26.2 miles….what had I signed up for? At least that’s what I was thinking the eve before the Marathon. I went to bed that evening with a knot in my stomach and wasn’t quite sure if it was the nerves or all of the pasta I had eaten a few hours before. I lay in bed that night nervous about the events that were to take place in less than 6 hours. Anyone who has raced before, be it an adventure race, mountain bike race, road race, etc. you know the kind of nerves I’m talking about. Not the feeling of will I finish, rather the feeling….man….I really hope I take a dump before this thing starts!!!
As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling I began to try to visualize the events that were going to occur. I tried to visualize racing at my pace and not going out too fast and staying relaxed, but most of all…not to let anyone dressed in a costume or joggling pass me. I finally fell asleep at some point and then woke up to a cell phone alarm, watch alarm, and hotel wake up call. Needless to say, my better half wasn’t exactly pleased. Hey, the last thing you want to do is miss a race because you overslept and have six months of training go down the drain.
5:00 a.m. came pretty early and I went thru my pre-race routine. After several minutes of walking around and stretching, my fears and worries the evening before became less prominent and I could now rest a little easier. Jodi and I left the hotel around 6:00 a.m. and began our walk to the start line area. It was still dark outside, however we were met by the biggest flag I had ever seen draped across the roadway with the St. Louis Arch in the background.
Armed with my newly purchased Spibelt I was ready to join the elite club of Marathoners. (Just a quick word about Spibelt..great product that I would highly recommend to any runner of races of any distances. Not only can you carry items as large as an iPhone, you can carry multiple gel packs as well as attach your race number to the belt without having to put holes in your running shirt.) I made my way to the start line which was the largest start area I had ever seen. There were so many pre race activities going on you could have easily missed the race by going to the beer tent and listening to the live band.
The race was to start at 7:00 a.m. sharp and I wanted to position myself in between the 8 minute and 9 minute mile race group so as too not start out to fast. I kissed Jodi farewell, hopefully not for the last time, and made my way to the runners only section of the race. I warmed up with about a 10 minute jog and then weaved my way between the thousands of runners waiting for the start.
With old glory flying in the distance and the smell of various muscle creams in the air the National Anthem was sang and the countdown to the start began. Let me say with 15,000 people lined up within a few city blocks, the start was as congested as rush hour traffic in Manhattan. I wasn’t sure if I needed to keep my elbows up or not. I started with a quick walk, a slow jog and then was quickly met with a sudden stop where everyone literally ran into the back of one another. I then saw clothing flying everywhere and was beginning to wonder if I was in the right run group or not. The morning air was a bit chilly and runners shed some of their layers which lined the streets. I later learned that a group collected the clothing and donated their collection to various charities. After about a minute the pack began to speed up and as I crossed under the start line gate I was finally able to stretch out my legs. There was about a 3 minute delay from the time of the start to when I actually crossed the start line. The chip timer on my shoe activated once I ran under the start line and my journey began.
Will advised me to not go out too fast and to run my race regardless of how fast or slow everyone else was running. He advised to drink at every water stop and mix in energy gels and drinks as I had in training. Most importantly he told me to relax and to save some for miles 20-26 because the race does not actually begin until you hit mile twenty. I had no idea how soon I would realize this all to be true.
People were running in a frenzy. I remembered what Will had said and settled in to a comfortable 8:35 pace. I ran at this pace for the next several miles and came upon my first water station. I quickly took a cup of water and tried sipping it slowly. Water quickly shot up my nose and I left a little DNA somewhere along the course. There really is no easy way to sip water on the run. I found it easier to slow down, even to a quick walk, sip the water and then be on my way.
Miles 1-3 took us by Busch Stadium as well as the Anheuser Busch brewery. The smell of hops and barley was thick in the air and was quite refreshing. I couldn’t wait to partake of one later at the finish line. The streets were consistently lined with people cheering for all runners and were very motivating. The first several miles are always the toughest for me. It takes my legs a long time to wake up and get settled in for the long haul. After mile 3 I began to feel comfortable and struck up several conversations with several runners. The sun was shining brightly and it was quickly heating up the pavement. I continued to drink at every station and upon reaching mile 8, I heard someone yell “grab him he is going down”. I looked over my shoulder and saw a runner go as stiff as a board and drop to the pavement. I could see that his race bib was orange and blue which designated him as a half marathoner (13.1 miles). Several runners quickly grabbed him and paramedics were on scene within seconds. I felt so bad for the guy, he only had about 4.5 miles to go. I was hoping that was not going to be me in a few miles and began wondering if only doing up to 18 miles in a long run was going to be enough.
Mile 10 came rather quickly and it was the turn around point for the Half Marathon. I knew in the back of my mind I had the option of turning around at this point and running the half versus the full, but I felt really good at this point and was determined to finish what I had started.
Mile 13 came quickly and I was still feeling pretty good. I reached the halfway point in 1 hour and 52 minutes, which put me at about an 8:32 per mile pace. I was running at the pace I had set out to run. I wasn’t sure if it was the training or the holy water that was sprinkled on us by a priest at around mile 6.
Mile 13 brought on Forest Park which was new to me. I had only been to the Zoo and never seen this side of Forest Park. It was a lot hillier than what I had expected and I began to feel my legs around mile 15-16. I was running with another runner who told me I looked strong and would have no problems finishing. I could see that he was struggling a bit and I offered the best words of encouragement I could. We kept putting one foot in front of the other and around mile 17 he fell back and I continued to run at my pace.
Mile 18 was hell on earth. Somewhere in between mile 17 and 18 my calf’s began to cramp. I could feel it coming on, but there was nothing more I could do. I drank at every water station and ate several Hammer Gels. As I began to cramp I saw another Marathoner that I knew from my home town and could see that he was in distress. His quads were on fire and every muscle in his legs were shredded. He was obviously dehydrated and cramping so bad he could barely put one leg in front of the other. I slowed my pace and spoke with him and he told me I looked strong and should continue to run. I told him I was cramping too and offered as much encouragement as I could muster. He pushed me onward and I continued to put one foot in front of the other, all be it not at an 8:34 pace. (It should be noted that he finished the Marathon in well under 5 hours…outstanding job man…outstanding!!)
Mile 20 came like the plague. I had never hit a wall so hard in my life. I was at a slow jog and was met with the largest cramp in my left calf I had ever seen. It looked as if I had some type of creature underneath my skin as a large lump was moving up my leg and into my calf. My left leg seized and I reached for my calf trying not to hit the pavement. I stopped and worked out the lumps as best I could. Was this it…….had I not listened to Will and hit the wall.
I had definitely hit the wall, but remembered what he had said. The race doesn’t start until you hit mile 20. I now knew what he meant. I pushed forward walking as quickly as I could and jogging when I could. I felt a gritty white substance all over my arms and face that looked like powder. I quickly realized it was salt and I was not sweating very much….definite dehydration. I was at about mile 22 at this point and I saw a young man standing on the corner holding a sign that said “Your feet hurt so bad because you are kicking so much ass!!!”. That seemed to be all the motivation I needed at the time. I began to run as best I could and reached mile 24.
The cramps continued and mile 24 came with a large hill. It was crazy to see so many people struggling at this point. One would think that with only 2.2 miles left you could put everything behind you and run faster. I was struggling mentally at this point and a woman in the crowd looked at me and said “don’t walk now honey, you only have 2 miles to go”. I know she was trying to help, but my mind was in a frenzy of emotions and I was struggling to hold it together. That’s when I saw a HOTTIE !!!!
Mile 25 was what I call the hot mile, not only because it was about 75 degrees outside, but because as I reached the 25 mile marker I saw the hottest blonde I had ever seen yelling my name. That’s when I realized it was my wife and by the look on her face she could tell I was struggling. She looked at me and in typical Jodi fashion she said, “Don’t you quit on me now, you get your ass to that finish line !!!” Being the obedient husband that I am I obliged and trudged forward as best I could.
Now I have never fashioned myself as a quitter and could see that everyone else was struggling as well. There was a mixture of Half Marathoners as well as Marathoners and everyone was hurting. I could see the finish line and caught my second wind. With 385 yards left (.2 miles) I caught my second wind and ran as fast as I could to the finish.
I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 4 hours 8 minutes and 19 seconds. I had done it….and it was the hardest physical and mental challenge I had every encountered. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in myself. I really wanted to finish my first marathon in under 4 hours. It was at that point that the finishers medal was put around my neck and I had realized what I had done. My overall time didn’t matter….and that I had just joined and elite club. I had just set a PR (personal record) for 26.2 miles. I pushed through the worst pain and mental warfare I had ever encountered, which reminds me of a quote….
“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired…You’ve always got to make the mind take over and keep going.”
– George S. Patton, U.S. Army General and 1912 Olympian
I grabbed a water bottle, some cookies, and a banana and met up with Jodi. A flood of emotions hit me at that point and we shared a special moment with one another. She had sacrificed just as much as I had during my training for this event. All of the hours spent away from home hitting the pavement while she stayed at home with the children. It was her Marathon too and she deserved a medal as well.
The walk back to the hotel was miserable and we had to stop several times along the way, but we managed. It took several hours for me to recover and after a shower and a nap I was ready to get some real food. Oh yeah….I didn’t get passed by any jogglers or costumed runners. Mission accomplished and looking forward to the next one in October !!!