Columbus Marathon race report

Before I talk about my race, let me just say that the Columbus Marathon does an amazing job with this race. I’ve run bigger marathons, smaller marathons, destination marathons and even a Canadian marathon, but I’ve never run a better marathon than Columbus. Excellent pre-race communications, a nice expo, well organized corrals, fast, fun, interesting course and outstanding crowd support the whole way. If you haven’t run it, put it on your list, they do a first class job all around.

2013 Columbus Marathon

2013 Columbus Marathon

I went into this race with the goal of running a Boston qualifying time (3:25:00), but that didn’t happen today (3:39:26). Still, as we got into our car after the race, I told my wife, “This wasn’t my fastest race, but it is the one I am most proud of. In all of my marathons, I have never had to call on more grit and determination than I did today.”

The truth of the matter is that I just fell apart physically. The marathon will find any physical weaknesses and shove them the hell in your face. While laughing maniacally. And although I did everything in my power to remain positive in the lead-up to Columbus, I knew it would have to be a miraculous day for me to run a BQ. While still dealing with left hip issues caused by a spine problem, I found out late this summer that I also have a hernia that needs to be repaired. Maybe either one of those issues on its own would have been manageable, but asking the marathon to turn a blind eye to both is foolhardy.  I knew going in that I wasn’t as strong or as fit as I was when I ran Glass City last spring, but I wanted to try anyway.

The day started off great: no troubles at all getting to my corral.  While it was pretty chilly (mid 30s) during the wait, the time passed quickly and soon enough, the gun went off.  My wife, her mom, and our two sons came to the race to cheer me on, and I got to see them for the first time just after mile 2.  My wife told me the entire first two miles had thrown-away clothes strewn along the road as the runners shed the warm gear they needed for the corrals.  The miles ticked on through 6 and I did a decent job keeping the pace right where it should be:  8:04, 7:48, 7:31, 7:44, 7:36, 7:36.  I saw my crew again at mile 7, and still, nothing but smiles.  And, I was still feeling good the next time I heard them cheer, at 14.  Miles 7-13:  7:45, 7:42, 7:34, 7:44, 7:59, 8:07, 7:47.

Mile 20

Mile 20

I held onto BQ pace up through mile 19 (7:46, 7:46, 7:50, 7:57, 7:50, 7:51), just after running through Ohio State’s football stadium, known locally as the Horseshoe. After climbing a sharp incline as you exit the stadium, I started to get intense pains in my left hip. Very reminiscent of Houston earlier this year. After a while, it seemed to loosen up briefly, so I made an effort to catch back up to the 3:25 pace group. As the pain in my left hip started to come back, I started to try to compensate with my right leg, which promptly brought the pain train to the area where the hernia is (right groin, TMI).  Now I was one big compensatory mess.  As I continued on and watched the 3:25 pace group fade into the distance, the pain in my hip made its way to my hamstring, then eventually my knee.  I ended up having to stop a few times to try to get my left leg working again, but there was nothing to do but slow down.  The final 6 miles were nothing but gritting my teeth and trying to maintain some semblance of a pace.  But the pain never abated.  By the time I met up with everyone in the family reunion area, I had to have help just to stay standing.

So, while I won’t be heading to Boston as soon as I’d like, I know I can keep my head up about this race.  I earned every inch.  And that’s why it’s the race I’m most proud of.

The surgery to repair the hernia is already scheduled for the end of this month, so I will be forced to take some time away from running, which is for the best.  Even getting off that hip for a little bit may help.  I know that by the time Thanksgiving comes around, I will be back to hitting the roads again, doing what I love to do.  And for that, I am grateful, and very happy.

White socks, white shoes and the early bird special

Clearly, it’s been a while since I’ve written.  I have to admit, though, that I’m a bit shocked to see that it’s been since the beginning of May, and here it is midway through August.

In that last post, I excitedly reported that I was cleared to get back to running, as much or as little as I wanted.  I remember the huge feeling of relief that I would not be in any kind of catastrophic danger if I decided to get back out on the roads doing what I love to do.  I’m still thankful for that freedom.

Even with the go-ahead from the doctor, my summer did not go as planned.  My plan was to target a late summer marathon with the hopes of running a Boston-qualifying time so that I could line up in Hopkinton next April.  However, each time I tried to do any type of work at speeds faster than my 10K pace, my hip and/or hamstring would just sear with pain.  So the summer proceeded with multiple fits and starts until I just knew a summer marathon was not in the cards.  As July rolled around, I slowly built my milage back up to a solid base so that I could begin working in earnest toward the Columbus Marathon in October.  After finally being smart enough to take it slow for a while, I’m back to being able to do speed workouts without doubling over in pain.  Admittedly, I still feel hip soreness the day after hard, fast workouts, but it’s definitely manageable, and I am starting to see real progress in my fitness and pace.

I’ve been training with Jason Fitzgerald from StrengthRunning.com and have been loving it.  Highly recommended.

This just hasn’t been my year, medically.  After spending the first part of the year trying to figure out what was up with my hip, then finally discovering a long-undetected spine issue, the summer hasn’t been a whole lot better (though far less serious).  About a year ago, I finally grew tired of a spot of dermatofibroma on my chest that had been there for many years.  After starting to run in 2009, the area grew more and more irritated from repeated running shirt friction, so I decided to have it removed.  One very minor surgery later, it was gone.  However, this summer, it grew back.  It was a combination of scar tissue from the first one, along with regrowth of the fibroma, but it was getting more and more irritated, so back to the surgeon I went.  Again, a very minor surgery, but just a bit of a nuisance when all I wanted to do was get back to running consistently.   About a week after that surgery, I was out running again and got a quick, sharp pain in my … umhhh … lower abdomen.  Strange pains abound when you run a lot, so I thought nothing of it.  A few days later, while at work, I got up to leave my office for a meeting, and it was like I had been hit by lightning.   Not so good.  And then the swelling started. Hello again, doctor.  Damn it:  inguinal hernia.  Yep, I am falling apart and starting to get maladies of the far more aged than me.  The good news is that, once again, as long as I can put up with the pain, I can put off doing anything about this until after the marathon.

So, I’ve decided to quit running, buy some white pants, white shoes, move to Boca and start hitting the early bird special.

Early Bird Special

The Early Bird Special Awaits

Relief

All systems go

Relief

A little over a year ago, when I finished the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, I remember going through a bunch of emotions. Pride for having accomplished what I set out to do: run a sub 3:30 marathon, joy for having my family there with me, exhaustion from the effort, and yes, relief for being done.

Today I’m going through a bunch of emotions as well, but for a very different reason.  Today Michelle and I visited with a top neurosurgeon to get his input on what I should or shouldn’t do about my recently discovered spine problem.  After hearing different advice from different doctors along the way, it felt wonderful to finally feel like I was getting clear direction.

The conversation started with agreement with the previous doctors regarding both the diagnosis (spondylolisthesis) and the cause (pars defects from micro fractures when I was but a lad).

He disagreed with the orthopedic spine doctor who said that if I did have the surgery that I’d never run again. His clinic has as many patients who go back to running and are fine as they do patients who end up needing to come back for additional surgeries. Basically, every year after the surgery, if you stay active, the percentages go up by 4-5% that additional surgery will be needed. The recommendation to avoid surgery for now was partly based on not wanting to get that particular clock ticking.

We asked if I’d be putting myself at higher risk for something catastrophic to happen if I continue running (even running hard) and he said absolutely not. There’s nothing in the literature or in his experience that indicates that at all. He said I’m basically just going to slowly get worse, whether I run or not.  Running hard may exacerbate the pain, but it won’t lead to paralysis or anything else horrible.

Eventually I’m going to need to get this fused, but doing it now before it affects my everyday life would be a mistake. They have no way of predicting when I’ll get to that point, but he said it could be as many as twenty years or as few as a couple.

His suggestion was that we revisit this once a year to see how things are going. Since I had both an X-ray and an MRI, they now have a baseline and will be able to see if things are changing and we can decide what, if anything, we’re going to do.

In the mean time, as long as I can live with the pain, I don’t have any restrictions on what I’m allowed to do. So I’ve decided to take up BASE jumping and on weekends I’ll be wrestling in the WWF.

Kane_Backbreaker

Actually, after talking with Michele about it, I’ve decided to pick up where I left off and work toward a Boston qualification time.  I don’t know yet whether I’ll still aim at trying to get in to the 2014 race or not, but I’m not going to give up on the dream of running Boston.  If I get to the peak of training and the pain becomes unbearable, I’ll simply back off and accept what I can do.

So today’s emotions are:

  • Relief:  I can continue running and continue to pursue the Boston dream.
  • Excitement and fear:  I get to go back to training, which is great, but I’m a little afraid I’ve lost a step or two.
  • Gratitude: that I have a wife who sticks by me through all of the ups and downs of this life-long saga.

Bombings at the Boston Marathon

Big changes in just a few hours.

I love the Boston Marathon.  Since I started running a few years ago, I’ve watched the race every year as some of the most inspiring athletes in the world take on the course from Hopkinton to Boston.  This year was no different. Monday morning was spent watching the elites take the course, then closely followed by hammering away at my refresh button while I virtually “watched” a number of friends run the course.

And another.

Right after I saw a couple of my fastest friends finish up, I had to leave the office for a few hours to head to a meeting.  When I returned to the office late Monday afternoon, a colleague immediately asked if I’d heard.

“Did I hear what?”

“There’s been a bombing at the finish line of the marathon.”

My day immediately turned from looking up finish times to finding out if my friends and their families were all spared.  Thankfully, no one I know was injured in the blasts, despite a few friends being very close.  At the same time, I started getting phone calls, tweets and Facebook posts from friends and family concerned that I might have been there.  Even a tiny bit of humor mixed in with concern came from brother-in-law.

“I am glad you are too slow for the Boston Marathon!”

The aftermath of these bombings confirmed exactly what I’ve always thought about terrorists.

Terrorists, whether we’re talking about Al-Qaeda or Timothy McVey, fundamentally misunderstand concepts most human beings get intuitively.

A symbol is not the same thing as the concept it represents.

If you melt down a wedding ring, it does not mean the marriage is over.  If you burn a bible, faith and religion carry on. If you bomb a government building, the government survives.  Even if you drive a plane into a symbol of freedom and capitalism, liberty and financial freedom live on.

Setting bombs off at the worldwide symbol of endurance, perseverance and the height of athletic competition will not stop runners.  It will not stop the families of runners from supporting them through months of training.  It will not stop a young boy from greeting his mom or dad after a race with “I’m so proud of you.”

You, who attack symbols, will never win.  Endurance will not stop.  Wanting something greater for yourself will not stop. Hard work will not stop.  Not now, not ever.  

Boston Marathon

If, after a lot of hard work, I get the chance to run Boston, I will be there in a heartbeat.

At long last, a solid week

It’s been a while since I’ve had a decent, solid week of running.  Since the Houston Marathon in January, I’ve been spending too much time searching around for medical advice, then getting differing views on whether or not I should be running.  It’s really taken a toll on my early spring.  I’ve got one more opinion to get (a neurosurgeon on May 7), then I can really get a plan in place, so until then, I’ll take the 26 miles I’ve run this week and put them in the bank.

Since I’m supposed to keep my pace down, I’ve decided to use the time to focus on my running form a bit more.  At the moment, I’m working on two things:

  1. Getting my cadence up
  2. Keeping my shoulders and neck nice and relaxed

I plan to put in some hard work on core strength as well.  Hopefully the investments I’m putting in now while I can’t run with intensity will pay off down the road if I can get back to serious training.

Some tentative good news

After getting a downright depressing course of action from the orthopaedic doctor I had been seeing for my hip, I was referred to the spine specialist in the same sports medicine practice.  And there, I got some tentatively good news.

The orthopaedic spine guy agreed with his colleague’s diagnosis, but not with the ‘what to do.’  For the record, here’s the formal diagnosis in all of its hypermedical detail. This time I took notes:

Grade I-II spondylolisthesis at L5/S1

Bilateral foraminal stenosis at L4/L5

Bilateral severe foraminal stenosis at L5/S1

They believe the damage was caused by chronic pars defects which probably happened in my teen years.  This is pretty typical for athletes who participate in activities that require repeated, quick extension of the back.  Think of a defensive lineman in football who, as soon as the ball is snapped, immediately stands up.  Or better yet, think of a kid of who loved to play baseball and from the time he was eight years old until he graduated high school played 95% of his innings as a catcher.  That was me:  Stand up.  Crouch.  Stand up.  Crouch.  Rinse and repeat several bajillion times.

The tentative good news is that the spine specialist’s advice was to avoid surgery for the time being and that I could keep running, except slow down — the pain only really comes on strong when I run at higher paces.  He told me that if I have surgery now, it’ll guarantee that I’ll never run again.  And even if I don’t run, but I do stay active, I’ll just be back for additional surgeries later.  Fusing the disks will stabilize that area, but any force put on the back would just be transferred to the disks above and then they’d begin to deteriorate.  Also, he said that surgery today for someone at my fitness level would actually result in a tougher recovery than the average bear since much of the recovery involves repairing the muscle they’d need to cut to do the surgery.  When asked if surgery would be riskier sometime down the line (if necessary), and he said no, not in my case.  His explanation was that the typical increase in risk as people age is usually due to people’s poor health unrelated to the surgery, like obesity, high blood pressure, smoking …  none of which I have, thankfully.  My wife asked him if I’m putting myself at risk for anything catastrophic by continuing to run and he assured us that I am not.

So, for time being, I’m getting back to running a bit while I wait to get a second opinion from a neurosurgeon.  That should happen sometime in the next couple of weeks.  While I do hope that I get the same advice, I want to make sure I have all of the best thinking before I start training in earnest.

In the meant time I’m keeping the pace nice and leisurely.

I cheated on my doctor

Please don’t tell him, but after being told not to run at my last orthopedic appointment, I just couldn’t follow the advice.  I held out for a while, but when we went on vacation for a week, I just couldn’t not run.  I left Cincinnati on a grey, dreary, snowy morning and landed in the brilliant sunshine of The Bahamas.  How can I not run in that?  I did keep them short, and I also kept them very, very slow. I know I may have to face the possibility of stopping altogether, but until that is the final word on my running future, I know I am a better me when I do get to run, and I didn’t want to be a bad me while on vacation.  I head to the spine surgeon on Wednesday to get more insight as to what’s next.  Until, then, a few runs from Paradise (Island).

The Sounds of Silence

“No more running.” – Orthopedic Doctor

“For how long?” – Me

“No. More. Running.” - Orthopedic Doctor

Silence.  Shock.  After that he went on the give me the medical term for what you see below at my L5/S1 disk.  I have no recollection what he said, because I couldn’t get past those three words.

MRI of my lumbar spine

MRI of my lumbar spine

If you’ve read this blog recently, you know that I had been struggling with some hip/glute pain since last fall.  It all came to a head in the Houston Marathon in January.  So after I got back from Houston, I decided to get the hip healed up before I set off on my next training cycle.  But I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, so I decided to head to the sports medicine doctor and find out.  After an X-ray that didn’t show any particular issue, he decided it was very likely ITB syndrome and sent me home with anti-inflammatories and told me to take it easy on running.  The pain subsided after about two weeks, so I started to run again, but as soon as I got to any decent pace, the pain returned.  I decided to get some chiropractic attention too, and with that got a different diagnosis:  gluteus minimus.   With the pain continuing, I decided to stop running altogether and get my aerobic fix by cycling until I could run again.  After a few weeks of this and no difference in the pain, I decided to head back to the orthopedic guy and push for an MRI.  I know I’m not the most patient guy around, but I also hate not knowing what the real cause is.

After fighting to get them to prescribe the MRI (they wanted to do an ultrasound), I finally got it scheduled on March 9.  Three days later I was back to the doctor to see what they found.

“I’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news is that your hip looks great!  No problem there at all.  However, in this MRI we see a small bit of your lower spine and that L5/S1 disk doesn’t look right.  It should be white like this other one, but it’s all dark.  Because we weren’t aiming specifically at your spine, we need to get you back in to get a lumbar spine MRI.  The nerves from that area of your spine head right down into the hip area, so it’s not surprising at all that you’d feel the pain there.  If that disk is damaged it could be impinging the nerve.”

OK, no real worry yet, but I don’t like the sounds of this.  I was lucky to get the spine MRI scheduled for the next day, March 13, so there I was, trying to lie still once again.  It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic.

On March 18th, I saw the doctor again.  If you look at the picture above, you can follow along.

“If you look at L3, you can see what the spine and disk should look like. Smooth lines all around, everything lining up with one another, consistent coloration.

If you look at L4, you can see the beginnings of deterioration. Not too bad yet, but heading in the wrong direction.

If you look at L5/S1, you can see where the problem is. The padding in between is almost completely gone, and in a few places you’re already bone on bone.  Even where there is still cartilage, it’s pretty damaged. Also, you can notice that the spine bones on top and bottom are no longer in alignment. The one on the bottom (S1) is actually impinging on the column upward. That area is no longer stable because it’s out of alignment and the cartilage in not holding it in place.  That instability is a real issue.”

I need to see a spine surgeon to what can be done.  He said they may suggest getting the bones fused to help stabilize the area, but it’s not certain.  But then he repeated that I should be prepared to hear no more running.  Ever.

I still haven’t come to terms with this news.  Honestly, I’ve been struggling with it since that day.  I’ve gotten to a point where running is not just something I do, but it’s part of who I am.  And I like that.  I want that.  I’m not ready to give it up, so I’m going to push and push until someone gives me an answer that doesn’t include stopping completely.

The story is not over yet by a long shot.  But after brooding about it for a couple weeks, I had to get it out.  It is as much a part of the running journey as any race result is, so it deserves a post.

Last night, I laughed at a funny note a friend of mine sent me and my wife said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile in weeks.”

Worrying in silence doesn’t help anyone, including me.  It’s time to move on.

Onward.

Houston Marathon 2013 race report

After a very up and down training cycle, I ran a 3:32:46 in Houston on Sunday, and I’m pretty happy about it. It was not the time I was hoping for (a 3:25:00 in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon), but it felt like everything I could give on that day, and that’s all I can ask for at any race: my best effort.

By the time I toed the line for the race on Sunday, I was already a bit nicked up. My left hip had been been bothering me for about 7 weeks, and while I had never been in enough pain to stop on any individual training run, I did feel it every time I laced up. After a while I started to have some hamstring pain too, but I’m pretty certain that was just caused by stride change die to the pain in my hip. It often felt like it was just on the verge of locking up, but I’d throttle it back so that I didn’t end up on the side of the road clutching my leg. Even with the hip pain, I was still hitting my paces on tempo and speed/strength intervals, so I wasn’t sure what to expect on raceday. In the end, I settled on a plan that had me “going for it” and to see what happens. My plan was to run the first half at a 7:48 min/mile pace, then drop it down to 7:40 or so for the second half.

The weather on Sunday just didn’t cooperate like all of us hoped it would. The course is a pretty flat and fast, so many people went in hoping for a PR, a BQ, or for some of the elites, a world record. Unfortunately, temps in the low 40s with periods of rain and sleet coupled with strong winds, mostly from the north, made it a tough go at times. While we were standing in the corrals waiting for the race the start, the rain started coming down in sheets, just soaking everyone.

Eventually, the gun (cannon) did go off and the race got underway. Just after we got underway, we ran up an overpass that had absolutely nothing to block the wind and rain and boy, did we ever get it with both. The rain really started to come down hard just as strong gusts threatened to push everyone sideways. Thankfully, once that downpour stopped, there were only a few periods of light rain for the rest of the race. I wish the same had been true for the wind, but no such luck.

Somewhere between miles 5 and 7, I got to see my family for the first time, which was a great pick me up. I ran over to the side to get high fives from Michelle, Sam and Matthew and then kept plugging along. The half marathons turn around happened at mile 9, so between 7 and 9 I got to watch the elite half runners go flying by me. It always amazes me to see just how fast those men and ladies can go (and sustain). The other fun thing was watching an 8 year old girl go running by me with a full marathon bib on. She was so tiny it was like her feet never touched the ground. She really had the crowds going crazy cheering for her.

As I neared the halfway point, I was realized I was right on track: 1:41:47 or a 7:46 average pace. And so far, I didn’t feel like I was laboring to hold that. So far, so good, but I also knew the miles between the halfway point and 18 were mostly heading north and that would be into the wind. Time to get to work.

I can’t say that I remember much about those next 5 miles. I remember starting to feel the work get harder after dropping the pace a bit and heading into the wind, but as I glanced at my Garmin every now and again, my confidence was building that I could reach my goal. I remained on pace by getting to the 30K mark (18.6 miles) at 2:24:47, still at a 7:46 pace. Just after that point I saw Michelle and my boys again. I actually teared up a bit as I gave her the thumbs up, meaning I was still feeling strong. A huge difference compared to the tears I shed in Las Vegas when I had to give her a thumbs down and tell her I couldn’t go on.

Mid race.

Mid race.

As I passed the 20 mile mark, I tried to hold back the excitement of thinking I was going to do it, I was going to BQ. I knew there was still a lot of work left to do, so I’d better not start celebrating yet. As I glanced down at my watch when it beeped at 20.5, I saw that I’d run an 4:01 half mile split, and that is exactly what I didn’t want. Lack of focus will slow me down. I used this to get myself back in the right frame of mind and back to the pace I needed.

And then, the wheels came off. Somewhere between miles 22 and 23 my left leg, the one that had been bugging me for a while, just seized up tight. As it happened I tried to fight off the shock of going from “I’m going to do it!” to “Uh oh, I hope I finish.” I was able to get going again, but each time I tried to will myself to get back to pace, my left leg would lock up again. And as I’d get back moving, I’d have to settle for an even slower pace before it would stop me. By the time I made it to the last mile, I was barely shuffling along at an 11:00 pace. I knew my BQ was not to be. I crossed the line in 3:32:46.

Crossing the finish line.

Crossing the finish line.

 

After Houston

After the race with my sons. I’m pretty sure they’re holding me up at this point.

 

While I expected to be pretty down about my result, in the end I just couldn’t be. A three and half hour marathon is not exactly lighting the world on fire, but it’s also not that pokey either. It’s a solid marathon time. After training for CIM in December, switching to Las Vegas the the day before, getting sick in the middle of that race, then re-starting training to get to Houston, all with a wonky hip, I just knew I wasn’t there with my best stuff. The day after the marathon I read that only about 16,500 runners finished out of 30,000 had started due to the poor weather. I can’t blame the weather for my result; I just didn’t have it that day.

The other fun thing from the weekend was getting to run with my whole family. On Saturday, Michelle, Sam, Matthew and I all ran the ABB 5K. Going into the race, neither Matthew nor Sam trained at all. Not a lick. Nada. Nothing. And, unlike the weather on Sunday’s marathon, it was in the mid 70s and 100% humidity on Saturday. However, Matthew decided that he wanted to run a 30 minute 5K, so I said I’d run with him. Sam just wanted to finish without having to walk at all, so my wife ran with him. At the end of the first mile, I told Matthew that he’d run a 12:00 mile, so the 30 min goal was out of reach, and he should come up with a new goal, so he decided to try to run the rest of the race without walking. About half way through mile two, Matthew started to get a side stitch and ended up having to walk a bit. So I told him to come up with a new goal and he found one: beat his older brother at all costs. Sam and Michelle plugged along with a walk break now and again (Sam-induced, not Michelle). Matthew ended up taking multiple walk breaks too. But, as we turned the final corner and could see the finish line about 1/10 of a mile ahead, I told Matthew to spend whatever he had left in the tank and he took off like a shot! I couldn’t catch up to him. He had people in the finishing chute cheering for him.

Matthew booking it down the finishing chute.

Matthew booking it down the finishing chute.

Sam and Michelle after the race

Sam and Michelle after the race.

The whole family after the race.

The whole family after the race.

Pretty cool. Final times:

Matthew: 35:54
Sean: 36:01
Sam: 40:19
Michelle: 40:19

The Pictures in My Head: A Marathon Report

So last week did not go as planned.  Nope.  There isn’t a single bit that matched the pictures in my head about how it would go.  Let’s review what script said:

  1. Head to Sacramento, get CIM bib.
  2. Lineup Sunday morning ready to run the best race of my life.
  3. Cross the finish line in less than 3 hours, 25 minutes.
  4. Bask in the glory of having qualified for Boston on my first attempt.

You have to admit, it was a hell of a script.  Unfortunately, none of it came true.

By midweek last week, the weather forecast for Sacramento began to deteriorate day by day.  By the time Thursday rolled around, the forecast for race day was a 100% chance of rain, flooding and high winds (30-40 MPH).  I happened to be in Washington, D.C. that day on a business trip, but I did manage to get a email out to my coach to ask for advice about what to do.  Not surprisingly, he said that trying to run CIM for a specific time was going to be tough in conditions like that, so I made the decision to look elsewhere.  After my flight home was delayed by 5 hours that day, I finally got home just before midnight to talk to my wife about everything.  We had a bunch of travel plans that were to begin Friday morning, so we had to make a decision quickly.  After looking at possibilities for marathons that same weekend and the next two after that, I settled on trying to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon that very weekend.

Friday morning came early and there was a lot of work to do.  The first order of business was to see if it would even be possible to gain entry into the marathon.  The online registration had closed a week ago, and the website said registration would be possible at the Expo, if available.  That would be fine if I were local to Las Vegas, but I certainly didn’t want to fly out to Vegas only to find it was closed.  I exchanged emails with the race director who told me that registration would, indeed, still be open, so that started the rest of the planning in motion.  My wife started to make the calls to cancel all of the Sacramento and San Francisco travel plans.  Flights, hotels, rental cars, the works.  Meanwhile, I started making calls to set up the travel plans for Las Vegas.  After a couple of hours of phone calls, everything new was in place and all of the old plans were cancelled.  We hustled up to Columbus to catch our long flight to Vegas, my third flight in just over 24 hours.

I spent a good deal of that flight trying to change the picture I had in my head for this race.  For more than six months, that attempt was personified by CIM.  It’s all I thought about and planned for.  My iTunes running playlist for training was called “CIM2012.”  When I had to order a new iPod Shuffle when the old one died, I had them engrave CIM2012 onto the new one.  Every email reminder about the race for six months was from the Sacramento Running Association, the organizers of CIM.  My wife and I had planned out points along the CIM course where I’d see her, complete with printed maps.  When I visualized crossing the finish line, I pictured that line in Sacramento.  It was a lot to let go of, and honestly, I don’t do well with last minute change.

Waking up Saturday morning in Las Vegas helped to solidify the fact that I was not going to be running CIM.  Craps tables, slot machines, and scale replicas of various major cities will do that for you.  I went for a shakeout run and my legs felt great.  Well rested and ready to go.  With that out of the way, my wife and I went over to the Expo to get registered.  The whole process went very smoothly.  Five minutes after entering the Expo, I had a bib.

My bib for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon

 

After grabbing some much needed lunch, Michelle went out to do some Christmas shopping while I went back to the hotel room to obsess relax.  Not much more to report for Saturday.  A spaghetti dinner for carb loading and then to sleep for the night.

One interesting nuance to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon is that it’s run in the evening rather than first thing in the morning like most races.  Their Twitter hashtag was #stripatnight, since the race begins and ends on the Las Vegas strip and because it doesn’t start until 3:30 PM, the second half of the race is in darkness.  The usual Sunday morning of a race day would be spent quickly getting dressed and to the start corrals, but this one was going to be different.  Even moreso than I suspected.

I woke up Sunday morning not feeling particularly well.  Not horrible, but not great.  It was my stomach that was upset, so I spent the first part of Sunday making frequent trips to the bathroom. How can I put this delicately?  Everything just kept flowing right through me. At first I thought that I was just more nervous than usual, but after half a dozen potty trips, I knew it wasn’t nerves. I tried to keep as positive as possible but I had begun to think this whole trip was just not meant to be.  Every time that thought crept into my head, I’d fight it off and just tell myself to simply get to the start line and everything else would take care of itself.  I had trained for this opportunity for six months.

I got to the corrals plenty early and got all stretched out and even had time for a brief jog to warmup. This is when I knew I was in trouble. After just a brief warmup run, I had cramps in my abdomen. Again, trying to remain positive, I figured a marathon’s a long way, so who knows, I may end up feeling better later in the day. I’ve felt terrible at the beginning of training runs plenty of times only to feel fine once I got going, so I found the 3:25 pace group and waited for the gun to go off.  My plan was to run with the 3:25 pace group up until the halfway point, then pick my pace up just a bit for the second half of the race.

Not even a mile into the race, I could have told you there was no way this would end well. After months of hard work and training to get to the place where a 7:48 pace felt comfortable, on this day it felt like a 10K pace. But I’m pretty stubborn, so I kept telling myself to hang in there and maybe, just maybe I’d feel better later. I did manage to stick with the pace group through about 8 miles, but then everything came crashing down. I was hit with a wave of nausea and quickly stopped by the side of the road to vomit.  This repeated itself two more times over the next 4+ miles. After each time I vomited, my body would start to cramp more and more. Fighting dehydration in the windy desert air is tough enough, but after throwing up multiple times it was impossible to avoid.  The cramping started in my abdomen and shoulders then made its way to my legs. After a while, the cramping brought me to a complete stop. I had made it to about the halfway point and I had planned to see my wife at mile 16, so I just kept going, hoping to make it to her. I ended up seeing her a bit early, just after the 14 mile mark and told her through bitter tears that I couldn’t go on.

She got me to a nearby medical tent while my body continued to cramp in different muscle groups in waves. I tried to keep some salted Gatorade in me but not much stayed down initially. Along with 3 other runners (and my wife), they sent us to the main medical tent back at the start/finish in an ambulance. The EMT tried to get an IV in my arm three different times along the way but only succeeded in poking fun holes in my arms and never found a vein. With the heat on in the vehicle, the EMT jabbing me repeatedly, and the stops and starts of the driver, a brand new wave of nausea hit me. Once finally back at the medical tent, the doc gave me some Zofran for the nausea. After that settled me down, I was able to get some Gatorade to stay down and that helped stop the cramping.

 

The disappointment was nearly overwhelming at first.  My poor wife had to deal with me not wanting to talk about it at all at first, and after that, I began to question everything.  Why hadn’t I just punted on racing that weekend altogether?  Why did I refuse to pay attention to my physical symptoms and line up to run anyway?  Was it too much for my ego to handle, or was it competitiveness?  Was I too worried about how it would look, or was I trying to finish what I started?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t have good answers to these questions.  What I do know is that it’s now in the past and there’s nothing I can do to change it.  I hope that I’ve learned from the experience and can make better decisions in the future.  I also hope I’ll get better at dealing with change.  One positive thing that came of it is that I didn’t run a full marathon on Sunday, which means I may be able to run another sometime soon and give that BQ another shot.  I know for sure I am not going to give up on my goal.  That’s the one part of the script that still lives in my head, and will one day make it into real life.