Race Report: 2010 Grandma's Marathon

(Continued from "Grandma's Marathon - Pre-Race Report".)

A few short moments after the fly-over, the racers started crowding up to the front of the chute. It was time to begin running! Or, maybe walk for a bit. "Hurry up and wait" came to mind as Clem, Dave and I chuckled and joked about the pace. When we did finally get moving, I was feeling pretty optimistic. My knee was feeling pretty good, and having great company definitely helped.

Clem did his homework regarding the pacing, and I learned that the 3'50" pacer's name was Jack. The strategy was to stay within sight, either in front of or just behind Jack. This went well, and the first few miles disappeared into the past. Around the second or third mile, I recognized a slight discomfort in my left knee. We met another runner by the name of Chad, also running his first marathon, one by the name of Dan, a young 20-something kid, first time marathoner, and I believe a marathon veteran by the name of Darin. Chad and Darin sported their names on their jerseys/shirts, and Clem was a veritable chatterbox.

By mile six, I voiced my discomfort to Clem's question. "I'm feeling it." He expressed his concern. "I'll stay on pace as long as I can," I said, but I told him to run his own race. Right around mile 7 or 8, I started to drop back. Clem was on pace, and he looked back to find me. I waved him forward and he nodded acknowledgement. Someone would need to finish on goal, and it wouldn't be me this day.

When the knee pain did arrive, it came quickly. Illotibial Band Syndrom (ITBS)is a relatively painful inflammation of the Illotibial Band, the tendon that runs from your hip, outside your thigh, and wraps along the outside of your knee, attaching to your tibia. When you run, this tendon can get inflamed in two spots, at your hip, which causes a painful bursitis, or at your knee. I encountered the bursitis last Fall while preparing for the Monster Dash half marathon. It took me out of the running for months. I didn't speak with a doctor or physical therapist about it, opting to try to fix the problem with cross training and stretching. Apparently, it only partially worked.

By mile 9, the pain was intense. I decided that it was time to try something, anything to reduce the pain. I had seen a National Guard first aid truck on my way through the mile 9 water station. I turned back and limped to the truck. Inside was a ratherdespondent runner. When I asked what was wrong, he didn't respond verbally, but indicated that his quads hurt. It was likely he was one of the 27 elite Kenyan runners invited to run Grandma's this year. This would be the closest I would come to meeting one today, unfortunate circumstances, indeed. I pointed at my knee while the trooper prepared the ice for me.

I walked away from the truck, sat at the side of the road, iced my knee and watched runners flow by. I could drop out here and no one would fault me for it, but for some reason, I wasn't ready to give up. The minutes ticked by, but I exercised restraint and continued to ice the knee for a full 10 minutes. I couldn't wait any longer. I ran through the water stations for a second time, this time with a pleasantly numb knee. Rather than pain, it felt like there was a rock underneath my tendon. Weird.

The race changed dramatically for me from that point on. It was a race of little goals. My family was waiting for me at the finish line, and I wanted more than anything to run through the chute. From the beginning of the race, I either passed or was passed by people wearing pink shirts, cancer survivors or cause shirts. I knew I was in pain, but I kept thinking that there were others in greater pain than myself who couldn't or wouldn't have the opportunity to run a marathon. I wasn't running for them, but I wasn't ready to give up either. Emotionally, I was an inspired wreck. I acknowledged that my body might not carry me that far, but I was going to try. I resolved to make it to the half-marathon point, which also happened to be close to first of the medical drop-out points.

The miles didn't tick off as quickly as before, but I tried not to stop running. Where running was painful, starting and stopping was more so. At the 11 mile aid station, I tried to do get an ITBS support-style taping, but I was too sweaty and hairy for it to work. Instead, the aid volunteer ACE-bandaged my thigh.  I took a couple of Tylenol to dull the pain, which I think helped slightly. The wrap didn't really do anything, but mentally it added to my effort.

The half-marathon point came and went, and the medical drop-out point loomed ahead. I stared hard and long at it as I jogged on by. "Not yet," I told myself. Walk, jog, walk jog. By mile 16 or was it 15, I felt I had to do something else to manage the pain. The wrap wasn't working, and I had some longer stretches of walking I wasn't happy with. I turned and walked back to the aid station... again. This was the Cadillac of aid stations. They had recliner chairs, potato chips, and gummy worms. I iced my knee in luxury. The people there were great and quite familiar with sports injuries. They identified my hamstring wrap as unhelpful and instead re-wrapped it as a knee-compression wrap.

"How does it feel?" the aid volunteer asked. "It feels!" I grinned and thanked him. More optimistic, I set out again. I was going to finish this race! I hoped. The next four miles were filled with running and walking. I passed the same runner and walkers when I ran, only to be passed when they ran. We were the back of the pack, the injured, and the determined.

At mile 20, my right quads were cramping up and I began walking again. I called out to a fellow walker, a long-haired runner wearing a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. His name was John Gannon, and this was his first marathon in the barefoot-style shoes. We talked quite a bit. I asked him about his shoes, and he asked me about my knee. He brought my spirits back up from a very low point, and for that I'm truly thankful. He pointed out that I had already succeeded, that I had already won. My family was waiting for me at the finish line, and I had just completed 20 plus miles on a bum knee. I couldn't fail; there was no stopping now. Although my quads weren't participating, and my knee wasn't happy, I could still succeed. I only had to walk across that finish line; I didn't have to run.

Run I did, for another half mile, before walking again. I managed to do this for another two or three miles, but finally my quads gave up. I walked and reached out to another walker for conversation.  Hannah was also a Duluth alumnus running her second or third marathon, I believe.  She was having a good time of it, relatively speakingg. We walked and talked, laughed at the college spectators' jokes. Like many runners, we walked up Lemon Drop Hill, where Clem told me later his own quads gave out on him. At St Benedict's sandwich shop, Hannah started running again, determined to finish the race sooner than later. I tried to keep up, but my quads cramped up again.  I was going to walk it in, it seemed. Emotional low point; I was glad I was wearing my new sunglasses.

At mile 25, I met up with Dave Mari again. He had been running on a stress-fractured toe and was still taking pictures with people. I waved him to go on ahead of me, letting him know I would be walking it the rest of the way in. He made me smile, and I was resigned to my fate. I simply wanted the race to end at this point. I knew there was only one way to do that: keep walking.

Walk I did, until I rounded the final bend and was looking at the finish line. For some reason, I couldn't just stroll in, I had to at least try to jog. I coaxed my knee and my quad into action one last time. Starting was always the most painful part of the days' run, but I had yards to go. On the left, I saw my whole family cheering me on. We exchanged high-fived, and I smiled my way across the paint. I had done it. Somehow, I had managed to push past the pain, past the emotional low points, and drag my sorry carcass across the finish line [Edit: in 5:45!  Only two hours later than originally planned!]


Next: Grandma's Marathon - Post-Race Report