Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done (Part Two)

So...Friday the 27th finally arrived and I was on my way to Miami. Unfortunately, my flight was at 7:05am, which required me to get up at the crack of dawn and trek down to National for a flight to Philly (yes...the opposite direction), then a two hour layover, then the actual flight to Miami. The girls (AW and CP - my personal cheering section, who came along with me to Miami...more about them later) not only got on a later non-stop flight, but it actually showed up in Miami BEFORE my connection did. Not that I'm complaining...just speaking for the record is all.

I was still a little worried. While the tendon in my left leg was getting better, it was still uncomfortable. Not actually "painful" - just a sort of mild discomfort that I wasn't looking forward to running the race with. Moreover, I was confronted with a new reality in I should have anticipated, but didn't really until it was in front of me. The heat.

Have I mentioned that we trained mostly in the cold? We did. In Miami, it was gorgeous. 70s the first couple of days, 80s the last couple. However, while that was nice for hanging out and having fun...that's a good 50 degrees warmer than I was used to for running in. On race day itself, the temperature would start in the low 70s at the gun and rise to the mid-80s by the time I was through...which resulted in a level of discomfort I wasn't mentally prepared for. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

The girls and I got the rental car, checked into the hotel and then headed to downtown Miami for food and for me to pick up my race packet at check-in. Hotel was meh. It was a hotel...a place to crash at night. I won't complain. Except about the psychotic shower that was out to get me (all of us) and sprayed water EVERYWHERE in the matter what you did to try and keep it inside the shower itself. But really...can't complain. It was on Miami Beach!

Packet pickup was an interesting experience...I've never seen anything like that before. Just seeing my name on the printout was a cheap thrill. My number and name and city...all of a sudden this was real. It was actually happening.

Saturday was fun. The girls and I slept in (boy did we ever) and had a late-breakfast in Coconut Grove, where we wandered around for awhile. After that, we headed back to Miami Beach and spent some time on the beach (right outside the hotel) itself. Water wasn't that cold, believe it or not - actually felt kinda nice. That night we drove down to South Beach, ate dinner at a nice tapas place and I had to call it an early night (the girls stayed out) since my wakeup the next morning was early, early, early. I got back to the hotel, prepped for the morning and tried to relax (hah!). I got sucked into watching about an hour of "Fiddler on the Roof" on TV while I was trying to unwind...which had the side-effect of sticking the Tevya's dream song in my head throughout the race the next day (it's still there...*sigh*..."A blessing on your house, mazeltoff mazeltoff...").

I'd scheduled a wake-up call for 3:30am. It arrived at 3:15. And then again at 3:35. Go figure. Apparently I wasn't the only one - lots of other runners that morning said they'd received multiple wake-up calls. No problems getting up in the morning...just a struggle to put contacts in that early - I had waaaay too much adreneline in me to oversleep. Met up with my pace group, boarded the bus and headed to downtown Miami and the starting line, which was right outside the American Airlines Arena (where the Miami Heat play). My tendon was feeling okay - still a little uncomfortable, but it didn't seem to be bad enough that I would have any problems running on it.

The start of the race is still a blur in my mind. We sat around for an hour just trying to relax...and then before we knew it, we were lined up with thousands of other people to start the race....everybody crammed together. There were about 8000 full marathon runners and 16000 half marathoners (the number of half marathoners still boggles the mind). And all of a sudden...the gun (a flare, actually). And we were off!

Well...sorta. It actually took several minutes before we were really off and got to the start-line, since we were all the way at the back of the field. It's hard to describe the emotions and feelings that were rushing through my head at the time. I can totally understand why they say these things are important to take easy in the opening minutes - it is quite easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of the moment and just take off. I mean...we'd been training for this for months and suddenly...we were racing! It was still predawn, but we were running over the Macarthur Causeway in the dark, past the lighted up cruise ships (two of which were coming into port as we ran by) and the dark palazios on Biscayne Bay. We were running through South Beach, the art deco district, and past the ocean at sunrise. I was running past the girls, who were at a cheering point with signs and cheers (and wearing their shirts). It was was awesome.

Around the 11-mile marker, I started to feel "wrong." My legs seemed much more tired than they normally were at this point of a long run. We had increased our pace and I was having trouble keeping up. The next mile was difficult as hell. I struggled through to the 12-mile marker and began to I need to cut it short and finish the half-marathon instead? My left leg wasn't any worse, but it was far from comfortable. I decided to stick it out. I took a bathroom break, dumped some water over my head and pushed on past the halfway point. My time so-far wasn't great, but it wasn't bad - our pace group had always had "bathroom issues" (I swear some of us had the weakest bladders in the known universe), which meant we were constantly slowing down or stopping for bathroom breaks every mile. This slowed us down. But we were pushing on. We were on target for a little over 6 hrs. for the race itself, instead of just under (our target time)...but so long as we finished within 8 hours, we were fine.

Miles 13 and 14 were better...but around 15-16 was when I noticed the problem that would make the rest of the race such a challenge. While my left leg was uncomfortable, my right leg was really starting to hurt. Bad. Specifically, I was experiencing the onset of tibialis anterior tendon sheath inflammation. Every step was becoming agony. I was having trouble keeping up with my pace group and was starting to fall behind. I needed extra walk breaks. Eventually, Nicholle and I dropped back from the rest of the group (who would end up finishing about 20 minuts or so before us - my only wish is that I could have crossed the line with them) - she was experiencing some foot pain troubles.

The remainder of the race is a series of images and feelings - moments tied together by long stretches of agony as the pain in my right leg got worse and worse. The marathon staff starting to close up parts of the race (seemed early to me, but...whatever) behind and infront of us. A water stop at mile 16 or 17 (can't remember which) where I seriously considered bagging it all and giving up. A kind family who had no water, but did have ice for runners. A pep-talk from Matt (our program rep) around Mile 17, and another from Coach Fred around Mile 24.5. Playing "top five" with Nicholle to try and get my mind off how much pain I was in. Extended walk breaks punctuated by painful attempts to run. Playing leapfrog with two other AIDS Marathoners...the four of us pep-talking each other and fighting to keep going.

And throughout it all...the pain. My goodness...the pain. It got worse and worse. Moreover, because I was trying to compensate...I quickly developed a blister of enormous size on my right foot. And it was hot. The worst was from about mile 21 onwards.

But the thing I have to be proud of is this: I didn't quit. I could have. There were times where I considered it, or wondered if I should. Nobody would have blamed me for doing so. I was injured, running (more or less) on one foot - or, one might say...half a foot. Out of energy gels...exhausted...I kept pushing on.

I'll say it again. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. Bar none. I even joked that getting rejected by a million women would have been easier to deal with. But I didn't give up.

Lots of people compete in marathons. Not everybody finishes. And in some ways, I think what I did was even more admirable...because I finished despite being in excrutiating pain for a great deal of the race. I won because I finished. Because two years ago, I couldn't have even imagined doing this. Because at the end, I would be able to look back and say, "I accomplished something most people never do. I am a marathoner." And nobody would be able to take that away from me.

So I kept putting one foot infront of the other and pushed on. After the last bridge, I saw the white fence and knew the finish line was upon us. I first warned, then kissed Nicholle out of joy. And I ran through the tunnel and across the finish line, raising my arms high in the air with an exclamation of triumph. I did it. I did it. I did it. I did it!




City, State, Country

5916 Sandlin, Trevin M31 Washington, DC, USA
Gun / Chip Overall Sex Div. 10K Half 30K FinalPace
7:18:49 / 7:15:23 2461 /7768 1521/1526 225/226 1:36:18 3:20:37 4:58:49 7:15:23 16:36

That result, believe it or not...put me in the top 31% of entrants for the race. Well over half of the entrants either bailed out at the half-marathon, or didn't finish in 8 hours (or at all). Sure - my time was waaaay off. you can splits got worse and my injury developed. My early splies are pretty good - I actually was keeping an okay pace. But you can see that the last quarter of the race was a disaster...entirely due to the injury, I'm afraid.

But it doesn't matter...because I didn't quit and I made it across the line.

A person from the race came over and gave me my finisher's medal. The girls were so proud of me...and I couldn't have done it without them down there to cheer me on. I couldn't have done it without my pace group, or Nicholle hanging back with me, or all of the encouragement over the months leading up to the race and the good luck wishes from everybody.

And even though at mile 21 I was cursing BS for getting me into this...I owe her a big thank you for it, too.

Sunday night, the girls and I hit South Beach and had a blast. I wore my medal. I think it's worth more to me than my car. Or most of my other belongings. Maybe all of them put together. And already...I'm planning for what's next.

Because if I can accomplish this...the hardest thing I've ever done...

I can do anything.


At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your story is incredibly inspiring. Congratulations on an amazing achievement.


Post a Comment

<< Home