This past week, I ran in the 39th Marine Corps Marathon. It wasn’t my 39th…..(only my 3rd)….but it was the first marathon I ran since a motorcycle accident in 2004 fractured my spine. At the time, I didn’t know if I would walk again….in fact, that was the last thing I remember the doctor saying before I went under for surgery. When I woke up, I spent the next six weeks learning to stand and walk all over again.
It took a few months to get cleared to go back to work, and a full year before I was released from treatment. I spent the next year learning to get back to ‘normal’, which also included getting back into cycling, since the doctor had suggested that I stick to non-impact activities when I could. I did what I could, and enjoyed riding, but between a sedentary job and dealing with post-exercise soreness, I kind of fell out of the exercise routine, and in 2012, found myself weighing over 250 lbs.
I decided at that point I was tired of being tired….and that I was going to do things differently. I changed my eating habits, found ways to track my eating and activity…..and after a couple months, decided that I wanted to try to run again. Now, at this point, I hadn’t actually ran since 2004. After the accident recovery, I asked the doctor if I could run, and he said, ‘If somebody is chasing you.’ I decided that I would at least pretend someone was SLOWLY chasing me, and I ran (more like shuffled) all of 60 yards. I didn’t want to tempt fate, so that’s all I did for the first week. On my daily walks, I’d jog the distance between two light poles.
Over time, I built up my distance, making sure that I gave enough time for rest and recovery. The hardest part wasn’t running – it was getting off the couch and in motion. Once I got out the door, it was easier to keep going than it was to go back inside…..so I made it a point to, no matter what, just to get moving.
With 2014 being the 10 year marker for my accident (and 20 years since my last marathon), I decided to take on the Marine Corps Marathon. I qualified by running the Marine Corps 17.75K run in April (about 11 really hilly miles), and put together a training program to build up to the full distance. The speed runs and cross training were pretty straightforward….and the long runs? Well, they were….long.
Each week, I’d do a longer and longer run on Saturdays. I was good up until I got over 15 miles….and found I was running out of gas, so I made sure I was drinking and re-fueling during the runs. Eating while running isn’t easy, but there are all sorts of products that, while not exactly real food….they’ll give you enough energy to keep running. That allowed me to move up to 18, then 20…and peaking at a longest run of 22 miles. Before my long runs, I’d put beach towels on the recliner, and put my iPad and TV remote on the table….because that’s where I’d be for the next two hours.
When race day finally arrived, I got down to the Pentagon, and waited for the start – we got to see Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter skydive in to the start of the race, surrounded by other skydivers carrying the American flag. We also got to see a number of V-22 Ospreys fly over, right before the cannon fired, signaling the start of the race.
For the first 10K, I ran faster than I had expected, and felt really good. At the 17 mile mark, I was starting to have a bit of stomach trouble….and by mile 19, I had slowed significantly. Despite drinking at every water stop, I was feeling dehydrated, which I attributed to the warmer-than-expected afternoon. There were no clouds in the sky, making the pavement a bit warmer, too. By mile 21, I had to slow to a walk. I was dry-mouthed and a bit shaky…..and more than once, I thought about just sitting down and calling it a day.
I slogged through the next 4 miles, and at mile 25, I picked back up to a slow jog. I knew that if I just kept going, it would be over soon. Not long after that, I could see the turn going up the hill towards the Marine Corps War Memorial. Once I turned, I just kept chugging away, hearing the crowd cheer and the Marines giving encouragement to everyone staggering towards the finish. I crossed the line, and couldn’t quite believe that it was over. As I walked towards the bag pick-up and on towards the Metro to ride home, I heard….”DADDY!”. My daughter Lauren had been following my progress on Facebook, and arrived at the finish just in time to meet up with me. Despite feeling pretty shaky, it really made my day a lot brighter. I ran a lot slower than expected for the last 10 miles….but I finished. I was disappointed in the time……..but I only had to think back a bit to realize….
Ten years ago, I didn’t know if I would walk again.
Two years ago, I weighed 250 lbs.
20 months ago, I jogged 60 yards.
Last Sunday, I ran a marathon.
What’s next? I’m still working on that one – one of the important things to do in goal setting is to choose the next challenge. I’ve already started mapping out next year, and will work on a better balance between endurance, strength and flexibility (running by itself doesn’t help the latter two). The other thing I learned is that it’s important to have fun – and the most important thing is to…
Get out the door. After that, the rest is easy.