Running a Marathon – Not Impossible
It’s been almost 6 months since my last official race. That’s a long layover between athletic competitions for me, but that’s what happens in the Midwest. It gets cold, snowy and you don’t want to step foot outside, much less run in it.
Anyways, a few months back after being cooped up all winter, I decided I was going to run a marathon. The weather started to warm up and I’ve been training quietly for a marathon for the last three months. I’ve slowly been working my way up Hal Higdon’s marathon coaching guide. I had some setbacks every now and then, but just three weeks ago I was able to run 21 miles – the longest run I had ever done before Sunday. I spent the last two weeks tapering off and preparing myself for the big race.
Oddly enough, as I started tapering and resting up, my foot decided to start acting up. After talking to a few people, a few people mentioned it could be a stress fracture. After hearing that, I told them to shutup, stopped asking for their advice, stopped all of my running and began to religiously ice my foot. I didn’t run this hard for 3 months to have a stress fracture the week before my race.
One way or another I was going to run this thing*.
*This is probably not a medically safe thing to do. Remember, I’m not a doctor, I’m just stubborn.
I usually run these races by myself, but thankfully, James, one of my buddies from high school, was reading BIT and decided to run it with me. I met up James in Chicago on Saturday night and checked into our luxurious resort, The Red Roof Inn in the wonderful city of Rockford. After scouting out the race and carbo-loading on a Subway sandwich [not sure if this was in the training regimen or not], I took an ice bath to wind down for the night and went to bed.
Sunday morning, we got up at 5am and got our gear together. The ground was wet with the rain from the night before and it was about 50 degrees outside with a pretty strong wind. After getting to the race and trying to warm up by stretching and jogging, we got into the shoot with about a thousand other people [the race was a lot smaller than I had expected]. I said goodbye to James [he's much faster than me], I found my spot near the 10 minute milers. They played the national anthem, shot the gun and I prayed to God that my foot would hold out for the whole race. That lasted a whole 4 miles.
As I passed mile 4, I started to feel my foot throbbing. “Oh great, I have to run 22 miles with a bum foot. Awesome.” I took my mind off the pain by talking to a few runners around me and I found a pacing buddy (Annette) running a half marathon at my ten-minute clip. The next nine miles or so went pretty quick as I pretended to not hear the whispers of people behind me as they talked about my Vibrams and I answered a few direct questions about them. The rain held off for the race, but the wind wouldn’t give us a break. Throughout the course, timing clocks and road barriers were getting blown over as we ran on by, trying to not get hit by them. As we got to mile 12-13, the half-marathoners split off to head to the finish line, so and they sent us full-marathoners up the steepest hill of the entire course, all by ourselves.
One thing you realize at the 13 mile mark, is that there’s a huge camaraderie in running. Dealing with pain is a lot easier when you have 500 people around you going through the same thing. That all changes though, when you split off from them and end up running by yourself. All of a sudden, the closest person to me was at least 100 yards in front of me and 100 yards in back of me. As I headed up the hill, I just began to grumble to myself. I crossed the half-marathon at about 2:10:15, right on target with my 10 minute mile pace I was looking to hold. I still felt good, but I hit a few series of hills, this time without the comfort of a group, and my pace to started to slow. In my mind, I was killing it, but looking at my actual times, I slowed down about 45 seconds per mile. Fortunately, at this point, my whole body was beginning to hurt so much that I wasn’t paying much attention to my bum foot from earlier in the race.
At about mile 18, I realized I only had 8 miles left [yippee!] and I started to pick up the pace [again, I picked up the pace in my mind. According to my times, aka reality, my pace stayed almost exactly the same].
At mile 20, I realized I only had a 10k left and I decided right there that one way or another, I was going to finish this thing. Estimating ten minute miles at each pace, I ignored the pain by telling myself “This will all be over in less than an hour”, “This will all be over in less than 50 minutes”, and counting down each mile in ten minute increments..
While I thought I was moving quicker than before, I continued to maintain my slower pace. As I turned the corner at the 26 mile marker and began to run across the bridge towards the finish line, I was really, really, really happy. I thought there defintiely would have been a part of the race where my legs would fall off or my foot would break or something else equally terrible would have happened. It was almost surreal to actually cross the finish line. I know it’s kind of cheesy, but you really can’t help but raise your arms above your head as you cross the finish line. After hours upon hours of running (not to mention the months of training beforehand), it’s a really unique feeling to be able to finally finish and be done. I crossed the line and saw the numbers on the clock.
Official Time: 4:33:40
I was 3 minutes off of what I wanted my time to be, but in the end, I didn’t really care. 3 minute difference over 26 miles didn’t really matter to me. I finished.
The aftermath has been much, much worse than I imagined. Once I crossed the finish line and stopped running, my knees began to lock up. After running 26.2 miles, my legs decided to stage a mutiny against me. In about 30 seconds, I transformed from a victorious marathoner into a someone with the mobility of an 80 year old arthritic man with a bad hip. In a futile effort to recover, I’ve spent the past few days sitting in a tub of ice and contemplating new language structures.
I’ve conveniently posted the good videos here on the blog, but you can see some more of the unglamorous aftermath photos on facebook and on flickr. If you look closely, you’ll notice a silver strip on my big toe on my right foot. A week or two before the race, I ripped a hole in the bottom of the shoe and I never got around to buying a new pair of Vibrams so I duct-taped the thing and decided to run the race in it. While the duct-tape actually held up pretty well, it’s safe to say I’ll be retiring this pair of Vibrams and getting a new set for my races this summer.
Running A Marathon – It’s Not Impossible
I’m just a normal person. I’m not a runner. I was just talking to my roommate from college and he was laughing at me when I told him I was running a marathon. He told me “Joel, if someone had told me you would be running a marathon 2 years ago, I would have laughed in their face. You didn’t wan to run to practice, much less run 26 miles.” I’m not a runner. You might not be either. You might not want to run a marathon and that’s okay. But, if you do want to run a marathon, it’s not impossible. If I can do it, you can do it. Now excuse me, I’m going to go ice my legs…again.
A Big Thanks To
For every impossible thing I do, there’s a lot of people I need to thank for helping me do it.
James – For coming out and running it with me [and obliterating my time with a 4 hour marathon]
Jason – My brother for coming out and yelling at me and helping me walk to and from the car after the race.
Todd – For doing all the 5am Saturday training runs with me, even when I didn’t want to.
You Guys – For the crazy amount of encouragement before, during and after the race. Thanks.
One more thing off the impossible list. What’s next?