After all these years of running, I can finally say I ran a marathon. The fear of injury from too much training, getting hurt during the actual race and not being able to run afterwards has kept me from running this distance for many years. My running partners have often encouraged me in the past to run the 26.2 miles, saying I'm a natural, because of my steady gait (nicknamed "Steady Betty") and low to the ground stride. I've done many half marathons and actually enjoy running that distance. But the marathon was not in the cards. I fought it, until recently at the Rock'N Roll Marathon 2001 in San Diego, I succumbed.
Let me first say running this marathon wasn't planned. Because the event doesn't have a half-marathon, I opted to have a girlfriend pick me up after the 13.1-mile halfway point and ride with her to the finish. Traffic jams and parking problems kept my friend from getting there (a shorter distance would not do for me since I was determined to do the 13.1 miles). The night before we had discussed options in case something happened. The plan was that if she wasn't at mile 14, she would pick me up at mile 20.
My longest run to date had been 16 miles, six months ago. I had logged some ten and eleven milers recently and had been running steadily every day. But, when my friend was nowhere to be seen at 14, 20 was a scary option.
The momentum of the racers around me doing their first marathon, the Team In Training folks that had worked so hard to get there, the crowds cheering along the way and the great bands playing at about every mile, kept me going. I slowed down a bit and jogged to 20, where once again I didn't find my friend. I opted to walk to mile 21 and look for a ride to the finish but I soon discovered the traffic jams were so bad, it would take me longer to ride than to walk the last 6.2 miles. So the choices were few - in fact, I had no choice at all. I actually felt good and decided to jog, taking short walking breaks (just as I said you should do in earlier columns). Somewhere at the Margaritaville stop (just past 20 miles - and no, I didn't indulge) a young man asked if he could walk with me. He was trying to finish his first marathon and didn't think he could do it because of leg pain. He had trained hard and was ready to hang it up. I couldn't let him do that so I explained my predicament. "If we made it this far, we can go in together," I said. We started jogging with a few walking breaks until mile 24. I told him what my running partner always said, "We can do anything for two miles." He nodded with a smile and lo and behold, we ran together to the finish. He was so happy and so proud, he couldn't stop thanking me for "bringing him in."
At 4 hours, 25 minutes and 32 seconds I crossed the finish, with tired legs but no worse for wear. I can truly say I never hit the infamous wall (mile 20). I was more worried about finding my friend than the hitting the "wall." I had no blisters, no chafing, just a bit of a sunburn on my nose and tightness across my shoulders (I guess my arms were heavier than I thought). Looking back, I can truly say that the lack of pressure to finish, the short walking breaks, stopping to drink fluids at every aid station (while looking for my friend) and the motivation from another runner to help him complete his goal is what helped me finish. I don't think I could have felt as good doing it any other way.
The next day when most people are sore, tired and in need of rest, I cherished running with my dogs, stretching a bit and loosening up my muscles. It worked. After about a mile, I felt good and hardly had any ill effects from my effort the day before. The fear I had of not being able to run after a marathon was not valid. I just hadn't come up with the exact plan. Now, I know what it takes. Who knows, maybe there will be another marathon in my future - and maybe I'll have no options to quit.