A marathon and pickled pigs’ feet

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.


The Weekender – a half marathon, sun, a blizzard, rain, and silly disappointment

Peanut butter cups, sticks, and pieces being g...

Image via Wikipedia

I spent the better part of the weekend trying to come up with an angle for a new entry.

I didn’t run on Saturday and thought about writing a post on the rich irony of it being so nice out the one Saturday I didn’t have to run at 7:30 a.m. I didn’t run because I was running at half-marathon the next day. Then I stopped, and thought, “lame.”

The idea of weather popped up again on Sunday morning when it was a cool 39 degrees out and drizzling when I went to run the first Cincinnati Heart Half Marathon. By the time I finished the race a post about running and the weather felt like double lameness.

As a matter of fact, after the half I did not want to write about anything at all. And I didn’t. Instead I took a long nap, ate dinner, and walked the dog down to the nearest DQ, where I promptly pigged out on a Reese’s Peanut Butter Blizzard. Hey, at least I kept to a small and walked the mile round trip to get it, I told myself.

That Blizzard was the DQ Blizzard of disappointment and despair.

Here is the deal: I know I ran my half-marathon at a decent clip, finishing it at 1:49:14 for a 8 minute 21 second average pace. I got incrementally faster on the 5K, 10K, and 15K splits, perhaps dropping a second on the last leg of the half.

Part of the problem that created disappointment was my mindset, I think. I went in hoping for giant gains in my pace running with the group.

Instead I spent most of the run trying to “catch up” because I got caught in line for a port-o-potty hell as the race began, ending up over 8 minutes behind the starting gun. So, I had no familiar pace coach or peers to gauge my speed against and cheer on/be cheered on by. I only had the pacers I passed in an attempt to judge how well I was or was not doing.

I passed walkers, 12 minute pace coaches and so forth all the way up to the 8 minute 40 second pace coaches near the 10th or 11th mile. Around mile 10 I started to worry I had run too fast and my brain started to fret over little things. There were a lot of hills and my mind flipped back to two weeks ago when I experienced a sharp pain on the outside of my left knee that felt like what I read described as an inflamed ITband on a down hill at the end of a 16 miler. I haven’t experience the pain since, but that dwelled on me and I worried the tightness in my left leg may turn to injury so I didn’t push it like I wanted to. Yes, I suddenly have a huge fear of that particular syndrome or injury, thus my disappointment coupled with my late start and one other reason.

The two bench marks I find myself running against in my group did better than I did by far. One ran a full 10 minutes faster than her earlier half-marathon pace and the guy I run practice with ended up a full 2 minutes ahead of me according to chip sets. He’s the one who thought I’d be blowing off the doors of my old record of 1:51:00 for sure since he’s seen me increase leaps and bounds in speed training.

After all the speed training, with the amazing 6 minute 45 second sprints that felt like a breeze I thought for sure I’d do better than I did. Really,  I thought I did better too in parts in run. Then I saw that result: 1:49:14, a mere 3 minutes and 13 seconds faster than my first half in October that I trained for by myself.

A foam roller named Sue

I tried to go into a hundred reasons why I didn’t run as good as I hoped. I listed a few here. Again, lame.

So, instead I’m starting to realize I sulked over nothing, the past, something I can’t change. I really just started to come out of the self-induced funk this evening when I swam for 45 minutes, biked a moderately hard pre-programmed three miles on a stationary bike (something I probably need to do more of), did lunges, core and balancing exercise to strengthen muscle groups. I also gave my IT band Hell on the foam roller.

I’ve begun turning that lame emotion into determination (and perhaps check some realistic expectations for my first full marathon). I just pray, pray, pray I don’t end up with injury or that stupid IT band syndrome I’ve read about on the Internets.