A TEAM is a group of individuals that work together to accomplish feats greater than could ever be accomplished by the sums of the individuals.
Last Sunday I completed my 4th marathon in 4 months (completed from start to finish in a span of 93 days) to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through their wonderful endurance training and fundraising platform Team in Training. I have been involved with Team in Training since 2010 as both a coach and participant. This Spring’s challenge of the 4 marathons in a short span was my way of giving just a little back and paying a little toward the future too. Lifetime now with the help of my friends and family we have raised approximately $7,300 towards funding cancer research, helping families in need and to support advocacy for change. The $1,500 that we raised this season was part of approximately $300,000 raised by just over 200 participants who completed their spring efforts at the Flying Pig Marathon last weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio. Thank-you everyone for helping me make a difference.
Quite honestly my quest to run 4 marathons in 4 months only miraculously did not fall this last marathon short. If I had not the weight of all my supporters behind me it would have been very easy to call it a day. Our son had been sick earlier in the week. Near home that was coupled by unusually high pollen counts, a side effect of our heavy rain late spring bloom. Being Junior’s human Kleenex and this being my year to be affected with spring allergies I had come down with a bad case of bronchitis that was getting worse by the minute. On the drive down I had emptied out nearly a box of tissue before the hour drive south out of Michigan was complete. By race morning breathing was a chore.
If this had just been only for me than I likely would have ended it there but because of all of the supporters, honored hero survivors and also honored heroes I was running on behalf of I knew that I would have to give it a go. I was running good until mile two and decided to give it a shot at letting loose but when I tried to take a deep breath in it felt like “ALL!!” of my insides rejected that thought. Have you ever tried to run with bronchitis? Think gag reflex because that is your body’s response to such activities; coughing, hacking, expelling and choking. I continued on, taking only short breaths. This allowed me to continue running even if it wasn’t at the pace I wished.
Around mile 10 I made a joke to a fellow runner and when I tried to laugh whole heartedly like I sometimes do I was reminded of my condition and almost ended up holding my lungs in my hands. It was about this time that my hamstring began to hurt pretty severely. It had been tight earlier in the week and with the early morning start and activities I had little time to warm it up. By mile 12 it was all I could do to lift my left leg and shortly after those that know me really well would tell you that they could know for certain that it was serious because I had stopped at a medical tent for help.
Funny this medical tent, none of the volunteers that were available were confidant in wrapping up my hamstring so I ended up doing it myself. Of course by the time I got up it was more sore and I needed to jump start myself with about a dozen hops before I could get going again. By between mile 14 and 15 whatever inflamed areas of the muscle tissue there were finally tore. I was now on one leg entirely. I was now entirely hopping forward on my right leg using the left only as a support. If you have ever seen pictures of a one legged person or of Terry Fox running I was an exact duplicate in form. I still had 12 plus miles to go and only one good leg with which to get there. “How,” I thought would I do this?
A funny thing though I never doubted that I would finish. It was only HOW would I get this done that crossed my mind. What would I need to do to finish what I started? It was never I can’t do this or never this is too much. Somewhere deep inside I had turned on a switch; the never give up or give in switch. I pressed forward one hop, one limp, one bracing step at a time.
Another funny thing began to happen. As I lagged further and further behind my pace group and as droves passed, people began to cheer for me (not a nonchalant ubiquitous sort of way people cheer on others but for me specifically); random strangers, other runners, police officers that were there for crowd control. Nearly every person on the course had words of encouragement for ME, for hanging in there and overcoming and not quitting. There were pats on the back, and cheers and offers of support and help. As I struggled up hills nearly dragging my left leg I had to avoid eye contact at times so that I didn’t meet the gaze of wet eyes and start crying myself. I became more determined than ever. I had to finish not necessarily for myself but also for all of these people now too.
Around mile 18 my bandage had loosened up and things were becoming extraordinarily difficult. I had to stop again to get my hamstring rewrapped, this time professionally. When I stood up to get going again I nearly fell down. There was now no response at all from my left leg when I tried to make a running motion and on the fly I had to quickly retrain my body to hop-step forward. I edged on and began to pass timing clocks that normally would be showing my finishing time. Undaunted I pressed. Occasionally I was passing the odd person now. It was my turn to cheer people on. I patted them on the back and encouraged them to egg on. Most did. Thanking me as they continued their journey. As the miles climbed into the 20’s I grew thankful and began to count them down.
Around mile 22 I spotted a struggling fellow Team in Training teammate just ahead of me. He was running with a coach and I could tell they were having a difficult way of things. I endeavored to stay steady so that I could maybe catch up to them to help them finish. Over the next two miles I never wavered from this. Concentrating not to slip on the painted and now slick rain soaked road lines. I kept steady, focused and forward hopping one legged the whole time and near mile 24 I had pulled alongside my peer.
I gave him a pat on his shoulder and encouraged him not to give in, to keep up with me, after all I was only using one leg. Buoyed by this he pulled in alongside me and off towards the finish we went, he hobbling me walking. My new friend (an Air Force Sergeant from Dayton) and I kept this up for the final couple of miles. When one of us began to lag the other helped encourage him on and vice versa. If you’ve never run the last couple of miles of a marathon you really should read Stephen King’s (writing as Richard Bachman) The Long Walk. It really is a battle of horror and attrition, pain and suffering. As your body runs out of real energy I can only think that it is the mind’s will overcoming the powers of reason that allows one to finish. All this time I had still been battling the bronchitis. The hopping I found I could do. Even though my one “good” leg was now becoming exhausted from doing all of the work for the last dozen miles not being able to breathe properly and absorb oxygen was completely zapping. It was wearing me down. Those last couple of miles at times were pretty “special”. All of a sudden with the finish line near we were joined by another friend who had come down from Michigan to help coach the Team in Training athletes.
Buoyed by stubborn pride I began to push hard and hard we pushed. At times I pressed so hard my eyes were closed. Other times I grunted away the shots of pain that coursed through my legs. I fought back the urge to reject the phlegmy mucous that was filling up in my chest and I gave it my all. I stumbled, nearly fell and fought all the way through the finish line and just like that in as surreal a moment as you can imagine it was all over. There was a man hug for my Sergeant friend and I sought out a few others who had finished around us for congratulation pats and shakes. I respectfully declined multiple efforts to put me in a wheel chair and pressed through the throng of the finishing area. Save those for the ones that really need it, I thought. I’m fine. Today I am a champion.
My eyes were clenched, closed with focus when I crossed the finish line so at the time I had no idea my finishing time. That was not important what was important was that I had overcome and finished. That I had never once waivered in resolve and that I never once gave in to what are forces of despair. Of course now as I look back my finishing time of 4:45:56 was the slowest of what are now 13 completed marathons and really not what I would expect from myself. My second half time of 2:54:03 was only 20 minutes less than my personal best time for a whole marathon of 3:14:33. At mile 6.8 despite fighting the bronchitis I sat 604 out of more than 4,135 runners that would finish. By mile 13 in spite of the bronchitis and an already hampered leg I was still in 904th place and by the time I finished my ever deadening pace left me in 2344th. In spite of everything I still out paced nearly 1800 others.
Writing this now four days later my left hamstring still won’t support my attempts to make running steps. Believe me when I say I’ve tried, the results of which have left me unsupported. My chest hurts and my lungs and sinuses fill up as fast as I can drain them the whole sick mess worsened by the exertion of the marathon. The switch has now been turned off and looking back upon the race I find it hard to believe what I accomplished.
The average finish time was 4:31:52. In spite of everything I went through including hopping at least 12 plus miles on one leg I finished only 14 minutes behind the average finisher. It astounds me what the human spirit can will the human body to accomplish when faith and courage never waiver. Somehow unable to breathe deeply and hopping on one leg in the rain I ran the 1382nd fastest last mile, faster than 2750 others on this day. My friend from mile 24 said that even in all his years in the military he had never seen anything like it. It is all and only for one reason because I never gave up or gave in. That is the strength of courage that being a part of a team gives you.
My team starts with my wife and son who are always there for me and I must thank them first. I also wish to thank all of those who supported my 4 marathon in 4 months effort financially with donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, with their advocacy and with both their vocal and quiet support. My team also includes all of the honored heroes that allowed me the privilege of running on their behalf and those too that have touched me so that I would run in their memory.
- Richard Johnston
- Pat Watson
- David Tanner
- Alicia Buisst
- Bradley Bowers
- Kim Miller
- Sydney Balzer
- Cathy Skotzke
- Tracey Gerus
- Michael Larson
- Philip Brabbs
In memory of;
- Antonio Rego
- Neil Fielden
- Mary Tonkovich-Antonelli
- Tony Ilkanic
- Cousin “Ronny”
This 2013 4 marathon in 4 month journey has been very special. It has spanned from February to April over a time of 93 days and has been a bridge for the third and fourth decades of my life (yes I turned 40 over the streak). It has included two wicked bouts of bronchitis, a two and a half inch spike of wood that needed to be removed from my foot with a Vise-grip and a race completed on a torn hamstring. I have crossed thousands of miles, the Atlantic ocean, run in three US states, two different countries and on two different continents. I have driven across state and states, over and through mountains, in a blizzard and on sunny days. I have run on trails, through forests, over rivers, in a blizzard of snow and wind up, mostly up but sometimes down, many, many hills , on well travelled roads and a few paths less taken. When it is all said and done I can say that I did THIS and no one will ever be able to take that away from me.
Never forget that humanity is a family. That there are greater things in this world to discover together than we might discover on our own and never ever give up or give in.
Peace and love all.