Monday, May 23, 2005

Marathon I

May 21, 2005, a day that I will not likely forget for anytime soon. It was a day that went from high hopes to near crushing defeat to a humble victory. This is my story.

As I waited for the hour of my premiere as marathon runner on Saturday I remember thinking that I had done everything by the book. I tapered, I ate right, I got the nerves under control, I slept well a couple nights before the race. I even managed to get 6 hours sleep the night before the race – I felt ready to take on the marathon.

Where the mind goes the body should follow, right? As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts last week, one dude in my office was sneezing, wheezing and coughing the whole day last Wednesday. Add a little fever, runny nose, headache, body ache, whatever else and you have me today. The first symptoms started showing there ugly head on Saturday morning, but I still felt good…

We arrived in Mannheim about 12:45, checked into our hotel, then headed across the street to pick up my start packet. My wife went on to the shopping district, I went back to the hotel. After laying out everything for the race I laid down and tried to take a nap. About 3:00 p.m. I got up and ate a sandwich that I had brought along. I drank water up until about an hour before the race.

About a half hour before the start we left the hotel and made our way over to the Start. I stretched a little, jogged around the block, received my good luck kiss from my sweety and lined up in the 4:30 starter block. I felt good, at this point there were no indicators that trouble was on the way.

There were 2847 runners signed up for the marathon, 484 for the rollerblade half-marathon, 2800 for the 4-person team marathon, and 70 for the wheelchair/hand bike marathon.

I didn’t hear the starting pistol, the crowd's cheering was overwhelming, it was powerful! I set my stopwatch as I crossed over the start, surprisingly it only took about 2 minutes this time. Actually it was a dual start from two parallel streets that gradually merged after the first kilometer. I ran the first 2-3 kilometers in 6:15/K (10:00/M), just what I had planned on. I felt good, I tried to keep my pace under control. The first service point was at 5K (3.1M), I grabbed a cup of sport drink and walked long enough to drink it. I picked up the pace to about 6:00/K (9:39/M). Beginning at the 7.5/K (4.7M) marker there were water points every 5K, so we could drink every 2.5K (1.5M).

It had rained most of Saturday morning, was nice outside until about an hour into my marathon. The temperature at noon was 24C/75F, 19C/66 at the start of the race, and 16C/60 by midnight. The air was thick and humid…at about the 10-11K point it started raining slightly, just a drizzle, but one that continued off and on for the rest of the race.

I kept up my 6:00/K pace, walking through most of the service and water points to drink a sports drink or water. I think I ran through two without drinking because I heard sloshing in my stomach (textbook stuff). I crossed the 21.1K (13.1 M) chip scanner at 2:12:17 (official time). I was still running strong at this point.

It is interesting to note that there was a tremendous turnout of people to cheer us on, almost the entire route was lined with people, especially in the center of the towns we passed through. Our first names were printed on the start numbers, so I heard my name constantly throughout the night. This was to be an important fact as time went on.

At about the 22K/13.6M point I first saw the bridge looming in the distance. The bridge in front of me (actually two bridges) can only be described as a bridge from hell. Based on the kilometer markers the span was over two kilometers (1.2 miles) with steep (for this flatlander) entrance and exit ramps. We were running directly into the wind and on the bridge you felt the full force of the gusts. Halfway up I paused and walked. After a minute or two it started leveling out so I started running again. I noted that I would see the bridge again, as the return runners were coming back on the other side (oh God).

It was shortly after the bridge (~24K/15M) that I got the first leg cramp, in the calf of the right leg – kind of like a Charlie horse, so painful that I had to walk it out. I walked for a minute or so that slowly started running again. A couple minutes later I reached the 25K/15.5M service point and grabbed a sports drink and a sports bar. I walked long enough to finish these than continued on. Three or four minutes later, the painful cramp again, this time in the hamstring muscle of the right leg as well. It hurt so much I had to walk again. I walked a minute or so until the pain subsided, than continued running. My legs were getting really stiff at this point. I remember passing the 26K/16.1M marker, went around a corner and then got such a spasm of pain in the both calves and the right hamstring muscles, that I just about fell over. I painfully walked it out, stopped and tried to stretch the legs some, than tried to run again.

From the bridge we went from Mannheim into the neighboring town of Ludwigshafen. At about the 26K point we turned off the road that came down from the bridge and went on a long nervey straight away that went about 5 K’s out then came back on almost the same streets. You could see the returning runners almost the entire distance. I remember thinking at one point what kind of sick person thought of this?

I made it through the 27K/16.7M marker and was continuously getting hit with new bouts of cramps every few hundred meters (1/4 mile). The cramps (or spasms?) were so painful that I had to stop and walk each time until the pain subsided. A couple times I felt kind of dizzy and another I thought I was going to throw-up. I reached the 30K/18.6M service area and drank a sports drink and ate a banana. I stopped and explained my problem to the fine people at the Red Cross tent. They questioned if I had been drinking enough (I had), then took a couple minutes and massaged my legs. They suggested that if the pain persists that I should quit. No way!

I left the tent determined to keep going, I started off at a slow jog, but soon had to succumb to the cramps again. I started playing with different strides; I figured out right away that when I stretched out my stride it almost immediately resulted in pain. So I took small steps, this got me to the 32K/19.9M maker. By this time I was totally exhausted, the fight with the stiffness, the pain – my nerves were shot. My mind had left long before this, I was somehow in a daze, my race plan was no more, survival was the new game in town.

By now I was on the return leg of the straightaway from hell (maybe 33K/20.5M maker), I noticed the ranks were getting mighty thin now. Would I be last? I recall a little voice inside of me saying last is not least, stay brave, keep going, one step at a time!

The route turned off the straightaway onto some dark street, you could only see a short distance in front of you (it was raining again). I was running maybe 3-4 minutes, than walking 1-2 minutes. I had figured out by this time that if I keep my legs fairly straight I wasn’t getting cramps so often. I passed by a marker, no here was the 33K/20.5M marker. I felt like I was the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, running with my legs stiffened, I must have been a funny sight.

I past a runner who was using rather colorful language to describe the fact that we hadn’t reached the %%& bridge yet, the weather sucks, and cursed the first newborn of whoever planned this route…maybe I wasn’t in the worst of shape here.

My legs were like lead, but I wasn’t cramping up so much anymore. I kept going, keeping my pace down, concentrating on not bending the legs too much…I started running uphill…the bridge thank God! This bridge went on and on and on…at least I wasn’t alone, there were a few runners around me. I tried to keep pace with one runner, but he started walking, I made it almost a whole kilometer without stopping to walk...down the exit ramp…a service point. I tried to eat a sports bar but couldn’t swallow it, so I ate half a banana and drank a coke. I started running again 7.2K, less than 5 miles – I have to finish this – I glanced at my watch oh already four hours thirty-six minutes.

Back into the city of Mannheim, I remember feeling incredibly nauseous, than dizzy, I walked for a minute or two, than forwards! The 36K/22.3 marker. Forwards. Hey I know this street the shopping district, but we still have 6K/3.7M? Okay right turn, where are we going now, ohh a big crowd ahead, don’t stop running. A whole line of kids wanting high-fives, slap, slap, a few more steps. Walk a little, run a little.

By this time I was in some kind of daze, I only remember running and walking, running and walking. Then I heard my name “What, somebody called my name?” Oh yeah its written on my number. “What did they yell, keep going! I’ll try. I’m doing it.” The 38K/23.6 marker, where was the 37? I missed it somewhere. Back to the shopping district, right turn, we’re heading towards the finish, I can hear the band. Walk, run, run, walk, run. We ran through the start (the finish was on the parallel street), the 39K/24.2M marker, still 3.2K’s (2 miles).

I started passing people, here one, there one. Gosh is this hard. I had to walk again, my legs hurt! I ran again, a man and woman in matching blue running shirts were in front of me. I latched onto them, they ran maybe 5 minutes, than walked – I walked. They ran, I ran. The 40K marker…they ran, I ran, they walked, I walked. We passed a few, a few passed us. I felt dizzy, I walked. I caught up to the blue team at the 41K marker. They ran, I ran, they walked, I walked. They ran, I ran, they walked, I ran…the water tower, the finish. I kept going, my legs hurt…I see the Finish…I ran faster…I…I…I finished!

I stumbled forward, tears in my eyes (as are now as I write), someone slipped a “Finisher” medal over my head. I stumbled forward, the room started spinning, hey wait I’m not in a room. I grabbed the corner of the fence to steady myself, a Red Cross worker appeared…he asked if I was okay…I don’t know what I told him…he called a couple dudes and they brought a stretcher…I laid down…oh this felt good. They carried me in the first aid tent. I told the EMT dude that I was feeling dizzy, but that it would pass in a minute. Obviously he didn’t believe me, he checked my pulse, blood pressure…90/60…kinda low! He had me lay down again, covered me with a blanket, got some water for me…thank you, thank you.

After a couple minutes the doctor came over. She asked if my blood pressure is normally low. Having really no idea, I told her that, also about my severe leg cramps, and about the first signs of a cold. She checked my blood pressure again, it was a bit higher. She told the EMT dude to check it again in 10 minutes, he did 90/70. He called the doctor back, she released me.

I made my way out of the tent, up a couple steps (ouch!) to the service area. I tried to eat a banana, yuck! I drank some sports drink, than limped over to the T-Shirt area to pick up my T-shirt. All out! “We’ll have to mail you one”. “Do we have your address?” Yeah, I think so…yes.

I wandered out towards the aid station and the exit, down the steps (OUCH!). Through the exit – ahh there is my wife, thank God. She only needed one look and knew that I had had trouble. She asked me if I was okay, I told her I was by the doctor – she only said we should go back to the hotel, it was getting cold and starting to rain.

I wanted finish in 4:15-4:30. I finished in 5:10:56. I FINISHED!

I keep telling myself that I finished, but I am disappointed, sad, confused – I had a lot of things happening to my body that didn’t occur doing training, that I don’t understand the reason for. The leg cramps – I’ve had cramps before, but nothing like the pain that I experienced during the marathon. I am trying to discover a reason for this. I drank at almost every station, except for a couple where I could hear distinct sloshing. Was it my oncoming cold? The humidity? Did I start too fast?

I am trying to tell myself that I at least finished, true, but I don’t feel fulfilled somehow. Maybe I’m just worn out, sick, tired…

But one thing is clear, there will be a rematch! Jack vs. Marathon II.

Jack -
you rock! Seriously! I think for a lot of us, that first marathon can be kinda awful, and we don't make the time or have the comfort we expect. But finishing is the whole thing. It's all mental. And you did it! Congratulations!!!!! Way to hang tough, Jack!
Given how much you normally run, I figured you'd knock the thing out and take the wife dancing. But the fact that you hung in there is really amazing Jack!
Congratulations on finishing, which is plenty more than lots of folks have managed. You wrote a great story, and it's inspiring to read. Good show!
Sorry to hear about your difficulties with the race, but what a great attitude - already looking forward to Marathon #2! I wonder what was up with the cramps and low b/p? I'm so impressed that you toughed it out! Great race report.
Things didn't turn out as planned and it may take awhile for that disappointment to subside. I hope, after some time has passed, you can come to appreciate what an awesome performance it was to finish under such tribulations. This is also going to give you a great pool of knowledge for next time!

You really do rock Jack, don't doubt it!!
I am so inspired by your story, Jack. Truly. I don't think I could have continued on as you did. I hope you can look past whatever you thought would happen and appreciate what DID happen. You made it.
Well. I'm all teary-eyed reading this, but not because I feel sorry for you, or disappointed by your time, but because I'm so amazed by what you did. Anyone could do it if it were easy, Jack. You're not "anyone".

I'm afraid I may have cursed you with the leg cramps I've been complaining about during this pregnancy! Oh dear, do I know your pain.

I can't help but wonder, do you think the physical struggle had anything to do with the run happening in the middle of the night? I mean, you don't normally run in the middle of the night, do you?

And, bless the heart of every person who stayed and cheered you on - I know from first hand experience (though, clearly not in a *marathon* situation, because I am NOT you!) how important that clap, that eye contact, that "you can do it" really is when you're so sure you can't.

And I'm sorry, but the difference in the time you wanted, vs. the time you got, is negligible when spread out over 26.2 miles! You are such a star!
I'm with everyone else on this. Thanks for sharing this "tear jerker". I like Mia read it with tears in my eyes. Tears for the pain I could almost feel and tears for the joy that you stuck with it and finished where others might have given up.

Couldn't tell if you use electrolyte supplements during your race, but it sounds like you need to. Check out Succeed capsules (I buy them on-line). I've never had leg/foot cramps since I started using them, and I run in Florida (think hot, humid, lots of sweat!).
Congratulations!! Great race report! Thanks for the inspiration.
Congrats on finishing a really killer of a race, Jack. Pain is a tough thing to break through. Sounds like you really had your mental game in order out there. With all the leg cramping, if you weren't ready for the mental challege, you would have been toast. Great job!
great job! great job on toughing it out and finishing. way to go.
Congratulations, marathoner! Well done, toughing it out!! You might consider taking on some more sodium to help prevent those leg cramps and reduce stomach sloshing both. Just a thought!
I just got back and have been dying to read this Jack! I too read it with tears in my eyes ... for sheer pride on your persistence. You're a hero, Jack ... good on you!
That was a race account unlike any other I have read; so full of torturous detail and perseverance. I am amazed at your ability to carry on in the face of such adversity and I know you are disappointed. Yet the next time will be easier and faster. I would think nothing could be so challenging as that first one. Cheers to you.
Sodium - keep an eye on that.
Jack--I actually read this weeks ago, and remembered it when I was running, but I didn't quite remember where i had read it. Now that I've reread it, the similarities are even more striking. Dude, what's with the cramps?!!!

But like you, I'm starting to see the positive in just having finished. And there will be a next time!
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