The Revel Big Cottonwood race weekend was an adventure I won’t soon forget. Well, who am I kidding, I’ll never forget it. Every destination race is unique, and this one, especially so, because it was mostly downhill and because it was the most beautiful race course I’ve had the good fortune to run, postcard scenes around every bend in the road. [Read more…]
During the weeks before my most recent marathon, I tried two changes to my usual pre-race regimen:
- Drinking tart cherry juice
- Soaking in epsom salts
A few days ago, I had the great and long anticipated pleasure of running Grandma’s Marathon, in Duluth, Minnesota, one of the most popular marathons in the country.
It was a destination race for my local Run Tampa club. We took about 65 people; 38 did the marathon, 16 did the half, and the rest were our support crew.
Grandma’s Marathon had been on my bucket list since I first heard of it, and that was soon after my first marathon in 2007. Honestly, I think in the beginning, it was the name that attracted me. The connotation is just so warm and welcoming, and I never heard anything but good reports.
Then, a few years later, when I was at ZAP Fitness Running Camp in North Carolina, at dinner, I sat next to the weekend’s special guest speaker, Carolyn Mather, an incredible runner with a career that has taken her to all the well-known marathons, some of them, many times over.
I was excited to have the opportunity to pick her brain about all matters running, but my number 1 question was, “If a person was only ever going to do one marathon, which would you recommend?”
She said, “Grandma’s.”
Well, that cinched it.
Now that race is checked off my bucket list. It is still on my list of races ‘to do,’ though, because I know I will do it again. It’s that kind of race.
When it comes to marathons, in general, almost no one does just one marathon, despite the fact that most people will say that almost everyone will speak that catchy phrase,
“One and done”
on race day. By the next day, they’re always singing a different tune and talking about the next one.
The reason almost no one stops at just one is because there are so many variables. The more marathons you do, the closer you’ll get to a great race. Oh, there will be bad ones; that’s a given, but there will be more good ones – and in a sense, any marathon that you finish is a good one. Everyone makes you stronger, mentally and physically.
If you register on a whim and take an unsafe, cavalier attitude toward training, you are virtually guaranteed a bad and unsafe race experience at any marathon, but even with great training and careful attention to all the details, there is still quite a lot that can go wrong.
Shorter races are much more within the runner’s control. With the marathon, you can train perfectly, follow what you know, for you, is the most effective pre-race protocol, and stick to your race strategy like glue, but guess what, over the span of 26 miles and several hours, a lot can happen.
The wheels can fall off and often do. In fact, the steering wheel can crack, and you can run out of gas.
I’m actually still in the early stages of my marathon career. Grandma’s was my 15th. That may seem like a lot, but I know plenty of people who’ve done double or triple that. In fact, I know several people who’ve done a hundred marathons.
For most of my running career, half marathons were not even an option. They didn’t become commonplace until the late 90’s. Then, with the growing number of half marathons, that became a viable and extremely popular option.
Anymore, 5k’s and 10k’s are a stepping stone that leads to the inevitable half marathon, and I think one reason we see more people training for their first marathons is because more people are already half way there, doing halves,
And when you do your first half, while the thought of a marathon may seem incomprehensible, you also have the wisdom to realize that you once felt that way about the half. That fact causes you to have to admit that if you were to choose to do marathon, you actually could do it.
Does that mean anybody who can do a half marathon should do one? Absolutely not? Not necessarily. One of my favorite quotes is, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” and that absolutely applies here. You should do one only if it’s something you really – in your own heart – want to do, but you also have to be in a place in your life when you have the time to commit to the necessary training, and you, of course, need to be in excellent health.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think if a runner wants to get better at running halves, then one of the best ways is to do a full because then, the whole perspective changes; however, it still is a huge decision, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
There is much to consider, and if you’re giving it some thought, I highly recommend you listen to my three-episode series titled Your First Marathon. That series was episodes 55, 56, and 57. The first episode in that series was entirely devoted to the things you need to consider to make the decision of whether to do one. I’ve had people write to me after listening to those episodes, to say that after listening, they decided it wouldn’t be a smart thing for them at this time.
Anyway, my point is that for most of my running career, I didn’t even think about doing a marathon, and then when I finally did that first half, I didn’t give the marathon a second thought. Well, except to wonder how anyone could possibly run twice that far. It wasn’t even on my radar, but then I did the thing I talked about in last week’s Beginner Runner Village podcast. That’s the other podcast I do, and it’s geared to people at the very beginning of their running career.
That episode, #29, titled “Wanting More,” was about motivation, and I pointed out that one of the best things any runner can do to get motivated is to spend lots of time with accomplished, experienced runners.
After my first half marathon, I started hanging around with people who were doing marathons, regularly, and before long, it seemed like a natural progression. Seriously, if you’re hanging around with people doing 5k’s – and there’s nothing wrong with that – even the idea of doing a marathon may seem almost bizarre – but when you’re with people who’ve done a few, it just changes your perspective because you realize you’re pretty much exactly like them in other ways; you realize they’re really not superhuman. They’re just like you, except they’ve done marathons and you haven’t.
I am a huge believer in Jim Rohn’s quote: “You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Marathons are completely different from halves. Whatever the weather at the beginning of a half, it likely will be pretty much the same for the whole race; however, the average race time for a marathon is over 4 hours and longer for first-timers; A lot can happen in four or five hours, as it did, Saturday, in the 40th running of Grandma’s Marathon.
Going up there from Tampa, where we’ve done all our long runs in weather in the upper 70’s to low 80’s and very high humidity, we were all pumped up to run in temps in the 50’s or worst case scenario, in the 60’s, but that isn’t the way it happened. As it turns out, it was 74 at the start and reached 84 degrees by the time some people finished.
But that’s just the weather, you may also experience a whole host of physical occurrences from the unexpected need of a restroom to sudden pains, gastrointestinal issues, falls, wardrobe malfunctions, and more. Heck, you could even start coming down with the first symptoms of a non-running related illness, like the flu or a cold in a four-hour time span, and on a super-hot day, like that, because many runners ended up walking, it took 6 hours or more.
Every race brings surprises
Around mile 16, I felt a sudden intense sting and a movement of something small in the palm of my right fist. Not like something crawling, but like a vibration. Of course, I immediately looked, and it was a bee, in my hand – or, actually at that moment, exiting my hand. I was carrying my hand in a loose fist, like usual, thumb on top. So weird! Why would the bee fly into my hand, and how could it get into my fist?
Then I had this amazing thought. Maybe I had some traces of the gu I had been consuming every 45 minutes on the inside of my hand. That was likely what attracted the bee. Those foil gu packets are kind of sloppy. But here’s the crazy part. . . wait for it . . . what kind of gu do you think I was using?
You guessed it, Honey Stinger brand. Seriously. I am not kidding. I couldn’t even make that up. That’s the only kind I had with me that day.
Fortunately, I’m not allergic to bee stings, and it didn’t hurt for long. I soon forgot about it, in fact, didn’t think about it again until after the race. I was too preoccupied with coping with the heat and trying to maintain my pace.
Then there was the wardrobe malfuntion. Yep, that too. I wore my favorite black running skirt, but it turns out it was a little too old, and I guess I wore it one too many times because a few miles into the race, I could feel the bottom edge flopping against the front of my thighs at a spot that was definitely lower than usual. Nothing terrible, no over exposure, but it was unsettling, and I did have to pull it up every mile or so, and to keep it up I pulled my elastic number strap down over my abdomen.
Like I said, there are many variables, and many, like weather, are completely out of the runner’s control. The skirt problem? That’s on me. Since marathons require months of preparation and training; you can’t wait and register AFTER you know what the weather will be like.
You choose your race based on its reputation, location, elevation, typical weather, and more, but nothing is guaranteed. If the race normally has ideal marathon weather, all you can do is hope that you don’t catch it in an off year.
But, of course, that’s what happened at Grandma’s this year. No worries. Runners, especially, marathon runners, have to be prepared to make modifications on the fly. Some people get all worked up, but what is the point in that? I love this sport, all of it. I embrace it. If that weather is not what I hoped, then maybe it becomes a great training run, training me to deal with a more intense situation than I had expected, forcing me to test my mettle to get that medal.
The challenge of extreme weather conditions
This was a tough one, even for us; so, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for people who had not been training in the heat like we had. That completely explains the much higher than normal dnf rate of a full 20 percent. That’s incredible!
A marathon, on a day like that, with those conditions, tests far more than your fitness; it tests your spirit and your fortitude. Running forces you to be flexible, to roll with the punches, and the runners at Grandma’s, did get punched, but no one went down – well maybe a few actually did – but most crossed the finish line, even if it meant, for some, walking an hour or more, much more exhausted than usual, and maybe even with a bigger smile than they would have had in the relative comfort of more typical Minnesota weather.
Why would that be? Why a bigger smile? Well, you know the saying, “The harder the challenge, the more satisfying the accomplishment.” Many people did not finish with the expected – or hoped for – time, but it’s all relative.
Several people in my Run Tampa group were doing their first marathon, and several of our members, despite the brutal conditions, actually grabbed bright, beautiful, sparkling new PR’s, even in those conditions, and a couple of those PR’s were huge. All I can say is “Wow!”
Our group was well trained – thanks Coach Maria – and, being from Florida, we are certainly acclimated to the heat.
This was not the case for most of the runners; however, and that concerns me. I’m sure there were some who finished the race despite being in a dangerous physical state due to the heat. Many runners quit, and that was wise. It always bothers me that people are so worried about the stigma of quitting; they have such a severe aversion to the concept of quitting – at anything – that they continue even when it’s unsafe to do so; that’s just foolish.
People die in marathons, usually due to unknown heart conditions but sometimes because they try to do something they aren’t trained to do, and sometimes because they refuse to accept being defeated by Mother Nature. There is no shame in that. There just isn’t.
I don’t understand that. Everyone should train appropriately and have a reasonable, sensible, realistic race strategy, but – and that is a big but – they must be prepared to depart from that plan if conditions change. That race strategy, that plan, was for the predicted, expected conditions. When the conditions change, the strategy must be modified. In yesterday’s race, the conditions changed throughout the race.
Race condition flags
We started the race with green flag conditions. Let me explain those flags. The alert flags are color-coded to notify runners of racing conditions. We started under green which means conditions are good, but as the race progressed, the conditions – due to heat and humidity and no cloud cover – deteriorated, moving through the whole cycle, from green to yellow to red to black, which indicates extreme and dangerous conditions.
As conditions worsened, every runner needed to continually adjust their pace to avoid dangerous results. Unfortunately, no one could have foreseen how quickly conditions would worsen or how bad it would get. Ideally in that situation, everyone would have been better off to start off much slower, but no one could have guessed the conditions would get that extreme.
As for me, I was right where I wanted to be, at about the halfway point, timewise, but at that point, I realized it would not be a smart day to stick to my plan, and I’ll be honest; there was no way I could have done it. No way. It wasn’t even an option.
My first accommodation was that I started drinking at every aid station, something I never do, normally, but I knew proper hydration was going to be critical.
Early on, I started modifying my expectations and my running pace as conditions worsened, and by that I mean the heat and sun, every few miles. As a result, I was able to still be happy with my performance. My goal for that race was, literally, a moving target, and I continued to modify my behavior throughout the race. In the end, I was completely happy with how my body responded and how I felt, crossing the finish line, and post race.
It was a heat test, and I passed, but I did plenty of walking. Where early on, I only walked through aid stations, later, I decided I’d need to walk more; so, I came up with the plan of running five minutes and walking one. That worked for a while. Then, amazingly, I started to feel better, and was able to run a couple miles at a time, but later, I was relegated to the 5/1 run walk plan again.
Everybody is different. Some people find they just can’t stop and start again. If they’ve managed to pace adjust well in the heat, all systems healthy, then they can keep running and just slow their pace, but I prefer to do a walk run, and I find that I actually run faster during the running segments.
Only you know how you feel. What worries me is when someone has the symptoms of heat distress, and yet they keep running. My question is ‘Why?’ What is to be gained. I, personally, don’t feel like I have anything to prove. Running is an individual sport. If I were to become dangerously overheated and try to continue, then I’d be proving my foolishness.
I’ve known people who quit, and I respected them for it. Quitting is hard, harder than finishing, in a way, because it’s hard to cope with, and if that doesn’t make sense to you, then I have two past episodes of my podcast you might want to listen to, one is #18, titled, “What does dnf Mean to You?” and the other one is #52, titled, “Winners, Losers, and Quitters.”
Wisdom and quitting
Let me depart very briefly from my topic of Grandma’s Marathon to make one statement: Runners are not quitters if they set goals and work hard to achieve them. Those people are not quitters in the negative sense of the word – at – all. People who make the wise decision not to finish a race because they don’t think it’s smart – or the medical personnel advise against it – are not quitters. They will live to run another day, and they’ll be recovered and ready to race again, sooner. Those are anything BUT quitters.
Let’s call them ‘smarters’ or ‘wisers’ or ‘gutsers,’ – as in people with lots of guts – because it takes guts to quit if you think you might be able to go on.
Isn’t it better to quit when you get to the point when you think it might be dangerous that to push on until you collapse? I think so. Much, much better. So, if you’re listening and you dnfed, feel good about yourself and know that I respect you.
Maybe it’s a matter of perspective, but I don’t like to see people stumbling to move forward, falling, even crawling. To me, that’s just not smart, and that did happen on Saturday.
By the way, I was extremely glad I had applied sun screen and wore a hat and my sunglasses that day. All that really made a big difference.
The Grandma’s Marathon course
I loved Grandma’s Marathon. It’s been on my bucket list for years, and it didn’t disappoint. The whole city is all about the race; everybody seems completely supportive, and crowd support was great.
Grandma’s is a point to point course; so, we had to take a bus from our hotel to the race start. The bus was on time and comfortable. I did a point to point race from the top of a mountain a while back and I was disappointed because the race director didn’t have enough buses; we ended up getting to the start only a few minutes before the race started, a serious error, not so with Grandma’s. Everything went like clockwork. Our bus even had a bathroom, which was a super bonus.
The course was gorgeous. Over the years, I’ve taught myself to get out of my head and really look around, appreciate a few words shared with miscellaneous runners along the way, enjoy the cheers from the locals, take in the amazing vistas, and slap some outstretched hands.
I’ll never forget when I did the ING Miami Half Marathon many years ago. After the race someone asked me what I thought about running through South Beach. I said, “What?” I hadn’t even noticed. And that’s happened many other times over the years. I’m getting better at focusing on my surroundings.
Yesterday, early in the race, I could look to my left out over Lake Superior, and I could barely make out the horizon line, but I could see a lone boat, fishermen, I guess, everything like an eerie painting, all in hues of gray. If I hadn’t been racing – and if I had had my phone, I’d have stopped to snap a photo, but I’ll just have to keep referring to the saved mental image.
I loved that caring residents along the race course held hoses to spray people seeking to cool down, and I ran through every one I could get to. The water was ice cold, too. Water in a hose is never cold in Florida! Several residents stood along the course with buckets of ice cubes and some set up extra water stops in their driveways.
My very favorite entertainment along the way was two older men, probably in their late 70’s singing and playing guitar.
I read the signs. One I really liked was “If Trump can run, so can you.” Another said, “Worst parade – ever!” Another said, “Why do the cute ones always run away?” You’ve probably all seen those; I have, too, but I still enjoy seeing them.
My favorite signs, though, are the signs made by kids, cheering for their moms and dads. These always move me as I imagine growing up with a marathon parent, when I think of how this must affect the child’s view of fitness and goal-setting. Of course, this isn’t always a good thing, not in my mind because I do know of obsessed running parents, and I can imagine this is hard on the family. All things in moderation is my motto.
Some parents may resent the fact that family life can sometimes get in the way of optimal marathon preparation and performance. I wish these parents would be more relaxed about their racing and realize they’ll have plenty of time when the kids are older. I don’t want them to miss family time just to do marathons, or resent the times when family commitments interfere, either, but I’m happy to see that many families make it work and that it becomes the family’s project, which must be great.
I’ve said this before: Running should occupy the place in your life where it can be the most beneficial, the role of enriching your life, and that role will need to change over time.
Some of the time, if the other spouse is on board, and if the running parent is relaxed about the sport, then it can be a wonderful experience that makes the whole family proud and motivates the kids to follow in their parent’s footsteps. The whole process of goal-setting, completing process goals along the way, coping with setbacks, being flexible to accommodate family priorities and especially with a marathon, demonstrating the tenacity to work long and hard over a period of months, to achieve a long-term goal, is a great parenting opportunity, filled with infinite teachable moments.
It becomes a family adventure; every member shares in the satisfaction of a lofty goal reached, and everyone learns about themselves and their loved ones.
Grandma’s offered plenty of amenities, but one I especially appreciated was the careful placement of portapotties along the race course. There were plenty, and when I needed one, I just started checking the little green ‘available’ indicator until I ran past one that was open, which didn’t take long.
I did not even have to stand in line, saving me precious minutes. There were cold sponges, too, which were especially appreciated in the hot weather. I placed one on the back of my neck, tucked at the base in my running bra, and I left it there for the last ten miles, cooling me in the beginning and then protecting my neck from the sun.
Ironically, many in our group returned to Tampa with a pretty good sunburn, looking much like the tourists we often see, who come down for a few days of beach time but whose pale skin isn’t prepared for the intense sun.
One distinctive element of this race is that you don’t get your race shirt until after you cross the finish line. That’s a first for me. No complaints, here. The distribution of all the post race amenities was organized and efficient as was packet pickup and the expo.
I had no problem retrieving my gear bag, which they called ‘sweat bags’ in Minnesota. Again, ironic because we call them gear bags here in Florida where we do a lot more sweating.
Upon arriving in Duluth, we stopped in at the Deluth Grill, a place I found on Yelp when we were still a few miles out of town. Lots of home grown vegies, an option to get gluten-free toast, bison options, and a great, creative menu. The servers wear shirts that say, “Veggies from our lot.” And they mean it, there are, indeed, veggie gardens surrounding the perimeter of their parking lot.
We went back there after the race for a burger. I almost never eat hamburgers, but for some reason that’s what I crave after a marathon. Go figure. I think your body tells you what it needs, and I try to supply it.
Later, my Run Tampa group met at Fitger’s Ale House for a post race celebration, and we had a lot to celebrate. We had 38 Run Tampa members do the marathon, 16 did the Garry Bjorkland Half, and even more made the trip to support the runners.
All of our runners, finished, by the way. It was super tough, but our runners did train in the heat; so, I don’t feel like they were in any danger.
We celebrated great accomplishments. Amazing that anyone PR’d, but we had quite a few. Imagine that, and several first-time marathoners, too. What tough conditions for a first marathon!
Our leadership team
Dave Yancey, our event director extraordinaire, had every element of the trip planned well ahead of time from flights to meals to transportation and even lodging. He is truly amazing, and by the way, he flew straight from Minnesota to California where he’ll be doing the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run this weekend. So, as excited as we all were last weekend, we’ll be just as excited to be rooting for Dave this coming weekend.
Carla Nolan, our awesome, incredible president, provided hilarious live, on the spot reports and interviews throughout the weekend for the 400 Run Tampa members back home to see on Facebook.
Head Running Coach Maria Williams somehow managed to keep track of all her runners and provide just what they needed; it was clear that she had them properly prepared. I could never manage that number of runners, but she does it with the greatest skill, combining knowledge, experience, and an equal amount of therapy, which is especially valuable when runners are having to adjust to such challenging conditions.
My Run Tampa Leadership Team is the best, the best, amazing in every way.
So, kudos to those first-timers, those PR’s, Run Tampa’s and everyone else’s, and, kudos to all who ran a smart race, adjusting your goals based on the conditions, and to those who tried to adjust but learned that they needed to adjust a little more. Seriously, that’s why people keep doing marathons. Learning what your body needs in various situations is a huge part of the process. You can only get that personal feedback by getting out there and doing it.
Big kudos to the Grandma’s staff, and the City of Deluth for putting on such a great event. I’ll be back, for sure. You can bet on that. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Now, I want to share a quote from Deena Kastor. Kastor. Despite her petite 5 foot 4 inch frame, she is a running icon, holding the American record for the marathon, half marathon, and various other distances. Kastor won the bronze medal in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
She said, “As an athlete I’ve found aside from hard work, the greatest tools for success are optimism and gratitude. These practices have led to happiness and the routine pause to realize I’m living the life I love and dreamed of.” – Deena Kastor
I love that! Much of what I heard from our runners, and others, after the race, Saturday, was optimism and gratitude, gratitude for being fortunate enough to be able to be there, gratitude to the volunteers and the race organization, and optimism that the next race won’t be so hot and that they were just happy to have been able to finish and to have the opportunity to see the amazing scenery, all seeming to realize that it’s certainly not just about the time. There’s so much more.
- If you prefer to listen to this post, it is Mojo for Running Podcast Episode #69, which can be accessed below and played on your computer or by downloading it via iTunes or any other podcatcher or via an app on your smart phone.
I always say, if you run long enough, you’ll have an amazing number of stories to tell. In fact, it’s common when anything unusual happens – and let’s face it, something unusual always happens – someone says, “Well, that’ll be a great race story,” and that is exactly correct. I’ve been on long runs when every person on the long run, before we finished, had shared at least a couple of great stories.
And so, on this day, July 27th, when I ran the San Francisco Marathon, even as it was unfolding, I couldn’t help but think, “Well, here is one hell of a running story.” My husband dubbed it my Broken Arm PR.
My local club, Run Tampa, travels to at least one destination race each year. Members nominate possible races, and then we vote. In the last several years, we’ve done the Napa to Sonoma Half, Chicago and the Marine Corps Marathons, and next year we’ll do Bolder Boulder and the Maine Marathon and Half. This year, in July, we did the San Francisco Marathon and Half, and a few weeks from now, we’ll be doing the Spacecoast Marathon and Half in Cocoa Beach on the other coast. If you’ll be at the Spacecoast race, and you see a gray-haired woman in a Run Tampa shirt, there’s a good chance it’ll be me. We’ll have over 100 Run Tampa members doing one of the races; so, we’ll be hard to miss.
About 40 of us made the trip to San Francisco, a race I was especially excited to do because my son’s condo is right on the race course. Ben promised he would set up an aid station, just for me, with whatever I requested. Of course, no aid station could make me as happy as getting to see him and collect a hug along the way.
I asked for just one thing, iced coffee. That and a hug from him at mile 21 promised to make those last 5 miles fly by. Wendy, my daughter and favorite running partner, would likely be running with me at that point; so, it promised to be an outstanding morning.
It didn’t exactly work out as planned, though. The plan actually started a year before when the club decided to do that race. Of course, I planned from the very beginning to do the full, and I registered for the full last December.
Last year was a rough year for me, though, mainly due to my dad having several strokes. Ever since, I’ve spent much of my time caring for my parents or worried and preoccupied when I wasn’t with them. There’ve been around 20 trips to the emergency room, many very serious, scary episodes, and much more, and that’s just my dad. My mom’s health is better, but since they’ve been married 64 years, she doesn’t do well when they’re separated even for hours, much less days.
No matter what I had scheduled on any given day, sometimes the phone would ring, and everything would change. That’s one reason this podcast has been produced so erratically, by the way.
My running this last year has been inconsistent as well. Sometimes for several weeks I’d be able to follow my schedule, but other times my training was mostly derailed for days or weeks at a time.
Running is, of course, an excellent remedy for stress. There were times, in the last year, when I’d feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest, and just when it would start to ease up, the phone would ring, another crisis or suggestion that one might be imminent, and that elephant would just get even heavier.
The running has been essential, but I’ll be honest, there were days when I was so stressed, so worried, that once I got out on the trail, it was a real struggle to put one foot in front of the other, and sometimes, I did as much walking as running. I tell you this because I want you to know it happens to everyone, even running coaches, even people who’ve been running for 37 years. I believe it’s a mistake to ever let running add stress to your life; that defeats the purpose. I even did a podcast, which you may have listened to, titled “Running Personally,” about making sure running was the part of your life that you needed it to be rather than one more thing, one more chore or task in a long ‘to do’ list.
It always makes me feel better to run, no matter how that run turns out; it’s just good to be out in the fresh air, to experience physical exertion, which somehow counteracts mental anxiety.
Years ago, a psychologist explained the value of physical exercise in such situations. When my sister died, suddenly, at age 48, my nephew was just 12, and there was no father in the picture. If dealing with the loss was difficult for me, my brothers, and my parents, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was like for him.
I had running, and thank goodness for that. We immediately moved him in with us, and I sought the advice of a psychologist, asking, “What do I do? How can I help him?”
He said, “Does your nephew play a sport?”
“No,” I said. “Well, he must. Let him choose whatever sport interests him, but get him outside, exercising for at least an hour every day. He needs the exercise to physically vent his emotions.
He wanted to play tennis, and while he was playing tennis, I was running. It helped me then and has helped in much the same way during the last year.
It’s important to make running what you need it to be. Some people don’t want or need to race, some want to use it to burn more calories to lose weight, some are trying to get through a divorce, or manage the stress of being out of work, and some need it, as I did then, to help me cope with a tragic loss.
This past year, as the months passed, and the San Francisco Marathon approached, I began to worry that my chaotic schedule would prevent me from training properly.
It was one thing to run whenever I could to help with stress, but it was something else to have a marathon looming and runs that I had to fit into my unpredictable life.
So, several months before the race, I registered for the half marathon, even though I was already registered for the full. The San Francisco Marathon actually has two associated half marathons, one that mirrors the first half of the marathon course, and one that mirrors that last half. The first half fills up first because it goes over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Anyway, that was full; so I registered for the other one. I really wanted to run over the Golden Gate, but I also knew I didn’t need the added pressure, the added stress of trying to fit the long marathon training runs into my life. I knew I would always be in shape for a half marathon; I always get in enough mileage for that, and that’s my favorite race distance, anyway.
So, just to be on the safe side, and to alleviate the extra stress, I decided to give myself the choice. Once I was also registered for the half, I had the freedom to make a last minute decision to do that shorter race, instead, if I didn’t get to train enough for the marathon. That was an expensive decision, but from my perspective, it was money well spent.
As it turned out, I managed to get in enough long training runs, and I even managed to train on hills a good bit, which is not easy when you live in Florida.
When it came time to make the trip, I was ready. I had not been able to train as much as I’d hoped; so, I knew a PR – or even close – probably wasn’t ahead of me, but I was certainly prepared and ready to have a decent race.
The weather was fantastic, especially for those of us who’d been training in the Florida heat and humidity, and I was just tickled to have the whole family together for a few days.
I felt great on race day, and was running comfortably, extremely happy to be there and to do the full and run over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Since I had done quite a bit of hill training, the hills weren’t too bad, but, I was still pretty tired when I reached mile 19. By then we were virtually finished with hills. I think there was one more, but, honestly, everything after that is a blur.
Just a little beyond mile 19, we ran into a tunnel over Kezar Drive. It was very short, just about 15 feet wide and not much longer than that. It would take only a few seconds to run though it, but by then, it was bright sunshine, and the tunnel was dark by comparison. Any other time, I probably wouldn’t have even remembered running through it. In fact, some of my friends had no memory of it. Thanks to my friend, Jeff, though. He went back the next day and actually took a photo of the spot and posted it on Facebook. It looks quite innocent, but it sure got the best of me that day.
We went from bright light into a relatively dark area where the ground was quite bumpy and wet, and I tripped. I landed hard on my right chest, with my right arm between me and the ground.
I always say there are two kinds of falls, the ones that happen in slow motion as you flail about trying to save yourself – and sometimes, amazingly, you do – and then there are the ones like this one, when you’re running along, and the next second you are striking the ground, hard, without warning.
This was the second. I hit the ground, hard. I couldn’t breathe at first, as it totally knocked the wind out of me. People around, of course, panicked. They wanted to help me up but I needed air. I said, “No, just let me lay here for just a minute.”
That was the wrong thing to say because then people started yelling, “Call 911!”
I did not want that; so, I let them help me up, trying to keep them from grabbing my right arm. Once I was over to the side, I leaned against the wall for a few minutes. When I could breathe again, I walked out of the tunnel and sat on the grass.
I knew my arm was broken. Although, in all my 60 years, I had never before broken a bone, I knew it couldn’t hurt that bad to move it unless it was broken. Oddly, though, my ribs hurt much worse than the arm. Breathing was hard for a while; so I just sat there, trying to calm down. Blood trickled down my leg from abrasions on my knee, but they were completely superficial.
A bearded man wearing a Harley Davidson jacket came over and begged to clean it up. “No,” I said. “I’m fine.”
But he had a first aid kit, and he was clearly itching to use it. Again, I said no. I really just wanted to be left alone. But then with great zeal he said, “I have band aids!”
I have never been one to believe band aids fix things, and I was pretty sure this well-meaning stranger couldn’t do anything with a band aid that would make me feel better. My knee was not the problem. He finally gave up, dejected.
Since then, I’ve tried to figure out what the time was, exactly, when I fell, and how long I sat there. I desperately wanted to figure out what my finish time would have been if not for the fall. I guess I sat there for about 10 minutes before continuing, but it might have been 5, and it might have been 15.
Some people were surprised to hear that I finished the race, but oddly, it never even occurred to me to stop. After all, I’ve never run a marathon without those last 6 miles being really hard. It’s usually muscles hurting, but it wasn’t all that bad as long as I didn’t try to breathe too deeply and as long as I kept my arm bent and held it against my chest.
It was bad to have a broken arm, but it would have been much worse, so mentally painful, if I hadn’t been able to finish the race. I wouldn’t have finished if I thought I was risking my health or making the injury worse, but I was sure that wasn’t the case.
I knew Wendy was ahead. She ran the second half, and we’d planned to meet up for the last few miles, and I knew Ben was at mile 21 with my iced coffee.
I texted her to let her know I fell and would be much slower than expected.
I quickly devised a plan to help me maintain some kind of decent pace. I would run 300 steps and walk 100. No that didn’t work. Still to hard to breathe. So I switched to running 200 steps and walking 100.
Wendy was with Ben when I got to him at mile 21, and we spent several minutes, together, before Wendy and I started off on the final 5.2 miles. He had the best iced coffee I have ever had. Being with those two made me feel better, for sure. We took a great selfie, too, before Wendy and I moved on.
She is an amazing running partner, always, and I was happy that we could be together. She totally blew off her race to stay with me. By the last couple of miles we were half walking and half running. By then, whatever adrenaline had been pushing me right after my fall was gone.
Once we finished I spent 20 minutes in the medical tent while they tried to decide whether my arm was broken. Undecided, they recommended an ambulance ride to the ER for x-rays, but I was not about to spend the rest of the day in the ER. I know how ER visits go. You never get out in under six hours, and we had a great post race Run Tampa dinner planned, and I was not going to miss that. My husband, David, was at the finish line, and we took an Uber taxi to an emergency clinic where they x-rayed it, decided I had broken the head of the radius and applied a temporary cast. The ribs were only bruised. I was out of there in two hours; so, going there turned out to be a good call.
It wasn’t until I was at that clinic that I noticed my palm was cut. I had actually landed with my arm beneath me up against my chest, but my hand had been turned the wrong direction. That may have been what caused the break. Otherwise, I doubt it would have broken.
The hardest part of the whole ordeal might have been the ensuing weeks because David had to tie my shoes, open jars, and help me dress, since it was my right arm, and I’m right-handed. I’m not good at being taken care of, and I’m not good at sitting around, relaxing. Typing with just my left hand about drove me out of my mind.
The doctor here replaced that cast with a pretty blue one that extended from my bicep to the base of my fingers. I could still run, but the chafing from the cast rubbing on my arm and against my side, combined with the awkward running gait resulted in very, very low and slow mileage for a few weeks. At least I could still run, and I would have taken it easy the month after the marathon, anyway.
I appreciated all the kind words and all the people who said I was courageous or that I was a beast or a bad ass, but, really, it wasn’t such a big deal. I knew my arm was broken, but what is a broken arm? Broken bones heal, and when they do, they’re at least as strong, if not stronger, than before.
Real courage is someone else. Let me tell you about courage. Her name is Michelle Boyd DeJong, a member of my Run Tampa club. Earlier this year, just a couple weeks after running her first marathon, Michelle learned she had a brain tumor, glioblastoma.
She has kept running, most days, throughout chemo and radiation, and she has continued to be a force in the lives of the people around her, but more than that, she has taken the diagnosis as a challenge. Michelle has always worked to help others and one means is by serving on the board of an organization known as High Hopes in High Heels. She’s also working to raise money for cancer research. Michelle is an amazing person, and teamed with husband, Ryan, they are making a difference in the lives of many and helping to raise awareness as they raise funds for cancer research.
A writer, Michelle is recording her journey in a book, titled On March 14, the day she was diagnosed. Her author page has 6,000 likes right now, but this podcast is downloaded by thousands each week. You have the power to push her likes far over 6,000, and in doing so, you’ll help her achieve her goals and spread good in the world. Her message is simple, “Be the Good.” Please go to her author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/michelleboyddejong
Let’s see if we can get 2,000 more likes this week!
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