Well, I did it. It took me 6 hours 52 minutes and 27 seconds, but I crossed the finish line. I was 6th from last place, but this is a race that I'll be proud of for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I'm hardly able to walk right now and can't even think about running for at least few more days. My legs are totally useless and steps are near impossible. I love it!! :)
Here is the story from beginning to end. I'll try to keep it un-boring (new word), but there is a lot to tell from an experience that I will never forget for as long as I live. Thank you to everybody who believed in me and up yours to all those that didn't think I could do it... Just kidding. :) This race was for me and me only.
I wanted to start early because I knew that I was going to have a slow race. Unfortunately the 'early start' time was at 7am and I got there at 7:05 am. They wouldn't let me start until the actual start time (7:30 am). My leg was a bit tight from the day before; I did the 5 mile run the day before and it brought back my knee pain (as I suspected it would). I'll post my race report about it later, but for now just know that it flared up my knee injury a bit and I toed the marathon starting line with a slight limp. All of my senses were telling me to cancel this race and focus my training efforts for my race in July... I listened to my heart instead and knew that this was something that I wanted so bad; even if I had to crawl across the finish line.
I knew nothing about what I was getting myself into, so I packed for the worst. I read Ultra Runner magazine and Trail Runner magazine and read all kinds of horror stories about blistered feet, chaifing, soggy socks, electrolyte depletion, "call of nature", etc... I decided to wear a backpack with all the necessities. The backpack proved to be pretty valuable as the race progressed. I packed the everything I thought I might need, like (non-runners, move to the 3rd item) toilet paper, petroleum jelly, travel first aid kit w/ band-aids and Neosporin, my iPod, clean pair of Injinji socks, cell phone, GU gels, electrolyte powders, a few power bars, and 2 extra bottles of water. I'll probably pack a backpack for my next race too because I used it quite a bit.
Mile 1 - 5
I kissed the family and took a deep breath. I knew that I was going to be running through the woods for at least the next 5 hours. I was nervous, excited, tired, and anxious (all at once) when the gun went off. I started my limp-run and pain was shooting from my knee to my hip on some of my landings. I was already wanting to walk the flat sections before the first mile marker but I didn't. If I'd given in at this stage, I knew I'd continue to give in throughout the race. I ran steady for the first 7 miles. The only times that I walked was uphills and that was mainly because all of us runners were crammed onto this narrow footpath through the woods and I had to walk because they were walking too.
There was a lot of conversation going on around me and it was all "runner" talk and I didn't really like it to be honest. There was a group of girls that were behind me talking about their training schedules, their work out regiments, running Boston and it all sounded a little too "loud" to pass as a friendly conversation between 3 girls in a large crowd. I just rolled my eyes and kept pushing along trying to keep to myself. Once I let them pass me, I was able to enjoy the race.
I got involved in a conversation with a group of runners who had all ran the Western States 100. I made it a point to not tell them it was my first marathon for fear of switching the conversation to me and I really didn't want to get any advise or anything; I just wanted to run. It was so fun to just listen to their crazy stories about their experiences. These people are amazing and it was nice to meet a group of humble (yet extreme) runners. They asked me what was in my backpack and I just told them I kept a pizza in there for mile 20. They all got a big kick out of it, so I continued to use it for the rest of the race whenever somebody else asked the same question. I didn't want to tell them what was really in there, as I'm sure it would have generated a different kind of laugh. :)
Mile 6 - 10
Nothing too exciting here. I really just focused on my footing. I noticed a lot of people in front of and behind me were tripping over some of the roots. I kept thinking to myself "why don't they just watch where they're going?". I didn't have any problems with roots up to this point and couldn't believe that some people were tripping over the slightest things on the course. The scenery was absolutely beautiful; spring was in full bloom and it was a blue-sky day today. What started off as a cold morning turned into a very comfortable sunny day (mid 60's) with a slight breeze. My knee was still bothering me, but (whether good or bad) it went totally numb at about mile 10 and didn't bother me for another 12 miles.
Mile 11 - 13.1
It was about this time, when I realized what I had signed up for. I wasn't even at the half way point and my legs were already starting to get sore and my stomach was getting very hungry. I had already burned through my McGriddle breakfast and it was time to tap into my backpack. I knew I was going to be passing the 1/2 way point in about 2 miles, but I needed nourishment before then or else I was going to cramp up and put myself on empty.
Up to this point, I'd been able to bypass all of the aid stations by raising my two water bottles and saying "Thanks, you guys rock!". Unfortunately, when I realized I needed some replenishing, I had just passed an aid station and didn't get any snacks or Ultima, so I got to use my backpack for the first time. Without missing a beat, I took off the backpack and pulled out some GU gels and dumped some electrolyte powders into one of my water bottles before refilling it. This seemed to do it. I slowly came out of my hunger pains and was getting some nourishment back into me.
This section of the course was pretty crowded because the 1/2 marathoners all started about 30 minutes after the full marathoners and they were all flying by one after the other. I think a lot of the elite full marathoners were also finishing their second loops too, as it was about 2 1/2 hours into the race. Basically, everybody was in a huge hurry to get to the finish line except me. :) I noticed that the first few people to pass me were very encouraging and I loved it! They would say things like "good job buddy" or "keep it up, looking great", and then as they began to be more common, some would just yell "LEFT!", and I would move to the right. :)
Mile 13.1 - 15
I crossed the 1/2 way marker at 2 hours 59 minutes and 53 seconds. As I crossed the half way point, I think a lot of people were surprised to see me stay to the left (which indicated I was running the full marathon). I don't look like a distance runner and (up until today) I wasn't. This was my first true test to see if I could do this thing, and I noticed some of the looks when I stayed to the left and kept running. On my way past the finish line, I was able to steal a couple of bagel chunks and water bottles. Once I got back into the woods I stopped and got my iPod out so I could listen to some music, I refilled my water bottles (both with my electrolyte powders) and put some GU gels in my Nathan water bottle pockets for quick access. This whole process took me about 2 minutes, but it paid off; I felt strong once I got moving again and was ready to do my second loop.
Mile 16 - 20
Running felt very comfortable and I was just enjoying my stroll through the woods. The elite runners had all passed me and I found myself on the loop all alone for the most part of the second loop. Every mile at this point was longer than I had ever run before. The longest distance I did before today was 15 miles at Mohican with my running friends back in December. I recall lifting my arms in the air and doing a small celebration chuckle as I passed miles 16, 17, and 18. However, after mile 18 I began counting backwards from 26 instead.
My mind switched from total joy to really focusing on the little elements of pain throughout my body. My neck hurt, my shoulders hurt, my thighs were really hurting and my feet were in a lot of pain as well. I was pretty much a mess at this point, but I kept running.
Mile 21 - 25
My knee pain came back in full force. I literally running on a battered knee and all the numbness that I'd felt up to this point had come back and my body let me know I still had a "knee injury". It didn't stop me though, for I had less than a 10k to go and nothing was going to stop me at this point. Again, I had no shame in crawling if it came down to it. Fortunately, I didn't have to do that and I was able to focus on my other pains to block out the knee pain.
At about the 24 mile marker I passed somebody that wasn't a member of one of the aid stations. It was my first sign of civilization in a long time and we traded words of encouragement. We were both in bad shape at this point, but I was happy to know that I was "running" past somebody who was walking. This felt good to me and helped me put a hop in my jog even after I got out of sight. I was gonna do this; I was hurting really bad, but I realized at this point that I was really gonna do it...
Mile 26 - 26.2
My emotions started to catch up with me at this point. I couldn't believe I actually ran 26 miles through such a tough course. There were so many hills, roots, rocks, fallen logs, etc... and I did it all for 26 miles with no shortcuts. What may seem ordinary to some of my running buddy's was very extra-ordinary for me. I didn't think I was going to be able to do the entire full 26.2 miles as I started off limping at mile 0. I did not want to jeopardize my leg permanently. Luckily my body went numb at mile 10 and stayed numb for the most part of my race. I was going to earn my Trail Marathon Medal and show my girls how tough daddy really was.
The look on my girls faces when I came out of the woods did it for me. I was broken and battered and my legs were totally shredded (it's the only word I can think of to describe that pain), but it all went away when I saw my girls yelling my name. I picked up Daizi and asked Lizzie and Jazzy to cross the finish line with me. It's a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. All of the people had left, there were only about 4 people at the finish line waiting on the last round of runners and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
My girls ran across the finish line with me! They skipped and ran beside me the whole way and was asking all kinds of questions. I answered them and told them how much I missed them all day. They kept reminding me that I was gone a long time. Jazzy said "Daddy, what took you so long?" and Lizzie said "Jazzy, he just ran 26 miles.". The funniest part of that whole little conversation was that the only reason Lizzie knew is because I told her the night before in the tent while Jazzy was sleeping. :) Lizzie doesn't even know what "26 miles" means, but she sure said it like she did. :)
The picture above is from behind, but I can't wait to get my finish line photo (from camera dude on the left) so I can buy it, blow it up, and mount it on my wall for all to see. I'll look at it whenever I feel like I'm having a bad day and it will mean more to me than anyone reading this could ever understand. My girls don't know how awesome it was that they crossed the finish line with me. What was fun for them is a lifelong memory for me.
After I crossed the finish line I put down Daizi and walked out into the freezing lake (socks, shoes, and all) and gave my legs a bit of relief while I let all of my emotions go. Jennifer was standing up on the shoreline with the girls and I think she realized what this thing meant to me. I did it.