saw the marathon and how I saw chemotherapy, going in. Basically, I underestimated them both. I, in my naivete, felt like I would have some "kick" at the end of the marathon; that I would be able to find that higher gear that had always been there for me in shorter races, and I would finish strong. Same thing with chemo. During the frigid days of January, when I was just beginning to get a handle on the rhythms of my treatment, I looked forward to spring and figured I would be getting stronger and stronger, my physical condition improving with the warming weather. I figured I would be able to jump back on the treadmill of normal life right after my last treatment, and not have to turn down the speed at all. But it has been fevers, blood clots, ER visits, and crippling neuropathy over the last six weeks- hardly the kind of strong finish you picture when you start. But, through it all, I have been ticking off my last treatments- Wednesday is my final one- though the final stretch has been more of a limp than a sprint.

I don't think I will come out of this as proud as I am of the marathon; after all, there was no real initiative involved here. It has not taken any "want-to," and I have not really even had a choice. But it has taken some of what got me through the roughest of the football days as well as the marathon- just the idea that it could be much worse, and the belief that, no matter what, this will end and get better. Sure, I may not be as hale as I thought I would be at this point. But now it's not about initiative, and it sure isn't about sprinting to the finish. At this point, I've just gotta make it across. I've just gotta make it to dinner.