Monday, November 15, 2010

The devil when down in Georgia...

Kidding me right?  Can't say I was not warned.

"In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be."
- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Where it all went down.  There may still be a chalk outline on the road from last year.

I'll save you the boring crap about the drive from Myrtle Beach to northwest Georgia.  The expo was forgettable other than the Daily Mile connection made with Gordon H. from Alabama.  He is a great guy and I enjoyed our visit before and after the race.

Hey, UnaRunner?  What's your real name?

So we got to the start/finish area around 6.30am with plenty of time to warm up and hit the bathroom (twice) before the official start at 7.30am.  There were lots of people like at most races.  All shapes and sizes.  Untold number of reasons for starting and goals for finishing.  There were 50-staters and green-horn first-timers.  I lined up with Gordon and Drew T. also from Daily Mile.  Always great to see friendly faces before (and during) a race.

The cannon roared and we were off.  The course begins with a loop around Barnhardt Circle then directs the runners on a local road before quickly shooting into the park.  For approximately one mile we were on broken asphalt "trail" closed in by trees.  A slight downhill slope was cause for early restraint on speed.  Got to go easy.  Once in the park the course became an eleven mile double loop.  We ran on blacktop through narrow forest and sunlit fields and monuments to states and soldiers whom gave blood and sweat in service to a cause greater than any little race.

The Chickamauga National Military Park is the site of a battle between Federal and Confederate forces as General Sherman's army attempted to break out of Chattanooga and head south for Atlanta.  While "Johnny Reb" won the day at Chickamauga, the loses where so heavy that when the Union forces made a second attempt the next spring they met little opposition.

The first loop went fairly well.  I ran for a few miles with a runner who's name I cannot recall.  But he is memorable in that he ran New York the previous Sunday.  His only goal this day was to enjoy himself.

The course is very windy with lots of banked turns.  Running the tangents is very important to minimize the distance you could run if you hugged the white line.  I think I would eventually run 26.4 miles in total.

I shared time with another runner from Atlanta.  Sam appeared to by older than me and was a capable strider.  He had not trained much lately but hoped for a good time and whatever time to day allowed.  I eventually pulled away from both Mr. New York and Sam.

Last year I DNFed on this course.  The pain, physical and emotional, of that day let me forget just how hilly the course is.  Because of this I had not trained for hills.  That would prove to be my undoing.

Let me clue you into a little secret.  Myrtle Beach is flat.  The only true hills are bridges and highway overpasses.  I could have gotten hill work in had I felt it necessary.  My gut let me down.  I realized how wrong I was as my dad and I drove through the park on Friday afternoon.  In the span of three miles there were at least four rises, the last of which was long and straight and high.  Probably not much for local runners or folks used to hilly terrain.  But this flat lander was about to get cooked.

I am a follower of Chi Running, a running style developed out of Tai Chi by Danny Dreyer.  I have spent the last sixteen months working through the forms and techniques to improve my running form and efficiency.  The process reduced or all but eliminated any joint pain that used to plague me as a runner.  Chi Running allowed me to enjoy running and excel as a runner.  But Danny is adamant in his commandments of "gradual progression" and maintaining focus regardless of the distance, pace or workout.

The thing to know about Chi Running for those unfamiliar is that it is very specific in how to move or hold every part of the body.  From head to toe every part has a slot or way to move to draw out maximum efficiency on the move.  During most run on flat ground the arms swing in a very short zone, from wrist to elbow always along the torso.  The arms act as a counter-balance to the legs and aid in forward momentum.  See pages 102-106 of Chi Running for greater detail on arm swing.  But one must understand that the elbow never comes forward of the rib cage.  Except when on a full sprint or on hills.  On up hill runs one will swing the arms forward as if punching ones self in the chin.  This aids upward momentum.  However it can apply greater stress on muscle along the spinal column from the neck through the shoulder blades.  Not good if one has not "worked" on hills during the most recent training cycle.

Even saw my dad on Mile 12.  Nice moment.

But, and its a big "but" the likes of which Sir Mix-a-lot pens hit songs about, I felt something "off"  by Mile 11.
I used get awful neck and shoulder pain early in my running.  I have been able to reduce the tension and run without pain in my upper back for several months.  This development was not good.  Anyway, I still had asphalt to kick.

By Mile 15 I had to hit pit road.  Just a quick stop to empty the tank and then back on the road.  Great thing about a park course is that will all the trees I don't have to wait for a port-a-john.  Whoo-hoo!!!

However that were things went off the tracks.  Permanently.  The pain in my neck and back moved into my shoulders and upper arms.  I never thought pain in my arms would affect my running but I was nearly in tears from the cramping.*  Unfortunately things would get worse.

Drew T. passed me somewhere around mile 19 or 20.  He asked how I was feeling.  Guess it was obvious but I answered with "I feel like shit".  His response was "same here".  And off he went.  Go get it Drew!

I had to walk in stretches beginning on Mile 20.  Only a 10k to go** and I know it will be the hardest 10k of my life.  While dealing with my shoulder pain I finally was forced to notice a new pain in my right foot.  There was a spot on the ball of my foot was in pain.  Toward the outside.  Right where I was planting with each stride.  By Mile 22 the run at 3.15.00 was over.  I could not run more that 100-200 yards without walking.  For a while.  I passed 22 miles at 2.55.38.  My shoulders didn't hurt as much as my foot anymore, but the overall effect on my body was overwhelming.  And because of pressure from my foot my calves were starting to cramp up.  Not in the funny sort of cramp either.  And I knew 3.30.00 was gone also.  Now all I hoped to do was get to the finish line.

My only explanation for the foot would be to blame the curved, banked road on the course.  Most of the roadway sloped downward left to right, so my right foot was usually lower and may have been planting harder than I thought at the time.  Could never get past it during the race.

Say my dad on the second loop on Mile 23.  I stopped to walk a minute and let him know I was not well but would be ok.  He needed to get back to the finish line as soon as possible.  Still have not seen my daughter or mom since before the race start.

I considered quitting.  I questioned if I really want to run.  At all.  I wondered if I was good enough to run far.  That is what I want more than anything.  I like the shorties.  5k and 10k are fun.  Quick and done.  But The Marathon is a whole other thing.  And an ultra is like a dream I don't dare dream.  But running far is what I want.

Running is my health outlet.  It got me into shape.  It made me healthy.  But I need a race and training to stay focused.  Without wanted to be a marathoner I would still be fat and unhappy and not what I want to be now.

My new goal, in the moment, for the short term, was to get back to Barnhardt Circle.  Two turns and done.  All down hill.  I can do that.  I think...

"Why couldn't Pheidippides have died here?"
- Frank Shorter, 22 miles into his first marathon, in 1971.

As I entered Barnhardt Circle for the final quarter mile I knew I had to run.  No matter how slow I went I absolutely had to run.  No matter how badly my foot hurt I had to run.  And since the final quarter mile was downhill I a little assist when I needed it most.  The road straighted out on the final stretch, and I know it sounds cliche, but I heard nothing and felt nothing.  Tunnel vision directed me onward with little thought other than to finish.

With only twenty yards to go I noticed movement to my left.  My daughter Lochlyn burst from the crowd and joined me for the final push.  I don't remember anything else till I was handed the finisher's medal.  Couldn't tell if the clock was even working.  That is how happy I was that my daughter stepped out.

Finishing with my "best eleven year old in the world"!

After I crossed the finish line I was handed my medal and "first-timer" plaque.  Then I stumbled to where my parents were on the road side and fell onto the grass.  My mom later told me she thought I was dead.  No, not yet.  But I laid there with my eyes closed and not moving for what seemed like a half-hour.  Maybe longer, maybe not.  I occasionally moved my arm.  I had to cough once and couldn't.  A lower abdominal cramp prevented that from happening.  I tried to get up once and couldn't.  My mom knew I was breathing.  Thank goodness for the auto-response systems in the body.  

I still cannot fathom that I met one of my goals.  In spite of much talk or bluster about wanting a Boston Marathon qualifying time the mostly likely and realistic goal was to finish.  And after nearly two years of planning and training and trying I could proclaim myself a "marathoner".  My name is on the list.  No DNF.  No omission from the shared struggle of a common cause.  Regardless of the reason or the result***, I did it.

There may be more to write.  More detail or emotion to get down.  Things to commit to "paper" before time erases the day from my memory.  My wife watched me type most of this and has commented about the length.  Maybe I am long winded tonight.  Forgive me for having a lot to say.  And there is even more to say about that day and the three days since.  There may be a few updates as I think them necessary

"...some people take to marathons in testament to the fact there is still substance and life in them.  
For others, it's simply a celebration of their life or perhaps the lives of others."
- Amby Burfoot, as interviewed for The 2,500-Year-Old Man
Sports Illustrated, November 15, 2010

* About four o'clock in the afternoon it hit me.  The excessive arm swing on Mile 7 aggravated a set of muscles I rarely need in running.  Had I not used the forward arm swing, or actually used hill work during the training cycle I may have avoided this problem.  For my mental state I was stoked to hit on this little pearl of wisdom so quickly.  It took me two weeks to work through my ankle issue from last year.  Things are already looking up.

** That final 10k took about 70 minutes.  The final two and a half miles about 40 minutes.  Consider me humbled.  Pushing through when there is nothing but the finish is an amazing thing.  Elites sometimes quit rather than risk injury.  They must be ready for the "next race".  For myself and others on that course Saturday the 2010 Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon was the only race.

*** My split times for people who may want to analyze such things.  Roscoe?  Greg?

One final note.  Today I ran.  Two days after Chickamauga.  I ran over seven miles and finished that run like a kid chasing summer.  Easy and painless and free of worry.  Or as free as I could be only days removed from my first marathon.  The calf soreness was moderate.  The foot pain was minimal.  The shoulder pain was non-existant.  I may have learned a few things regarding training and race day but one thing is certain. 

I am a runner.


  1. Awesomeness! Congratulations, marathoner. You made it. So, thumbs up!

  2. It's amazing how varied yet similar the stories of a marathon can be. One thing I've neglected to comment on regarding my race is the pain I'm also experiencing on my right foot. Thinking back on it I remember my foot curling inside my shoe, and instead of landing flat and striking mid-foot I kept touching down on the outside, just below the ball. Oh well. Them's the breaks.

    I've heard it enough the past couple of days myself, so now it's your turn. And deservedly so. Congratulations on completing this marathon. The hurdles you overcame are not to be discounted. Hope to see you out there again soon.

  3. great blog! congratulations, its well deserved!

  4. Excellent post! I feel as if I gained the experience Chickamauga without having to pay or run. Keep up the great work!

  5. Great job! I'd still be sitting by the side of the road if I'd had to deal with those hills... love the picture with your daughter at the end. Congratulations!

  6. Not only are you a gifted writer, you are a marathoner. And this 5k'er stands in awe.

  7. Logan, I feel your pain. My first marathon was just over a year ago and I started strong (1:35 half) and then struggled to the finish (3:55). I distinctly remember watching 3:20 (my BQ) tick by on my watch and then helplessly watching 3:30 and 3:45 do the same thing. As devastated as I was, I was a finisher and over the last year have heard several similar stories for first-timers shooting for a BQ. The good news is that less than 11 months later, I ran my 4th marathon and crushed my previous best (I web from a 3:55 to a 3:32 to a 3:30 (just 2 weeks later) to finally a 3:19). I know that with your dedication to this religion we call running, you will achieve your BQ soon. Take the lessons of this one and move will be rewarded by the running gods.

  8. My current running goals do not include a marathon, but I love how no matter what the race goal, the emotion is the same. You write with an honesty that as a newer runner, I appreciate greatly! While it wasn't the finish you had dreamed off and planned for, it was a priceless learning experience! I could hear the exhausted gratitude when your daughter joined you...what a blessing our children can be! Lastly, you have proven, repeatedly :o), that running is not about the destination but the journey! Congratulations on being an "official" first time finisher!!!