Monday, April 30, 2012

A Working Vacation...

On April 11th, we were blessed by a special visit from my BFF Jennie. She had a few days off of work and was kind enough to use them to drive 13 hours from DC to come and visit my little family. Oddly enough, we were so busy WORKING while she was here, that we never managed to get ANY pictures of us. In fact, the only pictures we took during the entire week were of my kitchen that we were repainting!

Anyway, it was a fun-filled week and couldn't have come at a better time. Jennie and I had a great time tag teaming with the girls, doing the Insanity workout together, and working on projects, but we mostly just enjoyed each others company! We all love Jennie SOOOO much and are very grateful that she took the time to come and brighten our month. Thank you Jen, you are the BEST friend a girl could ever hope for!

Easter 2012

For Easter this year we tried to keep things low key. The girls woke up to baskets with one toy and a bit of candy in the morning.

I'm pretty sure they were both done with their candy about an hour after they discovered their baskets. The amazing thing was, they never even complained of a tummy ache and they even managed to eat all their food that day!

Then after church, we went over to our friends, the Booths, to have Easter dinner and an Easter egg hunt! Our other friends, the Condies, were also there, but they were feeling a bit camera shy (especially Annalisa, since she was a couple days short of giving birth to TWINS!)

 Everyone tried to chip something in for the meal. I made some cheesy potatoes and Kevin made these AWESOME deviled eggs! (I love my husband!)

After dinner we headed outside for the Easter egg hunt.

Lily thought it was the best thing that ever happened to her! If you look closely, you can see her humongous smile in the reflection on the car.


Brooklyn immediately got in the zone! She is a bit competitive and was quick to dive into the bushes for hidden eggs.

Lily mostly kept to the low bushes...

But Brooklyn made sure to leave no stone unturned... or tree branch for that matter!

Here are all our happy girls with their Easter egg loot. I just love seeing Brooklyn and Lily in their Easter muumuus. Thank you Grandma Uda!

Anyway, we had a wonderful Easter and were so grateful to be able to spend it with such fantastic people. It is a comforting thing to know, that even if we live far from family, we will always have our amazing ward friends to take us in and make us feel at home. Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Marathon Experience in Pictures: Compliments of Kayla Smith

Woke up early to get into downtown... but feeling good.
Waiting for the suffering to begin...
Pace Tattoo
The beautiful photographer and her sidekick.
A beautiful morning for a run
Every day I'm shufflin'
Keepin' it safe, keepin' it real!
The multitudes press on...
Oh yes he did...the whole way!
Nice backdrop.
Great scenery
Lucky to be running in the Spring!
So much to look at!
Waiting for Daddy...
Showing support for our runners!
Patient little girl.
Yes... she is picking her nose... and trying to hide it!
Tickle, Tickle!
Keeping herself entertained
Entering the shoot...feeling the pain!
Who says men can't run in skirts?! FREEEDOM!!!
Running for beard lovers everywhere. Every beard makes a difference!
Snuggle rewards for the finishers!
Ouch! They'll be feeling that tomorrow!
Running 26.2 miles = Complete mental breakdown
Stairs are the enemy! At least for a week post race :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kevin's Washington DC Rock n' Roll Marathon Experience, 17 March 2012

So this is the 4th Marathon that I’ve done in my life now, and to be honest, I would have thought that after doing a small handful of these, they might start to get a little easier and perhaps a little less eventful. Not the case. Every race I’ve done has been memorable and unforgettable.  The DC Marathon was no exception.  I don’t think an event like this could ever become routine or simple for me.

The Cherry Blossoms in DC were partly in bloom during our stay.  I really enjoy the springtime! On a side note, Eric's wife Kayla took this picture as well as most all the pictures from the actual race day.  She's a professional photographer and quite good.  She took some phenomenal pictures of the race... I only wish I could include all of them!

I set a fairly lofty goal for myself… and didn’t even come close to reaching it. 2 ½ years ago, when I ran the Chicago Marathon, I was 206 seconds away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon, so this time my goal was to beat that and qualify.  That meant I had to finish this race in 3:05:00.  My actual Finish time turned out to be 4:07:40. Ouch. You know the quote “If you shoot for the tree tops and fail you land in the mud, but if you shoot for the stars and still fail you land in the treetops”? Well let’s just say I definitely shot for the stars, and somehow still came away covered in mud. But it was a great experience nonetheless. I learned a lot, got to see some friends and family, and got to visit our nation’s capital (in the spring-time no less!).

This whole circus began back in October of 2011, sometime around my birthday actually, when my Sister-in-law Becca called me up and told me she and her husband Taber were thinking of running the DC Marathon and wanted me to do it with them. “There’s still some time… so just think about it, okay!?” she said so innocently.  Well, I’ve come to learn, being married to an Uda girl myself… they can be pretty persuasive at times.  When they say “Just think about it” you can generally translate that to mean “Just sign on the dotted line, okay?!”

Eric and Kayla getting married in Florida... I couldn't make it, but I hounded Family members who were there for text message updates during the entire day.

One of the other major factors that helped me along my decision was the chance to see my cousin Eric and his new wife, Kayla.  Eric’s been one of my best friends for a long time now, and when they got married not too long ago in Florida, I couldn’t go to the wedding, something that just about killed me. So when Becca brought up this race idea, I knew this was the best opportunity I'd get to see them for a long time. Eric's in his final year of being a graduate student at Georgetown, and lives just south of the Pentagon. So, I did end up signing ye ol’ dotted line in the end (of course) and then started getting ready. 

I’ll separate my experience into 3 categories: Training and Preparation, Running the Race, and the Aftermath/Analysis.

1.) Training and Preparation
A journey of 1080 miles begins with a single step…” An ancient Kevin Hanks Proverb

If I were to pick one major victory for me in this marathon it would definitely be my training.  I trained better, harder, more consistently, more focused, and simply MORE for this marathon than I ever have for any single physical event in my life. I actually feel very proud of my efforts… even if they did NOT lead to the race-day performance I had hoped for.  No worries though, there are innumerable benefits that come from a regimented training program and I’m glad I did it.

My “official” training schedule started on November 14, 2011.  Leading up to that point though, I managed to stay fairly active, biking to and from work nearly every day, running 15-20 miles a week, doing the Waqas workout once a week (more on that later) etc.  I did a fair amount of research on training schedules and the best things to do (and not do).  I wrote out my entire 18 week schedule, which was one of the actions that contributed to my training success.  I did all of the major “brain” work early on: thinking what to do, how far to run, what workouts to do on what days etc. thus freeing my brain from having to make those decisions later on.  This work paid huge dividends. If I wake up in the morning, look at my schedule and it says that I’ve decided to run 6 miles that day, then run 6 miles I will.  Contrast that to having no plan, waking up and thinking “boy, what should I do today?!”. When I do THAT I’m much more likely to wimp out and blame my schedule, the weather, my current state of health etc.  By having everything planned out in advance it took the guesswork (and the excuses) away and I did very well.  In fact, there were only 2 days out of 18 weeks that I simply skipped on my workout.  Even that was calculated though: My left knee was hurting and needed some rest… and Naomi and I moved that weekend.  Sometimes pushing through pain will only injure you worse. 

I did take some time about halfway through the 18 weeks of training to review my training goals and take stock of how I was doing.  The biggest change I made to my schedule were my long runs.  After talking it over at great length with both Becca and Taber, I decided to shorten my longer weekend runs and go no longer than 22 miles.  I think this was a wise decision and I'm glad I went back and reviewed my training and my goals. You can see the change in my schedule below.
This is my printed out training schedule that I kept pinned up next to my monitor at my work cubicle. The numbers in printed black are my planned workouts, the ones in blue are what I actually did, and the numbers in green are the comparable miles I did getting ready for the Chicago Marathon, 2 1/2 years ago.  The comparison between consistency now and what I did back then is almost laughable!

A normal training week for me looked something like this:
  • Monday -  Medium Distance run, slower pace (5-8 miles)
  • Tuesday -  Interval Workouts (5 miles. A common workout I did was to warmup for ½ mile, then sprint for 1 mile, then rest/jog for ½ mile, then sprint for 1 mile, then rest/jog for a mile etc.)
  • Wednesday -  Medium Distance run, slower pace (7-10 miles)
  • Thursday -  Strength Training (This was either the “Waqas workout” dubbed “W” on my training sheet, or the “Iron Strength Workout” dubbed “IS”. See below for explanations)
  • Friday -  Tempo run, fast pace (3.5 miles)
  • Saturday -  Long run, slow pace (10-22 miles)
  • Sunday -  Rest
On top of the running that I did, I still biked to-and-from work nearly every day. This was more to save fuel and allow Naomi some transportation than it was for the workout. I will admit there were several times in January when the temperature dipped into single digits that I wished the fuel prices would follow suit. These bike rides were 7.5 miles each way, until we moved at the end of January when my commute shortened to 3.9 miles each way. I heard a lot of people claim that this Chicago Winter was a very mild one. For me, that just meant there was less snow which allowed me to bike more. Too much snow, and there’s nowhere on the streets to ride and it becomes too dangerous for my taste. Anyone commenting that the temperatures were also very mild got an invitation from me to go outside for a bike ride and see if they wanted to amend their statement.
The Waqas Workout: I named it this in honor of my friend, Waqas, who taught it to me. He’s a guy that works out at the gym across the street from my office around the same time as me. He’s a soccer & volleyball player from Abu Dhabi that came over to the US on a soccer scholarship many years back. He’s got a fun routine that he, I, and several other friends get together and do once a week. It focuses on speed, quickness, and agility. It consists of a lot of sprints, and a lot of lateral movements, quick turning, fast side-to-side movements, working “the ladder”, more sprints, a lot of vertical jumping, plyometrics, etc. It generally takes us just over an hour to complete and we’re always wasted by the end. One guy brought a heart rate monitor once and said we burn over 1200 Calories in an hour. The very first time I did it, I couldn’t walk up stairs for 3 days! Our workouts have become well-known at the gym during the last 2 years we’ve done it together, and while anyone is welcome to come with us (we invite anyone that watches us for more than 5 seconds) we generally have 4 of us that come very regularly, and we’ve become pretty good friends.
A bunch of random but awesome friends at the XSport gym across the street from my office.  I've been working out with this crew since January of 2010! We're a diverse group: professional soccer players, an ex MLB player (played for Pittsburg Pirates), a collegiate volleyball player from Cornell, a couple of competition body builders, and several old Joe Shmoes like me... just trying to keep up! Waqas (el jefe) is on the far left.
The Iron Strength Workout: On days when no one was available to do the Waqas workout with me (it’s not something that’s done easily solo) I did this workout I found on the runner’s world website, by running guru Dr. Metzl. It focuses on muscles that runners need, and generally takes about 45 minutes to complete. It involves a lot of lunges, squats, pushups, situps, shoulders, core etc. It’s essentially a tough circuit training exercise. Doing 6 sets of 10 burpees at the end always killed me.

Some fun statistics on my training:
  • I did a total of 93 training runs in those 18 weeks for a total of 644.0 miles
  • I biked a total of 82 times for a total of 435.6 miles
  • Combine those, and in 18 weeks, I pedaled and ran 1080 miles.
  • My most frequent route was around the Sara Lee Corporate Headquarters Building, in Downers Grove, IL very near my own office. It has a 1.35 mile loop around it that I would run to, then around, many times during my lunch breaks. In 18 weeks, I ran around that building a total of 45 times.
  • I listened to 8 audiobooks during my Saturday long runs, not including the Book of Mormon, which I always listened to during the first 30 minutes or so of my long runs, and got through twice. My favorites included “Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly, “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline, and the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Many thanks go to Brian for always having a good recommendation. His suggestions haven’t let me down yet!
  • My longest run was on the 25th of November, when I did 22 miles on the Salt Creek trail, a nice paved trail that goes all the way to Brookfield zoo.
  • My fastest paced run was on the 9th of March, when I ran to and around the Sara Lee Building (a 3.6 mile route) in 22:40 (a 6:18min/mile pace).
  • My coldest run was on the 11th of February, a Saturday. I started at 5:20 AM and ran 19.8 miles. It was a very windy morning and a balmy 9⁰ F. Oddly enough, I got slightly dehydrated in this run as the water bottles I carried with me froze after 30 minutes or so and I couldn’t get a drink!
My three favorite and more memorable training runs would be: 

Our Family “Poor Man’s Turkey Trot” on Thanksgiving day where I pushed Lily and Brooklyn in a stroller and ran with Naomi around a high school track near Detroit MI. Brooklyn got out and ran the last lap around the track, and could not have been happier or more proud of herself. We then gorged ourselves on Kalua Turkey and Sharon’s Crescent Rolls. Mmmm –drool-

Our "Poor Man's Turkey Trot"  Thanksgiving day, 2011. We had a blast!

A 15 miler that followed the Apple Fest Half Marathon course that I did with Taber and Becca (two of the greatest running buddies alive) on Christmas Eve near Nashua, NH. We ran with Santa hats on and got a lot of honks and waves. Also, Naomi ran that half marathon a while back, so when I ran the course I got to see just how hilly and tough it was, and thus, how crazy-buff my wife really is!

Me, Becca, & Taber running through the wild wilderness of New Hampshire. Leading up to Christmas, Taber and I had hoped to spend this day making an igloo in his back yard. New England blessed us with plenty of cold air... but no snow. Who's crazy enough to do a 15 miler on Christmas Eve? Yeah... that would be us.

A 19 Mile long run I did on Jan 21st. It was 14 degrees F outside, I didn’t get to start until about 9:00 PM that night, and I listened to the audiobook “Killing Lincoln” during the run. For some reason, the combination of bitter cold, strong winds, very late night, knee-deep snow, and listening to Bill O'Reilly tell me about the Booth conspiracy and Lincoln assassination is forever imprinted in my memory. Oh, and let’s just say I ate a bit too much fiber that day, so the last 3 miles were a bit, how shall we say, uncomfortable. I’ll never forget Naomi’s face on the couch as I burst into the house at 11:30 PM, and barely managed a “hi!” before tearing/waddling across the living room to the bathroom and making it a space uninhabitable without a hazmat suit. Like I said… forever imprinted in my memory. Luckily I have no picture to accompany this run.

2) Running the Race

Naomi and I made the drive from Chicago to Washington DC on Thursday, March 15th with two toddlers in the car. That in and of itself should be a victory! We pulled into my cousin Jennie’s apartment around 7:00 PM and had a fun night of catching up and letting the girls run around to get their wiggles out. I went on a short and slow 2 mile run that night just to loosen up my legs after being in a car for 13 hours. Eric and Kayla even drove up to Jennie’s to see us late that night, so I finally got to meet her. She’s a total stud, and it didn’t take me long to like her. Eric and I have done some crazy things in our days… but at least we married well.

Becca, Taber and Myself at the entrance to the Marathon Expo at the DC National Guard Armory. I never thought we'd see them that day (the expo is PACKED with people) but we ran into them right at the entrance.

The next day (Friday), after fighting DC traffic, trying to find a place to park, walking the Mall, and visiting the Marathon Expo (where we caught up with Becca and Taber), I went back to Eric and Kayla’s apartment to sleep and get ready for the race in the morning!

The conversation that happened between my mind and body, the morning of the race:
Mind: Dude, get up! We’re gonna run a marathon today!
Body: hmmmm, nah, I don’t think so.
Mind: Well start thinking so! Get out of bed!
Body: Yeah, I’m just not feeling it today.
Mind: Grrrrr, get up! You are going to run that race! It’s marathon day!
Body: It feels more like a sit at home and watch movies and eat M&Ms day to me.
Mind: We’ve trained for this! You’ve run over 600 miles getting ready for today.
Body: Don’t fight it! Give in… call an audible and take a chill pill.
Mind: No dang it! You are going to get up and line up at that start line.
Body: Is that so?!
Mind: Yes! I’m in charge here, and I say we’re going to qualify for Boston today!
Body: That’s nice. You go ahead and line us up at the starting line. We’ll see who’s boss at mile 20.
Eric and I goofing off in the morning before the race started.

On race day, Kayla woke up with us and drove us to the DC armory, where the race started. Eric and I got there with plenty of time to spare… but still managed to have to wait 15 minutes in a line to use a porta-potty! We lined up in our corrals, and before I knew it the gun went off and we were moving!

Miles 1-6 The beginnings.

“Where’s the blonde hair and green shirt?” 

The "Elites" at the front of the pack take off first, followed by corrals of progressively slower runners.  I was in corral #2 because of my projected (goal) finish time. 

The first ¼ of the race was relatively uneventful. It was a gorgeous run as we ran west past the capital building and down past the Smithsonian and the Lincoln memorial. I went for my usual tactic at the beginning of the race: find someone running close to my pace and stick to them like glue. It took me a good 2 miles of running and dodging elbows before I found someone running at my desired pace. That person turned out to be a random girl with blonde hair and a green shirt (it looked like a university cross-country-team shirt, so I figured that would be a good person to pace off!). I ran probably 15-feet behind her and I remember when I would lose her in a big crowd or going around a corner, I would say to myself “where’d the blonde hair and green shirt go?... catch it!” I ended up pacing off her until around mile 8 when I finally passed her going up a hill, and subsequently lost her for good. I felt pretty good for the first 6 miles and thought I was doing well. In retrospect though, I ignored many signs that told me otherwise. I was running slower than my goal pace and was pushing to maintain it. But at this point I still thought I was going to be fine and that I would somehow make up the lost minute or so I had gobbled up with my slower pace. If I’m completely honest with myself, by the time I had hit about mile 5, a part of me knew my body was not doing well and I wouldn’t hit my goal… but I was in denial and wasn’t listening to that, still pushing on.

Miles 6-14 Denial

“If you’re running a marathon and you feel pretty good… don’t worry, you’ll get over it.”

Kayla snapped this just after we left the start line. You can see my elbows are out just a little bit... I always tend to run like that in the first 200 yds or so to maintain a little personal space amidst the surging crowd.

I think it was right at mile 7 going up and down the hills of Dupont Circle when I felt my first twinge of serious pain and thought that I just may not make my goal time. There was a serious battle going on in my head though, mostly my brain denying that I felt pain and telling me I could keep going. And I did keep going, maintaining a pretty good pace, despite the growing pain. This pain, at first, was a twinge in my right quadricep muscle, that ended up spreading to both legs. The only way I can describe the pain is that it felt like getting stabbed with a knife every time I came down on, and put weight on, that leg, flexing the quadriceps. Again, in retrospect I should have known I was in serious trouble, but I was in denial about the pain. In the few moments when I admitted to myself that I felt pain, I mostly just got mad. I remember thinking: “What the?! I’m only at mile 8 and my muscles are cramping?! Are you kidding me?! I’ve done 20+ mile training runs without this type of pain and without any problems. I was consistently running 45+ miles per week! I trained for this! And now I’ve got a new kind of pain that’s slowing me down?! Give me a break.” I was ticked. But the denial would set in, and I just kept going. I crossed the ½ point around 1:35:00… a very decent time, but still too slow to reach my goal. If at mile 7 I thought I may not hit my goal time… at the ½ point I knew I wasn’t going to hit my goal time. I was in pain, and it was getting worse.

Miles 14-25 My own “via dolorosa”

“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.” – Jerome Drayton 

Brooklyn standing by a tree near Union Station. They arrived at this spot (essentially the half-way point of the race) mere moments after I passed, so I didn't get to see them. Brooklyn and Lily were troopers that day, and enjoyed cheering runners and picking flowers all morning long.

It was at mile marker 14 when I had to stop for the first time at a water stop. It was just after I had seen Kayla, and as I later found out, just barely missed Naomi, Jennie and my girls. I walked through the water stop, gulping water and Gatorade and then set off again. I made it, wincing the entire way, until about mile 17 when the pain was so bad I was forced to stop again. My muscles were going into complete failure mode. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to experience muscle failure like that. The pain is severe, no doubt about that… but that’s not the worst part. The worst part is having your muscles simply not respond to a command. It’s different than being tired, sore, or just worn out. With the right training, conditioning and mental state, you can push through just being tired or worn out. You can “be tough, and suck it up”, if you will. When your muscles fail like mine did though, they simply seize up, stop working and refuse to move. There’s just nothing you can do about it. I was incredibly frustrated and it destroyed my self-confidence at that stage.

The day started out around 48-50 deg F, but quickly climbed into the upper 70s. Combine that with high humidity from rain the day before, and scenes like this one were common.  People were ditching warm clothes left and right.  I actually purchased a cheap $5 throw-away long sleeve tshirt for just this purpose, but luckily (for the shirt, that is) it was warm enough at the start that I didn't need to wear it while I waited at the start line.

When I had to stop, I would walk while rubbing down and massaging my quads, trying to coax some life back into them. I would pick a point up ahead, like a tree or a fire hydrant, and say “okay, starting there I’m going to try again.” Then I would start running again. The shooting pain was immediate though, and it wasn’t long before the muscles rebelled to a point that they seized up, refusing to move. I would stop and walk, stretching a bit and massaging some life back into the legs, then I would pick a point and try again. This went on for the next 8 miles. It was a long 8 miles.

It was at a particularly excruciating point just after mile 21 when I received a gift in the form of a warning. We were on the path that follows the Anacostia River to the West when I passed a guy (this in and of itself didn’t happen often for me at this stage) who was obviously in serious trouble. I stopped and walked with him, forcing his arm around me to steady him. He was dehydrated: severely. His eyes were rolling back into his head, his tongue was swollen, he couldn’t even talk or tell me his name, he was staggering around like he was drunk. It was not pretty. I could see up ahead that if we could make it another ¼ mile or so, then cut across some grass I could get him to a water stop and call for some help. In retrospect I should have made him stop right there, but at the time I just wanted to help him to the water stop and didn’t realize how serious his condition was. There was no shade anywhere close by so I helped him as best I could to move a little bit at a time. It was tough moving: he was giving me almost all of his weight, so every time I stepped and forced those poor quadriceps to flex and take our combined weight, they screamed in protest. I finally waved down a girl that was passing us and told her he needed some serious help, and asked her to run up to the water station and tell someone to send an ambulance back for him. I then laid him down on the grass and shielded his face from the sun with my body and took off my bandana to fan his face. To my surprise, the girl that I had asked to help came running back with a cup of water/Gatorade in each hand. I remember being really impressed that she didn’t just tell someone and then keep going. She told someone, then came back to help me. I was glad for the help. She helped me keep his head up (this is when I discovered that my biceps were also seizing and refusing to work) and coax some water onto his swollen tongue while we waited for a medical team. In a few minutes, a guy came peelin’ rubber with an ATV. We helped him lift the guy (who now seemed barely conscious) onto the trailer, strapped him down, and waved goodbye.

Volunteers who manned the water stations are quite literally saving angels! They do an incredible amount of work in both set-up and clean-up.  Their efforts did not go unappreciated by me this day!

The reason I considered this experience beneficial to me, is that I finally realized how hot it was (it had climbed up into the upper 70s by this point) and that I was in danger of getting dehydrated, too. I’ll admit that my motivation was to not let that same thing happen to me. I ran through a self-check, going through the signs of dehydration. Was I thirsty? Duh… yeah, I was parched. Already a bad sign. My tongue was dry and sticking to the roof of my mouth. Was I fatigued and weak? Again, duh… yes. Was I having chills? Actually yes, a few times I would shiver and be confused and wonder why I felt a chill. Was I nauseated and dizzy? I tried walking in a straight line and putting my hand in front of my face then back again to test my focus and found that luckily no, I wasn’t dizzy or nauseated yet. Was I still sweating? I took off my bandana, and felt my hair. Uh oh… the bandana and my hair were both bone dry. So I took stock and realized that I was going to be in serious trouble if I didn’t do something different. I stopped trying to run and ended up walking the entire next 1 ½ miles to the next water stop. That’s a hard decision to make in a race, and without the realization that I could really hurt myself, I may not have done so. Truth be told, the idea of Naomi having to come pick me up from a medical tent or the hospital filled me with terror… I’d never hear the end of it!

It's very common for runners to stop and "walk through" a water station.  When I'm trying to hit a time goal, I generally jog on through drinking my water as I run, but today I joined the walkers at every water stop (and then some) in the back half of the race.

So you remember the water stop I was trying to get that sick guy to?! Well it turns out that while I could see it up ahead, it wasn’t actually ¼ mile away. I could see it from the path we were on, but the course went past that water stop, then circled back on a different road before reaching it. It was a cruel way to set it up, and I wasn’t happy. When I finally did reach the water stop, I downed (no joke) 8 full cups of water, dumped another 2 on my head, then went to the Gatorade table and downed another 4-5 cups. I grabbed another full cup of water in each hand, and kept walking. I waited until I could feel myself start to sweat again, then I downed the other 2 cups of water and started up my run/wince/walk routine again. The pain was pretty intense at this point, but I knew that there were only two ways it was going to end: By getting myself to that finish line, or getting a ride in an ambulance.

Another noteworthy incident happened around mile 23 while I was running/walking through a residential neighborhood in Anacostia. I was in a particularly foul mood because of my pain and perceived failure when this really old guy sitting on his stoop yelled at me. He was missing his front teeth, had a beer in his hand, and I remember he looked filthy. He yelled something along the lines of “You didn’t join this race to walk did you, wimp?! Hehehe”. His laughing sounded more like a cackle, and brought to mind the Wicked Witch of the West. I honestly don’t actually remember what I yelled back at him, but I’m certain that it was not: “Yes Sir, thank you. Have a nice day.” In retrospect, knowing what I do about Anacostia (it’s a rough neighborhood), it’s probably not wise for a skinny little white boy like myself fatigued beyond fatigued to go shooting his mouth off to the residents. Oh well, such was my state of mind.

Miles 25-26.18 On the wings of eagles

“The fastest way to get to the finish line is to run there.” -unknown

The final 1.2 miles I did something I seriously didn’t think was possible: I ran the entire way in. It was extremely painful and taxing (at mile 26.15 I found out exactly how taxing), but I did it. “How” you might ask, “did you get your legs to work for that last mile?” Two words: Becca and Taber.

Right at mile 25, under a bridge just before crossing back over the Anacostia river and to RFK stadium where the finish line was located, Becca and Taber caught up to me. I knew that Becca’s goal was to finish in under 4 hours. I looked at my watch, and knowing they started about 10 minutes after I did… I knew they were going to make it. I can’t describe what seeing them did for me. After 9 miles of screaming pain, seizing muscles, and walking more than running, it was amazing to see two people I knew cruising along at a constant pace, doing obviously much better than I was. It had an amazing effect on me and I hung on to Becca’s coat-tails and let her pull me in.

The first thing that Becca said to me with a super-excited face was: “How did it go?!”. Four words that were very simple, yet one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. It meant a lot to me at that time, knowing how I must have looked and with my frustrated mental state, it was amazing to me that Becca’s first thought upon seeing me again was not that I had failed, but that I had succeeded. She thought I had finished long ago and come back to cheer them on! I felt very grateful at that moment that this was her first thought.

 I did, of course, have to explain to her that not only had I not finished yet (insert tuba: “bwaa, bwaaaaah”) but that it would take a miracle to get me the rest of the way! She simply said “Well come on then! Let’s finish this!” and off we went. She was cruising along at a sub 9 min/mile pace, which at the time felt like sprinting to me. We shouted encouragement to each other as we pushed through that last mile. I was incredibly happy for, and proud of her. I was able to run Grandma’s Marathon with her 2 ½ years ago in Duluth, Minnesota (her first marathon) and so I had a front row seat to see how much she had improved. At the time, she made it look effortless and easy compared to how I felt. It was amazing, and both she and Taber are studs!

None of that, however, took away the pain in my legs and the volume at which they were screaming at me. As we came up to the stadium we had to go uphill as we rounded it. This is also where I finally got to see Naomi. I knew where she was long before I ever saw her: I’ve never heard anyone yell so loud! She started trotting along next to me yelling at me to keep going, that I was almost there, and to finish strong! At that point I blocked everything out and just listened to her voice yelling strength into my legs as I pushed up that final hill. It wasn’t long though before we came to the final chute and she was forced to get off the road. I entered the chute and could see the finish line up ahead after a final right turn. I felt like I was sprinting and was amazed that my legs were allowing me to do this. They had the last laugh though. Right at that final right turn, literally 100 feet from the finish line: they completely gave out.

Miles 26.18-26.2 Such a cruel joke.

I think it was the final mile running with Becca, combined with the sprinting that Naomi had me do that finally convinced my legs that they were done. My right leg shot out at a weird angle and completely stiffened while my left leg shortly followed suit. I stopped dead in my tracks. Here I am, 100 feet from the finish line, scores of people screaming and shouting and I couldn’t have moved if someone were to hold a gun to my head. This was the worst that my legs had seized up the entire race. Both my quadriceps and my hamstrings had seized and cramped at the same time, making both my legs straight as boards. My shins and calves had followed as well, so that I could not so much as move my feet or bend my ankles.

Jennie actually snapped this shot about 300-400 yds from the finish line.  I like this picture because you can actually see the muscles in my legs, arms, and shoulders literally seizing up.  Every motion made by the human body is controlled but a set of skeletal muscles that move that part of the body back and forth... like your quads and your hamstrings.  Every muscle in my leg was seizing (contracting) at the same time essentially pulling my leg in two different directions at once.  This is extremely painful, and prohibitive to efficient movement.

I had one of those surreal moments when time seems to slow down as I stood there, within a stone’s throw of the finish line, completely unable to move. My eyes never left the banner that hung over the end and said “Finish”. I took a few tentative steps, but again was halted by my legs’ inability to bend about their joints. And, wow I’ll never forget the pain! And of course, the whole time I’m standing there the huge crowd assembled at the finish line is going crazy and cheering me (and everyone else of course) on to the end. A few people had singled me out and were yelling directly at me and cheering me on. But then the main announcer guy on the PA system called attention to me, and I felt 1000 pairs of eyes looking right at me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, as I was experiencing a little auditory exclusion, but he said something and pointed me out, and the crowd just exploded. I remember being slightly annoyed at that guy and thinking “Grrr, stop looking at me! Don’t call attention to me! Look at someone else!” I didn’t exactly look like the dudes on the cover of Runner’s World at that moment in time, and I knew no one was cheering for me because I looked good or was an inspiring sight.

Eric went through much the same struggles as me with dehydration, muscle cramps and seizing as me... but could you ever tell looking at this picture (taken about 1/4 mile from the finish)!? No! He always makes it look easy... punk!

That’s the funny thing about cheering crowds though… as annoying as they can be, the sound can sure motivate you. After what seemed like an eternity of literally pounding my fists into my quads trying to get them to loosen, I slowly swung one arm behind me, then the other and started moving. As soon as I did the crowd got even louder than before (I didn’t think they could get louder), and I finally got myself to the finish line.

3.) Aftermath/Analysis

“The trouble with being a good sport is that you have to lose to prove it” –Croft Pentz 

Eric wasn’t far behind me, and crossed the finish line looking like he always does: stoic and care-free! We found Becca, Taber, Naomi, Jennie, and the girls and were soon resting and eating/drinking as much yogurt, gummie bears, Water, Gatorade, Chocolate Milk and Jelly Beans as we could get our hands on. Or, maybe that was just me.

The victors enjoying some down time at the end.  I let Brooklyn wear my medal for the rest of the day and told her to take extra special care of it for me.  Other than almost losing it on the subway on her way home, she treasured that thing!

We said our goodbyes to Becca and Taber (Who DID beat their goal of breaking 4 hours… and were definitely the real winners of the day!) and Kayla drove Eric and I back to their apartment. Naomi and Jennie took the kidlets home to Jennie’s so they could nap. Once back at Eric’s I managed to take a cold shower, eat some real food (what?! Gummie bears don’t count?) then somehow all three of us fell asleep watching “Burn Notice”. Later that Night, Jennie treated us all to some CafĂ© Rio, and the next morning, Naomi and I packed up the car and started the 13 hour drive back home! That was a difficult drive.
Me, Taber, Becca and Eric... Happy to have completed that beast! You can tell who actually hit their goal by who's got the most gigantic smile of all of us!  On a side note, just 3 weeks after running this race, Becca and Taber performed in a musical put on by our Church in Boston, called "Savior of the World".  Becca had one of the main parts and played Mary. Taber, I believe, was a shepherd, hence the full beard. Those two completed all their marathon training whilst simultaneously practicing insane amounts of time for this huge production. Like I said: studs.

Obviously, having failed as miserably as I did when compared with my goal, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I did wrong, and what I can do better next time. I was able to talk through a lot of my mistakes with Naomi, and get some good advice from Becca and Taber, and my running-guru sister-in-law, Natalie. This is what I’ve come up with:

Drink More Water:

I think dehydration was the single biggest problem that I had going into the race. It wasn’t just during the race… it was the days and even week leading up to the race. I was dehydrated from the get-go, and really didn’t stand a chance when I lined up at the start. Two days before the race I spent the entire day in a car, and when I travel I tend not to drink as much water. Who wants to stop every 30 minutes to pee during a 900 mile road trip?! The day before the race, we spent a big chunk of time walking around DC seeing the sites. It was a chilly day, so I didn’t even think about carrying water around with me. But all that walking and being out-and-about drained me and dehydrated me even more. Then on the morning of the race, I was so excited and nervous I think I only drank one, maybe two small cups of water. It simply wasn’t on my mind as much as it should have been. During the race I made sure to drink something at every water stop, but by that point it was too little too late.

Also, though this is out of my control, I believe the weather had a lot to do with my dehydration and problems. I’ve trained pretty thoroughly, but it was all during a Chicago winter. My runs were generally done with a skull cap, full jacket and gloves on. I’m very, very good at running in the cold. In fact, I prefer it. My body simply wasn’t ready for a sunny 78 deg day with 80% humidity.

In the future, I’ll be sure to be extra aware for the entire week before the race and drink drink drink! If I have to drive a significant distance again, I’ll bite the bullet and pull over every 30 minutes if I have to. I’ll drink a full glass of water with every meal, etc.

Eat more carbohydrates:

I did very well with my diet during training, but again I think the 3-4 days leading up to the race I shot myself in the foot. Eating well is hard enough while stuck in a car for 13 hours. Car-food is not good race-food. Eric and I did eat some potatoes the day before the race, but again, I think it was too little, too late. My standard breakfast is a protein shake: some greek yogurt, frozen strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, some chia seeds, protein powder, powdered milk, and a spoonful of peanut butter. I’ve been eating this as my breakfast staple for months and months now. Seriously, one of my life-long dreams is to own my own berry farm so I don’t have to add a point to Dole’s stock price every time I need to fill up on frozen fruit. Anyway, I figured since this is what I’ve been eating practically every day, on race day, why change it?! In retrospect this was not a good idea; too much protein and fiber and not enough carbohydrates. I’ve already amended my breakfasts to include some oatmeal, and on my next race, oatmeal will be my pre-race food. Also, in the future, I’ll focus more during the week on getting some good healthy carbohydrates in: potatoes, rice, spaghetti and oatmeal.

Make better goals:

For my next race I’m going to have two goals: one main goal, and a backup goal. My main goal will be to qualify for Boston (3:05:00) and my backup goal will be to finish the race. During this race, once I realized I wasn’t going to hit my goal time, I started bumping my goal back 5 minutes: “well, maybe I can finish it in 3:10” then later “maybe in 3:15” then still later “maybe by 3:20”etc. This went on, ticking 5 minutes off again and again, then watching each goal slip away as I got slower and slower. I can’t quite describe how demoralizing that was, as it felt like I was failing over and over again. This was a poor strategy, and it killed me mentally. Next time I’m going to set my main goal to finish by a certain time, and if for some reason I can’t quite get that goal, I’ll forget about the clock completely and just try to finish and enjoy myself.

Any suggestions?

This is an open invitation to anyone reading this to offer a suggestion on what I could do differently to perform better next time. When it comes to athletics and sports, I know that one of my weaknesses is being “book smart” about what I’m doing. I’ve been active and athletic my whole life, so a lot of times when I tackle a challenge like this I simply tackle it and rely on my stubbornness and tenacity to carry me through. This doesn’t always work (obviously). I really admire people like Becca, Taber, and Natalie who have really studied out their race-day strategies well. They’ve read scores of books (way more than me at least) and blogs about how to train, set goals, hydrate, and perform. This is the kind of knowledge that I’m lacking. If anyone can suggest something I haven’t thought of, I’d greatly appreciate it. I promise there is a certain subject that you are way more familiar with than I am, and I could benefit from your insights.

Feels good to know that no matter how cruddy I think I did, and how far off my goal I was ... Brooklyn thought I was the winner of the whole race and never ceased telling me so! What a sweet girl.

So, that’s my Washington DC Marathon story. Sorry it was so long. I guess it takes a marathon blog post to talk about a marathon! It was quite the experience and I’m glad I did it. I think my brother Brian summed it up the best when he found out I hadn’t hit my goal. He told me: “Well, a bummer to be sure but on the plus side you got some time off work, you got to run through a bunch of monuments, you got to see cool cousins, other people watched your kids for a while, and you get cart blanche to eat whatever you want for a week. Plus, knowing you, you’ll be so ticked next time you’ll finish under 3 hours…”

He’s right! I was ticked, and yes… I’ve already signed up for my next marathon. Bring it!