It was the most painful three hours I’ve ever endured. I think my nerves got the best of me before the gun went off. I usually go into competitions pretty cocky – almost arrogant – knowing what I can accomplish and what I’m aiming for. Doesn’t mean I win much, it just means I know what I’m capable of doing especially when I set my mind to it. This time I didn’t feel so sexy. I felt like a lamb facing an angry butcher with a large sharpened clever. We lined up behind the starting line with the other steeds and BOOM! the gun went off (picture above courtesy of Traverse City Record Eagle). Within a hundred yards an indescribable sensation crept over me, one I hope I never feel again. My legs weren’t turning over with the same fluidity I’ve grown accustomed to. In fact, by mile 2, my ankles were killing me and my right shin felt like it had been ripped out of my scrawny pencil leg.
About that time my marathon partner Rick and I had formed a small pack of five that joined the women’s leader Marybeth Reader and her two pacers. Reader and the rest of us were setting to break 2:50 so we joined forces. She would eventually go on to dominate the course by setting a course record of 2:46:23. The pack splintered around mile 7 when Reader started pushing the pace. Four of us stuck together and all my pain subsided slightly at mile 9. My best miles would be miles 9-12.8. Those miles felt like my legs had awoken and things were firing.
But suddenly everything went to shit. At mile 12.8 I felt a sharp jab – so potent and severe it made me flinch and blurt out “F**k!” I swore someone had taken a sailors awl and stabbed me in the right calf with the precision of a surgeon. Rick encouraged me to keep going, run through the pain and not quit, as any good partner would do.
Miles 12.8 through 26.2 were brutal. Nothing went well and I was in pain the entire time. The calf seemed to be a hydration issue which subsided slightly after drinking two mouthfuls of pickle juice at mile 15 (this is a long story that I’ll explain upon request). But I had altered my stride so much that my hip, thighs, ankles and breathing were simply out of control. Our group of four finally splintered to three when we dropped Rick around mile 17. I backed off to pick up my partner, and after another 1.5 miles together he waived me off and ordered me to leave him. I was alone, in pain and catatonic. At mile 21 began the ceremonial “cramping of the ribs with nausea” the invitation of which my right side and stomach decided to partake in gleefully. My splits had started to fluctuate wildly until the end as I compensated for the pain and misery.
Mile after mile, pretty much since mile 5, I was constantly thinking of quitting. I was so obsessed with the idea that I was beset with a repertoire of excuses I would use to explain why I had quit…and how to best describe my first failure as a runner. Mile after mile the pain tormented me, ebbing and flowing to meticulously create an inner discord that seemed to intensify with every jagged stride. Every mile I would say to myself “This is it buddy. We end it at the next one.”
But I never did quit. I pushed through it. I pushed through trying to keep some semblance of pace and control. Trying anxiously not to submit to the temptation of quitting because by nature I am not a quitter. None of us are. I would rather destroy myself than stop prematurely. Exhausting all options, I changed strides, tweaked tempo and tried everything possible before letting go…I think that’s what defines a competitive runner.
I had set out to run a sub 2:49:59 and in the end I hobbled in at 2:49:18. I literally hobbled in, stopping a few feet ahead of the finish line to awkwardly stagger in. I was elated that it was over and I had “surrendered” on my terms.
In the end I not only finished, but won my age group and came in 17th overall. I had convinced myself so much that I wasn’t going to make it, that I still can’t believe I did finish. My partner Rick finished 2:50:44, fourth in his age group and 20th overall.
I’d like to thank pretty much everyone on this board with whom I’ve trained with since November 2007 when I joined GRC. This is a big accomplishment for me and the GRC is a special family that has taken me in and molded me for the better. Special thanks also go out to Klim and Bain who in the last month hammered me weekly and kept me honest.