There's a number that's been rattling around inside my head --- 502. That's the number of people who started last year's New York City marathon and never made it across the finish line.
All those weeks and months of blood, sweat and tears --- and for one reason or another --- their dreams were dashed.

I don't want to be one of those people.

To be honest, I've had a hard time getting to sleep this week. I'm plumb tuckered out! The marathon is just a few days away and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm really going to have what it takes to make it across the finish line. Did I run as often as I should have? Did I lose enough weight? Did I buy the right running shoes? Crazy stuff, honestly.

But I've really been anxious about my knees, specifically my left knee. It started aching a few weeks ago. My good friend Blake Henry told me to get it checked out. I told him I'd do it after the marathon. He didn't say it, but he gave me that "Don't be a moron" look. And then he told me, "You're crazy." He's probably right.

I really appreciate my knees - even if I don't show it. For the past 10 years, they've been hauling around 300 pounds of excess baggage. It's a good thing knees can't talk --- if so - they'd probably give me an earful. "What in the world is he doing to us? A marathon? Good grief, give it a rest!"

It rained on Sunday. It was a pretty miserable day. Dark, gloomy skies and a cold, steady rain - probably not the best running weather - but I ran anyway. Central Park was virtually empty --- just a few other hearty souls and me --- plodding along with my iPod, wiping the rain from my glasses. I ran alongside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, up around the reservoir, and bolted up through the North Woods. I hit a spread of loose gravel and that's when it happened. I felt that pain again. Stupid knee.

I stopped for a moment and caught my breath, remembering the warning my heart surgeon delivered. "We can vouch for the new heart valve holding up, but your knees are a different story." Stupid knee.

The pain has subsided and I've been feeling better --- but I've got a really bad case of pre-race jitters. I've heard rumors that somebody is starting up an office pool. If that's the case, I may need to hedge my bet!

So there I was just moping around --- and you'll never guess who showed up in the newsroom --- Frank Shorter --- the guy who brought home the Olympic gold medal in the marathon! And he also has a gold medal in making folks feel like a million dollars.

"I'm very envious of you," he said. Well, butter my biscuit! I couldn't believe it, Frank Shorter --- envious of me? "Your first marathon is always the most exciting. You have the most trepidation going in, but I think it's also the most satisfying when you get done because you realize you were really able to do it and achieve the goals."

"You're the same kind of athlete as the person up in the front of the pack," he added. "You are running the same distance. You are expending the same amount of energy."

Losing weight is all about math. Unfortunately, a lot of us didn't do all that great in math class. So here's a formula for all you folks wanting to lose weight (courtesy of Frank):

Did you know that you burn 100 calories a mile when you run or walk? That's right! No matter how you cover the distance, you still burn the same amount of calories. So keep walking yourself to a smaller waist!

As for the marathon, Frank assured me that once I got to the 20-mile mark, it was going to get nasty. "You will need to use every mental trick you can to get yourself to the finish," he told me.
I really appreciated his honest assessment of my predicament. He said he believed in me - and you know something --- deep down I believe in myself. I'm going to have sore knees and I'll be aching in parts of my body that I didn't even know I had. But that's what happens when you push your body and your mind to the limit.
There's a Bible verse in the Old Testament that I've been thinking about lately. It came to my mind the other day when I was in the North Woods. "The sovereign Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like the feet of the deer. He enables me to go on to the high places."

That will be my prayer on Sunday - that He will take me to the finish line --- wobbly knees, nerves, and all.