Having read and thoroughly enjoyed reading blogs by other runners (most notably by my friend Lucas Hardbarger), I decided that since the 2009 Columbus Marathon was my first race (at least of my professional career ;-) that I would also do my first blog about this race. As you can imagine, the beginning of the story about a marathon (especially a FIRST marathon) begins many months before the actual day of the race. However, in order to spare the boring details, I will start with the day before this race.
My friend Luc was planning to spend the night at my place the night before the race (b/c he lives about an hour away, and the race starts promptly at 7:30am). He arrived around 5:30, and we proceeded to have a nice spaghetti and garlic bread dinner - carbo-loading the night before the race. Then, Luc managed to concoct a story about meeting an "old friend" at BW3s around 7:15. He invited me along, and I reluctantly accepted. I had been planning to take it VERy easy Saturday night - this being my first marathon, and me not being sure what to expect. So, we arrived at BW3s, and it turns out that Luc had been collaborating with my brother Carl to put together a small surprise party for me - in celebration of my first marathon. It was very cool to see 4 of my nieces/nephews, an old buddy from NY whom I had not seen in almost 12 years, and another friend named Jeff Moore and celebrate. Of course, I had yet to run the marathon, so we were really just celebrating all of the "preparation" I had done for this race so far. Luc and I each had one beer, and much to my surprise, Luc was able to put down a whole veggie burger - I was still stuffed from the pasta dinner!
Now, on to the actual race day:
I had set my alarm for 6:00 am. This would give us time to get up and get ready, head to McDonalds for a quick breakfast, and make it down to the starting line a little early. We knew there would be a ton of people down there, so we wanted to get there early just to be safe (Luc had apparently had a bad experience of getting there right as the race started last year). I awoke calmly enough. I looked over and noticed that my clock said 6:26! OH CRAP! In one motion, I jumped out of bed. Then I remembered that my clock is 13 minutes fast. I totally calmed down for about 3 seconds, then I realized that this STILL meant it was 6:13! Oh Crap! Luc was sleeping in the spare bedroom downstairs, so I went over to the basement steps and yelled down to him. Fortunately, he was already up, and was actually just about ready. So I quickly put on my shoes, shorts, "bib number", and gathered my GU gels for the race. We were off to McDonalds for our McGriddles, then to the starting line.
Despite my scare with the alarm, we actually made it in plenty of time. As we walked to the starting line, there were a ton of people, all doing the same. I was shocked to see a LOT of people actually jogging down the street towards the starting line. I kept thinking - "don't these people know that we are about to run 26.2 miles? Why in the WORLD are they RUNNING to get to the starting line?!" (keep in mind we were still 25-30 minutes early at this point! No need to rush!) Luc and I got to High street, and found a spot to wait for the start. It was a crazy experience - we are standing in the middle of the street, surrounded by (literally) thousands of other runners. It was a pretty cold and windy morning, so being packed in so closely in the street was actually nice - it stopped the wind, and helped us keep warm. But it made it very hard to do any stretching or warming up. No worries - once the starting gun went off, it still took us 8 minutes to even cross the starting line - and besides, we were going to be taking it very easy. We had plenty of miles of running in which to warm up our muscles!
Again - this being my first marathon, I had no idea what to expect. So I started out VERY easy - wanting to make sure my legs warmed up, and that I didn't get caught up in the adrenaline, and start out too fast. I was amazed at how many people started taking off clothes (sweathshirts, hats, gloves) as soon as the race started. I had never seen this before, though apparently it happens at most races. Clothes were literally flying everywhere - for several minutes before AND after the race started. We seriously had to watch our steps, so that we didn't trip over sweatshirts, or twist an ankle on a discarded water bottle. These first few miles felt GREAT. It was really cool to run down Broad Street and be able to see thousands of runners in front of (and behind) us - as we climbed the small hill into Bexley. There were also some really cool bands along this stretch. Luc and I kept commenting that we would love to stop and watch some of them.
(Unfortunately) Luc had just shared the Andy Samberg "I threw it on the ground" video with me a few days before this race. ;-) So every time we passed a water station, after we drank the water or gatorade, we would throw the cup on the ground, exclaiming "Man, I ain't gonna be part of your system... I don't need this water cup - I throw it on the GROUND!" Now, I understand that reading this might not seem that funny, but we thought it was HILARIOUS, and we wasted a TON of energy laughing at ourselves. In fact, Luc and I were having so much fun during this part of the race, that these miles flew by. During all of the months of training, until race week, I had run all of my training miles by myself (except for a 4 mile run with my cousin Natalie in July). So actually having other runners around, and someone to talk to as I ran made this seem like a cake walk. Although the first 10 miles took us about an hour and 45 minutes, it seemed much shorter.
This part of the race took us on a loop through German Village, and then back into downtown, where the half-marathoners would split off. During the beginning of this stretch, all of the running had caused my metabolism to speed up. (this is a nice way of saying that I was in dire need of a port-o-jon.) So, as we approached downtown, I told Luc that I really needed to make a quick stop. Since we were already anticipating that this race would take us close to 5 hours, (and since Luc had told me he would stay at my pace) I didn't want to hold us up by stopping. So I told Luc I would run ahead to the next set of Port-o-Potties, and meet up with him. So I pulled away from Luc, and ended up running most of mile 11 by myself. Now, although my longest training run was 18 miles, I had done a LOT of runs in the 12-18 mile range, so this felt great to pick up the pace a little. It also felt good to be passing tons of people. However, as I approached my designated pit-stop area, I began to realize that this 1 miles burst of (slightly) faster running, combined with all of the laughing we had been doing, was probably going to come back to haunt me later. I still had more than 14 miles to run! I made it in and out of the port-o-jon very quickly. Luc was literally passing right by me as I stepped out, so I jumped back in the race, and we proceeded into downtown. I told Luc my thoughts about having sped up for that portion, and he said "I was just thinking the same thing for you, bro..." Uh oh. Shortly after this, we ran past my old neighbors the Crossmans - I didn't know they would be there, but it was cool to have someone who knew me cheer for me. Shortly after this, we passed by Luc's friend Nick and his buddy Brett. I had just met Nick the week before the race, so again, it was cool to have him cheering us on. This stage of the race is also where the half-marathoners split off from the rest of the race. This significantly thinned things out, which was kind of a blessing, but at the same time, sort of a curse. Becuase 2/3rd of the runners had finished at the half, there were far fewer people cheering on the second half of the race.
As I mentioned, my farthest training run had been an 18 miler. So once we crossed the 18 mile marker, every step I took was farther than I had ever gone before. (I felt like Sam as they leave the Shire in the Lord of the Rings:) I was still feeling pretty good, although my feet were beginning to hurt. It was somewhere around the 19 mile marker when I realized how much i was holding Luc back. This stretch was pretty quiet - runners were few and far between. Although Luc and I were still laughing, and joking around, we were definitely starting to be more quiet, and more focused. My feet started hurting more, and there were times where Luc would be 20-30 yard ahead of me. He would notice that I had slipped behind a little, and he would either slow down, or turn around and come back to where I was. I kept telling him that he could go ahead if he wanted to. At one point, I remember even saying "dude, I promise am not trying to get rid of you, but seriously, if you want to go ahead, go for it! I wont be mad at you!" He stayed with me, and I totally appreciated it.
This stretch seemed like the longest part, by far. I was TOTALLY hitting the wall. That run to the bathroom earlier was coming back to haunt me! It seems hard to explain, but my muscles felt okay (although obviously tired) - it was mainly my joints that were starting to take the toll. My feet, knees and back were starting to scream at me (something like "dude, what the %#@* do you think you are doing to us?! STOP!") Again, thanks to Luc's encouragement, I kept going. He told me "don't walk when you WANT to, but only when you HAVE to." I ended up repeating this out loud to Luc later (although I was really talking to myself) and it totally helped. We did end up walking a few different times during this stretch - for a hundred yards or so at a time. (each walking break started to get a little longer than the last) Though, all in all, I would guess that we didn't walk much more than a half mile, total. If it hadn't been for Luc, I am sure that I would have ended up walking more. Also during this stretch, we talked to some of the other runners. Obviously they were all experiencing the same thing we were. This small talk/comraderie gave us all encouragement. Seeing OTHER people enduring through the pain makes it easier to push through. Not to mention the fact that talking took our minds off of the running.
Laura brought the boys down to the race. I had brought my cell phone with me, so I called, and found out where they were. They were stationed right around mile 25. I was really feeling the pain through this part, so the thought of seeing them was what pulled me through to mile 25. Seeing Ben (age 4) and Jude (age 2) was the best part of the race. They were all smiles, and were cheering as we approached. Normally when I see them, I would run up and pick them up and give them hugs - so I had told Laura on the phone to make sure she told them I would not be able to do that today! I was running very slowly at this stage, so I held hands with Ben and Jude, and they ran with me for about 30-40 yards. Although they are too young to understand what was going on, this part totally made the race for me, and after I gave them kisses and said good-bye, we headed for the finish line. After seeing the boys, I felt great. (don't get me wrong, I was still going VERY slowly, but I was finishing strong, and with a smile on my face!) As Luc and I turned onto Nationwide Blvd for the last 150 yards or so of the race, Luc said "okay, Bro... you ready to start running (to the end)?" He meant, was I ready to pick up the pace, and finish faster... I said "sorry bro, but this IS my running... I am not leaving anything on the course today". I did not have any "kick" left to go faster - but it felt SO GREAT to finish this race. My mom, my brother and my nieces and nephews were along the finish (as were Luc's wife Jen, and their 3 daughters). We gave them high-fives as we passed, and then we finished the race together with arms (and heads) raised high. We received our finishers medals, and grabbed some food and drinks before meeting up with our families.
My mom told me later on that my niece Mary (after standing at the finishing area for 45 minutes or so, waiting for me to finish, and watching the other marathoners finish) said, with a very glum look on her face, "You mean, Uncle Daniel didn't WIN the race?!" My mom then explained to her "oh, mary, this isn't that kind of race... everyone who finishes today wins. Everyone is a winner in this race." It was interesting for me, to hear my mother explaining that - but how true. This race, for me, was in no way a competition against other people. This was a competition against myself. A testing of my own resolve, endurance, patience, and perseverance. I thank God that I was able to accomplish this. I am also very grateful to my family for coming out to support me, and to my friend Luc who helped me push through the end. So far, Luc and I have only run together 2 times (for a combined distance of roughly 43.2 miles!) but if he is willing to put up with my company, I am sure we will log hundreds more together in the coming months! In fact, as I am writing this blog (about 9 days after the race described above) we are less than 2 weeks away from our next Marathon - the Bobcat Trail marathon in Burr Oak State Park on Nov 8th!