The alarm went off on time, 5:00 a.m.-
It has always been my philosophy about races that you’ve done all that you can do in your training up until the night before the morning of the race. The hay is in the barn.
Since I had been training all fall with a water bottle on my hip with the NUUN electrolyte replacement in the water, I had to plan on how to replace my 20 oz. bottle every 10 or so miles. That’s where my wife, Forrest, came in. She volunteered to be my support crew along the course. Forrest is very detailed oriented person. She scouted out our handoff positions along the course to make sure she would be there on time and knew when to expect me running by. We even practiced our handoff technique where I would hand her the old bottle with my left hand while grabbing the new bottle with my right. You can’t ask for a better support crew.
I checked over the gear I was going to wear at the race and made sure everything was in order. Then, rather than worry about the race, the best thing you can do is get a good night’s rest.
When the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m., I had slept peacefully all night long. Never woke up once. I was rested and ready.
I got up and put on my race gear while toasting a bagel. Bagels with peanut butter has become my favorite snak these days because of all the carbs and protein. Not a bad combination.
My friends and I have been watching the weather forcasts all week. We were a little antsy about it stating that a warming trend would be in place on race day. Sure enough, the temperature was 52º. This was going to be a hot day.
I drove to downtown Jackson around 6:00. I have a very special parking place that I always try to get to on race day. It is less than 100 yards from the finish line and very accessible if I need anything. The parking place was open, so I slid my car easily into place.
Many of the other 2,572 runners were milling about, stretching and jogging around nervously. The sky was beginning to lighten in the east. The weather was a bit cool but had a fog. As I already mentioned, the temperature was a bit warmer than I would have liked it. The announcer had crackled over the loud speaker that race start time was twenty minutes away.
After some warm up and stretches, I met my buddy John Brower at the finish line, our designated meeting place. He had already run 4 miles as he is an ultra marathoner. Today’s 26.2 miles would only be a walk in the park for him.
A word about John; I am flattered that he is paced me today. He’s a good guy and will do what he says he will do. Today, he said he would be my motivator as we ran along the course. My job was to keep up with my pace. Fair enough.
Soon, the announcement came to come to the starting line in preparation for the start. The crowd has swelled at this point to a column of runners about 10 yards wide and 100 yards deep.
When the start came, John and I just stood there. There were so many people in front of us that it was a full minute before we were able to move forward. Fortunately, each runner’s time did not officially start until they ran across the mats at the starting line. These mats scanned the runner’s electronic chip embedded into each runner’s number bib.
We were off with the crowd. The first few miles were miles where we settled into the race. I paid particular attention to the pace we were running, fully aware of the stampede effect that happens at the start of every race.
In the belly of the course-
We made our way around the good course in good form. By mile 10, were on pace to break 4:00. Forrest handed off my first water bottle seamlessly. We were on our way and spirits were high.
Around mile 12, there are a series of hills in a neighborhood called Eastover. I was waving to a friend along the course when I literally fell head over heels after tripping over an orange cone. The runner in front of me had shielded the cone from my site line and I turned my head. The next thing I knew, John and another runner were helping me up from my tumble. My left knee and elbow were scraped and bleeding. I was in shock.
At that point, John said that we needed to get back into a rhythm of the run, that my system was in shock, that we had lost our mojo. What ever that meant, at that point my head was a bit dazed and all I knew was that I had to keep running.
By this time, the sun was well overhead, the fog had burned off and the temperature was around 60º. It began to take its toll on me.
Around mile 15, my body began to weaken, so did the pace. I had been taking gels every 5 miles or so. Add bottles of water with NUUN in it and you have a mixture of sugar and water. My stomach began to become a bit queasy. I began walking up the hills after mile 17. At that point, my goal of breaking 4 hours was in jeopardy. My goal may now have to shift to just finishing.
With a forced movement of my arms, as coached by John, I was able to make my way up the hills and jog down the other side. The small, short-term goals became the norm. Jog to the stop sign, walk to the end of the street. This became my rhythm.
The picture to left is of John and me at mile 21. I’m the one grimacing with a blue bandana on.
And, in the end…
I could feel a little twinge of a cramp showing up in my legs and it really scared me. I remembered the year before that I had horrific cramps which were excruciatingly painful.
I told John that I’m sorry he had to see me break down like this. He said, “Welcome to my world!” You have to remember he is an ultra marathoner. This revelation that John had suffered like this in his longer races helped me sustain my drive to finish.
When I showed him my bleeding knee and elbow, he said, “Dude! That’s awesome! I’m jealous! I think I’ll fall down and scrape my knee so that I can look that tough! “ I laughed at that one, my spirits momentarily lifted.
John’s ran in front of me to keep up the pace. He would turn around every couple of minutes to look at my running form. My nodding head off to the right, my drooping shoulders, my vertical position over my legs, not leaning forward showed only fatigue. Not to mention the tired look on my face.
At what seemed an eternity, we turned into the final 2 mile stretch to the finish. John issued me a challenge. He wanted me to try to run the last two miles with all that I had left. My stomach had settled down by then and I was feeling better. My legs were feeling better with no cramping. I began to run again.
In the distance, the finish line appeared and I could hear the cheering of the bystanders along Capital Street. They echoed in my head like a kind of nirvana, a heavenly place that I was trying to get to, a dream where my legs had concrete blocks on them and I couldn’t move. I labored to think why did it take so long to get under that clock?
Plod, plod plod, just one foot in front of the other. That’s the only base instinct I had, and by now, that’s all I had left.
In the final few hundred yards, I saw two guys that we had run with at mile 8 were sitting at the King Edward Hotel’s outdoor restaurant tables sipping beer. They raised a glass to us in a toast. They had finished at least a half an hour ago.
Soon, the finish rushed up to me as we crossed the line. We bumped fists. I thanked him over and over again, brothers in the effort. My time; 4:28.55. We started the race at 7:00. We finished around 11:30, the temperature, 70º.
I was completely drained of all energy. However the finish’s adrenaline rush and crowd’s excitement at the finish line, that of welcoming conquering heroes home, soon replaced my emotional pathos.
Robert Browning said it best, “Ah, but a man’s reach exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?” I’m 57 years old and I ran a 4:28 marathon. OK, I’ll take that!
Several friends swarmed around us in a festive mood. Forrest came over and handed me my last water bottle with a hug.
I made my way over to the medical tent to have them dress my wounds. I’ll have to admit, I wore those scrapes like battle scars. Along the way to the tent, I showed them off like a kid showing off his stitches on a cut on his arm.
The stories began to be told as traveler’s tales of old. When sailors would gather and tell of lands beyond the horizon, where other people had not been. Of adventures and cautions that one needs to be aware of, of successes, of failures and of empathies.
My experience of the training and the running of the MS Blues Marathon was life changing. I did not reach my goal that I had set out for myself. Some say, that the Blues Marathon is one of the toughest courses they’ve ever run. Maybe I could break four hours on a flatter course.
Still, the hours spent on the mountain bike dirt trail in conversation, the Ridgeland Recreation Trail, the neighborhood streets all were worth it. I love running for the time alone where I can think and test myself physically. I love the running community and the quirky characters that I’ve met.
But most of all, I love the stories we can tell.
The Vagabond Runner