Jamie completed his first marathon on April 26th at the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, Ohio. I have featured Jamie before in my Runners Inspiring Runners series and I’m proud to see him accomplish something that a lot of people wouldn’t have thought was possible. He is a fighter and continues to be an inspiration to many people and I’m honored that he accepted my request to be a guest blogger.
Goals and dreams start small. As runners we know this, it starts with our first step out the door. Those initial steps whether it is to run for a minute straight, be able to run a mile without stopping, compete in a 5K or just to run to be at peace, alone with our thoughts. Whatever the initial reason or goal we set out to accomplish, as runners we seem to always strive for more. The pinnacle of running for most, something that many dream of and even fewer strive for would be to run in a marathon. It is known as the true endurance test of both mind and body. Something that after two years of running decided to put myself up to the test and the scene of my journey would take place at Toledo, Ohio’s Glass City Marathon over the weekend.
I could start this about tale about telling you all about the sea of people clamoring in the corrals. The long lines to use the restroom just minutes before the race, the body shakes I had due to self doubt creeping in on whether I was ready asking myself if I trained properly, tapered successfully or whether my will would be stronger than the course. Instead I’ll begin the night before as I laid in my bed so stressed out I gave myself a massive headache.
The stress of an upcoming race can be normal, that I totally understand. All day long, instead of visualizing a successful race, those questions of doubt kept rearing their head. With this being my first full marathon, I had no past experiences to draw upon just my training leading up to the race and let’s be honest I’ve never heard anyone getting stressed to the point of sickness for an upcoming training run. Anyways as I laid in my room, throbbing head and all. I took some pain reliever medication and decided to attempt to get some sleep. This was a daunting challenge for me, as I must admit that I’ve never been known as someone who sleeps well, especially the night before a big race. Strangely however, in the darkness of my room I found the peace I so desperately wanted and was able to fall asleep quite easily. Who would have known that a headache would have lead to one of my best pre-race sleeps I’ve ever had.
I awoke at 4:00 AM, 45 minutes ahead of my scheduled alarm. Pumped full of anxiety and race day jitters, there was no point in trying to capture a few minutes more of sleep. So I hopped in the shower, did all my pre-race routine, got dressed and found the time to find some calmness in the moment at last. I finally came to terms that today is Marathon Day and this day had the potential to change my outlook on life from here on out. With this new revelation, I eagerly got into my car and drove to race a full hour before the start.
Morning temperatures were hoovering in the low 40s and the wind was blowing steady 5-10 mph. Ideal race conditions except for the wind. I sat in my car, trying to avoid the wind and await the greeting of the morning’s sun. Parked next to me was one of my running mates, Andy. Andy was running the 1/2 marathon and had knowledge of the course which the course map wouldn’t or couldn’t provide. He was a valuable resource and one that I would need much later in the day.
Race was scheduled to start at 7:02 AM. Andy and I, met a fellow runner named Wes and proceeded to the starting line area. Wes and I have been running most of our long runs together and decided to run most of the marathon together until one of us fell off the pace or it was OK for the other to push ahead. While arriving at the start, I noticed how long the lines were for runners hoping to relieve themselves one last time. I decided to make my way to the corrals while Wes waited in line. The minutes ticked closer and closer to the start of the race, Wes was nowhere in sight. I was starting to freak out a tad, the Mayor of the city was speaking to kick off the start. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Wes but he didn’t see me. I figured he would make his way back to the 3:40 pacer, our anticipated race pace. Somehow in the mayhem of being stuffed in the corral like sardines in a can I lost sight of Andy as well. Next thing I know the air horn sounded and the masses start moving forward, my marathon journey had began and I was alone.
Shuffling forward, I cross the starting line and like any runner started my Garmin so I could get general idea of my pace and overall time on the course. It took me a few meters but I pulled up to my pacer and asked him if he planned on running even splits, he assured me that he was. I was hesitate to believe him since in my experience pacers always go out too fast and can end up ruining the best of race plans. The pace was a bit slow as we ran pass the University of Toledo and we turned into a tree line neighborhood. There the runners got their first taste of local supporters cheering on friends, family and strangers alike. In this neighborhood I finally saw a sight I was yearning to see, no it was not the fresh blossoms of trees or the scent of dew on the glimmering grass, at last I found Wes and our race strategy could be set back into motion.
We greeted each other, now knowing that either of us didn’t have to trek the whole 26.2 miles alone. The pace picked up as the pacer was weaving in and out of traffic. I assumed this was due to the fact that our first mile was off pace and the pacer was trying to get us back on pace collectively so we could run even splits the rest of the time. Before I knew it, we were at mile 3, I checked my watch and the time read 25:18. This was right on pace that I figured in my head, so far the pacer that I had doubted kept his word. I expected the pace to slow back down to 8:24 now that we cleared most of the traffic of runners at this stage of the race. The miles went by, I kept looking at my watch, 8:12at mile 4, 8:17 and 5 and 8:20 at mile 6. The pacer who I trusted was now far ahead of me, I would not see him again.
It was now down to Wes and I to be our own pace group. We crossed the 10K mark at 52:00, a few seconds ahead of where I thought we would be but still in a comfortable zone. At mile 7 we entered into the Wildwood Preserve Metropark, a beautifully wooden area and where we got some pretty animated cheerers and some pretty awesome signs. I chuckled at the poop ones and really enjoyed one that claimed Hydration is Sexy, I tend to agree. As we exited the park, I saw some friends that were there to cheer us all on, I tossed them my arm sleeves now that the temperate dictated I no longer needed them. It was at this point the full marathoners turned right onto a bike path as the half marathoners headed back to the finish.
We spend just over two miles on this bike path, for me this was the worst part mentally. Not much crowd support during that time and really not much to look at either. With the half marathoners leaving us, Wes and I were only left with a handful of runners to run with or run towards. We finally turned off the path and got back onto the road and continue on our journey. Before I knew it we reached the half way mark, our pace was still good as we crossed the 13.1 marker in 1:49:15. Mile 14 and 15 went fairly smoothly, at each mile marker Wes and I would check on each other to see how we were feeling. All signs still pointed that we were fine, though we admitted to each other that now it seemed like we now had to work to maintain our pace. Mile 16, we came upon an aid station that was offering Vaseline, word of advice even if you don’t need it, take it. I would later discover that my RunGuard does have a shelf life on my body. We approached mile 17, we ran around a beautiful lake, we passed several port-a-johns and I had needed to relieve myself for some miles but decided that I could push through.
We exited the park that this lake was located in and ran west right into a strong headwind that we had not previously encountered. We caught up to some fellow runners and I decided to use them as best I could for a wind block, this continue for about a mile or so. Traffic was stopped ahead by the local authorities so we could cross the street. This would be the easier road crossing in all my runs I thought, but still somehow I was almost struck by a car that was waved on to go in between us runners. I was is disbelieve as I came within a few feet or at least what seemed as a few feet of being the 1st victim of a “hit and run” in a marathon. Nevertheless I pushed on after giving the driver and officer a stern look while flailing arms like an inflatable tube man.
As we came upon mile 19, my bladder decided it fought the good fight but I needed to relieve myself. I notified Wes that I would push and attempt to put about 30 seconds on him so I could use the bathroom and catch back up. I proceeded with this plan, speeding up my pace. I found a place to pee only a mere couple of yards from my fellow runners. I took a tad longer than I expected and I noted that Wes was now ahead of me. I told myself to catch him slowly to conserve energy but the legs didn’t like that plan. I passed a few runners and one remarked if I enjoyed my bathroom break, I assured her I did. As I reached the mile 20 mark I caught Wes our split at that point was 2:48:27. I ran 7:40 pace to catch back up but felt decent doing that. I ran with Wes telling him that it would probably take a minute or so for my legs to recover. Boy did they. I felt great after using the bathroom, totally refreshed. I decide at that point to push the pace a tad, I notice that Wes wasn’t keeping pace at this point. I debated falling back but decided to push myself at last. Miles 20-23 ended up be my fastest of the race: 8:05, 7:57, 8:04 and 8:10. The dreaded wall which I heard about at mile 20 never hit, I was home free I thought.
All of the sudden, the legs felt shaky going into mile 24. My right calf started to flare up and pace began to falter. All of the sudden, despite being so close to the end I wanted to walked. I heard a man, cheer me on. I thought he noticed I was beginning to struggle, this stranger turn onto the path and began to run on my right side. I was thinking in my head who is this guy? Why is he running with me and trying to talk me through my struggles. I finally glanced over to focus on who this generous person was, it was Andy. What a godsend this was, just when I wanted to give up the most. I told him I was struggling, my calf was tighten up and I was becoming mentally weak. He told me to keep going, to shorten my stride and just remember this would pass.
My pace for mile 24 dropped to 8:40, not a huge blow up but I was freaking out because of the previous 4 miles that I just ran. Mile 25 was just as bad, there was a beer station that I almost grabbed thinking it was water. Considering I don’t drink and how I felt at that point in the race this could have ended my journey right there, Andy alerted me to my near mistake. Andy told me to grab water at the last water stop which I did, he continued to run with me for about another quarter of a mile, my mile 25 pace was 8:52. He looked at me and said “you got this, I’ll be waiting for you at the finish.” He was right, I can run a mile with my eyes closed. My leg rotation picked back up, I made sure my arms were to high and I decided it was either me or the marathon and I wasn’t going to let it defeat me so close to end.
Mile 26, twist and turned as it descended down to the University of Toledo’s football stadium. I was counting down the time that I figured with each step I would draw me closer to the finish. I reached the starting corrals, I began to quicken the pace as the race ended at the stadium’s 50 yard line. I entered the stadium, I could hear the announcer call my name and where I was from and that I was a MARATHONER FINISHER. The clock read 3:40:38, I reached the goal I set upon myself before the race and did it without a pacer. Andy was there to congratulate me and a volunteer put a medal around my neck. I can not describe the feeling I had at that point nor will I attempt to put it into words. But I will say this, for those who know my story and the journey I’ve had to endure since late 2010, that anything is possible, you just need to have the courage to try.
One last words of wisdom I can pass on to all you fellow runners is this, make your bladder gladder, tinkle before you start a race.