Adventures in marathoning; the 2013 Flying Pig in Cincinnati

 

15th Anniversary Piggly Wiggly

15th Anniversary Piggly Wiggly

 

Worn out toe box result of hopping 12 plus miles on one foot

Worn out toe box result of hopping 12 plus miles on one foot

 

15th Anniversary Piggly Wiggly

Worn shoes from a special effort at the 15th Anniversary Piggly Wiggly

 

Taking a bite out of some "fools" gold!

Taking a bite out of some “fools” gold!

15th Anniversary Piggly Wiggly

Peace sign, medal…the one that almost got away!

Bling 4 Marathons in 4 Months

Bling 4 Marathons in 4 Months

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.

Honored Heroes

  •          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.

Daddio

Adventures in marathoning; The 2013 Ground Hog Day marathon part 2

See part 1 here Adventures in marathoning; the 2013 Ground Hog Day Marathon part 1

The snow was still falling and blowing and piling up on the path. The treading wasn’t too bad but footing was not like it would be if we were running on dry unencumbered ground. Trail runs are generally more technical and trickier than road races and this one was providing its own uniqueness. Still as far as I was concerned it was better than running in 90*F heat where your body can’t cool down. The course called for 6 repeat loops approximately 4.4 miles each. The first part of the course was hilly and with the blowing snow I concentrated mostly on getting used to the conditions and staying on the correct trail. There were two ruts in the deep snow packed trail similar to what a tractor would make that we were running through. Soon an etiquette formed where most participants ran in one rut while others passed in the other. With more traffic running on the one side it made for easier running but as you passed you would have to cross through a snow barrier into the less trod side where snow would accumulate. Having started back a little further than I would have liked I was spending considerable time and energy  navigating back and forth every time I caught up to slower runners that needed passing. Soon we came to the first aid station where cheerful volunteers handed out water and Gatorade. I took a water slowed to make equipment adjustments and headed off down the hill that preceded the aid station tent.  The rest of the first lap was much like the rest. After the initial part of the course was behind us the trail became more forested and thus sheltered. Everywhere the snow had laid a thick white billowing blanket. It felt good to be out in nature moving. After mile 2 I began to heat up and removed my hat, storing it away in my coat pocket. The trail was sidewalk thin and was fuller than I expected as both marathoners and half marathoners shared the course. As the race grew participants were beginning to spread out and establish their own pace. Still I had to do more passing than I would have liked and often times needed to go between runners with an, “excuse me I’m coming right between you,” through the snowy center hump, every time with a “thank you” and a “great pace” to go along with a smile. Mile 3 was mostly flat and eventually just after we climbed a snowy turn up hill mile 4 beckoned. Shortly after that we looped back toward the start/finish stretch.

Things began to become congested again along the straight away. I looked at the course outline on the race website beforehand but really when I’ve never been to an area before course maps are all basically an unlearned language to me. You have to experience the land a few times before you get the hang of it. As it was I wasn’t the only person slightly confused. As I came across earlier starters and some faster paced runners on the straight away I heard some of them comment about the confusion as well. Of course it all made sense if we were running 6 equal and identical laps we would need to cross our tracks going the other way at least once each lap. I congratulated every runner that was already going the other way as they ran by me on their first lap and carried on through the start line where an aid station had been set up behind it. I grabbed a Gatorade cup and stopped to walk as I consumed it and an energy gel.  I circled about and headed back in the direction I came, back into the blowing snow. Things started to make sense to me. Maybe I was just waking up.

Like I had just done I smiled and pepped up each person coming the other way as I headed out for lap number two and they came in to finish their first. It was a relief to get the first lap out of the way and I came to a corner where incoming runners headed towards the start/finish area that I had just come from and outgoing runners split off in the opposite direction. This mimicked the route we took on the first lap and the course was starting to make some sense to me. As I headed into the hilly and exposed expanse of the first portion of the trail there was some congestion as I started running into some of the slower mid-pack half marathoners. Blowing and fresh snow made for some trudging conditions especially when passing out of the main ruts.

My body temperature had definitely risen with the morning’s activity and despite conditions my toque had made its way into my coat pocket. My earlier prediction had come true and I knew that I was one thin orange neon sweater over dressed. As I made my way up and down the hills through to the first aid station the arm band with my cellular phone had slid off of my sweater and into my coat’s sleeve. What a pain. I couldn’t quite slide it back in place and had to run with it until I got to the aid station where I could pull over and take off my coat to access it. When I pulled up to the fuel stop I finally did have at it. I snapped it back in place as tight as it would hold onto the slippery yellow material and ran downhill trying to put my coat on. It might have been quicker to just take the time to put my coat on at the top of the hill. Running through the slippery snow downhill while trying to reach back for my coat sleeves was tougher than I expected. A ways up I finally had it all back together and concentrated on the task at hat. A number of folks commented on my hatless head. I suppose they thought me a little off. I thought we all were. I zoned back into the ebb and flow of activity.

As the trail turned into the forest the canopy of branches that acted as a pseudo roof over the trail grew thick with a framework of white fresh snow. As we ran under it branches that became over burdened with cover dropped snow onto the unsuspecting below. It was like I was running in an A.J. Casson painting.

Between miles 3 and 4 of lap 2 (between 7.5 and 8.5 miles overall) the usual suspects started to act up; my aching left knee and its corresponding hip which compensates for it when it isn’t well. The galoshes that were adding traction to my trail shoes were also starting to pinch my toes together. It was all too early for this type of nonsense so I tried to put any pain(s) out of mind and continued through. Still I rolled through the crowded out and back area into the finish/start turn around in pretty good shape. Covered in snow and despite equipment corrections  I had run the 2nd lap at near perfect pace just over a minute less than my first easy paced lap (lap 1 41:23 for 4.4 miles, lap 2 in 40:12). I felt pretty good and took time to down another cup of electrolyte replacement drink and a 2nd energy gel. As I started out again I felt a funny flap, flap under my left foot.

It was the rubber traction devices I had strapped to my shoes. One had slipped off of the toe box. I had to pull over into the deep snow to snap it back into place as runners passed me in both directions. When I got started again I made sure to stay positive and encouraging to others as they passed or I passed in either direction. Encouraging words are a boost to both those receiving and also to those that proffer them.

I tried to bear down and focus on lap three. Laps one and two I wanted to take it easy a bit not really knowing what my conditioning was like. Less than two weeks earlier my training had been interrupted by a nasty spell of bronchitis that had ripped through our household. I hadn’t really been able to test myself in the winter conditions like I would have liked and it definitely had taken some of my upper level oxygen intake away. I tried running the first day I had felt better but that hadn’t gone so well. Have you ever tried running with bronchitis? Think gag reflex. It isn’t very pleasant. My conditioning would just have to be what it was. Still, even though I didn’t get out into the winter to train as much as I would have liked before marathoning I could rely on substantial winter running experience.

I knew that short quick controlled steps would serve me better in the snow than would long seeking ones. I knew that short breaths would easily pull the oxygen in that I needed to help fuel my aerobic activity if I controlled my pace and that long gasping ones would only burn my lungs. I knew to trust myself. I knew that runners that passed me too early would come back on their own. I knew that the cold wouldn’t freeze me or that the snow wouldn’t melt me away. I knew that if you ran long enough into the snow and wind with a knit hat on icicles could form on your ear lobes and also that the moment you were exposed to any heat they would melt off. I knew the value of a good coat and I knew when two pairs of socks were the prudent choice. I knew to have faith and I knew to have fun. I knew that one step in front of the other would get the job done.

I was starting to get the hang of the trail or déjà vu or maybe a little bit of both. This was the Ground Hog Day Marathon after all. This time when we rolled into the flat section between miles 3 and 4 of the trail I looked to my right and realized there was a river there. “When did that happen,” I thought? It was covered in a slushy ice but was still moving rather well.  It was the perfect complement to a scene that included that same snowy canopy that I described earlier. My knee was starting to ache substantially more and I knew that the pinching pain of my toes would only get worse. I still had over a half marathon to go so I needed to draw my attention away from such trivialities as my aches. I decided to focus on getting through the start finish area in as close to two hours as I could. I have run half splits in between 92 and 95 minutes in the past so two hours would be a bit slow for me but uh, this time I was running in the snow!

Some of the faster half marathoners worked hard to finish strong. I egged on for them, “That’s the way to finish” I would bellow as they went by me.  I pushed through and worked hard to get my half time right around 2 hours and came through in just over, shaving time off the previous lap, splitting lap number three in 39:50 for 4.4 miles. As always when running a marathon it feels good to get the first half over with. After all I still had 13.1 miles to go.

This day the unevenness of the path and the constant struggle to pick my legs out of the snow with each step was taking its toll on me. After gel number 4 and a quick regrouping with some fluids I was off again. My knee pain had worsened and I knew that I would have to ease into it. Lap number four was going to be difficult.

Eventually the knee pain grew worse. My double socks had also scrunched up and my toes were now being pinched into ever worsening shape. Blisters were undoubtedly forming. Also eventually the snow ceased. I just can’t remember when. Time blurred. I began to lap many of the slower half marathon runners who were still on their last lap. As I did the math I realized that even later on lap 5 I would still be passing the back of the pack half marathoners. I guess things couldn’t be that bad? I trudged along. We were all in the same boat facing the same conditions. I was thankful for my experience, my strengths and even wrought joy from my weaknesses. I passed a kind couple who asked me what lap I was on and if I was doing the full. When I replied, “four and full.” They cheered me on even though they were a lap down and in the same event. I smiled and wished them well.  I limped on. Some of the joy had passed and I struggled, some of the faster runners passed me as I tried to keep track of them. This time as I came upon the hill that took us up to the flatter stretch where the start/finish promenade combined outgoing and incoming runners I was thankful as much as anything else. I tried to keep track of the outgoing runners as much as I could to judge my place. It was mostly easy to pick out the slower half runners by their pace. Some of the faster full runners looked strong. I didn’t feel strong. I wondered how I looked?

I had now finished four laps, 17 miles. I took my time consuming one more gel and some fluids, sucked in some wind, visualized success and took off. Yes, four laps were done (or YES! four laps were done!!). Some others ran by me as I took my time consuming calories. I kept track of them to the best of my abilities. Four hours was still in my grasp but only barely now. I had lost nearly 8 minutes running lap four in 47:22. My goal now was to finish lap 5. If I could get this lap in… then if I had to pull myself hands and knees to the finish line I could get another 4.4 more miles in to finish. A young fellow wearing ski goggles and a heavy coat passed me as we climbed the hill to my favorite aid station. He chuckled thinking I was funny being out without a hat. Truth be told I thought he was a bit funny in his heavy hat, coat and goggles. We laughed together. I began to enjoy myself again. I reviewed my goals. Finish. This was after all the first of four marathons I would be running in four months. I wanted to run myself into shape. I was doing that. Maybe if conditions are perfect I would be able to take one more crack at sub 3:15 when I run the Barcelona marathon, the third in my spring series and the only “non-tough” one of the bunch. I wanted to stay healthy so that I could enjoy “keeping” up with our son as he grows up. I was doing this in part for charity to make a better world. To do all of those things I needed to finish this race in healthy condition so as I could go on to the next step of my journey.

I eased back on the throttle and even though some portions were difficult I enjoyed the beauty of the scenery. I chatted up my fellow competitors and cheered them on. I began to enjoy the riverside run. It was breathtaking. Soon I came to where this had all begun. Lap number 5 was in the books.

Lap 5 was much like lap 4. I had finished it 9 seconds faster in 47:13. My streak of 9 straight 4 hour marathons was cooked. This time I was a bit quicker making the turn but I still took my time to fuel up. I filed away every single person who went by me. Just before I began to run again a lady passed me in a purple jacket. I know how these things work. I know four miles. It is one lap around my subdivision at home that I run 3-5 times most every week. I know that mile 21 and change is way too early to make a break in a marathon. I know that mile 24 is too early to make such a break. I buoyed. I steadied. I set my determination. I might not catch everyone within my reach but I would try. I knew that naturally some would just come back to me. Adrenaline and competition are funny things. I was determined to get this finished.

I cruised out. I had already decided that there would be no difference to me if I ran 4:10 or more. I just wanted to finish strong. I took it easy during the first hilly portion of the track and made a special point to flash my biggest grin and thank every single spectator that had braved the conditions to cheer us on and every one at the aid stations who had helped us all day. I felt good, rejuvenated even. I ran strong down the big winding hill and was careful of my footing. My focus seemed to have returned. Slowly I started to reel in some of my competitors and again lap some of the more evenly paced full runners. I made sure to wish each well and encouraged everyone to push strongly on. Off in the distance I glimpsed ski goggles. Where was purple jacket? I continued to run strong into the woods. I held a little back knowing that it was still too soon to let go. I had faith that there would still be runners coming back to me. I needn’t go to them. I began catching up to familiar faces and worked steadily as I went by each one. The leaders would be finishing now a few even having lapped me. That made me feel good. My strength was calm, strong and determined. I was self motivated to finish with my best effort. As we wound through turns I glimpsed purple jacket still running strong a few winds of the road in front of me. Was I gaining on her or was she distancing herself from me. What was the gap between us 30 seconds, a minute, more? I passed long blond hair who had blown by me as we turned lap 4. She was fading fast. I came upon others pulled over and then carried forward.

When we turned along the river where mile 3 through 4 stretched ski goggles was waiting for me. He was fading. I was surging. Instead of sprinting I stayed the course and took my time catching up to him. With steady pace I pulled along the side of him and encouraged him to run in with me. There is nothing but good feelings when you pull someone home with you in a race of this difficulty, even if they in turn pull away from you. Alas I ran forward myself. Not too far off was purple jacket. I could see her surge and then fall back then surge again. “Stay strong,” I said. I concentrated on a quick leg turnover and keeping my stride rate up. Most to all of these competitors I was coming up upon were younger and fitter. Were they stronger though?

I pushed. I worked with my hips and big gluteus muscles. I passed a few others. Purple jacket surged again. She was gaining ground but we still had more than a mile to go. Then she slowed and walked. I pushed forward. This was my goal. I kept going and when she started to run again I was still gaining on her. I was determined now to catch up before the hill that would take us through the last mile. Soon the gap became steps, then less and then I was edging in front. I encouraged my foil to run in with me. I told her how strong her running had looked when she blew by me at the start of the lap. She picked up and was determined to try. That’s the way to fight! That’s the way to give it your all. That’s the way to finish strong. Give it your best shot. Give it your all. Never give up. Never give in.

I pushed myself now. I came to the big swinging hill and noted the ice that had now formed on it. I drove up it and toward the 4 mile marker. When I arrived there I was alone. In the distance were three young fellows who I had ran with for a bit earlier. I had let them go on ahead wisely to save my knee but now they gave me one more goal to go after. My gait grew and I did my best to stride into a sprint. The finish line was now in view, maybe 200 meters ahead. I looked left. I looked right. I looked behind. I wasn’t going to win. I wasn’t going to win my age group or even garner a top ten finish but I was going to surge home and I was going to do it alone.

And then…and then it was how it had always been. I was back where I had started. I had finished marathon number 10, the Inaugural Ground Hog Day Marathon on February 2nd 2013 in Grand Rapids, Michigan under very special, very unique, very difficult conditions. At the finish line greeting the runners stood Don Kern the race director. I made a special point of thanking him. He had organized my bookend 1st and 10th marathons. Without people like him who go the extra mile to organize events in the community the adventures to be had would be far fewer and communities would be far less enjoyable. I waited for ski goggles and purple jacket to give them high fives and to congratulate them. I cheered some others through. I collected my medal and stiffly had some pictures taken. That darned “smart” phone turned out useful after all. I never caught the three young musketeers but there will be other races. In fact there will be one more in less than a month now, the promised to be tough Umstead Trail Marathon in the William B. Umstead State park in North Carolina.

My calculations had my final lap in at 43:33, close to 4 minutes faster than my fifth lap and faster than the final 4.4 miles of my 3:14:33 personal record run under near perfect conditions on a fast course in Toronto a few years prior. That’s the way to finish!

Alas I still had one more marathon to run that day. Stiff, wet and chilled, medal draped around my neck, hat now on to keep me warm I had to make the mile or so trek back to my car! Off I went one step at a time. This would take…

Alongside pulled a fellow competitor who had run the half marathon. Someone had given her a ride to her car and now she was paying forward. I thanked her graciously but declined, offering up that there would be others in much more need of a ride than I. I continued, dazed. A little ways up the same car pulled alongside me again this time with a couple of passengers riding in the back. When I was offered a second chance I took it. How many people do you know that would offer smelly, cold, wet and dirty marathoners a mile ride? When we got to our cars I asked our savior her name specifically so I could thank her when I wrote this. Lisa thank you! We could use a few more in this world of your ilk.

When I arrived back at the hotel room it all sunk in when I got the biggest smile from my little guy. I put my medal around his neck and told him that I had won that for him. He smiled further, grinning from ear to ear as he wore it proudly.  He gave me a great big hug and I picked him up. After I put him down to change. I took off my coat and sweaters. He gasped and said, “Daddy you hurt!” Then he pointed at my chest. I was going to reply that yes I was hurting a little bit but it was okay, thinking of the stiffness in my legs but when I looked down I could only chuckle. My shirt was stuck to my chest and about two thirds of the way up there were two big blood stains. Ah, the dreaded runner’s red nipples. That would hurt in the shower!

I ended up tied for 38th overall, 39th officially either losing the tie breaker alphabetically or for some other reason (out of 143 brave participants), 4th in my 35-39 year old age group and 37th amongst males. I talked to the winner after and he thought conditions were tough. He was a 2:30 runner and finished in 2:58:33. For someone of his quality to be 30 minutes off his time speaks volumes. Slightly brain dead and low on glycogen I only smiled. In retrospect I found them challenging but not impossible. Collaterally I had developed some blisters on the underside and side to side of some toes and I’ll be lucky to keep all of my toe nails. Other than that. I’m back to training lightly getting ready for continued adventures.

When my wife called later in the day to check on us she asked me if I had fun. I thought for a minute before replying easily, “YES!”

Now that’s the way to finish.

Never give up or give in.

Peace and love all.

Daddio

Ground Hog Day marathon 2013 the author's finish line photo

Ground Hog Day marathon 2013 the author’s finish line photo

Jr my champion with his Ground Hog Day marathon

Jr my champion with “his” Ground Hog Day marathon medal

End of part 2

Next up; the writer’s cut.

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Adventures in marathoning; The 2013 Ground Hog Day Marathon part 1

The day started…the day started the night before.

We had driven across the state of Michigan moving westward, starting in the Detroit region heading towards our destination in Grand Rapids. It was a Friday evening and we were travelling to run in the Inaugural Ground Hog Marathon February 2nd, 2013 which would take place the next morning.  It was an unusually frigid day in Michigan unlike in the early winter. Then, when I had registered for this first annual winter race it was another (another as in recent history, another) mild winter day. Then I had dreams of perfect fast conditions. Now as snow fell in blustery near white out conditions and ice and slush framed the interstate highway into Grand Rapids I wondered exactly what I had gotten myself into!

As we exited the highway and entered the city my doubts were validated. We were met with snow covered streets and even poorer visibility than we experienced on the highway. Why were we even out in this weather? A few blizzard like miles later we had made our way to our first destination of the weekend, the race start area where I was to pick up my race packet for the next morning’s race. I found a spot to park and left my passengers (my son and father) waiting in the warm car while I went out into the chill and frost of the night. Snow blew in what seemed every direction. “This wouldn’t last until morning,” I thought to myself.

I found my way into the tented shelter that would serve as event headquarters for the weekend. Chilled volunteers helped me attain my race credentials and answered my questions, even the inane ones. Outside they were having a snowshoe race. I returned to the car and we headed to the hotel that would serve as our personal event headquarters for the weekend. In the meantime weather and road conditions worsened. My brain played this recording as I navigated traffic and roads, “winter marathon??? When did you think that was a good idea?”

Evening at the hotel included a fast food dinner of both fish and beef burgers and chili washed down with shakes. This isn’t exactly the perfect prerace meal but at least it is high in calories. Calories mean fuel and running 26.2 miles in cold weather through ice and snow would certainly require plenty of fuel. I strapped a pair of galoshes that have spikes on the heels and wire piping under the toe box to my trail shoes. This set up would hopefully give me some traction in what was due to be a snow covered 26.2 miles. What it would do to my feet I didn’t know? What I did know was that I committed to this journey and if I was going to complete it then the next morning I would need to get “er” done! This was to be the first of 4 marathons in 4 months that I would be running this spring to help support The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Team in Training in its mission to find a cure for blood cancers. I was pot committed now. Successful people only really need to do two things in order to be successful; they start things and they finish them. I needed to get this journey started and this race finished, no matter what it took.

Jr, grandpa and I were up later than I would have wished mostly waiting for Jr to fall asleep. We watched Japanese styled cartoons on the hotel television which at first glimpse might seem dull but hours later the soap opera style plot kept thickening and never ending. Eventually everyone else fell asleep and I was able to get a few extra things ready for the morning before heading to what was left of the bed myself.

Morning always comes too quick for these things…always. My cell phone alarm woke me up and luckily only me. I am certain that most of my competitors in these things are not up past midnight with their three year olds trying to get them to sleep or up with them in the middle of the night to get them a glass of apple juice. They are likely rested, fed, stretched and rested again. That is too bad for them. They may have things easier but my life is far more “enriching” than theirs. As I have many times before I made coffee in the little in room pot and stuffed down a banana and looked around the fridge for something salty to fuel my day with. “Okay, let’s do this,” I said to myself.

I started to lay out my gear and tied the radio frequency timing chip that would keep track of my progress on race day into my shoelaces. “Oh, oh.” A quick look in my race bag provided the day’s first dilemma. I had failed to pack the insulated running undergarments I intended to wear. The insulation part of these shorts would have been just a bonus what I really needed was the short’s anti-chafing capacity. If I wasn’t careful now, 26 miles later my inner legs might be rubbed raw by the friction caused by 4 hours of running. I was extra careful to apply a thick layer of petroleum jelly to my legs, under my arms and other sensitive areas that would over heat during the race. This would create a moisture barrier that would help relieve the stress caused by friction. I also put a thick dab under my eyes and around my nose to protect those areas from the wind. I then layered up and prepared to leave. A good bye kiss to Jr’s forehead as he slept and a few quick instructions with my dad who travelled with us to baby sit (Jr’s mom was travelling for work) and I was out the door with my running gear.

I was now leaving later than I intended originally and had a mere hour to make the trek to the start staging area. I grabbed a couple bananas and a coffee from the complimentary continental breakfast that the hotel had out. When I got to the lobby doors I met the outside sights with surprise.

The night before when I returned to the hotel with dinner, though still snowing temperatures were dropping into the frigid range. Snow will only form under certain conditions and not when the mercury drops below a certain point. Certainly we were getting into that range. I definitely did not expect to be met by another 8 or so inches of snow blanketing the car and everything else too. On top of that it was still snowing heavily too! I cleaned the car of snow, packed up and headed out towards the highway where I was met by conditions I would not normally be out in and that others were obviously not capable of navigating correctly. It always amazes me how when conditions require caution and visible deterrents such as cars spinning out and others littering the ditches some drivers still cannot use sound judgment.

As I neared the race staging area, exiting off the interstate I was met with conditions similar to what we had the night before except there was an incremental increase in snow cover. I was aware that there would be limited parking at the race start area and that I would likely have to find parking at an alternate lot designated by organizers where shuttles were promised to pick us up to escort us to the start staging area. I had no idea where the alternate lot was so here I was out in this strange city in blizzard like conditions looking for somewhere that I didn’t have directions for. That is what I like to refer to as faith! I decided the best plan of attack would be to crawl the car through the snow in the direction of the race start area. On this morning at least my faith served me well. As I came nearer my destination I spotted a herd of cars gathering on the other side of a park across the way. “Who else would be out in his weather,” I thought.

When I arrived in the parking lot the display of neon shoes, pants and jackets confirmed that yes indeed this was a hard core group of runners. Correct; who else would be gathering in this weather! I found a spot between  snow banks for my car and made some quick gear decisions. The temperature didn’t seem to be rising to the point where shorts would be appropriate so nylon pants would cover my legs and two pairs of socks including a good tight pair of running socks closest to the skin would be shrouded with my trail shoes which in turn had extra treading attached via rubber strap on galoshes with spikes and wire piping attached to them. I decided to strap my cell phone on via arm band just in case of emergency (not knowing the course) and also for posterity pictures. I had already decided on wearing my best running coat, the one that afforded the most protection and a hooded sweater for extra warmth over an old race shirt that had been with me on many such adventures (for luck if nothing else). At the last minute I decided to put on an extra sweater; a thin one ,neon orange to go with the neon yellow hoodie and the red coat with silver reflective stripes. Some people dress for style. My style is called functionality and comfort. I knew the extra sweater would have me overheating early in the race but if this weather continued running pace would be hard to maintain and as I slowed I knew that my body temperature would drop as my body moved slower. It would gradually be more affected by the conditions and it would be then that the extra sweater would come in handy. I also packed in my pockets 6 energy gels, an extra hat and extra gloves. I double checked that I had my wedding band taped securely to the second finger on my left hand so as not to lose it and then I headed to join the others who were waiting for our ride to the staging area.

All the while I was smiling. I know this implies a little bit of simplicity on my part but I can’t help but feel that the surreal way I live vicariously through myself and the way I third person view the world to be a little bit humorous. Yes even as I grew chilly changing into extra gear in the snow blurred parking lot and others giggled at the “crazy”, I was amused by the whole scene. I was also amused when I dropped my hat in the snow and had to go find it. And when I forgot my extra gloves and had to climb back through the snow banks to get them and when I forgot to attach my music player to my waistband even though I carefully took extra time to string my headphones through my clothes and around my neck just so. I had to climb back through the snow to get that too. All this time I had to keep fumbling with the car keys and double and triple checking to make sure they were secured in my pocket so as not to lose them in the snow where they might not be found till next spring. Finally it was time for the bus.

The bus turned out to actually be a converted old trolley car. This was getting almost too good to be true. We all piled in. The trolley/bus was soon full of runners dressed in various shades of neon and grey. In spite of the weather outside inside it was warm and dry. Rock and roll played on the PA system and to make everything just groovy enough various colored bands of rope lighting followed the interior trim line. When Van Halen came on the stereo system someone (the driver I assume) cranked the volume. At this point I couldn’t resist anymore and had to say something. My quip of, “I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for this but I certainly didn’t expect this,” elicited laughs and helped thaw some of the nerves of those aboard. The mood seemed to lighten after that and soon our little rolling runner’s “nightclub” had arrived at our destination.

There was now little time before the race was scheduled to start at 8am. Some of the commuters hustled to the start line. I joined some others and hustled towards the blue portables. It was time and a combination of stress, adrenaline and coffee was making me volatile. In the air a young lady began to sing the Star Spangled Banner. I took off my blue and white Toronto Maple’s Leafs hat and held it over my heart as I continued my journey.

After nature’s call I headed back towards the start line where the race was beginning. I would usually like to get near the front especially in what was likely to be mostly a single track race so that I could run with my peers and would have to do less shuffling forward during the race but on this day that wasn’t happening. I missed going out with the leaders by a few minutes as I waited in line to get to the start line. Due to the snow space was tight and organizers were trying to get everyone to start in waves to avoid clustering but in reality most everyone was in a sort of, “what are we doing  here daze” and they were taking their time getting to the start line. There timing mats were set to begin timing each individual the moment they crossed. It looked like it would be easier to get nearer the front than I thought and I easily edged my way through the crowd. I overheard someone telling his friends how “excited” they were that they would be participating in their “first”. I couldn’t help but chuckle and ask, “This is going to be your first marathon?”

“Yes,” they replied.

“Good choice,” I answered.

Everyone laughed heartily especially the first timer. I made my way to the start line and with a beep, beep of the timer I was off!

End of part 1

Part 2 to be published Sunday, followed shortly after by the “writer’s” comments!