They don’t call it the best marathon in the world for nothing , and this year was no exception. The weather was near perfect and the spectators and volunteers outdid themselves.
The moment I entered athletes village and the disabled athletes staging area early Monday morning, my worries and stress about the race just melted away. I felt so privileged just to be part of all this for a 3rd time. This year there were only 12 of us in the mobility impaired division. It’s kinda like an exclusive club where the members get together once a year to show the world what they have accomplished.
Here’s some various scenes I captured before and during the first few miles of the race. I think they speak for themselves..
Strategy— Because I feared I would have problems with my left foot if I tried to racewalk the course, I decided at the last minute to keep my pace up by doing a combination of regular fast walking mixed with some very slow jogging. I would the walk the hills and jog the downhills and sometimes the flat areas. I tried my best to walk on the inside corners of the all curves, but sometimes it was difficult because of all the people on the course. The farthest I was able to jog at any one time (because of my breathing), was about 50 yards. For the most part the strategy was working and I was able to maintain a pretty constant 14:30-15:00 pace for most of the first 20kms. By mile 15 though, the jogging intervals were making me way too short of breath and I had to cut back. By mile 18 I was getting so short of breath, I couldn’t jog at all. I was using my inhaler and neb machine way too much, and my leg muscles were starting to cramp. I thought it best at that point to stick to plain old walking (on Heartbreak hill, even the runners were walking so I didn’t feel that bad). So anyways, I’m tooling along at a much slower pace now just trying to survive the hills (which never seem to end), when I figured I better hit the next pit stop, as my stomach was getting a little iffy. That’s when every thing changed!
The Curse —As I’m stepping out the porta potty at mile 21, I take about 3 steps forward back onto the course, when all of a sudden my left knee decides to totally give out. I mean boom… it just went limp and buckled. As I’m trying to keep myself upright, my “good” leg then decides to lock up on me. I then somehow manage to simultaneously slip on a paper cup and fly face first toward the pavement. I was able to brake the fall with my fingers and forearm, but as I hit the ground and rolled onto my back, both of my legs cramped up and I couldn’t move. (We’re talking full calve and quadriceps cramps…) There’s blood everywhere and my lower body is spasming…what a spectacle. Thankfully, some very cool, but slightly inebriated college students came to my rescue and helped me work the cramps out and made sure I was OK. By then however, the damage was done. I knew the moment I tried to stand up and put weight on my left leg, that my hopes for setting a new a PR went down the toilet. After limping a few yards on it, I was having serious doubts as to whether Id be able to finish the race at all. I was so devastated I just wanted to cry. Why did this have to happen? At that point I was experiencing so many emotions, my brain kinda shut down. I went into survival mode and decided that PR or not, there was no way I was going to quit after making it 21 miles.
The last 5 Miles —Every mile seemed like an eternity. The pain was so excruciating that I was actually moaning and grunting, but I knew that if I stopped, even for a moment, that my body would totally cramp up and that would be it. Frustrated as well, I think I was starting to make Jon ( my spotter) nervous. Here I am limping, blood dripping down my leg, I’m breathing really hard and we still have several miles to go, yet he totally gets how important it is for me to at least finish the race and he continues to encourage me. Heck, even the police, which were everywhere and could obviously see me limping and grimacing in pain, were acknowledging by their facial expressions that it was OK and not to give up …they cheered me on as well. Had this been any other race, I probably would have forced off the course. Anyway, as it turns out, I had made such good time during the previous 20 miles, that even with the injury and the subsequent slow down, I still managed to finish 12 minutes faster than last year.
Lessons learned–I put everything I had into this race and was on track for a 6:45 finish. Then wham…to have this happen just 5 miles from the finish was really disappointing. I guess I could blame it on having the worst luck in the world, but in reality what happened at mile 21 was just a freak accident made worse by some poor judgement on my part. You see, while bolusing with prednisone prior to a race can sometimes keep a post race asthma flare from escalating out of control, it can also cause some wicked muscle cramps. Add to that a group of muscles that are already over-worked from 6 hours of constant pounding, and you have a marathon disaster just waiting to happen. The bottom line, is that I didn’t stretch or hydrate enough, and most importantly, I didn’t do ANY speed training. You can’t train at a slow pace and then expect to race at a fast one. If you wanna be a fast walker, you have to train as a fast walker. But of course, therein lies the catch 22. In order to do any physical activity fast you have to have good lungs. There’s got to be a happy middle in there somewhere.
Final thoughts –My hard luck story isn’t really unique. There were a lot of injuries that day and a lot of suffering going on ( you should have seen all the people who were limping through the airport when I left, it was almost comical.) Race officials later told me that they had never seen so many leg, knee and calve injuries. Weird huh?
Anyways, 72 hours later and different perspective, I’m now feeling a lot less sorry for myself or my race results. I may have lost 20 or 30 minutes with my little acrobatic stunt, but the fact that I was able to continue on despite my breathing, despite some significant injuries and despite some excruciating pain, proves once again ,that while I might be the slowest person on the course, I still am one tough cookie. My spotter Jon who works with lots of professional athletes, made these remarks…..he said “Steve, if it were easy, everybody with severe lung disease would do it. You are truly one of the great athletes that raced on Monday!” I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Thank you Jon for tolerating me for 7 hours ( his neck was so sore from being on that bike all day) and Thank you to all my cheer-leading buddies for supporting me though my 8th marathon.
Speaking of race photos, almost forgot….A fellow Dave Alumnus and marathoner whom I had never met, heard that I was in the race and snapped this finish photo of me as I limped across the finish pad ( and later collapsed). Thanks Mary Ann!
(The rest of my race photos are so disturbing, I’m not even gonna buy them this year)
[Post Script] After being evaluated back home, turns out I tore a ligament near my knee and pulled 2 of the quad muscles in my left leg.Walking 5 miles with this injury probably didn’t help matters. They’ll have a better idea of the damage after they do an MRI , but hopefully I’ll be good as new in a few weeks and won’t need surgery.