Almost 2 weeks ago, on June 5th, I completed my first marathon. Before you slap me on the back and say nice job, let me just say I am not pleased with my time or performance. I was quite beaten up when I finished. I hate to make excuses for myself, but others that know me were surprised I showed up for the race. And some that really know me, knew I would be there.
Four weeks before the race, my training was severely interrupted. I have a nagging pain in my calf that honestly, would NOT go away. Ended up take 2 weeks off. This led into a wedding of my best friend back in Indiana. As soon as I got on the plane, something felt wrong. Throat was scratchy, nose stuffed...cough cough. "You have got to be kidding me!". Yep, I was sick. Not just any sick. That kind of cold that knocks you down and sits on your chest. The morning came, I could not speak or breath. In two weeks, I was suppose to run The North Face Endurance Challenge Marathon. I have wrote about this before, it is my favorite running event ever. This is a serious trail race. And here I am, two weeks before, short of training and breath now. I told everyone, I am out of it. Gonna just pick up my shirt and go home. So I thought.
Back home, in Sterling, VA, I walked around Gold's Gym. Muttering to myself. Looking coldly at the treadmills. Cursing my calf, that was still nagging. Cough and a hack here and there. Cold lasted 4 days, it took a toll on my energy level. It was something I just could not fix. As I drove home that Wednesday, I notice all these moving vans and trucks heading towards Algonkian Park. This is where the North Face race would be. They were setting it up. In my neighborhood. It was Wednesday, it was happening Saturday. I decided then, "You know. I could walk it. If I cannot finish, I bail. Happens to other people." The next day I went for a 4 miler on the treadmill. I felt good...not great...good. So Friday came. I went to Georgetown at lunch and picked up my packet. Note: This was the worst place to have the packet pickup compared to previous years. The parking and traffic is terrible. That's all I will say about that. And then...that rush came. Runners know that rush. You have the timing chip in hand, you see your number, the swag in the bag, other runners around you, discussing the course...the excitement is in the air. You either know this feeling or you don't. I do. I felt. Damn it, I am a runner! I am gonna run.
Saturday morning came. All week I had been fueling for this. All week I have been trying to convince myself I was well enough to do this. I met two runners as I was getting geared up that morning at one of the picnic tables. Great people! They were very supportive. I wish I would have gotten their names or numbers at least. (My first lesson of this race.) I would see them later on the course and they would call out to me encouragement. As a friend of mine says "Runners are great!" I was at the starting line now. Last time I felt this nervous at a race was my very first one, a 10K. The ipod is in my ears. Garmin at the ready. Fuel belt stocked with Cytomax and Rocktane GU. And we were off. The course was very well marked. This was a complaint of many last year and I admit, I missed a couple turns myself. That is one of the things about trail running, you have to pay attention. This isn't some road race where you just turn off your mind and follow the blockades. And there will be times where you will be alone on the course. I was at the back of the pack. Trying to take it nice and slow. A mile in, I see I am running faster than I wanted to be. But I felt good. I kept going. Chit chatting with other runners, something I usually only do on trail runs. I don't know why, but I am not much of a talker on roads. Plodding along. Ducking branches. Everyone walks up that mountain at mile 5. And then, at mile 7, my calf cramps up. BAD. I am hugging a tree. People are stopping to try and help. I urge them on. "I'll be OK." I walked for 15 minutes and then I was able to run again. Anytime I had to jump over a log, I was hurting. But I was moving. Only a little over an hour has passed. This is going to be a long day.
At the aid station I was sure to refuel. I was drinking lots of liquid, because it was over 90 degrees and the humidity was murder. Gel after gel. I had no stomach issues like some were having. I was just hot and my calf now only sore. The turn around point was like a heaven. Plenty of water. Plenty of fuel. Plenty of people sprawled out in the grass. Some were not gonna make it. Some were already on golf carts headed home. Some of these were 50 Miler and 50K runners. These people I admired for their guts. My friend/coach Brittany was out there somewhere too running the 50 miles. I refilled my water bottles, grabbed a cup of water and some chips and started back out. It was time to finish this. 13 more miles.
The last 13 was harder than I thought. At mile 18, I was still feeling good. Mile 22, was my wall. Looking at my Garmin, I was thinking I only had 4 more miles. Well, apparently the course was not as exact as Mr. Garmin. Here you can see my Garmin activity. We then had to pass through the stream again. The first time I passed it, I took the time to kick off my shoes and wade through it. No blisters. And I had no blisters as I came upon the stream again. Knowing my time was sucking, I opted for a one foot in and out method of crossing. Both feet ended up in the water. And honestly, the water was so cold. It felt great. I looked around, 3 other runners also standing in the stream. A mile later, the blister were coming on fast. But so was the finish line.
At the last aid station, they sent us on a loop. I know the area. And as they sent me on the loop, I looked at my Garmin and then back at the aid station. A small curse escaped my lips and I started the loop. Doing a run for a few minutes, walk a minute. I was out of gas. A thought entered my mind. I had been drinking all day. At least 8oz ever 15-20 minutes. I have not felt the need to pee! Then, once thought about, I had to go. After that was taken care of (it was in the woods), I was desperate coming out of this loop for any sort of kick of energy. I then saw a familiar face. A smile. It was Brittany, looking fresh as daisy. I hated her at that point. By my quick math, she was on mile 46. We said 'hi' in passing, however I am sure she didn't know who I was and if you would have asked me who I was at that point, I may have not responded correctly. I was starting to worry about heat exhaustion. I had to man up. And again, the energy was gone. I was coughing up crap again like I had been a week ago when I was still recovering from that cold. And then, I saw something I could not believe. I saw my son. He had walked up the trail. There he was standing there at the aid station at the beginning of the loop. He has always been the biggest supporter of me in running and at times my biggest critic. He later told me he knew something was wrong when he looked at the clock and I still had not crossed. He tries to go to all my runs, as I try to go to all his events. We are guys, we don't get sappy. He jogged along side me. His looks at me told me, what I already knew. And then he said it. "Wow Dad. You look like shit." He is only 13. I give him a look, he knows better. He sticks with me the last 1.5 miles.
I cross the finish line. I look at my Garmin. 27.61 miles? Dazed. Not knowing I passed by my wife. I wanted to just sit. I found a seat in the tent. My son and daughter get me water and ice bucket for my feet. I can feel the blisters from having to run through creeks. The dirt caked on my legs. I get my shoes and socks off. In the ice they went. It was over. I completed the race. Notice I dont mention the time. Brittany goes skipping by like a little school girl. Unbelievable.
Some may say "You at least finished." True, I did finish. Some may say things like "You walked it. Anyone can do that." Both have had the same reaction on me over the weeks. For those who REALLY know me, know you are only fueling me by saying that. Positive or negative. The positive comments pumps me up. Like my son, who cheered me on to the finish line(video finish). Makes me think YEAH!, I AM A MARATHONER NOW. And not just ANY, I choose a trail marathon to be my first one. The negative ones, have a reaction too. Makes me realize I have more to prove. More to myself, because I run for myself mainly. And to my kids, to make them see you can always push yourself little harder and try to do a little better. The negative comments, make me want it more. It is my fuel. It is that song that comes on your iPod that pushes you on those long runs. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning and lace up. To those "critics", I say thank you. No, really, THANK YOU! See you out there. Oh, you don't run? Then I will see you at finish line. I'll be the one with the medal around my neck. Because you see, I am a marathoner!