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Learn : Marathon Story  

Running Background:

I consider myself an intermediate runner and I primarily run because it's fun and challenging. Prior to being convinced by a friend that I should try to run a marathon, I had never even considered it. I had run a 10K and an 8K race previously, and I had run for the physical fitness test in the Army. Basically, I've always enjoyed running, but I just thought that any distance over 6 miles was for gifted and elite persons. In 2003, I decided to register to run in the Twin Cities Marathon.

Training:

I trained for 8 months averaging 22 miles per week. I followed a training book based upon a marathon class in the curriculum of the University of Northern Iowa. It is an interesting book as it covers physical and mental aspects of training. It provides the miles to run each week and mental exercises to assist with the run.

My training was interesting; at a certain point I was running more in a day than I had in previous weeks. It was no big deal to run 6, 7, or 8 miles before going to work in the morning, even before breakfast. The long runs on the weekends were real eye-openers, a person really finds out what the human body can do. It is amazing how the body can cope with more and more miles each week. It is also amazing how the body reacts to heat and humidity; it makes me slow down and sweat a lot, not just a little, a lot. Gatorade was not optional; I bought an enormous can of Gatorade powder and started drinking the stuff all the time. I would stash bottles of the stuff in the bushes so that I had what I wanted when I got there.

At first there were no medical problems. Oh sure I was a bit sore at times. There were days when I had big blisters. I started wearing old-lady-ankle-high nylons under my regular socks to cut the chafing. I would routinely swab and lance my blisters to drain the fluid. My nipples got sore from the constant slapping of my sweaty t-shirt against my chest; I put small bits of medical tape on them to stop this. Basically I was healthy as ever, losing weight and feeling bulletproof.

Then, there were the 18 mile training runs. My knees really hurt, the speed of the runs greatly decreased. I went to the sports medicine specialist, take ibuprofen in these large amounts, consider modifying your training, ride a bicycle, walk some during your runs. Some change, still in pain, but not as much. I went to my family doctor, he didnít know, I got Celebrex and a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. Not much change, still some pain.

At this point I did an easy five mile run one morning before breakfast. I ran to the local college (one mile) and had decided to run three miles around the track then return home. Good route, nice soft surface at the track. It was going great. At about the two mile mark in the run a bunch of guys in sweat-suits start showing up at the track. They are my age (40's), not too trim but somewhat athletic. They stay out of my way, I'm happy. At some point they all line up, someone yells go and they start running. Two guys pass me, the rest are at my mercy. After two or three laps I blast past one guy, he is bent over, holding his legs and looking like he's going to barf. I pass another guy, he's breathing hard, cardiac arrest must be around the corner. Another, another, I am cruising along, not too fast, but passing these guys, I am king of the world!

I pull up with a guy doing a respectable job, not too fast but not near death. "What is this? A fitness test?"

His response, "yes."

"Army, Navy, National Guard?"

"Police department."

Someone starts to yell out times. "Ten minutes." "Ten fifteen." "Ten twenty." They had gone one or one and a half miles! I passed most of them! I am wonderful! [I found out later that there is only one police unit in the city that has a training run, the S.W.A.T. team.]

The orthopedic doctor had a colleague following him that day, I got a great examination. Two doctors prodding my knees, bending my legs, investigating my range of motion. The observing doctor at one point was poking my knees in a rather delicate and inept manner. The Ortho Dr. stopped him and said, "This guy's a runner, he's tough, you have to squeeze harder and continually ask him if it hurts." Victory was mine, a neutral third party called me a runner, and a tough guy at the same time; a compliment and good medical treatment for a $20 dollar co-pay. The doctor diagnosed a torn or otherwise damaged something-or-other in my knee. Prescription, a shot of cortisone. I took the shot in as manly a manner as I could muster, not very.

The injection was wonderful. I followed his directions and went for a run. I was once again bulletproof. I cruised through four easy, wonderful, fluid miles. I mused upon ways to get a wonderful injection every day I went running. I understood why people became junkies, it felt great.

Two days later I ran eight miles and the knee hurt again. I called the ortho doctor back. Diagnosis, maybe you have stress fractures in the bones near my knees, go get a bone scan. Diagnosis, no stress fractures.

I wish I had lifted more weights while training to strengthen my knees and alleviate the pain.

Race Day:

The race was better than expected. The morning of the marathon I eat some simple food, get my hot water bottle warmed up, shower, shave, and dress for the event. My wife drops me off. Suddenly I am among thousands of slim, fit people. We are stretching, drinking water, putting on knee braces, trying to look cool, but nervous as a whore in church. We move to the starting line. I sing the national anthem.

The gun goes off. A few moments later I am at the starting line. I am running through downtown Minneapolis. Policemen have blocked every intersection so that I can run through their city. Busses wait for me, cars are stopped for me. I am running. At about .75 mile there is a pipe and drum band, playing for me. A bit later may knees begin to hurt, a lot. At 1.75 miles a man is standing on the street corner blasting random notes on a sousaphone, he is awesome. [It turns out that this is Alan Page, former purple people eater for the Minnesota Vikings and currently associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Mr. Page plays only once a year, and knows one song and he plays it for the marathoners.]

At 2 miles there is a park lined with trees, male runners are shoulder-to-shoulder relieving themselves on the trees, only females and I are running. At 2.5 miles volunteers have PowerAde and water for me. They serve me. I throw my cups on the ground, I am a runner, someone else will pick it up.

At mile 3 a lady is yelling, "Youíre almost there!" I see my wife at mile 4, she loves me. More water at mile 5. A man in a coyote suit is blasting Handel's Halleluiah Chorus on a stereo at mile 6. Mile 7, more water served to me. People are cheering for me all along the way. Policemen are blocking traffic. Men are standing at the side of the road with pots of Vaseline for my use.

I stop at mile 9 for a bathroom break. Someone has set up porta-potties just for me. I can choose from several at this site. Another runner is also waiting. "Hi," I say. "Hi," he responds. "I think weíre still in this, weíre competitive, donít you think?" He laughs. Several female runners also waiting for my porta-pottie look at me like Iím nuts.

Miles 11, 13, 15, 17, 19 fly by. I run from water station to water station, I walk only at the water stations. Volunteers are handing me water, orange slices, bananas and chocolate. I forgo the offers of champaign and beer, what was I thinking? At mile 15 an overweight man, he must have weighed 350 pounds, is standing on the curb yelling "ENERGY!" I want to grab him and make him run with me. A marathon or just some exercise would do him good. Mile 20 has the coyote man and the Halleluiah Chorus again, this guy is a dedicated spectator.

The hill. At about mile 20.5 it starts. The map says it only goes up 180 feet. It lasts until mile 23. It looks steep, other runners are walking. I stop and stretch. I look at that hill and decide that anyone that has grown up in Wyoming knows that 180 feet is not a hill. I start running, I keep running. I am a marathoner, I am long, lean and light on my feet. I run in all weather, I can run forever, never give up, never surrender.

More drinks at 21 and 23. I am near the end. People are shouting, "Youíre almost there! Only 3 (2.5, 2 etc.) more miles. Keep going!" I know they are right, I run 3 miles without stretching, itís no big deal. One mile is down the hill from my house, past the K-mart and to the place where Minnesota Avenue crosses the river, no big deal. My body says, "If it's past the end of your shoes it is too far." I assess the situation; running hurts, walking hurts more, moving from walking to running and visa-versa hurts the most. The choice is obvious; keep running.

A few minutes later I see the spires of the basilica in St. Paul. I go around the corner, and there it is, the state capital and the finish line. I keep going the crowd is cheering me on, I am a marathoner. 4 hours, 26 minutes and 57 seconds. I am done. A nice lady puts a shiny blanket on me ("Are you OK?" I make a conscious effort to walk in straight lines.), another gives me a medal, more water (UGH!), pictures (SMILE!), a t-shirt, I get food, more food and chicken broth, (yum salty!). A cute girl gives me my bag of sweats. I find my wife and daughter, even though I am very sweaty, very stinky, ugly, covered in bits of dried salt and walking oddly; they smile and love me.

Recovery:

My recovery was pretty rough. The interesting thing about the recovery was how much pain the Celebrex was covering. When the prescription ran out a week or so after the race I found out that there was quite a bit of residual pain. It did eventually go away.

I think that this could have been prevented mostly by lifting weights (anything to strengthen the knees).

Running Gear Recommendations:

Really good shoes!
Get two pairs and alternate them. Tell the shoe salesman that you are going to run a marathon, they will get you lightweight shoes.
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Search on Amazon.com Ľ

Tips/Words of Encouragement:

To someone thinking about running a marathon I would say never give up, never surrender! You are lean and light on your feet!

Plans to Run Another:

I'm not planning to run another marathon because my wife said I could run all the marathons I want as a single man. I got the message.

If I could have done something differently for this race, I would have lifted weights.

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