Welcome to June everyone! I thought I’d dedicate this month to some epic posts. Epic in this context being personal accomplishments along with prize finds out in the field. How about we start with a physical feat. Almost 14 years ago to the day I hung up my martial arts hobby and replaced it with running. Well, to be honest, it was replaced with a shuffle to end of my driveway. The goal at that time was to finish a race in the Quad Cities called The Bix 7 (link here). At that time 7 miles seemed like an unattainable dream. Then came the 10K (technically a step back), the 15K (link here) and the mighty Half (link here). All checks in my Life List! 6 Years ago, I embarked on a new running Life List item. A Journey that brought its shares of ups and a multitude of downs.
That Life List Entry was to earn one of these!
That’s right, the badge of honor for any runner. There are certainly longer running events, but the 26.2 is the gold standard for those of us that pound the pavement. When you haven’t earned that right of passage, every 26.2 sticker/magnet you see on cars you pass on the road or spot in a parking lot is an absolute taunt. For 6 years, those stickers haunted me and drove me to pick myself off the ground and start again after every setback. My Life List items are embedded in my DNA – they are enshrined with dedication and motivate me every single day until they are accomplished. 365 days a year for 6 years it sat in the back of my conscious trying its best to defeat me… and that it did year after year:
Year 1: was spent trying to get beyond the dreaded Half distance
Year 2: resulted in a torn hamstring where it connects to the knee – another summer of rehab
Year 3: was a complete retooling of my running mechanics (link here) and strength training
Year 4: Heat Stroke about ended it all (link here) – starting from scratch again on the heat conditioning
Year 5 my targeted race was canceled by the sponsors after setting a record for miles in a year (link here) -note, I ended with well over 1350 for the year
Year 6 .. well that put me at the starting line of the Illinois Marathon.
Complete with a race day weather of non-stop rain, 10-23 mph winds and a pretty constant temp around 51. Now the temperature couldn’t be more perfect, especially for someone who has to watch their heat exposure post the heat stroke incident. The rain and wind .. not so perfect, in fact, downright SUCKAGE. Linda took the shot above and is due a huge credit for braving the miserable weather to capture my big day. At this point in the race, the main thing swirling in my head was “did I really train enough to make it through this”. The more I thought about it, the more I began to doubt myself.
Hit the jump to see how this day turned out!
The first six miles were wet, wet and more wet. A big thanks goes to a young girl that ended up matching my pace between mile 5 and 6. She was quite the talker and indicated she was on her first marathon too. At least I wasn’t the only crazy one out there. Our talk allowed me to keep my mind off the task at hand … at least for a little bit. I was feeling pretty good through the park section highlighted by my need (and ability) to jump over water puddles that had formed on the narrow path – trying my best to keep the shoes from getting totally soaked. One thing was totally annoying me – my running sweats were completely soaked and the zipper at the bottom kept riding up causing the fabric to slap against my leg on every stride. Sort of like someone snoring next to you – eventually you are going to go Tell-Tale Heart crazy unless you do something about it.
Here is a shot Linda took of me at about 12.5 miles. All my training was paying off as evident by the people behind me that were looking pretty weary.
This was the point where I planned to shed the pants, get some fuel and get my headphones to distract me for the second half. That was the PLAN. When I ran up to Linda she informed me Sung was “down” on the course and had to go pick him up. OH SHIT! That didn’t sound good at all and was concerned for my running buddy. It opted to just take care of the pants which took a bit of extra time trying to get the soaked fabric around my equally soaked shoes – nearly fell in the process, but eventually got them pulled off and on my way (with a good luck kiss).
A few minutes later I hit an emotionally depressing moment. For that entire mile I kept hearing only one more mile to go, you got this and other forms of encouragement from the crowd. Unfortunately, that was for the HALF MARATHONERS who were on the home stretch of their race. A few more tenths of a mile and their agony was over. I was nowhere close to the finish line. Nearly ALL of the large group around me turned left to head to the Memorial Stadium – myself and only 1 other turned right to begin the second half of the course. That was a kick to the emotional gut – you draw a lot of energy when surrounded by fellow runners – a band of brothers if you will – but obviously that was going to be few and far between the rest of the way.
I ended up purchasing a bunch of Marathon-Photo pictures to have some shots from the second half of the race. Here I am in the high teen miles. I was feeling it now and knew the wall was coming. At 17 I broke down and succumbed to the deluge of water that had not let up once since the start of the race. I noticed an empty race porta-potty a bit off the course and dealt with some badly needed drainage. That was a huge relief and got me going again. Not sure if I was indicating that I was tolerating the pain or that was what I had to do (hehehe)
Another young lady ended up coming up beside me – she had to be in the relay based on how much energy she had. We talked for a bit and found out she was from a burb in Chicago (imagine that), had to work two jobs because she got her degree in social services and how she didn’t want to be like her friends and just live at home. She did make me chuckle – when I mentioned I lived near Peoria she immediately said “Burger Barge”. Obviously a different response than when I am talking to a male and they recognize Peoria for their strip clubs. She moved on after about a mile but I did appreciate the opportunity to get my mind off the building pain.
Between mile 20 and 21 I hit the wall and man, I hit that wall hard. I can’t explain just how bad that felt and give credit to the runners I sought advice from for understating what it was really like. Your body is totally fatigued and your mind is on overdrive trying to get you to stop. Mind and body in a coordinated effort to preserve itself .. but that also means it wants to deprive you of your Life List check. Payback for all the punishment you put it through in your training. I can’t give the experience justice in words, but it will forever be placed third for my all time physical tests. The first being my first black belt tests (I tested for two disciplines at the same time) – a brutal 8 hr beat in and mental strain that still causes me to shudder to this day whenever I think about it – that day culminated in having to put an earlier in the day broken hand through a cement block. The second place goes to the SECOND degree black belt tests (again 2 disciplines at the same time). Another 8 hrs of getting battered and mentally tested – this time I knew what I was in for, so it wasn’t as bad as the first. I will note, that day ended up with me having to put an arm with an earlier in the day torn shoulder through TWO blocks of concrete. Those experiences help me break through this new cement wall. Kudos to my colleague at work that simply told me you have to keep forcing yourself to put one foot in front of the other no matter what your brain is telling you. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming”
By now, the wind was up in the 20’s, the rain was coming down harder and directly in my face on my return leg back to the stadium. As you can tell below, the struggle was in full battle.
By mile 23 I was feeling a wee bit better and the wall was behind me. My body was empty beyond the QuicDiscs, G2 blocks and the gracious people handing out orange slices at random points along the course. I usually refrain from taking energy from non-official stations, but that day, that rule was ripped up (I did pass on the jelly bean and other items being handed out along the course). Beyond that, just water and Gatorade at every station I came upon. Here I am around mile 24 when every stride felt like a dagger in my thighs. You can tell my body was empty based on the muscle definition in the thighs – and you wonder why body builders dehydrate themselves before a showing!
Before the race, I figured at 25 I’d have this great boost of adrenaline and would be able to pick up the pace as I headed for home. At that point in the race, that pipe dream went up in smoke. I could see the stadium by then and it looked like it was 50 miles away, not 1. Just keep swimming, just..
Linda was able to take a shot of me entering the stadium. The cushy field was a welcome relief to the sides of the thighs which by now could be heard screaming an end zone away. My training runs are always in the hills. Climbing and descending those hills seems easier than the long flats of this course, but I forgot one key aspect – on hills you get a chance to rest some of your leg muscles – flats are a constant pounding of the same muscles. At this point, I finally had confidence I could make it to the end.
Just a bit more – digging deeeeep
Another Life List accomplishment in the books! As a quick note, if you look in my left hand in the picture above, you will notice I’m holding onto something. Based on all the advice I had read and from various people I talked to, they mentioned that the best way to get through the race is to treat it as four different races back to back. Each segment had a unique challenge to overcome and a specific thing to focus on to make it through. To help me out, I dedicated each of those four parts to someone and each of their names and the segment I needed their help on were written down on laminated strips so I could mentally pull from them whenever I needed extra help. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring tape and was forced to carry them in my hand rather than have them hooked to my wrists. In those dark moments along the course I could always look down for encouragement- I could not have made it through without them!
Next was a strange mixture of pain, euphoria and relief… although pain was definitely the greatest percentage. These pictures from Linda do not really capture how miserable it was weather wise.
This Marathon Photo shot does a little better job of showing the wind (even though we were in a stadium) and relentless rain. It still wasn’t enough to suppress my huge smile – you would think I just set a world record or something ha!
Oh, here is another shot with my medal the right side facing out and my finisher BLANKET!!! Remember that later in the post. The good news is I looked up in the stands and saw Linda standing next to Sung. What a relief to know he was alright.
So here’s my swag! Well, the finisher swag that is. My three medals, my bib number (with my name on it! and the cool sticker Linda ordered for me. She gave me that after I completed the race along with an official 26.2 sticker – uber cool but she definitely took a chance I would actually make it! By the way, you may notice the My First Marathon sign. This race gives those out to first timers in hopes people will help lift your spirits during the race. I thought long and hard about actually wearing it (ask Linda) and then finally decided what the hell, I would need all the help I could get out there.
Here is a shot of my Marathon swag. It is a really nice shirt (ours actually say marathon on them) along with the two stickers and an ornament Linda also got me to help commemorate the achievement (she really went out on a limb since they even had the date on it!). You can also see two of my three medals – one for finishing the marathon itself and the other for completing the Full I-Challenge (more on that later)
So, you might wondering what my time was. My standard goal was to come in before 4 hr 30 min. A stretch goal was to break 4 hr 15 min and the what the hell was I think breaking 4 hrs – primary directive – never give up and never succumb to walking… and the time was…
Totally rocked it! In those conditions I could have not asked for anything better. In fact, if you take out the time it took me to get my running pants off at mile 12 and the quick bathroom break at 17 I would have most likely broke the 4 hr mark. I trained, I came, I saw, I kicked its ass.
You might be wondering about the multiple medals for one event. With the thought a marathon might be a one and done event, I wanted to make it memorable. The originally planned race was one of the hardest marathons you could ever attempt (Screaming Pumpkin link here). With that option out, the next one was this race but they had an additional challenge that helped up the ante. They had what they called the Full I-Challenge. If you completed a 5K the night before and the marathon the next day, they give you three medals – one for the 5K, one for the marathon and another for the completing the challenge. Basically crack for medal whores like myself.
Linda did take a few pictures at this race as well. Here we are for the traditional pre-race picture. Ryan didn’t make it into the shot.
I left the stranger in the shot because it cracked me up. This was just a warm up for the next day so we were definitely not taking this one seriously – take it slow and get through it without injury. The contrast with the dude looking WAAAAAY to serious was too funny – did you like our very strategic background hehehe. Told you we were not serious and if you do not believe me … just look at this evidence.
Like the three stooges. We finally met up with Ryan before the start of the race to put the gang back together. We pretty much joked and pointed out the scenery the entire time. I forgot to mention that Sung was suffering from an awful case of poison ivy. The treatments for that was what caused his cramping that forced him to stop in the half marathon race the next day.
Here we are showing off our new swag! Success, none of us managed to injure ourselves.
Just for the record, here are the official stats for that race – slow and cautious.
Thought I would throw in some stats for my own personal historical purposes. I mentioned this was a 6 year journey at the start of this post. The last year and a half was the yeoman’s part putting in the mandatory long distances day after day after day. The fact that my race in 2015 was canceled was a heavy blow to me since it meant another 6 months of training .. most of it during the cold winter months. Here is my Runkeeper’s report from Jan ’15 to May ’16
Some serious miles and I remember EVERY single one of them. Every run in the cold, every run in the sleet, every run in the rain in some of the steepest hills in the area.
Okay, now at the end, time for a bit of a confession. Did you notice any missing pictures – maybe a traditional picture that has been on every other race post? We opted out of the post race ambulance shot for this race. I’d like to say we just forgot, but the truth is, the humor in those shots is I did not need any medical attention after the other races — this time, not the case. Because I know Linda would assuredly detail it out in the comments if I didn’t address it here, figured I’d go ahead and admit I needed some extra attention after the race. Once the adrenaline had drained from crossing the finish line, things started feeling a little dark. My legs totally locked up like nothing I had experience before and things started getting a bit fuzzy. By the time I had located Linda I was started to go downhill. That is when it occurred to me I had to go UP stairs to get out of the stadium. This was nearly impossible and ended up being helped by Linda and Sung. While walking up, Linda got a bit concerned and directed me to the medical office – I don’t think I put up much of a fight since it felt similar to my pre-heat stroke symptoms although this time it was cold out. The people in the medical office took me back and worked on me trying to keep me from going into hypothermia while working on my locked up legs. After 10 or 15 minutes they recommended I go to their main medical area. Turns out that is DOWN on the field requiring me to walk down the steps again and even climb over the wall because they couldn’t get the gate unlatched. Once down there, they continued to work on my legs, gave me some electrolytes and packed my upper body full of heat packs. They even took my finisher blanket and wrapped it around me. By that point I had started the hypo bounce on the table. All is good though – they got the temps up and I ended up walking back to the RV.
And there you have it. A momentous occasion in my sports career and one for the ages. The jury is out on whether I’ll ever attempt this again. I tell everyone that unlike the half marathon experiences, there was NOTHING “fun” about this event. The training is brutal and the event itself is a soul searching experience. To be honest, not sure which would be harder – training for the next one or convincing Linda to let me do one.
Hope you enjoyed my epic post (feels more like a novel hehehe)!