Sunday, November 24, 2013

Monumental Marathon 2013 - Race Report

Monumental 2012
I'm a half marathon girl.  I love the distance.  It's long enough that you get to enjoy it, but short enough that you can run a bit hard.  After three years of trying to break two hours in a half marathon and being thwarted by injury after injury (including a broken left femur), I finally earned a sub-2 time in the 2012 Monumental Half Marathon with a 1:54.  With that goal achieved, I wanted to try something new.  The very day I was toying with the idea of running a full marathon, Wendy texted me and asked if I would like her to pace me in the Monumental Marathon in November 2013.  "YES!" I said.  I had "run" a marathon before, the Kona Marathon in Hawaii in 2009, but I had walked the bulk of that course.  My goal for Monumental 2013 was to run the whole thing and finish the race "still liking running."

I had a fun winter and spring, building a mileage base and running some races.  In the summer, I completed a six-week boot camp program with my trainer, Sam, at the local Anytime Fitness.  Those sessions helped me build muscle, core fitness, and balance.  In July, I completed the 100-mile Red Eye Relay on the seven-member team Embrace The Chaos.  The ensuing months were chockfull of 4:45 A.M. 6-milers and Saturday morning destination long runs, all with Wendy.  I got stronger and stronger with each training run, and even finished a Bloomington-to-Bedford 20-miler singing show tunes.  I was ready.

The morning of the race, I awakened early to the sounds of the Monumental start line being constructed right outside my window.  I stood at the window and watched the volunteers work.  One worker must've noticed my silhouette in the window.  He began jumping and waving wildly at me.  I waved back.  For some reason, that moment was encouraging to me.  In my mind, I felt that he knew I was a participant in the full marathon, and he was cheering for me and saying, "This is going to be a 'Monumental' day!"

Monumental Mile 1
Wendy arrived in my hotel room, and we prepared for the race by donning our matching singlets, shorts, arm warmers, and gloves.  We topped off our race day attire with flowers in our hair.  We walked to the start line with my husband and parents, and then got into our starting corral, where the energy felt like a tangible thing.  The moment toward which I'd been literally counting the hours was about to happen.  I was overwhelmed with a myriad of feelings, and I was so glad Wendy was with me to share the experience and guide me to success.

At the gun, we began to execute the race plan: navigate the pack in the first mile, then maintain 9:45 minute-miles until the halfway point, when we would gradually accelerate.  The plan would allow me to comfortably finish around 4:15.  We talked.  We laughed.  We quietly questioned all the people wearing full tights. ("They're going to be SO HOT later.")  Wendy made sure I drank and ate at the right intervals.  We ran into friends. We commented on the beauty of the course during a peak fall weekend.  We laughed some more.  Everything was going perfectly.  It was shaping up to be the race of my dreams.


It was at the end of the 14th mile that I started to have unusual feelings.  I remember seeing the marker to conclude Mile 14 and thinking, "I hope Wendy doesn't remember that I'm supposed to take a GU soon.  I feel so full."  I was getting a bit weary, which was expected, but the weariness was early, sudden, and profound.  I told Wendy that we needed to slow our pace.  With each subsequent mile, I slowed a little bit more, first by a few seconds, then by minutes.  My vision was blurring, everything was starting to annoy me, and negative thoughts were blooming in my mind, which is very unusual for me.  I did my best to stay positive, both to help myself and to hide the pain from Wendy. 
Not fooled by my concealment efforts, Wendy could see that I was descending into trouble, and offered encouragement.  She talked about how proud my parents, husband, and students were going to be.  She told me to slay the miles one at a time.  She told me, "Forward is a pace."  The only time she failed was when she said, on the 18th mile, "Hey, we're closer to the finish than we were when we started."  Even in my weakened state, I think I could've figured out that nugget myself. :-)
Additionally, Wendy was eating EVERY FOOD AVAILABLE on the course.  Because Indianapolis had held Trick-or-Treat the previous evening, children were handing out their candy.  Wendy ate Tootsie Rolls, M&Ms, Fruit Roll-Ups, and Shot Bloks that took her two miles to open.  She kept offering the food to me, but it sounded so awful.  I didn't even want Salted Caramel GU, my favorite flavor. 

I have lost a lot of memories from Miles 19-23.  I remember creating a new strategy in my mind: I told myself that if I acted like everything was fine, everything would be fine.  When our photo was taken on the 19th mile, I employed this strategy, and it's difficult to tell that I was in a lot of pain.  I also remember telling Wendy, "Let's just be quiet for awhile," when I could no longer process her words.  After 22 miles, as Wendy was mopping the drool from my chin with a tissue, she said, "Jo, it's OK to walk. You NEED to walk."  I knew walking would mean that my goal of running the whole marathon was lost.  However, now that Wendy had given me "permission" to walk, I allowed myself to do so.  What happened next is fuzzy for me, so I will let Wendy explain from her point of view.
Wendy: "Around 17, I noticed (while running) that Jo's belly was kind of sticking out. Since she has NO belly, I found this odd. Despite not feeling hungry at all, around mile 19-20 she started exhibiting all the signs of severe glycogen depletion. She was a little confused, her vision was blurred, and she totally stopped talking. At 21, her vision was getting worse and I forced her to eat more shot bloks and GU. Nothing was helping. I, who have run looooots of long distance runs, couldn't figure out why she was in this state given her pacing was perfect, it wasn't hot, and she was eating and drinking plenty. At 22, I told her we needed to stop and walk to get more nutrition in her. (She never stopped running until that moment.) She shoved in more food, and then she lifted her shirt a little... and her abdomen was such that she looked 5-6 months pregnant. So I then figured it out: nothing she was eating or drinking was absorbing. That's why she didn't feel hungry but continued to go deeper into glycogen debt. I wanted us to just walk it in from there. But near 23, she began to stammer. I told her to sit down on the curb. She promptly sat down IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET. I said, 'Do you want to move to the curb?' She said, 'No, I just want to lie down a minute.' I said, 'No, no, no...' Her eyes rolled back in her head and she passed out cold. I could tell she was breathing, so I called her name a few times. No response. Three runners stopped (good for them!), and one called an ambulance. She came to a bit with a sip of water. I pressed on her belly, which was huge, and she winced. HER BELLY WAS SO BIG! That is soooo abnormal for her. She woke up, was seriously confused about why everyone was around her, and then spent 28 minutes in an ambulance. The whole ordeal was almost 45 minutes. After sitting in the ambulance (where they kept threatening to take her to Methodist!), her abdomen slowly shrank, her vitals normalized, and she started talking. She asked them to please not take her to the hospital, just drive her to the finish. They kept insisting hospital. Then she said, 'I want to finish. Can I get out?' They stared at her. She said she wanted to finish this thing, signed the papers saying she was leaving against medical advice, got out, and marched in the last 3.2 miles."

The Last Mile
We still don't know what happened.  My doctors think that it was either caused by Crohn's disease (a condition with which I was diagnosed in 2003), or a hernia.  The event upset my whole system.  Immediately after leaving the ambulance that never moved (and after apologizing to the medics, with whom I was a little short when they wouldn't let me leave), I experienced extreme hip pain that caused me to limp those last 3-ish miles. 

Believe it or not, Wendy and I actually had fun on those last miles.  The only way not to cry was to laugh, so we made jokes about the situation.  Wendy kidded that she thought I was pregnant with a yeti, the character on the packages of my beloved Salted Caramel GU, when my belly became distended.  She reminded me that when the medics asked if I remembered what I was doing, I said, "I'm running a marathon... and I'm FAILING." Near the end of Mile 25, my Dad joined us to walk about a mile.  He even gave me his jacket to cut the wind.

When we hit Mile Marker 26, we began running.  It was painful for my sore belly and hip, but I couldn't imagine any other way to finish the Monumental Marathon.  As we rounded the corner, I noticed that most of the crowd had gone since their loved ones had already finished.  However, the ones who were there cheered heartily for us.  My triumphant all-running, 4:15ish finish did not happen, but I still experienced the triumph of a finish, albeit one that was an hour and 11 minutes later than expected.

This marathon was aptly named for me, because it was truly Monumental, though not in the way we expected.  At first, I did not view my experience as a success.  However, since the event, I've gained perspective.  I understand that it took perseverance to leave what was a very comfortable stretcher and warm ambulance in order to finish what I started.  I also understand that I have a very good friend in Wendy, who never, never, never left my side.  I understand that my Monumental Marathon was a success in a way different than I had planned.  Nevertheless, I have grander plans for the 2014 Monumental Marathon.  On Nov. 1, I will run that entire course.  I will wave at the spot where I passed out on Mile 23.  I will finish that race with a 4 on the front of my time.  And I will do it all with Wendy by my side.

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