Sunday, May 30, 1993
In 1972, McDonalds gave away game pieces for a contest. Each piece had a different Olympic event printed inside. If the US won a medal in the event shown on your game piece, you won a prize. Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the marathon that year. I won a Big Mac, and I also gained an ongoing interest in marathons.
So when I started entering road races in 1992, I already had marathon running in the back of my mind. Shorter races were fine, a good way to get together with my friends and work up a thirst. But I didn't spend much time trying to get my 5 or 10K times down before I started working on a marathon. My first race was a local 4-mile run in June. I built up to a long run of 11 miles, and then ran a half-marathon in October of that year. Those 13 miles were the furthest I had ever run. After I survived that, I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon, scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in May of 1993.
I kept building up my mileage. On January 3, 1993, I extended my long run up to 15-1/2 miles. I thought I was doing well, with plenty of time to get ready for the race in May. The following weekend, I developed a pain in the outside of my right knee during a 9-mile run. When I stopped running, the pain subsided. It wasn't that bad during day-to-day activities, but every time I tried to run, the pain would flare up after a mile or two. I wanted to keep training, so I got into a cycle where I'd rest for a day or two, my knee would feel better, and I'd give it another try. The pain would start up again, limiting me to a short run. This went on for a couple of weeks.
Finally, I gave up and I stopped running for an entire month. The only exercise I got during that time was from "running" in a pool with a flotation belt strapped around my waist to hold me up. I also got a podiatrist to make me a set of orthotics, shoe inserts intended to provide support to accommodate some of the imperfections in my body and smooth out my stride.
At the end of February I was able to ease back into running. By the time my marathon arrived, I'd built back up to a long run of 15 miles. I didn't think I was ready to run the entire marathon, but Vermont City has a marathon relay in addition to the marathon. I found two other people on the Internet, and we put together a relay team so I wouldn't have to run the whole thing myself.
When I got to race registration to pick up our relay numbers, I wandered over to the marathon registration area and checked, and my number was there. I already had paid for it, so I figured I might as well pick it up too. There was no sense in letting it go to waste.
The Vermont City Marathon starts and finishes near Battery Park in downtown Burlington. The course loops back through the park a couple of times and most of the relay exchange points are there. Spectators can stay near the park and see their friends at multiple points in the race without having to move far.
I was running the first 10 miles of the race for my relay team. The morning of the race, I decided to pin my marathon number on under my relay number before I headed to the start. I figured I'd start the race, and while I was running, I'd figure out whether I wanted to keep going after I passed the relay baton on to my teammate. There wasn't much risk. Because of the loops in the course, even if dropped out before the finish, I wouldn't be too far from the park and my friends.
It was a beautiful day to run and the enthusiasm of the runners and the crowd in Battery Park was contagious. I felt great after completing my 10-mile portion of the relay, so I took off my relay number and kept going. By mile 14, I fell in with a group running at my pace and we traveled along the shore of Lake Champlain telling jokes and having a fine time. The hill from the lake up to Battery Park at mile 17 was tough, but the beat from the Taiko drummers stationed there carried us up the hill to the crowd cheering in the park.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to mile 21, the fun was over. When I turned onto the bike path along the lakeshore for the last 5 miles, I was tired, sore, and sweaty and I had to slow to a walk. But having come this far, I was determined to finish. Quitting was not an option. Nothing was going to get in my way. I walked half of the final 5 miles, and I had to talk a medical aid worker out of pulling me off the course, but I made it to the finish line with a final time of 4:02:19.
The race left me wanting more. It had been an enormous effort, but I was proud of my accomplishment when I finally finished, and I loved the camaraderie among the runners as we all worked towards the same goal. I wanted to try again, and this time, get it right.
But first, I had to recover from the race. I was used to being tired after a long run, and I was even more tired and sore after getting through 26 miles. What I didn't know was that it would get worse. When I woke up the next day, I was so sore I could barely walk. It's called "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness". Going down stairs was especially hard. It was easier to go down backwards. The pain was even worse the next day. On the third day, I finally began to feel a little better.
The pain went away, leaving behind my determination to improve. I decided to try Vermont City again the next year. I knew I had to prepare better if I wanted better results. This time around, with the help of my orthotics, I remained injury-free, and I got my long run up to 23 miles before the race. Race day was warm, but I ran well until calf cramps slowed me to a crawl for the last couple of miles. I brought my time down to 3:31, but I still wasn't satisfied.
From Ray Charbonneau's book, Chasing the Runner's High (chapter 7)
to the First Marathons page