Heading into the Inland Trail Marathon, I was feeling far from confident. My foot injury from September had been replaced with an inner thigh\groin area injury. I’m pretty sure that I suffered the latter injury when I ran down the very steep hill in the Rocky River Reservation in a restrained fashion twice in three days because I didn’t want to slip in the rainy conditions. Of course, I could have just walked down the hill, but that’s what happens when your ego takes over and you’re more focused on posting great times during training instead of preparing to post a great time on race day when it actually matters.
Part of me thought that I should postpone my marathon because a bit of e-diagnosis—always a bad idea!—had me convinced that I was going to hurt myself severely, but I also wondered if it was just the same taper madness that convinced me that I had the world’s worst case of runner’s knee before the 2013 Northern Ohio Marathon.
I was on the fence all week until I had a conversation with my boss, who basically said, “The running season is just about over, so if you get hurt while you’re running the marathon, you’ll have the whole winter to recover.” When she said that, I decided to move forward with doing it. Thinking about this quote from Braveheart—which I watched for the first time on the day of my foot injury—also helped. If I didn’t run, I knew deep down that I would spent the entire winter wishing that I had, wondering if I could have finished the race, and feeling like I would give anything to turn back the clock to have one chance to run the marathon.
The funny thing was that I’m relatively sure that it was just chafing. I figured that out for sure on Saturday in the late afternoon. This is probably TMI, but I had never had chafing issues in that area before this training cycle. In the end, I’m glad that I’m pretty sure that this injury just turned out to be something that is easily preventable, but before I figured that out I was a nervous wreck.
Anyhow, once I figured this out, I started to get really excited for the marathon. I had a hard time figuring out what to wear under my jacket, but once I realized that a hat would help me retain body heat if necessary, I decided to go with a t-shirt instead of a long sleeved shirt. This turned out to be a great decision because the weather was much warmer than I had planned during the final 6.2 miles!
Unlike last year, race day morning went very well, and I felt great after eating my usual peanut butter sandwich, banana, and green smoothie. This marathon was located relatively close to our house, so getting there was a breeze. I didn’t want to linger outside by the starting line for too long because it was cold, but I wanted to make sure that my GPS watch connected before it was time to go.
The field for the race was very small, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. Once the bell started, I said goodbye to Sheila and took off! I wasn’t sure exactly when our timing chips kicked in because there wasn’t a mat, so I probably lost a few seconds at the start. Oh well!
Last year, I ran all of the way until Mile 20 or so and then took walking breaks from there. By this time, though, I was really worn down, and my walking breaks became very frequent and very long. Because of my prior foot injury and because I still wasn’t totally certain that my leg injury was just due to chafing, I decided to take walking breaks at various points at every mile in the race in the hopes that this would keep me from “bonking” at Mile 20.
The first 7 miles took place on local roadways. From what I read, this was a change from the old course that took place entirely on the Lorain County Inland Trail. Evidently some runners didn’t like that. I’m not sure why that was, given that the Inland Trail is a very scenic place on which to run, and it was definitely a lot more scenic than the new area.
I made sure to incorporate walk breaks into each mile and I also walked up the few inclines on the course. At the risk of sounding like a whiner, I really didn’t appreciate it when one of the policemen on the course told me, “It’s way too early to be walking” during one of my walk breaks at around Mile 5 or so. Fortunately, I was confident in my plan and his words didn’t unnerve me, but I can see how his words could have shaken up a first-time marathoner or someone who was self-conscious about using the run\walk method.
Around Mile 6, I told myself, “You just have 20 miles left to do and you knocked out a 20 miler with no problem at all last month. You’re feeling great and you got this.”
Sheila told me she would be waiting at the point at which the course went onto the Inland Trail, and I was definitely glad to see her smiling face around Mile 7. The Boom! Nutrition gel that she handed me was much appreciated at that point!
Once I got onto the Inland Trail, I settled in for a long stretch of running. After a mile or two, I began to pass parts of the course on which I did my 20 miler and I felt a bit more of a comfort level with how my race was going. During Mile 8, I passed my friend Ryan, who was heading back on his way to a 3rd place overall finish in the half marathon. He shouted out some words of encouragement and gave me a much-needed pick me up. Forgive me for the digression, but this exchange reminded me about how great the running community truly is. Ryan is a multiple-time Boston Marathon qualifier and one of the best runners around, and the fact that he took time from his own race to encourage me meant a lot. The camaraderie that runners have is unparalleled!
Before the race, I had done some mental planning about what I’d do if either of my injuries flared up. I told myself that I would turn around at the half marathon turnaround if they did. As I approached the halfway point, I began to mentally steel myself for the fact that I would be commitment myself to finishing out the race regardless of how long it took or how painful it would be once I passed the half marathon turnaround. As I ran, I thought about one of my favorite scenes from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when Gandalf is attempting to convince Bilbo to go on the journey to Erebor, and this helped inspire me because I knew that it would be worth it in the end because I would have a tale or two to tell when I got back and because one is never the same after they cross the finish line of a marathon.
I told myself that I’d put on music at the halfway mark as a reward. Once we reached 13.1 miles, I was glad about the fact that neither of my injuries had flared up and I told myself that all I had left to do was conquer a distance that I had conquered multiple times during my training cycle.
Before the race, my stepmom had told me that she and my dad would be waiting for me in Oberlin with water and washcloths. If you’ve never run before, I highly encourage you not to discount the value of a cool washcloth during a race!
After I said goodbye to them, I trekked on past the Oberlin Country Club and towards the marathon turnaround point. Unfortunately, the course didn’t go all of the way down to Kipton and the really beautiful parts of the Inland Trail on which I had run my 20 miler. I know that some runners find an out-and-back race a bit boring, but I really hope that they change the course back to its prior form in the future.
Once we reached the turnaround point, I told myself that the worst was over and it was a relatively straight shot to the finish. By this point, though, I was beginning to feel pain in my legs. To motivate myself, I put on a song called “Fear vs. Faith” by Big Cleve, a Cleveland-area rapper who is also the pastor of Revolution 216 Church. (This song comes from his album Mistakes on the Lake II; I absolutely love that title!) The opening lines of the song are, “You can’t have faith and fear. Both of them are going to battle for your heart. Which one are you going to choose?” I told myself that I was going to choose faith in my training and faith in God instead of being fearful of pain and the distance that I had left to go and I kept on going strong.
I saw my dad and stepmom again in Oberlin, and the cool washcloth again helped me feel great.
Once I reached Mile 20, I told myself that I needed to keep powering forward even though my legs were hurting more than they did when I ran my 20 miler. I kept Sheila informed about my progress on the way back, and this actually helped me a lot because it helped me see that I was knocking out the miles one by one. Although I ran each mile more and more slowly and painfully as time went on, I was encouraged by the fact that I was able to keep moving forward without taking excessively long walking breaks.
I held on pretty well until Mile 24 or so. At this point, I began to lose steam pretty rapidly. My walking breaks became more frequent, and while they weren’t as long as last year’s walking breaks, I began to get frustrated and I saw the possibility of running at a 10:00 minute\mile average pace slipping away. At some point during the race, I decided that setting a 30 minute PR would be a reasonable backup goal. I suppose I picked that because it was a nice, round number, but I saw this goal slipping away too. I repeatedly told myself that my goal for this race was just to finish and to set a new marathon PR, but the doubting voices in my head began to tell me that this was not going to be a triumphant day.
In the midst of this mental cacophony, I gradually conquered the last few miles and before I knew it I turned from the Inland Trail onto the road and towards the finish. I wasn’t really sure how far it would be to the finish, and I also saw that the finish was at the top of an incline. I decided to take one last short walking break because I didn’t want to hurt myself trying to sprint to the finish up the incline. However, once I saw Sheila waiting, I felt a bit embarrassed and I took off running. Of course, I had Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King blasting. As I ran, I thought about the bravery of Gandalf and all of the hobbits and began to feel exhilarated.
When I got close enough to see the official race clock, I realized that I wasn’t going to set a 30 minute PR and I briefly felt very disappointed. For a split second, I regretted taking extra walking breaks, turning around briefly to grab my gloves after I dropped them, and not running harder during Miles 24-26.
However, after I barreled through the finish line, a tidal wave of emotion came over me. I thought about how disappointed, uncertain, and fearful I felt while dealing with my injuries and thought about how the possibility of running 26.2 seemed like a very, very distant possibility as I hopped on one foot to my car in the Rocky River Reservation after my foot injury. The fact that I had pushed through all of those injuries and not only completed a full marathon—something that seemed like something I would never do 3 years ago—but also managed to set a relatively sizable PR began to hit home. As it turned out, I improved upon my previous marathon time by almost 30 minutes. I kept it together as I made my way through the volunteers and grabbed a bottle of water, but I wound up pulling a Dirk Nowitzki and having a pretty emotional moment by myself in the parking lot.
Shortly thereafter, Sheila caught up to me, and we had a good laugh about my public display of emotion.
I hobbled around the finish line area for a bit and we took some pictures before heading into the Murray Ridge School for some postrace pizza.
My experience after last year’s marathon taught me that the pain only gets worse as time goes on, so we headed out pretty quickly. On our way out, I met a friend from Instagram (@runningmama26.2) who had commented on my Inland Trail Marathon training pictures and who had run her second marathon in two days. Impressive!
I wound up with a time of 4:23:57, which is almost 30 minutes better than my previous marathon time of 4:53:55!
We spent the afternoon enjoying the Browns’ victory over the Buccaneers before heading out to Stir Crazy at Legacy Village to celebrate our 10 year anniversary of being together. Sheila and I began dating on October 28, 2004 and we went to Stir Crazy on our first date. I thought that it was appropriate to celebrate our love on the same day as we celebrated my second marathon. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I could not do this without Sheila. Back in 2012, she took the lead on helping us learn how to make healthy eating a regular part of our lives. I am so grateful that I married someone who has been willing to challenge me to be a better and healthier person even when I have been a very reluctant and contentious participant in the process. Additionally, she has never once complained about the amount of time that I spend training. While other couples were enjoying quality time and date nights on Friday and Saturday nights over the past few months, Sheila would graciously forgo those pleasant endeavors so that I could do my long runs or get in some cross-training at the gym. Never once has she complained about the logistics associated with cheering me on at a marathon or waiting outside alone to cheer me on for a split second as I dash past, and she deserves this medal just as much as I do.
I couldn’t do all of this running without knowing Jesus as my Lord and Savior either. As I sat on the couch on the day of my first injury, my biggest comforts were found in the fact that I knew that I was still loved by God even if I never ran again, that God heard each and every one of my prayers, and that God was going to use my injury for a greater purpose. Without Jesus, I would have felt completely lost and alone. I don’t think that I could have made it through this rough period without God.
What’s next for me? I ran the Cleveland West Road Runners Fall Classic (recap to come soon) and now I’m in the process of taking a month and a half off from intense training before I start training for the full marathon at the 2015 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon!
Thanks for reading!