Month: October 2010

Knee recovery and getting my ass kicked

The recovery from the knee injury I had during the Chicago Marathon is continuing along.  I honestly have no idea how good or bad it’s doing, since I’m not supposed to run on it, but I can say I’ve only had minor soreness along the way.  Not being able to run is driving me crazy, but at this point I only have to stay off of it for one more week.  Thank God for that as the elliptical is boring as all get out.

A friend asked me if I’m afraid to start running again for fear of injuring my knee again.  I hadn’t really given it much thought prior to the question being asked, but I guess I am a little bit.  I still don’t have any clarity at all as to why this happened when it did, and because of that, I don’t know what to do to prevent it from happening again.  That’s a bit scary.

In the mean time, I’ve taken the time I’ve had to begin to improve other areas of my fitness.  I started working a strength trainer over the weekend, and he’s pretty much kicking my ass.  I think I believed that because I had trained hard enough to run 26+ miles that I must be fairly strong, but strength training is showing me just how much attention some areas of my body need.  I’m sore in places I never expected to be, but it’s the good kind of sore.  I’m going to continue the strength work twice a week for the next few months and see what kind of improvements I can make.

Perspective

A few days have passed since my run at the Chicago Marathon, and I can tell you that my perspective has changed quite a bit already.

Immediately following the race, my first thoughts were, quite frankly, of bitter disappointment. With a bit of distance, I’ve come to think of the race in a very different way.  Focusing on just those five hours is truly missing the forest for the trees.  I am not a competitive runner whose livelihood depends on my ability to turn in world class times.  I’m a dad.  And I’m a husband, and brother and a son and a friend.  The people that matter to me don’t care a bit about what time I turned in or if my splits were solid.

Now that I released some of the venom about what happened on Sunday, let me take a few minutes to tell the whole story, this time without skipping the parts that really matter.

I am a person who hates to be late.  It’s a pet peeve of mine, so even when no one else is involved, I tend to leave plenty of time.  So on race morning, I got up and began the journey down to Grant Park (no so) bright and early:  5:45AM.  At that hour, there are only three sets of people up and about in Chicago.

  1. The fire department.  Between my hotel and the subway station was a fire station.  As I walked by, a fireman was standing outside and wished me luck.  Heck, if you’ve got the fire department on your side, how can you go wrong?
  2. Hookers.  Yep, two ladies of the evening yelled, “Good luck, runner!”  The world’s oldest profession wishes luck to the world’s oldest activity.
  3. Other marathoners.  When I got to the subway station, the platform was filled with other marathoners heading down to the start.  Big smiles and well wishes were flying all over the place.

Once I got down to the start corrals, and took care of dropping off my equipment bag, I made my way into the area for those of us attempting to run a 4:00 hour time.  It was very cool to watch the corrals fill up, slowly at first, then like an avalanche.  In a five foot radius directly around me, I met runners from 6 different countries.  I later read that 120 different countries were represented that day.

As the time grew closer and closer to the 7:30 start, I really started to get blown away by the experience.  And when the loudspeakers announced that the elite runners were off and the Chicago Marathon had begun, there were tears running down my face.  The sum of the effort and support it takes just to get to the start line of a marathon hit me full on, and I was just overwhelmed with gratitude.

It took me 15 minutes to get to the start from my corral.  15 minutes of build up.  Stopping then walking, then stopping then walking, then finally, we began to jog just a bit, and then … it was on.  What an absolute sea of humanity.

As I said in my previous post, my parents and two sisters had surprised me by showing up on Saturday night to watch me run.  Let me be a little bit clearer about that.  My parents live in Florida and so they had to drop what they were doing to fly to Chicago to make that happen.  My younger sister lives in Cleveland and has a husband and three children of their own, yet she hopped on a plane to cheer for me.  And my older sister actually cut short her vacation with her husband and friends to come out and support me.  Amazing.  Here is the t-shirt they made for the occasion.

The t-shirt my family made for my Chicago Marathon run

I got to see my sisters and parents just before the 1 mile mark, and they were screaming for me. What an absolutely perfect way to get started.

This picture is of my younger sister (on the left) and my older son (in the middle), cheering me and all of the other runners on.  They had a great time and loved shouting encouragement to people, especially when the runner had their name on their shirt.  I need to remember to do that next time.

Cheering

My sister (left) and son (middle) cheering on runners in Chicago

Then, not even half a mile later, I got to see my wife and two boys also cheering their hearts out for me.  Here are a couple of the signs my kids had made.

No Excuses is a mantra my wife and I have for running

No Excuses is a mantra my wife and I have for running

Proud of You

Is there anything better?

Don’t share this little tidbit with your kids, but one of the funniest signs I saw along the route was one a woman was holding just after the halfway point:  “Halfway in is sooooo sexy.”  Lots of chuckling was heard.

After my knee started acting up, I made a bunch of stops to try to stretch it out and keep it loose.  At one point while I was stopped and stretching, I looked to my right to see another runner also stopped.  He was smiling away as he was adjusting his prosthetic running leg.  Talk about perspective.  It was then that I told myself, “You’ve got nothing to complain about.  Get your ass back out there and get going.”

Along the rest of the marathon, I knew I would need to keep my spirits up in order to make it the rest of the way due to the pain.  So I made it a point to talk to people when I could, check on other hurting runners, and thank the volunteers at the water stations.  That seemed to keep my spirits up a bit.  Another treasure to tuck away for races in the future, injury or not.

With about three quarters of a mile to go in the race, my knee locked up for the final time.  I moved to the side to start walking, when some gracious runner patted me on the back, gave a huge smile and said, “C’mon man!  Less than a mile to go!”  Whoever you are, thank you.  I got running again and was able to experience running across the finish line at my first marathon.

I had no idea that making your way from the finish line to your waiting family was going to be such a journey.  But the result in the end was so worth the trek.  When my wife and kids and I finally saw each other, they did the running.  They ran over and tackle-hugged me and told me how proud they were.  I literally felt ten feet tall.

Here I am, a marathoner at last, after finding my family and finally able to smile a bit.

A marathoner

One last, but very important thing.  I know how emotionally spent I was when the marathon was over, and really, I know it will still take a while to get over the disappointment of the actual performance.  But the encouragement, congratulations, and incredibly kind words from my family in person, my friends at work and online, has really been the trigger to help me see this for what it is.  Running a marathon is a gargantuan task taking many months of preparation, dedication and sacrifice.  But the real meaning of the marathon is not the time you run.  It’s the people you affect and the people that affect you.  It changed me in a very deep and profound way, and no one, and no single performance, can ever take that away.

Two final pictures. The first is a sign my kids made to cheer for me, and the edit they made when it was over.

Know you can, knew you could.

And finally, the Post-It note my younger son left for me yesterday morning.  I found it on the door leading out to the garage as I was heading out for work.

A note from my son

Chicago Marathon race report

I need to write this while I’m still feeling it.  I need to get it out.

I have incredibly mixed emotions about the race today.  I went into the race feeling optimistic, prepared, and well trained.  I spent the summer trudging through blistering heat and humidity in order to be prepared and well-trained.  At the end of the summer, I ran a half marathon in 1:51:48. And after that was over, I continued my longest training runs (20 miles) at paces right around 9:05 min/mile.  All of this “evidence” lead me to believe that being optimistic about a 4-hour marathon goal was not at all a pipe dream, rather an attainable goal if I worked hard.

I have to admit it, I felt lucky to have gone through a little of a year of running without anything but minor little soreness.  No injuries to write home about at all.  And I tapered well and went into today well rested and injury free.

The first half of the marathon went pretty close to plan:  2:03:52.  I felt like I did a decent job of not making the rookie mistake of going out too fast, and at that halfway point I was still feeling strong and in control.  I didn’t feel like I was working particularly hard which is exactly what I had intended for that portion of the race.  Just putting mile after mile on auto-pilot.

At about mile 12, I got to see my family, including my mom, dad and two sisters, who had surprised me by showing up in Chicago last night to cheer for me at this, my first marathon.  An unbelievably generous gesture on their part.  I truly have been emotionally overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received throughout this just-over-one-year running journey.  They made t-shirts that said, “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  A nod to the fact that I had decided to run this marathon in support of Run for Dom.  I did have promises to keep, and I had full intention of keeping those promises, regardless of how difficult it might be.

And it was about to get difficult.  Sometime during mile 13, I started to feel a twinge in my left knee.  Just before mile 13 ended, that twinge was a full-on, locked up knee.  Honestly, I was in shock.  I had no idea what to do about it.  As I said, I went through this whole year of training and races without a single significant injury.  And, even the insignificant stuff never, ever involved my knee.  But my knee was locked up tight.  For the first time during any race, I slowed to a walk to assess what was going on.  I tried stretching (a number of times) to see if it would help but it didn’t.  After walking for a bit, I was able to start running again for annoyingly short distances before it would lock up again.

So, I spent the entire second half of the race going back and forth between running and walking.  I tried desperately to maintain some sort of positive attitude, because I did have promises to keep, and I did have miles to go.  Seeing my family throughout that second half was bittersweet because I loved, loved, loved the support, but I felt the need to put on a strong face regardless of the increasing pain, and maybe even harder, the increasing disappointment.

A friend of mine sent me a tweet earlier this week that said I would learn a lot about myself today during the race.  Truer words were never spoken.  Here are some things I learned.  Please excuse the ugly honesty, but take it as coming from someone who can still taste the bitter pill I had to swallow today.

  1. I don’t want to be one of “those people” who feel OK with simply finishing.  I planned to run this race and leave nothing on the course, but I walked as much as I ran during miles 13-26.  I don’t want to feel good about that.
  2. I know that I should feel proud of even attempting something so few can do.  But that’s not good enough.  I trained my ass off and I expected to compete with me today.
  3. When I got done with the race and found my wife and boys, they tackle hugged me and told me they were proud of me.  That went miles and miles toward helping me realize that today’s specific result is not what it’s all about.  The months of training and sacrifice were what they were really proud of, and you know what, so am I.
  4. Today I raised about $3600 for a family and a cause I believe in.  That is what made me swallow my pride and keep going whether or not I felt embarrassed about walking.  Every mile I would have skipped would have been one fewer opportunity for kids who didn’t have any say in their dad’s lost fight with cancer.  They deserved every mile I had in me, no matter how slow.
  5. There are far more important things in this world than how I feel about one race.  Like what I taught my kids about hard work and seeing things through to the end, and keeping your promises.

My friend was right, I did learn a lot about myself today, just not about running, specifically.  I know with time and perspective, I’ll come to look at my first marathon through clearer lenses than I do today.  But for today, I feel grateful to have been able to line up and complete what I started.  For that, I am grateful, and I am proud.  Today, bitter taste or not, I am a marathoner.

Final prep for the marathon

  • I’ve checked my gear. 7 times.
  • I’ve reviewed my split goals. Again and again.
  • I’ve checked the weather so many times, I’ve got a lifetime ban from weather.com.
  • I’ve got some cash to get me to the start line. Enough that the start line could be in Dallas.
  • My iPod is charged.
  • My Road ID is set out.
  • My timing chip is secured to my shoe.
  • My race bib is safety pinned onto my shirt.  My bib number 19557.
  • I even watched The Spirit of the Marathon, to get me motivated.
I am ready.  I am a nervous wreck, but I AM READY.

The Chicago Marathon taper song

Twelve Eleven Ten Nine Eight Seven Six Five Four Three Two One day to go until the Chicago Marathon, and for this, I break out into song.

(please sing to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas)

The Chicago Marathon Taper Song

On the 1st day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 2nd day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 3rd day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 4th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 5th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 6th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
six protein shakes,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 7th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
seven blackened toenails,
six protein shakes,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 8th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
eight texting drivers,
seven blackened toenails,
six protein shakes,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 9th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
nine broken iPods,
eight texting drivers,
seven blackened toenails,
six protein shakes,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 10th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
ten early wake-ups,
nine broken iPods,
eight texting drivers,
seven blackened toenails,
six protein shakes,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 11th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
eleven weather forecasts,
ten early wake-ups,
nine broken iPods,
eight texting drivers,
seven blackened toenails,
six protein shakes,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.

On the 12th day of taper,
my true love gave to me,
twelve race expos,
eleven weather forecasts,
ten early wake-ups,
nine broken iPods,
eight texting drivers,
seven blackened toenails,
six protein shakes,
five Hammer Gels,
four pangs of self-doubt,
three chafing shirts,
two ibuprofen,
and a pain in my foot and IT.