Monday, November 14, 2005

My First Marathon! by Fischer Price

Let me start with a condensed recap: October 15th of last year I was at my college homecoming, where my friend Rob greeted me with:  “Hey buddy, I’m doing a marathon next year and you’re going to do it with me.”  This memory will be etched in my memory for some time, alongside hearing my mother curse for the first time as a child.  Seeing how my record distance at that point was 7 miles and I had recently been introduced to marriage-physique, I pushed for a late 2005 marathon to hopefully give myself time to train properly.  We settled on San Antonio’s, since it (a) wasn’t until mid-Nov, (b) was virtually a flat course, and (c) wouldn’t necessitate much travel for either of us.  From January on, I put myself on a fair regime, taking the first 6 months to work myself into good enough shape that I wouldn’t risk stress fractures, chronic knee pain, or a wrenched back.  From there, I joined a local training group to take me from what was then a painful 16-mile max to marathon shape.  Despite the misery of the Houston summer (pre-dawn temperatures of 80+ degrees, joined with 85+% humidity), the 20-week program got me to where I completed 19-, 21-, and 22-mile training runs, feeling dandy afterwards.  Along the way, I learned all the inside tricks to distance running which aren’t all pretty to talk about.  Among them: Vaseline is important; ice baths are heavenly; don’t get too attached to your toenails; and, have pizza and beer the night before at your own peril.

So that about takes us to the eve of the race.  Rob and I shared a hotel room so that my sister and wife could spend the night drinking on the Riverwalk while we could properly raise our anxiety levels together.  While debating the best comedies of all time (Animal House, Airplane, Caddyshack, and Real Genius were a few of the names tossed out there), I kid around a little by wondering if the “as long as you can do 15 miles you can finish a marathon” advice (the #1 bit passed on by marathon vets) might be a practical joke for hazing rookie runners.  Ominous unintentional foreshadowing accomplished.

Alarm goes off at 4:30, followed promptly by Rob insisting I take first shower, cruel since I was looking to stay passed out for another half hour.  Turns out Rob only got about 2 hours of sleep, thanks in no small part to the all-night quarter-mile street racing expo that was held outside our hotel.  Any car with a modified exhaust in the region had come to town.  We rally the ladies at 6:20 and head to the race start, two blocks away at the Alamodome.  As an aside, the city is making a huge effort to convince the team to stick around.   You would have thought the Alamodome was built for the Saints with the way it’s been decorated.  Anyway, we hang around and give each other enough fist pounds that our knuckles began to bruise.

7 am, and it’s gametime.  Positive start: there was less than half of the number of runners as I’m used to with the annual Susan Komen 5k, which translates to greatly minimized jockeying and aggravation as the runners spread out and fall into line according to pace.  Doesn’t hurt that most everyone knows what they’re doing and we didn’t have to navigate around numerous strollers (note – one guy did actually do the full marathon while pushing his kid in a stroller.  No word if the child got saddle-sores).  We completed a 6-mile loopty-loop, and then headed up St Marys to the SA Zoo.*  
It was at this point that I was first reminded of the shin splints I had gotten on my left leg two weeks prior.  There was a bad storm, and rather than jog through mud (again), I made an ill-fated decision to hit the treadmill instead for the first time in several months.  Conviently, you’re advised to taper off your training near the race, and I was able to let the strain subside.  Or so I thought.  Come mile 10, my left shin would officially be bothering me.  

The beautiful parts of the run: the volunteers, spectators, and contestants all heartily cheering on the runners.  After you get to the zoo, you double back to the starting point, so you have inbound and outbound runners applauding one another.  The seemingly cheesy advice to plaster your name all over yourself really did pay off (when the occasional chant starts, it harkens the Starbucks’ ‘Hank !’ commercial), though it’s confusing at first as you try to figure out what random friend was hidden in the crowd.  I also occasionally got looks from other runners, wondering why I was so well known around town.  Having family and friends planted around the course and seeing true pride/awe in their faces is a massive boost.  Lastly, it’s hard to be in a foul mood when little 7-year-old kids make an effort to hand you a Dixie cup of warm powerade.  Though it was a weird image when a girl scout was offering passer-bys Vaseline; even more so once I considered it again after I was no longer in a delirious state from running.

Mile 13 and halfway there!  That should have been the emotion, but unfortunately, this was a horribly conceived course that made you pass by the finish line 3 times before finishing.  During training, you may notice that if you get your miles in by running a loop x-number of times, every time you pass by your car all the joints of your legs and back will scream for mercy and your core temperature starts boiling.  And yet, the good members of the SA Marathon board set things up so that you would have 3 chances to throw in the towel while watching 5k- or half marathoners finish in ecstasy.  Plus, when you hit the halfway mark, you’re to do the run you just did all over again.  Coupled with my rapidly deteriorating shin condition, all this put me in abject physical and emotional misery by mile 16, and, for the first time in my life, had me very sincerely wishing to be struck down by some crazed motorist sick of dealing with blocked off streets.

Soon after, I got word that Rob, who had been on pace for a sub-4 hour finish, was struggling with leg cramps.  A few miles later, it became clear that I wasn’t running with pain so much as pushing through an actual injury.  Now, goal #1 had always been to finish and to do so without walking.  That meant running despite knowing it would continuously exacerbate the injury and, even better, getting to soak up every moment of it.  Thank you sir, may I have another mile!  On a related note, this is about the time that the sun came out in full force and the water I had been carrying emptied out.  I begin to solicit golf carts to no avail.  

Mile 20 – if this was anyone else narrating, this is the point in the story where they say their leg just went numb from the pain and everything was just pushed to the side.  Yeah…..not so much here.

Zoo turnaround was pushed back by a quarter of a mile for the second loop of the course.  Fantastic.  Thankfully, the cane beaters had already had their fill of fun and were gone by the time I got there.  Still, knowing that I was now on the home stretch gave me a badly needed shot in the arm, though not to be confused with the gunshot wound in my leg.

Mile 22 – I think I would prefer cups of salt to warm powerade at this point.

Mile 26.0 – Surprise myself by sprinting the final quarter mile to the finish.  Have to put on a good show and make sure the pictures won’t immortalize how I felt.  Freedom!   Freedom!  Free…….put me down over there………

So now it’s all over.  Where did those three toenails and 10+ months of training go?  Had I deluded myself so terribly as to my readiness?  Well, it turns out that I not only re-aggravated the shin splints on my left leg, but actually managed tear the muscle apart during the second half of the race.  The next morning, nothing puts the cherry on top of quads that feel like pulled pork BBQ like discovering that your shin started to bleed internally.  Seeing this bruising and swelling is also a charmer for the spouse.  I walk like I’m on tranquilizers, and my shin will keep me sidelined for no less than 3 weeks.  But do I regret anything?  No.  I just ran a marathon on a bum leg.  One day, when I’m out of this wheelchair and forget how traumatic this all was, I’m coming back for vengeance.  In the meantime, remember what we’ve learned today:
  • You won’t be able to run a marathon unless you’ve already done one.

  • Jinxes are alive and well.

  • Sea World rocks – you just won’t believe how clever those seals are!

  • If you loved Fast and the Furious, you’ll love the nightly shows by the Commerce St Best Western!

  • If running a marathon is on your list of things to do in your life, slyly remove it.

*The racecourse was not only horribly conceived; it also managed to be a sketch of a phallus.