Saturday, December 13, 2008

First Marathon: Indianapolis Marathon, 2004

October 16th, 2004, 7:59 AM, Fort Benjamin Harrison, one minute until the start of the Indianapolis Marathon, my first marathon. I was 41 years old, but felt like a kid waiting to open his Christmas presents. I’d been anticipating this day since I started the training program 18 weeks earlier. This was no time for any last minute doubts. What had I gotten myself into? What was I doing here? Push those thoughts aside. I was there to conquer the beast, to finish the race, to prove that I could do it, heck, maybe even qualify for Boston!

I didn’t always enjoy running. In high school I hated running. Each day at football practice we would run a lap around the track as a warm up. That one lap was enough for me. My attitude toward running began to change after I graduated from college in 1983. I would be heading off to basic training at Ft Leonard Wood in July and I wanted to be prepared so I started running. I still wouldn’t say that I enjoyed running, but I knew running would be a daily routine in the Army and I wanted to be prepared for it. Basic training is physically draining even if you are in good shape, but it can be pure torture if you’re not in shape. Through basic training my running improved and by the end I was able to max my score on the running part of the Army physical readiness test. Still I was only running because someone was making me do it.

My first duty station after basic was at the Presidio of Monterey, California. It was there that I started to develop a love for running. With its year round nearly perfect running weather, flat sandy beaches, hills, redwood forests, crashing surf, Monterey was a runner’s paradise. I soon found myself running for the pure joy of it, not because the Army was making me do it. It was there I ran in my first road race. I also ran on Delta Company’s 17 Man Run Team. That was a unique experience; four teams, 17 runners each, running in formation on a quarter mile track, two miles, eight laps. We won twice while I was on the team.

From those glory days in Monterey to the present, there were times when I went months at a time without running, but I still enjoyed running even when I wasn’t very committed to it. Then in the spring of 2002 my wife signed me up for the Race For A Cure 5k fun run. To say I was out of shape was quite an understatement, but I had about four weeks to get ready for it. The race was fun and losing a couple of pounds felt good. I still had a few extra pounds I needed to part with, so I decided to borrow a friend’s number and run the 500 Festival Mini Marathon. This is the point in the story where a disclaimer should pop up and warn you to not try this at home. When the day of the race arrived, I had run a whopping 40 miles in training including the 12 mile run one week before the race, after which I was so sore I didn’t run again until Thursday morning two days before the race. I was finally able to jog a couple of miles and loosen up some of those stiff muscles. I was ready to go the morning of the race. The race was a blast! I loved it! I was bitten by the bug. The very next day, still aching, I signed up for the 2003 Mini.

It was in training for my third mini that my mind finally snapped. I was meeting on Saturday mornings with a Mini training group and for some reason I decided it was time to run a full marathon. Of course I was dumb enough to tell everyone of my decision, so there could be no backing out later if I were to come to my senses. In addition to the mini, I had run the Indianapolis Half Marathon in October the previous two years. They run a full marathon at the same time and this year I would do the full 26.2 miles. I began training in June following Hal Higdon’s intermediate protocol. The training got off to a bit of a rocky start. I strained my left calf at mile 13 of a 14 mile run and had to limp home for a mile. I bruised a thigh playing softball when a ground ball took a bad hop. I eventually lost three toenails because of tight fitting shoes and socks that were too thick. I didn’t get discouraged; I kept going and by the time race day came along I had completed two 20 mile training runs. I was ready to run the race.

Just finishing should have been enough of a goal for a first timer, but I had my sights set on Boston. Never mind that the 3:20 I needed to qualify was a faster pace than my PR in the half marathon. I knew it was a risky venture, but if I didn’t at least try I wouldn’t have been content. The first ten miles went fairly well I was only a few seconds off pace. Then came the hill, not a particularly steep hill, but a relentless incline somewhere between miles 10 and 12. I was about half the way up when reality hit me; there was no way I could maintain this pace for another 16 miles. I let up a little but still hit the half way point at 1:43:30, a PR for a half. I managed to keep my pace under 10 minutes per mile through mile 17. Then I started walking and stretching my way through the water stops. Around mile 21 I started to have a sharp pain on the side of my knee, but I kept going. A volunteer at a water stop asked me if I was ok, if I needed a ride to the finish. Was he kidding? Does a drowning man need a life preserver? Of course I needed a ride to the finish, but I would have to be unconscious for them to get me to stop. I was telling myself that I had to finish because if I didn’t I’d have to do this again and I definitely didn’t want to do this again. If I could just finish this one race I’d never have to do this again. When I reached mile 24 I decided I would walk the entire 25th mile and then be rested for a triumphal run through the last mile and across the finish line. Then there was a small hill just beyond the 25 mile mark, so I thought I would walk until I reached the top. There was just one small problem with this plan, strategically situated just before the hill were two photographers eagerly waiting to snap my picture. There was no way I was going to let them take a picture of me walking, so I started running again. I even tried to crack a smile. I reached the top of the hill and the adrenaline boost from running past the photographers and knowing I only had about a half mile to go was enough to keep me going. I crossed the finish at 4 hours 20 minutes and 37 seconds. The joy of finishing or perhaps the joy of finally being able to stop running was overwhelming. I got all choked up and shed a tear or two. I had conquered the beast. The joy of that moment was worth all the training, all the aches and pains.

My time was a big disappointment. I’m certain that if I had started out at a more realistic pace I might have been able to finish in less than four hours. Before I finished the post race meal, I was already thinking about running another marathon to improve my PR or hey, wouldn’t it be cool to run a marathon in each of the 50 states? One down 49 to go. I must be crazy. Next up, Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee October 2nd, 2005.