Sunday, December 9, 2007
5:25am - I wake up 5 minutes before the alarm goes off and pop up out of bed. After putting shorts and shoes on, I decide to shove several shirts in my bag and decide what to wear once I get to the AAC (American Airlines Center). I down a glass of water, grab my bag, get my oatmeal and banana and load up in my Jeep.
6:00am – Back out of driveway and stop by a gas station on my way to the AAC. The guy next to me must think I’m an idiot standing out in the high 30s temperature putting gas in my Jeep wearing shorts. Had he noticed my “26.2” decal he might have understood better what was going through my head. Little did he know I was about to set out on an adventure of a lifetime. Just 7 months ago, the idea of running a marathon was something that was so far out of reach it was not even a consideration. 26.2 miles is just way too far, it’s ridiculous. I grab my receipt, climb back in, and take off towards 820 east. Normally, the fact that I had to use my windshield wipers would not have mattered. However, on this morning, it caused me to embrace mother nature and prepare myself to accept the rainy 26.2 miles ahead…exposed. I’ve run in the rain before and it’s actually quite peaceful, but I’ve never run in the rain with temperatures from 38-42. But that’s ok, nothing was going to stop me at this point.
6:40am – I pull in to the parking lot of the AAC, find a spot, and go find a bathroom in the AAC to get rid of my pregame jitters. I’m scheduled to meet my running partner in about 30 minutes, so I decide to sit down in the sheltered AAC for a little while as opposed to my cold Jeep. There are already thousands of people scurrying by in all sorts of disarray. Relaxed, nervous, tired, chirpy, fast, slow, short, tall, chunky, skinny. I decide to make a choice on my wardrobe before getting back to my Jeep. I go pee again and head out to my Jeep to get dressed. I opt for my long sleeve thermal under armour shirt with a short sleeve dry-fit shirt over it. This well thought out strategy should serve multiple purposes. It will keep me warm in the beginning of the race and give me the option of removing the under armour in case the weather warms up. It also means my nipples should be safe from chaffing as long as the under armour is on. OK, maybe that was too much info, but I’m trying to give you the whole experience here. So after changing shirts, I meet a guy next to me who is also getting ready for the run. As we put our timing chips on our shoes and pin our race bibs to our shirts, we make small talk. He missed qualifying for Boston last year by 4 minutes, but he feels pretty certain he will qualify this year. Wow – this guy is fast. Many marathoners never qualify for Boston. I tell him how I’m a little nervous due to my short taper and he tries to convince me that I’ll be fine since the last 6 miles is 100% mental anyway. I stuff my energy gels in my shorts, hoping once again that 5 gels are enough. I’ll drink water with these and Gatorade at the other rest stops, and I’ll eat often at the well-stocked aid stations. Hopefully this will help prevent hitting a wall, though I suspect the wall will be inevitable. I’ve never run more than 20 miles at one time, and I’ve only done that twice.
7:10am – I make my way back to the AAC to meet Wendell at the bag check in place. On my way, I notice a Vaseline tent and can’t believe I forgot to lube up my thighs to prevent chaffing. That’s enough to make a grown man cry like a little baby. So I grab some Vaseline and relish in the humor of how acceptable it is to rub Vaseline on your inner thighs all the way up to your crotch in public. I even put a little extra since I’ve never been those extra 6.2 miles. I find Wendell and his family near our meeting point and give him a pregame high five. It’s really cold outside and a little misty. As we start to stretch our legs out, I eat my banana and notice that the guy next to us who is also stretching is wearing the same Brooks Adrenaline GTS 7 shoes that we are wearing. This guy looks like he’s an experienced runner, so my confidence rises slightly. Yeah, maybe that’s a little silly, but I’ll take what I can get. We try to find better shelter from the light rain that started to come down, but eventually decide to just huddle under Wendell’s wife’s oversized umbrella.
7:45am – We watch the elites and wheelchair marathoners take off and then tell Wendell’s family bye as we make our way to the starting line. We find our way to the 5 hour pacers so we don’t get mixed in with racers who run 4 minute miles. It’s so crowded we can’t even stand in the street. I look around and start taking in the atmosphere. There are people everywhere you look. Some look like they’re in shape, and some look like you’d be safe betting on them not even finishing half of the marathon. But what do I know? More power to them and good luck. It is cold and I can’t wait to start running so I can warm up. At this point, I wish I had brought my gloves and ear warmers, but I don’t let it bother me. Wendell and I talk briefly about whether or not they’ll do the F-16 flyover since it’s so overcast. The rain had stopped, but it looked like it could rain again any second.
The race finally starts at 8:00am and we slowly scoot our way through the crowd onto the street and toward the starting line. About 3 minutes later, we hit the starting line and start our stopwatches as we cross the line. We’re off! Who knows what the next several hours will bring, but right now, we’re both feeling good and excited to finally begin the most difficult physical challenge either of us have ever attempted. We start off at a slow pace and I can’t help wonder how long Wendell’s bum knee will cooperate. Just 5 days prior, he tried to run 2-3 miles and had to stop 3 times, so from what I could tell, I really thought he would start to struggle pretty early on. It didn’t take long for me to really soak in what was happening. I was in heaven. Not only were I running with thousands of other runners, but there were also thousands of spectators lining the streets clapping and cheering us on. Ahhh….what a beautiful morning. Running through downtown Dallas on our way to White Rock Lake. The only downside at this point was the fact that I needed to pee. I knew it wasn’t going to go away, so I stopped at a port-a-potty 3 miles in to the race and relieved my bladder. We immediately hit the road again. It was about at this point when a funny thing happened that ended up being a lifesaver throughout the race. We were very comfortably strolling down the course when these two girls who were spectators yelled “Go Kirk – Go Wendell!” I waved as Wendell asked who they were. As he was asking me, it hit me that our names were on our racing bibs. How cool is that!! Every couple of minutes we heard people calling us by name cheering us on and encouraging us to keep running strong. It made an unbelievable difference mentally. Huge booster. We kept running at an easy pace, and after 5-6 miles we both agreed that we felt great and felt like we hadn’t even started running yet. Things were going great and Wendell’s knee was even doing surprisingly well. The weather for the most part was pretty pleasant. After about 9 miles or so, we finally reached the lake. The scenery opened up a little and we started feeling a little more wind coming off the lake, which was a little chilly to say the least. We hit a pretty good little hill around mile 10 that finally made our legs talk to us a little bit. Along the way there were a few live bands that were fun to listen to. It really helped me get pumped up a little, but I was disappointed to see that so few bands showed up. There was supposed to be a band at every mile but I guess the wet weather prevented them from being able to setup their equipment. It was enjoyable to run around the lake and chat with Wendell. We were still feeling pretty good despite the cooler weather and occasional sprinkle. We hit the half-marathon point and had just begun to start to feel things physically. Our 13.1 mile time was about 2 hours and 17 minutes, which was 7 minutes slower than my PR (personal record), but we were intentionally running a bit slower to ensure we could finish the full distance. It wasn’t much longer after this that we saw a little kid run by. We talked to him and found out he was running a 5 mile leg on a relay team, and he was 11 years old! He enjoyed the encouragement he received from us and other runners nearby and yet he continued to remain calm and patient in his running, keeping a good steady pace. Most 11 year olds would run too fast out of the chute and not be able to finish. Eventually, after a few miles he slowly took off and left us behind. Sometime around this 13-16 mile point I began to notice that the aid stations didn’t have food. I was a little concerned, but I thought maybe they were saving the “well-stocked” stations for the last 5-8 miles of the race when you needed it the most. Two very memorable events occurred around the 16 mile mark. First, I understood how Dean Karnazes (ultramarathonman.com) could eat cheeseburgers and pizza while running long distance. I started feeling famished and I relished at the thought of a big juicy cheeseburger. I would have paid 20 bucks for one right then and there. The second thing was pointed out by Wendell. As we came around a corner at the lake, suddenly, far off on the horizon we could see downtown Dallas. I mean, if you closed one eye, you could completely cover it up with your thumb. It was a very small piece of scenery on the horizon many, many miles away. Big deal right? Well except for one small fact - downtown Dallas is where the finish line was! Holy shnikes!! You mean we have to run all the way back there?!?!?! For a brief moment, it was a rather daunting thought. However, I quickly embraced it and starting telling Wendell how it was not a problem. We’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and make our way back….it was nothing we couldn’t do and we were going to do it. I’ve never asked him, but sometimes I wonder if Wendell thinks it’s annoying how I always talk out loud about how good we’re doing and how we’re going to keep on pushing on and finish the race. It helps me mentally to talk it out and think positive, while Wendell tends to keep it all inside. But I know he’s not afraid to tell me to shut up, so I guess he’s cool with it. Around the lake there weren’t as many spectators and we were really starting to miss that. Having a cheer squad is HUGE mentally and we were getting to the point of the race where you have to start relying on “mind over body” to carry you on. We finally finished the loop around the lake and were making our way back into neighborhoods when Wendell needed to stop and stretch his legs, mainly because of his knee I think. I had told him early in the race that we weren’t going to think about his knee and I wasn’t going to ask him how it was feeling anymore. So we stopped at around 18.5 miles for about a minute while he stretched out and stuck a Tiger Balm heat pad on the back of his knee. As we started back up I reminded him of what his doctor told him Friday…his knee wasn’t torn, so other than being in excruciating pain, he couldn’t really damage his knee anymore by running on it. I also gave him permission to tell me to shut up. HA! I was sort of tongue-in-cheek telling him to suck it up and finish this race even if his knee hurt. Of course, at this point, I was starting to feel the looming wall hit me in the face. We pushed on for a little ways and at mile 20 we agreed to stop for a minute. Wendell stretched again and I just kept moving. We started running again and the pain was excruciating. You probably know that the wall is the point where you feel like you just can’t run anymore. Well, you can, your body just doesn’t want to. See, your body can only hold so many calories before it stores them as fat. When you run, you burn up those calories in the form of glycogen (sugar from carbs). Typically the average person can hold about 2000 calories (maybe a little more if you carb load the night before). If you figure that you burn about 100 calories per mile, then after about 20 miles, you have no more glycogen to burn up, so your body tries to burn fat for fuel, but fat is not nearly as efficient as sugar. The result? Your body feels like it has NO energy and has to work harder to burn that fat for fuel, so you want to stop running. You can try to feed yourself carbs in the form of energy gels or oranges/bananas/etc or even Gatorade, but my experience is that once you reach this point, it’s hard to feel a noticeable difference. On my last 20 mile run, I tried to stay ahead of the wall and ate some orange slices and a whole banana and some energy gels and I felt great at mile 20, but as I mentioned earlier, the aid stations in this marathon were not well-stocked with food. We had a few orange slices here and there, which is good because it’s simple sugar and easy to digest, but I craved food intensely. Digestion requires blood, but when you run, the blood is sort of pushed away from your stomach making it difficult to digest which is why simple sugars are the best because of their easy digestion. So even though I craved a cheeseburger, it wouldn’t have been easy to digest. On top of the fact that your body has been literally depleted of energy, you’ve just ran 20 miles so your legs are hurting a little. OK, a lot. This is why running is soooo much a mental game. Your body is capable of moving on, it just doesn’t want to. So you have to fight against your body’s desires and keep on running. We continued the self inflicted torture until mile 21 where we again agreed to walk for a minute and then we started running again. At mile 22 and mile 23 we did the same thing. Now, I don’t fully understand as well scientifically how you break through the wall as much as why you hit the wall, but it happens. My thought is that your body just finally realizes the mind is winning the battle, so it quits trying to tell you to stop running. I don’t know. At about the 23.5 mile marker a truly amazing thing happened. And talking to Wendell afterwards I found out a similar thing happened to him at about that same point. It will be impossible to describe this accurately, but I will give it a shot. As I’m drudging along, I begin to realize many things. First, we only have 2.7 miles until the finish line. I think back to March of this year when I started running and kept on running. I thought about the moment after my first half-marathon in May when I embraced the challenge of training for a marathon. My injury/setback this summer. My many, many hours and hundreds and hundreds of training miles. Something began to stir deep inside. I have never in my life had to dig down this deep to finish anything. My MBA was a piece of cake compared to this. But right here, right now, I am so close to accomplishing something bigger than I have ever attempted in my life. Beyond my physical limitations. Beyond my mental limitations. I was pushing myself beyond limits I didn’t think was humanly possible. I am in awe right now as I recall this feeling and how deeply emotional it was. I fought back the tears and said to Wendell “This is sheer determination. I have never in my life had to dig down this deep. I am going to beat this beast.” I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of anger that I had never felt before. It felt like anger but it was probably super-intense will power and determination. It was an intense emotion that I had never felt before and I almost lost it several times. I was not going to let this marathon beat me. In fact, we didn’t stop running from this point forward. Also, neither of us spoke another word the rest of the race. As we got close to the American Airlines Center I was searching for it through the buildings like a warrior searching for its prey. I was getting mad at it like it was hiding from me, feeling like it was a coward not wanting to stand up and fight me. It knew I was going to conquer it. My legs hurt, I had no energy, I was light headed, but I was running to the finish line and nothing was going to hold me back. Finally, we turned a corner and several hundred feet down the road we could see the finish line. It was a glorious sight and I could sense that it had a life and was standing there, waiting for me. I focused on the banner above the finish line and quickly had tunnel vision, completely blocking out everything except the banner. Maybe 50 yards away, Wendell, the warrior beside me who couldn’t run 3 miles 5 days prior said “C’mon, let’s go”. I knew what this meant and as I said “I can’t, go ahead”, I found myself sprinting as fast as I could until we crossed the finish line, side by side. Two Davids had just defeated the Goliath. Except now those two David’s had become William Wallace’s. We beat the beast.
12:47pm – As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was completely spent. Completely depleted of everything. I high-fived Wendell and said “we did it.” Someone placed a space blanket around my shoulders and back and then told us to keep moving down the line. They took the timing chip off our shoes and I was so light headed I felt like I would pass out. We had our picture taken in front of a “FINISHER” backdrop. I searched around for something to replenish my body with. I was surprised and angry to not see anything…no water, Gatorade, food…nothing. We made our way down the chute to where the spectators were waiting and I found Jennifer. So many emotions and thoughts were speeding through my head. As Jennifer and I got close, I didn’t know whether to say something, laugh, or cry. She said “Are you alive?” Behind holding tears back, all I could get out was “barely”. I immediately went with her and Wendell to the side of the AAC and sat down. I felt like my blood sugar level was dangerously low and I was only seconds from passing out. It really felt like it was going to happen. Wendell gave me his last energy gel and Jennifer went and got me a coke. Within about 10-15 minutes I started feeling a little better. My brother and his wife were there too, and that was cool to have them there to see my accomplishment. I felt bad that they had to stand in the cold so long waiting, but I was glad I could share the celebration with them. We went inside the AAC for warmth and saw that they had food and stuff on the floor of the AAC but there was no way we were going to walk down those stairs. We found out later that they really only had popcorn down there. Jenn bought me some pizza and we found a place on the floor to crash. I absolutely can not believe after 38 years of having this marathon, with 15,000 runners and a $95 entry fee, that they can’t even give you a cup of water at the finish line. Every race I’ve done this year offered food and drinks at the finish line, except for the biggest race of the year. I’ve already sent them my feedback.
As soon as we got home from the marathon, Jennifer was running fever. Kevin and Katerina went home and Jennifer got in bed with a fever with what ended up being strep throat. So, after my marathon, I got to take care of kids the rest of the day. Fatherhood can be a wonderful thing at times…..but not all the time. HA!
Monday around 2:00pm my right foot started hurting. It’s the same place on my foot that I had the injury this summer, but on the other foot. By Monday night it was KILLING me and felt like it was broken. Now, late Thursday night, it still hurts but not as bad. I’m hoping I only have to take 2-3 weeks off from running because I’m ready to start training for the next beast. Oh yes, I will run one again. And another, and another, and another, etc. It is in my blood and the more I reflect upon it, it is truly one of the most enticing things I know.