It’s taken me until the eve of my 35th birthday and three days after my first marathon finish to really sit down and begin writing anything about this past Sunday’s experience.
At 6:30 a.m. Sunday, May 1 a start gun went off in a misty rain and the dark as roughly 4,000 runners began a journey that actually started many months earlier. If treated like layers of an onion I could say mine started January 4, 2011 when group training began, but that would only be the top layer. I could spend a bit of time peeling deeper. Those layers would include signing up to run a half marathon, a 5K, a 10K, and just finding my self running for fun and fitness. Then there would be the layer who quit smoking and so on and so forth back to the 16-year-old who ran one year of track and then quit. I’m probably going to digress a bit in this race report. We’ll get to more about the pickled pigs’ feet shortly, I promise.
But back to that starting gun. When I was there with 4,000 or so of my fellow runners I miraculously found the four I did the most training with. We started off with the 3:40 pace group together. At mile five they each held me back as I spotted a group of friends cheering me on from a street corner. They laughed then and we all seemed strong and jovial and our little pack stayed tight through the most challenging part of the Flying Pig course that included three back-to-back-to-back inclines that took us through mile 8.
It was around this point as well I also passed a certain female runner who is tall, lean, younger, and with whom I’ve had a certain competition with in my head. In very kind terms I would call her my mental “rabbit.” You know, the person that if I could keep up with or slightly ahead of I would know I was doing well. I mention her here too because we’ll get back to her later.
By mile 12 things began to change in the group. Two of the stronger runners, runners I ran an 8:16 pace with a couple of weeks earlier on our 20 mile training run, took off a bit and finally to the point I could no longer see them. This left myself and another runner, a runner who was starting to struggle with problems in his knees. By mile 13 I was on my own symbolically. Two runners in front of me and one behind. I was also starting to develop small pains of my own, especially a tightness in my right calf.
And this is where two elements started coming into play that I did not prepare for. The first was the crowd. Those friends I saw at mile 6 or so showed back up at mile 12. This time I realized they had t-shirts on, hot pink t-shirts, with “Team Brian” imprinted on them, along with “Team Hilly,” the tall blonde runner I passed a way back. When I saw my name on the shirts I literally started yelling and cheering them and my pace picked up. That was one thing we didn’t have in practice, the energy and joy of friends cheering us on. It made all the difference in the world, especially around mile 17 when I started to realize I might be in some real trouble. My friends were there again. This time there were no wild cheers, just a stiffened resolve to finish this thing as my right calf began to pulsate a bit and strange ripples began occurring in various leg muscles.
Downing Gu’s (five by the end of the race), water, and Gatorade I kept moving, feeling my legs slow down and a real wall approach. I skipped some electrolyte tablets around mile 18 I regretted later, but I kept moving. The hills at the beginning of the pig are no fun, the last stretch of the Flying Pig felt the most brutal though. From 18 through at least mile 24 the road is flat, seemingly endless, boring, and without areas for fans to distract you. Just water stops and the occasional gawker. It was at this point that the second lesson, not quite presented in practice came to light, endurance and determination.
My run by this point became one of mental grit, and I don’t say that to make myself seem like a badass. I say it because I believe it to be true and it became the most rewarding part of the race for me. I literally took it one footfall at a time with my leaden right leg and pain that I assumed were normal or that I thought was caused from starting out too fast. Each mile became a challenge, and more so by mile 22.
The little white rabbit I set in my mind came bounding behind me, and then past me. We spoke. I said I had it my wall and was struggling on, but happy to see her go. She offered a Gu I declined. The moment was a mix of genuine “good for her” and dismay for me, knowing I was fading fast and goal times were slipping away. With only 4.2 miles to go this strong runner finished 6 minutes ahead of me. My last mile was a recorded 10:49 pace. Each mile was a struggle. I walked through water stops in fear I wouldn’t pick back up my run, but I dug down deep inside and kept moving on.
My parents were also there at the finish line, showing up two hours in advance of when I said I thought I might finish so they would have a good spot to cheer me on. I heard my mother yelling wildly and telling me, “Go Brian, go!” It was beautiful and I hurt and I picked up my pace to a 9 minute mile for a few brief moments until I crossed the Flying Pig “Finish Swine” out of pride and gratitude for them being there.
I got my medal and some fruit. I spoke with that rabbit who finished so strong and our friends in their pink shirts. I saw my parents and got a hug. I limped and I hurt. I almost immediately began favoring my left foot over my right as I walked. I didn’t sleep for the rest of the day and ended up going out with running group friends and others that evening. And though I hoped to at least break four hours on my first marathon and ended with a time of 4:11:59 I was still elated. I never imagined finishing would be so tough but I did it. I finished this race and I was most definitely proud.
Since race day I’ve had a couple of developments. I went to work Monday, a desk job mind you, and hobbled around so sore I couldn’t believe it. I hobbled and was horrified when I came home and took off my shoe to see my right foot ballooned to double its normal size. I did something to that foot, around 19 I think when things really started to hurt, but still don’t know what. X-rays in the emergency room showed no fractures. I don’t remember twisting anything on the course or hearing any pops. My pig’s foot is just pickled.
I got a pair of crutches and an air cast and a recommendation to see a foot doctor if the foot stayed swollen after a day or two. I went to work Tuesday, where the foot was still swollen and ended up working from home Wednesday, laying on a couch, foot raised and iced.
As of this writing, the swelling is gone but the soreness is still there, mostly isolated to the back part of my leg, on my lower calf. I can’t tell if it is muscle, bone or tendon that’s sore. I just know I am worried. I don’t want to injure myself further and I hope it’s not something that will keep me out of the game for very long or indefinitely. I’ve got the bug. I want to run another marathon in the fall and start training late June. And I want to best that 4:11:59 time.