As I previously conveyed, Boston was never the plan. I didn’t even know what it really was until after that first race. But here I was, ready to take on another marathon to nail down a Boston Qualifier. All I had to do was shave five minutes and some change off my time. No biggie.
So what other marathons are nearby that I could register for? Cleveland Rite Aid Marathon in May – perfect. I have time to rest my legs and then begin training again in January. Now that I had one marathon under my belt, I decided to make my own training plan. I felt my body did pretty well with a 6-8-6-break-5-long run-rest approach, so I stuck with that. Because I felt I picked up enough tidbits of strength and conditioning training from my brother (who was an exercise science major at the time), I structured my long runs to increase by two miles each week from 10-18, and then alternate each week decreasing by two and increasing by four (18 to 16 to 20 to 18 to 22). Twenty-two was my new “peak run” – the farthest run before a race. A lot of this training plan was built on intuition and what I thought my body could handle. I felt like this was a good plan and that it would challenge me but not push me too hard. I gave myself some time for warm-up training before I began my three month plan at 10 miles.
During the Christmas season I picked up my first Garmin GPS watch – no more driving the distance in my car first – and a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes that I was convinced would make me much faster if I trained in them. I was warned about starting out too fast and the injury risks and I actually listened – for a few days.
“Half a mile at a time,” they told me. Okay. I went half a mile and the next day my calves were so sore. I wasn’t used to the forefoot strike that the shoes encouraged. Running on your toes really did make you engage those lower extremity muscles. But my calves got better quickly and I jumped to 3 miles way before I should have. Halfway through a 4-mile run, “Ouch!” I suddenly got a sharp pain in the front of my left foot. It hurt with every strike on the ground, but was not throbbing. I limped home through the rest of the run. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it didn’t go away. It hurt with just walking. After a week or so, I went to a doctor who concluded it was a metatarsal stress fracture. I was just about to start my three month plan. I didn’t have time to take 4-6 weeks off running!
Well, my options were limited, but my mom knew the local “herb lady” and got ahold of this herb called comfrey. It was supposed to heal a broken bone in half the average western medicinal time. It was/is controversial because of its failure to get FDA approval – something about liver damage if taken regularly, but that’s a whole different topic. Anyway, I took the recommended dose three times a day for two weeks and I was out running again with no pain. But in my regular running shoes of course. I wasn’t giving up on my vibrams, but I didn’t have time to properly train in them – I had a marathon race in three months!
It was a rough start, but I recovered. My training plan went pretty well from there on out. I made sure I finished every long run no matter how bad I felt. Quitting never got anyone anywhere and even though I sometimes had to go really slow (almost dragging), I still had the pride of finishing what I set out to do. Since then, I’ve delved more into “body sensing” and learned that sometimes it actually is better to quit or deviate from the plan. But for now, that was my ideology and I was sticking to it.
Because Cleveland was an hour away, my mom and I got a hotel for the night before race morning. After experiencing Akron’s expo, Cleveland’s was way bigger. But no jacket?! What is this nonsense! All I get is a technical t-shirt? I think they call it a technical t-shirt because technically it’s a t-shirt, but really the material it’s made out of is less breathable than plastic wrap. Bummer. At least I got a lot of free samples. On to Chipotle, and then to the hotel to chill and sleep.
Race morning! It was going to be a hot one. I ate my banana and drank plenty of water. Since Gu worked so well for me at Akron, I decided to use them again and fit four of them into my shorts pockets. I was so ready to crush this race. The hour or so waiting before a race to start makes me reflect on all the training I did to prepare myself – for about two minutes. Then all that training feels so far away and it doesn’t matter anymore. I think about what my hopes and expectations are for this race. And at this race I felt like I had gotten so much faster and would have no problem qualifying for Boston.
The usual pre-race pump up began and then they warned us about the heat and we started the race with a yellow flag warning. Whatever, I got this. I started out at a strong pace, but still tried to not go all out in the beginning. My half time was around 1:40 so I was on track and ahead of my 3:35 pace group, but I wanted to be faster. I tried to speed it up a bit, but whew! It was getting hot. I came upon a part of the course where we were all trapped on the freeway with nothing to block the sun beating down on us. I slowed because I couldn’t keep the pace. My 3:35 pace group caught up to me and I began slipping through the group, falling into the back of the pack. I struggled to keep up and had to watch them fade away in front of me as I fell further behind. I was getting discouraged, but I still had a little bit of hope of catching them. I thought I had time.
The warning flag had now changed to red, but I still wanted to catch that group. About 17 miles in, I was really beginning to drag. “Noooo!” I thought as the 3:45 pace group passed me. But I couldn’t run any faster, I felt miserable, and my body wasn’t able to push anymore. Not only were my plans of going to Boston next year gone, but my spirit was crushed. I tried to keep running, but at mile 22 I had to stop and walk, though at this point I’m not sure “walking” was the correct term.
Fellow runners were dropping like flies around me. The heat had gotten to me. Two medic cyclists spotted me and quickly rode over. I must have looked as terrible as I felt. One of them grabbed my arm to take me to get medical assistance but I jerked away and said, “No I finish.” My pride may have been broken, but I still had it. I wasn’t going to quit. Because I was still moving and responding, the medics couldn’t force me to receive medical attention, so they rode with me, one on each side, until the finish line was in sight. I started to sort of run/hobble as the cyclists radioed in to the finish line medics that I was coming. I felt so dead. I crossed the finish line at 4:13, and before my knees could touch the ground I was carried over to large fans where they dumped water on my head. In a few minutes, I began to cool down and the worry of heat stroke was gone. One medic stayed with me while the others left to attend to more runners. Unfortunately, I felt good enough to talk.
“I’m better than this,” I said. “My last marathon was 3:40,” I continued. “I’m on my way to Boston,” I kept rambling. I wish the medic would have shoved my shoe in my mouth to keep me from completely embarrassing myself. Instead, he patiently continued to make sure I was on the upswing.
Finally, I was able to leave and go back to the hotel to shower and head home. I was mad, disappointed, and frustrated. I knew I was better than that. There wasn’t another race before September to qualify me for Boston 2013, and I felt like all that hard work of training was wasted. I had a discouraging race, but still really wanted Boston, so I entered the Akron Marathon again that fall to try to qualify for 2014.
As you well know, Boston 2013 was a tragedy. Had I not gotten heat exhaustion, I probably would have qualified and gone. Who knows what might have happened, but I can say that not qualifying at the 2012 Cleveland Rite Aid Marathon was key in me running more miles than I ever thought I would.
David Crowder Band: No One Like You