April 14, 2012
Marathong In My Heart
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I can't seem to start this without thinking of Amy. In the summer of 2005 I'd pretty much given up running, but Terry from church wanted to walk the Evansville Half Marathon that October. Sedentary her whole life, almost 45, she wanted to achieve something hard. She asked our Bible class to support, encourage, push her. I hadn't mentioned that I'd run before, but I thought my experience might help, so Amy and I showed up every Saturday for the YMCA half marathon training. There was a 5K warm up race in August, and all three of us participated. Amy, also sedentary, didn't want to race, but after a few runs, I told her she had potential and convinced her to compete. Shortly after, Amy had a stress fracture on her ankle, and two weeks later, after doing a 10K warm up race with Terry, I got one too. I was a bloated 181 pounds. Terry backed out of training, and nobody did the half marathon. I let it go because my interest was more in Amy than running. What did I have to prove? My sister had a flat tire, so I drove her to church the morning of the race. She lived near the city, and as I waited for her, I clearly heard the race announcer two miles away, starting the race. There was a party for the whole city, and now I had to listen to it happen at a spectator instead of a participant. It was a stab in the heart. At that moment I thought--I should've run it!

Summer, 2007--I'd told Amy for years that I needed to lose weight, and so on June 7, she got a little upset,"You keep saying you want to lose weight, but you need to make it happen!" She encouraged me to get with a plan. By August 18, I was down ten pounds and out of the danger zone for my weight. I hadn't run in almost two years, so I tried it again, and then I signed up for the 2007 Evansville Half Marathon.

By race day, I was 164 pounds, but still scared--I hadn't done a hard run nine years. It was very hot and humid, so hot that the Chicago Marathon, 300 miles north had a death from the heat. But Amy had the course mapped out and after cheering me at the start, went around the course, cheering at four or five intersections, and the finish. If not for her, I probably would've walked, the heat was so bad. But she came out to support me, and I came out to be her hero. At the finish, I just remember staring straight ahead when she tried to congratulate me. She later said I looked gray, and Amy, who works in a lot of hospitals, said she thought I needed medical attention. I said,"That was awful.” After five minutes, I looked at her and said,"I'd like to do a full marathon". She later said,”I thought you were crazy.” She was my cheerleader and I was her hero. I don't think this marathon would've been possible without her. I'd gladly blow up to 181 pounds and give back the races in exchange for my cheerleader. Life is funny and sometimes very, very sad.

The word Marathon is derived from the word 'mare', meaning female horse, and 'thong', a tiny undergarment often worn as an outer garment that exposes the buttocks, giving the horse a more pleasing shape to the male horse, to encourage mating. Phidippides ran the first marathon in 490 BC, then died shortly after from exhaustion. I hoped to do better. I've written that before, but it's good enough to repeat. I'd done two marathons in 1991, and another in 2010 with a body 19 years older, 30 pounds heavier. I cramped so badly, I had to walk most of mile 16 to 19 and resort to an ultra-slow pace the rest of the race. My time, 3:53:23, 66th of the 324 finishers, was 32 minutes slower than my fastest. I'd never run a marathon without being forced to walk.

For 2012, I wanted to train smart, not hard. I started earlier than usual, doing five mile runs in January, up to 10 miles in February, as well as a half marathon in February, and a 10-mile race in March. I did three runs of over 13 miles, one being 19 miles, where I was forced to walk because of the heat, but didn't feel bad otherwise. So I was confident I could have a good race, but also concerned. A marathon is so long, and with 130 steps per minute, I had to hold up for 31,000 of those. I was about 5 ½ pounds lighter than 2010, a small advantage, but that's a lot of pounding.

I'm a chatterbox at the start of races. I struck up a conversation with a news cameraman, five strangers, and some frightened children. Just before the start I was stuck in my usual dilemma—what if I push too hard and am seriously hurt or die? Is it worth it? I said a prayer,”To God be all the glory”. I put it in His hands and stopped worrying. My job was to race and be a light. I don't remember being stressed after that.

The race started with between 234 (the number of people signed up) and 204 (finishers) running out of the shoot, and I went at my own pace this time, not caring about people passing me. This course is very challenging, with 926 feet of climbing over the 26.2 miles, pretty hilly for a marathon course, and winds through a lot of rolling hills that zap strength. The weather was cool, 50-55 degrees, calm. The biggest shock of the race was mile one—in 2010 I led the first 1/4-1/2 mile of the race and hit mile one at 6:57, but this year I proceeded at a leisurely pace and was 19 seconds faster—no small difference. The first mile also climbs 100 feet. My uncle Horace “Copper” sat on his front porch waving as I ran past. He told Mom he'd put on his jacket and sit there just for me this year. I yelled,”Hi Uncle Copper! I NEED PRAYER! Get to it!” Mile two took 7:34, almost a minute slower, and mile three, 7:48. None of my splits made sense during the entire race. I'd pass a mile marker, look at my time, then calculate in my mind what would happen if I ran ten minute miles for the rest of the race--I wanted to be far enough ahead of 2010 that I could beat it even if I went up in smoke. I passed 5K at 22:52, eight seconds faster than 2010, 10th place. At 10K I was at 46:16, a second slower than 2010, 16th place—the tortoises were catching the hare. Funny how close these were to 2010. I felt stronger but strangely, got slower and slower. A hard rain started at mile seven that ended up being sporadic throughout the race, something I'd anticipated by filling my socks and shoes with baby powder, so if you see videos of the start, you'll think my shoes are smoking—but no, it's baby powder. I drank at all water stops, but the cooler weather reduced sweat, and I soon felt my bladder pushing me. When the rain hit, I seriously considered wetting myself and letting the rain wash it away. I couldn't risk abdominal pressure messing up my stride. The halfway point was telling-- 1:46:40, for 13.1 miles, 2:50 slower than 2010, 33rd place, far behind my slowest marathon, but feeling strong. The abdominal pressure left me, but the last half of the race had a strong headwind and lots of hills.

Although my legs were getting stiff, it was a slow progression unlike 2010, and I felt I just had to keep my legs moving to fight it. I'd kept my pace down early, taken 2-3 Hammer E-caps every hour as recommended by my friend Bill Misner for electrolyte replacement, and used every water stop. At some point in the middle of the race, a sharp pain shot up my left leg, I softened my steps a bit, and it went away. You just have to keep running until God drops you. At 30K (18.6 miles) I gained back those three minutes and was running 15 seconds faster than 2010, 2:36:16, 46th place. My goal was to beat 2010, but I felt capable of going well under 3:50. In 2010 I ran the last 12K, so now it was 2010 runner verses 2012 runner. Game on!

My slow start worked well this year. Even so, when I look at the finishers, some who beat me were as much as seven minutes behind at the 5K point. Either way, I'm still a very fast starter in these races, no matter how leisurely I feel.

I'd been leaning far forward and looking straight down at my feet to make it up those hills into the strong wind. Four miles from the finish, I saw a camera. Recalling how awful I looked in 2010, I decided to straighten up and give it the old Air Force effort, or at least the impression thereof. It was one thing to do poorly, but at least I could look good doing it. I straightened up, put those arms in motion, put on my game face, snorted a bit, and passed that photographer in style. After that I thought,”Hey, that didn't hurt much! Maybe I can keep it going!” So I pushed harder and did the last 7.6 miles 5 minutes, 4 seconds faster than 2010, passing eight runners and, getting passed by four. The last 1.2 miles was downhill, followed by a 120 yard uphill to the finish. I felt strong and when I came up the chute to the finish, the announcer was calling out names and said,”Wow! That's how I'd like to finish!” I was pretty excited, making gestures with my arms and playing the crowd (unfortunately, they only got photos of my crossing the finish). A nice young lady in shorts came alongside me and said,”Congratulations! Is there anything at all I can get you?” I said,”Well, I haven't had a woman in a long time.” I finished in 42nd place out of the 204 finishers, 4:48 faster than 2010. My legs felt very light, and very fresh, freshest I ever felt at the end of a marathon, and fresher than the 2007 Half Marathon. Another amazing thing—no blisters! I've never finished a HALF marathon without at least one blister. Maybe it was God, but it doesn't matter—to God be ALL the glory! Thanks God! Can I borrow some money now?