This was my first marathon. Planning for this marathon began about 20 years ago when a good friend Mark Koski and I were members of the Racine YMCA. We both said that we would run a marathon by the time we were 50. Mark moved to Tennessee years ago, and the years flew by, and all of a sudden I’m 49 years old and the clock is ticking!
I started training for the run in April. My regime usually entailed getting up in the morning and running 4 miles before going to work. I usually managed to squeeze in a long run on the weekend, eventually working my way up to 20 miles around Labor Day weekend.
About two weeks prior to the race I stepped in a hole in the asphalt out on Wood Road while out for my morning run. I thought my foot was broken, and all the training was for nothing! I was able to walk for a while, and then managed to work my way up to an easy jog for 4 miles. By the middle of the day my ankle was swollen like a grapefruit, but by icing it I was able to keep it under control. Even though the swelling remained I was able to walk and move around. By race day it had gone back down close to normal size. Fortunately this occurred during the tapering down period!
The race was on my mind almost constantly in the weeks leading up to it. My wife Debra put me on a major carbo diet in the week prior, but I didn’t really mind because I am a pasta guy! My son Henry and I went down to Party on the Pavement on Saturday to try and kill some time, but we kept running into people asking if I was ready! That didn’t help to take my mind off it!
I wanted to get a good night’s sleep so I turned in early Saturday night. After about midnight I started waking up about every 15 minutes. Finally about 4 a.m. I gave up and started to get ready. I arrived at Lagoon Drive and boarded one of the buses a little after 5. As we were driving to Grafton I could not help but notice how far away it seemed. I also noticed how when we left the parking area the people on the bus were chatting away, but the closer we got to the high school it got more and more quiet. Finally there were only a few people talking amongst themselves.
When we got to the high school I went inside and found a place to sit. The mood was quite upbeat, and a number of people seemed like they knew each other and had been through this before. I tried to act like I was one of them, but my insides were in turmoil. A gentleman named Bill Theis from Kentucky asked if he could join me. He told me that he was 66 years old and that this was his 51st marathon. He gave me some very good advice on marathon running, the key being not to start off too fast. Of course I promptly forgot that critical piece of information once the race was under way.
Around 7:30 I went back outside. People were starting to get into the starting positions so I wandered over there. As 8 a.m. drew nearer the excitement level rose, as did my own anxiety. By the time we got past the National Anthem I was ready to burst! I was in the group based on where I wanted to finish, which was the under 5 hour slot. When they shot the gun nobody moved. I could see over the heads of enough people that there were heads bobbing up at the start line, so I knew people were moving. The group started to move, and then stopped! Then we started moving again and we were off. With the adrenaline and nervous energy flowing I started off at a good pace. We passed the 1 mile marker at about 12 minutes, and I felt pretty good, as I knew we had started slow and 10 minute miles was about where I wanted to be. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th miles were in the 9 minute range. All warnings that I had been given about running too fast were forgotten, though I knew from my training I would not be able to maintain that pace. I had armed myself with 2X caffeine gels and was hopeful that they would take me up a notch or two. One of things I noticed for the first 13 miles was how fast the markers seemed to be going by. That would change soon enough, however.
Debra and my two sons, Alex and Henry were going to be waiting for me at the finish line. After the 10 mile marker I called her and let her know that I anticipated finishing around 12:15. I was still feeling good at the half way point, and my time was around 2:20. I was stopping at all the stations and religiously drinking Gatorade, and using Sport Legs to keep the lactic acid down. I was also continuing to use the gels to maintain my food intake. Another thing I started to notice was that at each of the stations people were saying it was all downhill from there. But then we would come to another uphill grade!
About this time I started to notice that I was seeing a lot of new people. I wasn’t passing very many people, so I guess these people were all passing me! I also started feeling some pain in my left foot; I later found that my toes were blistering. Fortunately none of the blisters burst! I did not feel like my pace had slackened, but the mile markers were going by slower and slower. One thing that I did notice was how many people were doing the run/walk thing. First they would pass me going at a good clip, and then a little later I would pass them. After awhile however, my run was not much faster than their walk!
My anxiety started to mount as I neared the 20 mile mark. I had heard so many people talk about the 20 mile wall! As I passed it I just kept telling myself to keep going. Once I passed 21 miles I knew that I would make it! My pace was continuing to decrease. I had already called and told Debra that I would be in around 1, but this had to be revised a few more times! When we were going down past the beach the wind picked up quite a bit. This did not do anything to help my already feeble pace. As I went into the park for the final stretch I was elated to be this close to the finish, both because of the tiredness in my legs and because of knowing that I was going to make it! I tried to sprint out the last couple hundred yards, but it was probably not very pretty. Debra and the boys, Alex’s girlfriend Lizzy,and my father and mother in law Ray and Connie were waiting for me as I lumbered over the finish line, and they let Henry hang the medal on me! After giving back the chip I could not help but notice that it was rather difficult to walk. I lurched around for a little while to get some nourishment, and then got in the back seat of the car for the ride over to the parking area. At this point I started getting cramps in my calf muscles; they looked like a bunch of little pulses!
I ended up finishing at 5:20. If I had paced myself as everyone told me to I am sure I could have done much better, but I have no regrets. The next marathon for me will be Green Bay in May. Had I known how good doing this could make me feel I would have done it years ago!