"I ran my first marathon in Champaign this past weekend. Needless to say it didn't go as planned, but it was a heck of an experience." ~ Nathan Rau, Idiot #647, Waterloo, IL
It was time for my first full marathon, and I was feeling great. The training had clicked. I plowed through a peak 214 mile month and back-to-back-to-back 50+ mile weeks. Several 20 mile runs or more were mixed in there too. I even had the pleasure of pacing my wife on some of her half marathon training runs. The three week taper at the end had me feeling completely rested and ready.
I wasn’t going to just any marathon. This one was at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My Alma mater. The place I spent 7+ years getting a couple of degrees. The place I proposed to Annette. The race with a finish line at the 50 yard line of Memorial Stadium that I had been to so many times. This is where I would go for my first 26.2 mile run.
My buddy Frank and I took Friday before off. We had time to take a quick walk around the heart of campus after we picked up the race packets. I hadn’t been back to campus for some time, and it was inspiring to see it all again. Frank was who got me into distance running in the first place, and we had a fantastic day getting psyched for the run. I was chomping at the bit to get the race started.
I was the only one in our crew that was doing the full. They were awesome with encouragement and support. On race day we gave each other the big hugs and settled into our corrals. It was finally time to go. Everything was perfect.
I had set a goal pace that I knew would be challenging. I decided a while back that I couldn’t count on future runs always being available. Who know what life would bring, so I better give it my all on this run. It was an aggressive but realistic pace, and I could not have felt more ready.
And we’re off! It was warmer than expected, but a beautiful day. Everything was clicking along just as I had planned. Drink water. Eat something. Time for some electrolytes. Stay calm. Trust your training.
Then, around mile 13 something unexpected happened. I quickly got very lightheaded – even dizzy. No big deal. Water. Food. Slow down a bit. Have some NUUN. Stay calm. Try to stay calm… but I admit it, something felt wrong.
Around mile 15 I walked for the first time, and I had never walked in training. I thought a good drink and some Endurolytes and a bite to eat would do it. No big deal. Doing just fine. Got a long way to go. Try to stay calm. Just a little bump in the road. Panic? No.
Then, those quads and hamstrings that had been so resilient for months started having a little fit. Cramps popping up in both legs and jumping from place to place. Stretch it out and keep going. Keep up with the water and supplements. Maybe I can just walk/run this sucker home and still sneak in under my backup goal time. We can do this… right?
Unfortunately, it was getting worse. Stopped to stretch/walk once, twice, again and again and again. I was looking around for things the right height in people’s yards to put my foot on and stretch the hamstrings. Light poles were my friend for giving the quads a stretch. Now it was full panic. Am I looking at a DNF here? What in the world happened?
Around mile 19 I took off my water belt and laid down in some grass to try to stretch. I took my phone out of the arm band and checked my texts to see how Annette and Frank did in the half. Annette’s text waiting for me was:
“Pr pr pr pr I can’t stop crying, keep running”
I was sincerely so happy for her. She worked hard getting ready for this day. I managed a smile and looked up at the sky. I actually thought about the IRC oath:
“If I ‘DNF’ it will be because I have NOTHING left to give or I’m dead.”
I responded to her text with:
“Major cramps. Struggling to finish. I am okay. Taking my time. Want to finish.”
I decided I would walk the entire remainder of the race if I had to, but I was going to finish. Dammit, I’ll walk as long as I need to so I can try to run a little more. No more time goals of any sort. This was about finding that finish line and completing the race. I wasn’t dead. I got the smile back on my face and looked for kids to high 5 cheering us on.
It was humbling to see the pace groups I had passed so long ago come trotting past me seemingly without effort. I was envious of the smart runs they had implemented that day, and it stung to see group after group go by.
Run, cramp, stretch, walk, repeat. That was my story for several miles. Then, I got this text from Annette:
“I am going to find you and bring you in if I can. Mile?”
Now my eyes were darting around the spectators searching for that hot pink shirt with the yellow Superman logo on it. We used to never run together. I was faster and we just did our own thing, but lately we had run together more and more. Sometimes a 5 mile trail run, sometimes 13.1 on the road, but it was really becoming something we enjoyed doing side-by-side. Now I was counting on seeing her.
A little shy of 25 miles I saw her with a big smile waving both hands over her head. She settled in next to my waddling gait and asked what I needed. We walked/ran it together, and it was amazing having her there with me. My goal was to be able to run into the stadium and across the finish line.
We broke into our final run about half a mile from the finish. There were quite a few spectators around the stadium and she started yelling at them that she wanted to hear some noise. As soon as they quieted down, she yelled at them for more. We turned the corner into the tunnel and ran from the end zone to the finish line side by side. And we were running across that line. The final burst of energy and adrenaline came out of nowhere, and it felt great.
Frank was there waiting for us and we had another round of big hugs. Without these two people I would never have started running, and here we were together – on the field, looking at the jumbotron, soaking it all in. My kids were in the front row and we took all kinds of pictures and gave them some of the attention they had been missing while mom and dad were busy running all over God’s green earth.
Annette’s PR got kind of lost in all of my drama that day. I am so proud of her and the run she had. She deserved to celebrate the amazing accomplishment she had on race day.
In the end, I didn’t have the run I wanted or expected. The how’s and why’s of the race are what they are. However, I was proud I finished, and I had one of the most special moments with Annette I have had. Of course we have the wedding and kids being born, but this was right up there also.
I will do another marathon some day, and I hope to do better. I think I have learned a lot. Still, no matter what my final time is in future runs, it will be hard to top the 2014 Illinois Marathon as a lasting memory.
Let me preface this post with the disclaimer that I consider myself to be a runner. I realize that's a very broad term which encompasses everything from, "I run occasionally", to "I just qualified for the Boston Marathon".
I'm somewhere in between those two extremes.
I say this because I don't want to give the impression that I'm one of those "running deities" who can run 50+ mile trail races or sub-8-minute-pace marathons. I know people who can do those things, and they definitely inspire me to see how much more I can do. But I'm not one of them. Perhaps one day.
That said, I do run. Quite a bit, to be honest. Of course, that is subjective as well. Compared to some of my running friends, not so much perhaps. But I think it's safe to say that, in general, I run a lot.
I have attempted to run 1 marathon (last year). I say attempted because, even though I did complete it, and was not carried across the finish line by ambulance or piggyback, it was pretty bad. Train Wreck is the term I tend to use. As in, "I would have preferred to be involved in a train wreck". Also, I didn't actually run it. There was a fair amount of walking, staggering, and whimpering involved as well.
Hmmm... Originally, this post was supposed to be about trail running. But, perhaps it would be best to get some perspective on why I would be out running through muddy, hilly, and wild-animal-infested woods (for hours), first. So... more on the trail running later.
A few years back, my big running goal for the year was usually a local 10K race here in town (Cajun Cup, for those of you in the know). At first, it was just to complete it. Then, I wanted to beat my previous time. Then, I wanted to break an 8-minute pace. Almost got it 2 years ago, when I averaged an 8:05 pace. Anyway, that year I decided to see if I could go further. My brother-in-law (read, "triathlete") convinced me to sign up for a local half-marathon in December. I did, and immediately started increasing my mileage. Got to about 11 miles before the race. I did it, but had some pretty serious knee-pain around mile 8 (read, "knee explosion").
Took it easy for the next few months. Tried some different things (foam rolling, shoes, etc.) Eventually, I read, "Born to Run". No need to go into that here, but I'll post the wiki link: Born to Run Wiki. Started working on my form, and things seemed to be improving. My goal now was to run that same half-marathon with no injuries. I didn't care about the pace, or time, just wanted to run the whole thing and feel good at the end.
Mission accomplished. A good 13.1 miles under my belt, and I was wanting more. Asked my brother-in-law what to do next, and he convinced me to sign up for the full marathon in New Orleans that February. Sense a pattern here?
I can't exaggerate this enough. It was horrible.
Still 18 miles was more than I had ever done before, walking or not. So the New Orleans marathon was still on. I was just dreading it.
I don't know who this woman is, by the way. I'm sure that she is undoubtedly a better athlete than I am. I just found the pic online, and felt that it closely captured my running form, once I was past the 2 hour mark.
The 1st half
So, race day appears out of nowhere, it seems. I find myself in New Orleans, picking up my race packet and surrounded by people who can all apparently run 26.2 miles. Can they tell I'm a poser? I'm pretty sure they can.
The low on race morning was 37 degrees. I know it had to be still close to 40 when I was huddled in my corral in my shorts & short sleeves, along with 100 or so other people who thought we could actually do this. When you register, you have to give your predicted time, and they assign you a "corral". This way, the real runners can take off first, without having to deal with weaving around and passing up the rest of us. I am so far back, 30 minutes have passed after the gun has fired before I reach the starting line.
I start off slow. Nice & easy. Just trying to enjoy myself. There are people all around me in costumes. With boas. And capes. I hate them.
Here are some representative pics from the marathon.
Still, the first several miles were enjoyable. I had brought headphones, but left them off because there was so much other, and better, stimulus. A local band was set up every couple of miles or so, and there were plenty of people cheering, playing music, and holding up encouraging signs. My favorite sign was one that said, "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon". That helped. Some.
After a few more miles, we saw the signs for the split between the full-marathoners and the half-marathoners. Up to that point, I'd forgotten that everybody wasn't doing the full. "Ah! THAT explains all the costumes, and general revelry. They're only doing the half... that's nice. How cute." As the split approaches, everybody moves to one side of the road, depending on which race you are running. There was a lot of cheering and waving. Those of us doing the full waving goodbye to the halfers. Them waving encouragement back to us. That's when I realized How Many People split off and went down the "Half" path. Easily 80%, it seemed to me. It was suddenly very quiet where I was. "What do they know, that I don't?", was my first thought. Followed quickly by, "What have I done?". Also: The few people remaining with me to do the full marathon... they're still wearing costumes.
We ran through some neighborhoods. A few times. We went through a park. It might have been pretty. More neighborhoods. Eventually, we hit the halfway point. 13 miles. I was running nice & slow, though perhaps too slow. I was over the 2-hour mark which, as you may recall, was very close to my "shutoff time". My watch had died a couple miles back, so I had to ask people around me what their pace was, or just try to stick with people who looked to be suffering about as much as me.
The 2nd half
I'm getting pretty sick of Gu at this point.
I'm eating them, because they are handing them out to me at the aid/water stations. A quick note on fuel/hydration: You can read REAMS of info on this online, but the the Cliff's Notes version is this: "It's important. You need it."
Apparently, managing and controlling your fluid and nutrition intake is a Big Deal. In shorter races, I would just "wing it" - taking water or gatorade if they offered, but basically just trying to finish before I tuckered out. With longer runs, that's really not an option. You're going to burn off your stores of energy before you finish, so you have to replenish. I knew this, but didn't really know it. Figured there would be plenty available on the run, and that everything would be great.
First off, I'm an idiot. Let's get that out of the way now, shall we? I'm getting water at the aid stations, and I've started walking the length of the tables & trashcans while I drink ... very... slowly...
This is the point at which, in my opinion, the wheels come off. I am pretty tired, my legs are starting to cramp up, and overall, I am in a generally pissy mood.
Somewhere around mile 15, we turn onto Esplanade, which is pretty at least. The half-marathoners have rejoined us. We are on one side of the boulevard, and they are on the other. I am still walking at the water stations, but trying to cheer up and enjoy the activity. This is when I see a crowd of people in a huddle up ahead. As I get closer, we realize that someone has collapsed. As I pass, I see that someone is performing CPR on the collapsed runner. There are at least 20 people (runners and bystanders) around him. I don't know what to do. On one hand, it feels so callous to simply continue running, as if my pace & time were more important. On the other hand, there are 20 people already stopped, and he's getting CPR. I could only serve to be in the way. I look over at another guy who happens to be running next to me. We come to the same conclusion, and keep running. But no one says anything for a while. It's very depressing, and I am ready to be done. Finally, I hear sirens, but it feels like it's taking forever for the ambulance to navigate through the crowds and barricades.
I'm pretty sure he survived. This is the only article I could find on the matter.
"Marathon runner collapses at Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras Marathon, revived by bystanders"
At mile 17 somebody hands me a tiny white packet. They're handing out cocaine now? It's About Bloody Time. When I asked what it was, they told me, "salt". Really? Salt? Like you get in a take-out bag to put on your french fries. I can't even imagine what it would be like to eat a spoonful of salt. Bleh! I tear it open, and tentatively sprinkle some on my tongue.
I swear to you that I could Actually Feel New Synapses Forming in my brain. I don't know if I'd every really had a visceral reaction to something before, but every cell in my body shouted, "You Need This" at that moment. I poured the whole packet in my mouth and even looked back to see how far away the nice people with the salt were... but they were gone.
The supplies at the aid stations got more interesting, in general, after the 17-mile mark. Cookies started showing up. Crackers. I saw beer at mile 20.
I guess this is as much to make up for the fact that we just watched the halfers head to the finish line, as it is about fuel needs. I mean, really? You actually show us the finish line, when we still have 9 miles to go?
Longest. Nine. Miles. Ever!
I don't know if you've seen the movie, "The Joy Luck Club", or not. There is a scene in it where a young mother is fleeing the Japanese invasion (along with countless other Chinese), and must abandon her 2 children on the side of the road (she is certain she is about to die, and doesn't think anyone will rescue her children if their dead mother is lying next to them). It's a very emotional scene, and a horrible choice for anyone to have to make. If I were to use this as an analogy (which I will): My "spirit", or "will to finish the race", is the mother - certain of my imminent demise. The rest of my body, is the children. Desperately needing to be left at the side of the road, as that seems the best chance of survival.
To be honest, I don't know why (or how) I am continuing to move forward at this point. I think it's simply because that's what I've been doing for the last few hours. It's all I know how to do anymore. Remember that 10K that used to be my yearly goal? When I hit the 20-mile mark, I tell myself that all I have left is a 10K. I seriously would have started crying if I'd had any fluids left in me. Is there a dry-heave equivalent for sobbing? It's all walking now, with short bursts of sporadic hobbling. I am stopping to stretch on the side of the road, which if I'm honest with myself, is really just an excuse to Stop for a minute.
I pass more beer. I can't stand beer, but I jokingly comment, "Where are the martinis"? They point to the next table. There are tiny martinis on it. I do the math: 6 miles left, at a infant's pace, with thighs made of concrete... I'll be lucky to reach the finish line before nightfall. No martini, thank you. Not this year.
Wait a minute. Did I just think, "Not this year?" As in, "wait until next year?" Am I seriously considering doing this again? I bet that was cocaine and not salt.
Nonetheless, I realize that it's true. I am thinking about "next time". As soon as that happens, I decide to stop giving up and to get busy finishing. With an audible grunt/groan (seriously) I start jogging again.
That lasts 5 minutes.
But, it was progress. I am now alternating between a zombie jog and a zombie shuffle. It isn't pretty, I am fully aware of that fact, and I don't care in the slightest.
Shortly before the 25 mile mark, I pull out my phone, and text a quick message to my friends waiting for me at the finish line. I want them to know that I am alive, and will be done in the foreseeable future. As "luck" would have it, the ONLY time I see someone I know during this entire race, is when I am texting on my phone. Way to look like a real athlete.
25 miles down, and 1 to go.
I decide to give it my all, and attempt to run (jog) the whole final mile. I actually succeed. I cross the finish line at what I felt was a respectable trot... until I saw the footage of my finish. My face is saying, "Chariots of Fire", while the rest of my body is screaming, "My Dinner with Andre" (which, if you don't know, is a very slow movie that takes a long time to end up not far from where it started).
Don't believe me?
This is how I felt.
This is how I looked.
Post Race Twilight Zone
They stop you.
That's right. "Sir, you can stop running now." I don't understand this At All. Part of me is still trying to push past the nice lady with the finisher's medal, because she's blocking me and I need to keep going. Don't you understand? I have to Keep Going. It's all I have left. It's all I know how to do.
But, she persists, and hands me a medal. Actually, she places it around your neck for you. Presumably, because you lack the strength to do it yourself... which is true. I cough out a hoarse, raspy, "thankyouiwanttodie". Which definitely sounds more like Chewbacca at the end of Star Wars, when he complains that he didn't actually Get a medal.
Don't believe me?
I am then pushed further down the line. Someone hands me a bottled water, which I am certain weighs more than I do. Someone else thrusts a large sheet of what appears to be tinfoil at me. Now, I've hardly used my vocal chords for the last 5 hours, let alone held an intelligent conversation with anyone, I can't feel anything below the neck, exhausted doesn't really cover how I'm "feeling", and I'm still not sure where I actually am or why I am no longer running. But, I do know better than to just blindly accept a sheet of tinfoil from a perfect stranger.
Me: What is that?
Her: It's a Mylar blanket.
Her: It will keep you warm.
Her: You wrap it around you.
Me: . . .
Her: Here, like this.
She then wraps this sheet over my head & shoulders. I have to clasp it under my chin to keep it on. I look like Little-Red-Riding-Hood-the-Astronaut. So now I'm lost, I don't know where my friends & family are, my knees are buckling under the weight of the finisher's medal and water bottle, and I am disguised as a sweaty bag of Jiffy Pop. I wander, aimless and confused. I catch a few people's eyes, in hopes of them being able to point me in a useful direction, but all I see is their own confusion in them.
I don't have a photo of me in the silver sheet, but I looked pretty much the same as these people, just more bedraggled and bewildered. And smelly. Definitely smellier than they look.
Eventually, I found everyone. Got a ride back to the hotel. Stood in line at Mother's, and ate my weight in fried shrimp poboys. Not lying. Got cleaned up, and headed home. Simple as that. Except that for the next 2 weeks, I felt like this:
So, what did I learn from this ordeal, if anything? Looking back over the year that it's been since this happened, and remembering all of the gory details while I wrote this post, I think I can sum it up in two points. These are the same two thoughts I had immediately after realizing that I'd actually completed a full marathon. And they are just as true now, as they were then.
1. Don't listen to my brother-in-law again. Ever.
2. I can definitely do better Next Time.
April 28, 2012 I ran a full marathon in Nashville, Tenn. I ran this marathon with a lack of training and I had no real conviction going into it. My nerves were running full steam ahead, and I felt horrible. Prior to the race starting, I was seriously second guessing myself. I knew that I hadn't properly trained and that I was not anywhere near ready for the run, but I couldn't back out. Starting the race was great and running with family made it better.
My early jitters decided to fill my bladder so quickly within the first two miles that I began cramping very bad. I tried to fight it off, but had to stop for a pee break. The short, but grueling line felt like it took three hours to get through (really only about eight minutes). I decided that I couldn't run this thing alone because I would never finish, so I stretched out my strides and zigzagged in and out of traffic like a drugged taxi driver to catch up with my running "team." Everything seemed to be going fine when I caught back up with the group. We ran for awhile at a nice comfortable pace. At a water stop my cousin Jenny and Uncle Tim stopped to fill their drink containers.....I being unprepared had no water container. I instead chugged a few glasses of Gatorade and water and continued on my way.
I ran by myself from this point out.....really crappy idea with no iPod and no one to talk to. By mile 8 the sun was hot and my endurance was fading quickly. I decided that I could not finish 26.2 miles and intended to take the turn-off for the half-marathon. From the 8-mile point to the 11-mile point I was able to maintain a jog, but every step solidified my resolve to take the half-marathon turn at the 11.5-mile mark. As I approached the turn-off, spectators started yelling at me...a lot of them actually. Now at first i really thought it was weird that I would get singled out, but looking at this later i am quite sure that being 6'4" 225 lbs. and wearing a neon pink shirt and neon yellow leggings probably made me stick out a bit from the other runners. The fact that the spectators were yelling did not phase me. What they yelled, however, changed everything about me at that point in time.
People who I never met and don't know started yelling and cheering, screaming "run for Cara" and "REFUSE to give in." When I heard these cheers all I could do was think about a little girl who I had never met fighting a fight that I could never imagine fighting. I saw that little girl's mother at the starting line so full of emotion and I COULD NOT turn right for the half-marathon finish. My body wanted to quit, my mind told me to turn right everything about me told me to stop, but I couldn't. I don't know why and I can't explain it, but I turned left...full-marathon bound. For the next 14 miles, a little girl I have never met and her unknown support team in Nashville, Tenn., pushed me forward. Everytime I wanted to stop, someone would read my mind and yell those same two lines "run for Cara" and "REFUSE to give in". By the 18th mile I had no steam left, I had no drive left, I had no motivation, I had no will, but my legs never quit. I did not run again until the last two blocks of the race. I walked in pain, agony and worst of all heat, but every time I wanted to quit, a new Cara supporter rose up from a curb, a porch, or right behind me as they made their way past me, and they pushed me to continue. This little girl who doesn't know me from Adam would not let me quit, she refused to let me give in.
I finished my marathon, it was not a graceful finish or a fulfilling finish, but It was probably the only finish that I will always remember. I have never been a very spiritual person. I have went to church and I have read the Bible, but have never really known what my position was and I guess I still really don't. I do, however, know this, at 27 years of age I did not finish a marathon because I was in the shape to do it. I did not finish a marathon because I had the will to finish. I DID finish a marathon because a little girl who I do not know pushed me harder than any drill sergeant was ever able to. I wish that I could do more for that little girl than just run wearing a shirt with her name and picture on it, because she has done something for me that no one else has been able to do. She gave me faith.
Adventures and Races Submitted by Idiots