The Fast Marathon

Feeling great at mile 9!

Feeling great at mile 9!

After completing my half ironman, I decided it was time to return to the marathon.  My last attempt at finishing a marathon was derailed by a lower back injury.  I started participating in triathlons because it gave my body a chance to heal.  Well, it worked for a while… until I returned back to running full-time.  It was right after my first 20-mile training run when the pain decided to rear its ugly head.  The pain wasn’t in my back this time.  It was in my knee.  The first knee pain I have ever experienced during my duration as an athlete.

Crap.  The pain postponed training for a while, but I was determined to get to that marathon finish line.  I rested, iced, elevated and compressed like nobody’s business.  I cut back my mileage significantly for a full week and skipped one of my scheduled long runs.  I made a visit to my doctor who told me that it was probably bursitis.  I wasn’t so sure, but she was the doctor (I later found out that she was incorrect).  She told me that the pain would subside if I rested.  When I informed her I wasn’t planning on resting, she told me that she would refer me to an orthopaedic doctor if the pain didn’t go away in a few weeks.

I returned to running full-time with a few setbacks here and there.  Sometimes my knee would stiffen.  Other times it would throb for the first few miles, but then just go numb for the remainder of the run.  My knee would pop as I attempted squats or weaken as I went up and down the stairs in our multi-level home.  Then there were times when I would feel nothing at all.  I wondered if my knee had magically healed itself.  Then the achiness or stiffness would return.  It was kind of ironic that I suffered most after sitting for long periods of time and felt better after finishing a run.

As the day of my last long training run approached I began to worry that I wouldn’t make it through.  Yet, it ended up being the best 20-mile run I have ever had.  My knee was achy for the first 5 miles, but then the pain lessened with each mile.  Then, the following week I had to cut a run short because my knee felt weak while my other leg became afflicted with soreness due to the burden being placed on it.  It was like a never-ending roller coaster ride.  I never knew what each day would bring.  I only hoped that I would be feeling 100% on the day of the marathon.

I thought about my goal the night before the marathon.  I really wanted to achieve that sub-4.  However, I knew I had to be realistic about my knee.  The next morning I felt okay.  I couldn’t be sure of what my knee was going to do until I started the marathon.  Then I began to worry about the other things that normal marathoners worry about.  Would I be able to stay hydrated?  Would I take in enough nutrition to avoid hitting “the wall”?  Would I have the mental capacity to complete 26.2 miles?  I forgot about my knee until I started running and realized that it wasn’t hurting.  I wondered if it was going to be kind to me that day.

Indeed, my knee was kind to me that day.  My lower back was a bit achy and my quads felt  like they were going to explode at one point, but I could handle all of that.  I could take in the normal aches and pains associated with running a marathon.  In fact, I felt so good physically that my mind followed.  Initially, I feared that I had started off too fast.  I was chugging along at a decent pace.  After reaching the half marathon point, I was able to see that the 4 hour pacing group was nearly 2 miles behind me.  It made me believe that my goal was possible.

I felt so confident at mile 14 that I decided to change my goal.  At mile 14 I heard a large group of runners coming up behind me.  Then I saw it.  The sign said 3:45.  It was the 3:45 pace group.  They came up behind me and I latched on with a relentless grip.  At mile 15 I was still holding on.  At mile 16 I couldn’t believe I was still running so fast.  At mile 17 I believed that I could do it.  At mile 18 I was awesome.  At mile 19 I continued to hold on.  Then something happened at mile 20.  I lost the group after we passed through the water station.  They slowed down, but then quickly picked up a pace I couldn’t maintain.  I wasn’t about to give up, but I sure did struggle.  I watched them slowly fade away.

Then, a lifeline came at mile 22.  My friend joined me on the course and encouraged me to keep moving.  I ran as fast as my legs could carry me.  I kept my mind in a tranquil place.  The miles went by and then I could see it:  the finish line.  The relief swept over me and I knew that I had achieved more than the goal I was hoping for when I started the marathon.  I finished in 3:46:54.  It was a time that well surpassed my last marathon time by 45 minutes.  I was only 6 min 54 sec from qualifying for Boston.  Now I know that goal is within reach (unless they change it again of course).  I never imagined it would be.

I postponed my visit to the orthopaedic doctor because I didn’t want to hear any news that would cause me to avoid the marathon.  I decided that the perfect time to visit would be 2 days after my marathon because I assumed that I would definitely have symptoms.  Well, my knee didn’t quite cooperate.  Not only did feel just fine during the marathon, but it felt normal the day after.   I thought for sure that today would be the day.  I started my morning by running 8 miles.  Then I went to the doctor.  Nope.  Nothing.  He poked and prodded and did find one sensitive area.  We explored x-rays and talked at length about my symptoms.  The doctor eventually came to the conclusion that I have Chondromalacia Patella.  He did a good job explaining it to me.  In simple terms, the cartilage in my knee is getting soft.  That isn’t the best scenario, but it isn’t the worst.  There are ways to fix it.  I told him I wasn’t planning to stop running anytime soon.  Actually, I have another marathon in 3 weeks.  I won’t expect my knee to cooperate, but I suppose I never know what is going to happen until it happens.  For now, I will just enjoy my moment of glory.

People say that they can’t do certain things because of genetics.  Well, as you can see, genetics hasn’t been working in my favor but that doesn’t mean I am going to stop trying.

 

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Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge: Finale

Well, I actually put the word “finale” in my title so this has to be the end of the story.

I woke up at 3am.  Again.  The pain from yesterday’s run remained.  There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of soreness, but just enough that I couldn’t imagine running 26.2 miles.  Usually when you run a marathon you want to be in prime shape.  I was definitely not in prime shape.  What the heck was I about to do?  It just didn’t seem so fun anymore and I was really nervous.  Once again I tried to lie to myself by saying that I would be happy just as long as I finished.  I thought about how I could probably surpass the 16-minute/mile requirement.

I knew that I would need to wear cooler clothing (shorts & a tank) because the sun would definitely come up while I was running and the weather forecast stated that it would be a high of 70 degrees.  For a runner, that is hot.  I couldn’t even believe that it was that temperature in January.  I guess I should be used to it by now since I have lived in Florida for over 2 years.  Actually, I am not quite sure why I even thought 70 degrees was hot because I had braved many runs through the hot, sticky Florida summer.

I decided to wear my Team in Training singlet because I knew that there would be a lot of supporters out on the sidelines.  Even a few of my friends were going to be running the marathon with Team in Training.  When you wear the purple you are noticed and I definitely wanted to be cheered on at around mile 22.  And this was really a training run for me anyway (sure, whatever) since I am training to do another Team in Training marathon in April.  I love the camaraderie of the TEAM so I knew it would help me get through these next 26.2 miles.

After I had my delicious whole grain waffles slathered in peanut butter, I headed out the door.  This time I decided to drive over to Epcot because I didn’t want to worry about the shuttle.  I also forgot to mention that after the half marathon the day before, I had to walk about 2 miles to find my shuttle home… just not willing to do that after the marathon.  I arrived early and actually had an awesome parking spot (just hoped that I would find it later so I wouldn’t have to walk miles around the parking lot) and I stayed warm and snug in my car until my friend called to say that she had arrived.

We met up and joined the herd to the starting corrals.  Surprisingly, this herd did not seem as large as the day before.  We were actually moving faster than a shuffle.  That was a relief.  Maybe we wouldn’t have to endure so much weaving in and out of walker/runner traffic during the race.  Actually, my friend and I made a deal not to weave during the next 26.2 miles.  We wanted to conserve our running and it would also force us to start out slow.

So, Mickey and Goofy were on stage this time and when we crossed over the starting line I could already notice the difference from the day before.  It was so much easier to run without smashing into the people in front of me and next to me.  My friend and I maintained a good, but slow, pace.  Something was bothering me though.  My right knee was acting up.  It hurt so much that I knew I was overcompensating for the pain and that really worried me.  I kept thinking about how much it would suck to have to walk and I didn’t want to make my friend do that (she had been explicit about sticking together the whole way no matter what).  Then, miraculously, my knee just suddenly stopped hurting at around mile 2.  I don’t know what that was all about, but the pain was gone and I was so relieved.  All I could feel now was the residual soreness from the day before.  I was certain that pain would stick with me (and intensify) during the rest of the race.  I just had to deal with that slight inconvenience.

As my friend and I ran through the theme parks, we would pick up the pace because there would be so much adrenaline from the crowd of supporters (and of course there were people yelling “Go Team!” thanks to the purple).  We would yell at each other to slow down, but for some reason we couldn’t until we exited the park.  Then our pace would slow during the long and boring trip down the road to the next theme park.  There weren’t as many people out on those roads.  When we passed the half marathon mark all I could say was “we just did 2 half marathons, only 1 more to go!”  Our half marathon time was 10 minutes slower than it was the day before, but we weren’t upset about that.  We knew we had done a good job at starting off slow so we wouldn’t die in the end.

Every once in a while I would feel a sudden burst of energy and feel the need to pick up the pace.  My running buddy and I didn’t always get these bursts of energy at the same time, but it would force us to push through.  I had the job of getting us up the hills (since I love climbing up those hills) and my running buddy would need to get us down the hills (she is a speedster when it comes to downhills).  Sometimes we would talk, but most of the time it would be silent.  It didn’t matter either way because we were just happy that someone else was suffering right alongside.  Sounds cruel I know, but we don’t take offense.

There was a nice incline right around mile 19.  I remembered it vividly from last year.  It wasn’t the incline that scared me, but what would happen afterwards.  During the marathon last year I had lost my 3 running buddies at around mile 20 because I just couldn’t get my legs to go.  I had hit the WALL.  This time I was running in this same spot again, but I actually felt pretty good.  There was an out and back portion around mile 20.  I saw 2 people I knew ahead me on the “back” as I was heading “out.”  I waved to them thinking that I would probably not be catching up with them.  I knew they were strong runners (and they both were male… just had to throw that in).  Well, guess what?  We passed one of them within 5 minutes and the other one within 10 minutes.  Oh, that only got me going.  I was feeling GOOD now.  I mean, how many people can say that they feel GOOD at mile 22?  I was still worried that I would hit the WALL, but it never happened.  Sure, I was in pain, but I kept moving and my mind was on a positive vibe.  We ran through the last theme park like it was nobody’s business.

When we were at mile 26 I knew I couldn’t really sprint to the finish line, but I tried my best.  I focused on looking good for pictures so I could keep my mind off those blasted 0.2 miles.  Then we were across and it was over!  I didn’t cry this time, but I was full of contentment.  Okay, and pain.  Lots of pain.  But it’s alright because I expected it.  Come to find out, I had beat last year’s marathon time by 5 minutes!  And to think all I wanted to do was finish…  My friend and I also realized that we had run the second half of the race faster than the first half!  That was remarkable!  We had done a good job at pacing ourselves in the beginning and it helped us get through those last few miles.  I was so proud of our achievement!

So, I hobbled back to my car and managed to drive back to the hotel.  A nice warm shower was such a treat.  My friends decided that we should return to Outback Steakhouse and I agreed.  This time we shared a Bloomin’ Onion and I enjoyed a steak!  It tasted so good!

If you have been inspired by my story, please make a small donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  I will be running a marathon in April in support of this cause.  Please check out my website:  http://pages.teamintraining.org/ncfl/madrid12/haponte