How can I describe one of my bucket list achievements? PAINFUL!!! Running a marathon is no joke. So this was long overdue. I ran my first marathon on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2016, (10 days away from turning 42). It's been a little over a month now and I can say it's still pretty fresh in my head.
First off, what made me want to run a marathon? Well, I don't consider myself a runner. Ever since I was a child, I've always had problems with my legs. I blame it on the fact that I'm flat footed. I've always had pain in the bottom of my feet, my heels, my achilles tendon always hurts, shin splints, and knee problems. I only get these pains when I run long distance, (3+ miles), for the exception of my knees which I also get knee pains when cycle. So, I guess I can say for me running with aches and pains has been the norm because I've dealt with this my whole life. So not being a runner, I got into cycling, loved it, and now I've been wanting to do a triathlon. But in order to do a triathlon I have to run. That's the scary part. It used to be the swimming, but now at the age of 42, what scares me is the running part. So I decided to run the marathon this year with a little push from my sister-in-law who ran a couple of marathons before.
My brother, his wife and I signed up to do the Los Angeles Marathon. I'm going to be honest. The most I ran for preparation was 5 miles. My training routine was to run 2-3 times per week, 3-5 miles. About 3 weeks before the event, I hurt my knees during a training run to the point where I couldn't walk and had to have my brother pick me up in the middle of my so-called training run. So 3 weeks prior to the event, I only ran twice, which was the week of the marathon just to see if my knees would hold up. So I guess I can say I ran about 3 miles the week of the marathon for preparation.
The morning of, we met at my brother's house and took his RV. We were on the road to Los Angeles at around 4:15AM. We arrived at Dodger stadium when it was still dark, and we were given special parking all the way out by what they called "the garden" because they didn't expect someone to drive up in an RV. In a way it was cool because it was like having our own private parking. We got ready, used the bathroom, went back and forth on whether we took a jacket or not because it was so cold that morning. I had my protein shake, vitamins and oatmeal, put on sun screen lotion and around 5:45AM we started making our way to the starting line.
On the way to the starting line, it was pretty un-eventful, I just remember being really cold! I decided to just wear my arm warmers and not take any extra stuff that I knew I was going to take off 10 to 15 minutes into the run. When we found our gate, we had to squeeze in because it was so packed! There were so many people, I believe there were over 25,000 runners that day. So we stood in line for what felt like eternity because it was cold and like it always happens... when it's least convenient, the urge of going to the bathroom hits. I don't know if it's happened to you, but it's the worst feeling. So I start with the bathroom dance making it seem like I'm trying to get some type of warm up in before we start. During the national anthem, standing still was so hard.
Finally we get started. Just to reach the start line took us about 5 minutes with maneuvering and hurdling through all the "obstacles", (water bottles, clothes and stuff people left lying on the road). The fence to the left was full of sweaters and jackets that people took off and left behind. It was hard to get in a stride so we just kept it easy and super slow which was good because I felt like my bladder was going burst. About mile 2 there were the porta potties. We didn't hesitate to stop. Talk about relief. So we're off again. We took the first 5 miles easy to get into rhythm. It was at around mile 5 where I lost my brother and sister-in-law. I waited for them and turned back but it was so crowded that I just didn't see them.
So I'm off on my own now. Usually at around mile 5 is where I begin to feel my aches and pains, but I was feeling pretty good. I pick up the pace to about an 8:30 minute mile and kept it there until about mile 13.
It was at mile 13 where I noticed my knee pain coming back. Even worse, I got a really bad pain on my left achilles and the bottom of my left heel. I felt like I had a rock that was dabbing at the bottom of my heel. Super painful. And my achilles just tightened up so bad, I felt it was going to tear with every step. It was like all my injuries just hit me all at once. My time at mile 13 was at 1 hour 59 minutes. From there I started running funny because I was trying to avoid landing hard on my left foot so that it wouldn't hurt as much, but nothing seemed to help. Unfortunately, the funny running led to over working my right hip flexor. It just kind of gave out on me. Now I could barely lift my right leg. Not only did it give out on me, but it was also painful to move it. This was at about mile 18.
The crazy part were the things that were going through my head. I was physically in pain, but in my head, I was more concerned about getting passed by (with all due respect), these little old ladies. WTF! My respects to these women. They are warriors! I was like... there's no way I'm going to stop and get beat by a little old lady. So here I am, a 42 year old fit guy, limping and running all weird and in the worse pain in my life, trying to keep up with little old ladies.
Then at around mile 20 I'm texting my wife just to give her status of how I'm doing and she asks me if I wanted a ride. Hell no! I replied! Here I am, in the worse pain in my life, but in my head I'm thinking, if all these people can do it, there's no way I'm stopping, especially getting beat by little old ladies. They ended up leaving me behind and demoralizing me, hahaha, but I was determined to figure out a way to walk faster or run or something to keep me moving. Just being on my feet was painful. My muscles felt fine, I wasn't tired, I was just in pain. I felt like someone was sticking needles in my knees, like I had pulled a muscle in my hip flexor, like having sharp rocks dabbing the bottom of my heel, and like my achilles was about to tear apart. But my main concern was my pride.
Is that crazy? Am I crazy? All these different thoughts went through my head over and over. Should I stop? Is this worth it? What if I stop? What if I injure myself so badly that I can never run again? But if I stop, will I regret it? If I stop, I'm probably going to regret it and it'll be in my head the rest of my life. Then I'll be looking for excuses the rest of my life of why I didn't finish my first marathon. I can say, I didn't train, which is true. I can say the pain was unbearable, which is true, but deep inside I knew that if I quit it would haunt me for the rest of my life.
So I decided to keep going. I changed my focus to asking all these questions about quitting, to focusing on a strategy to get me through the last 8 miles. So I did, I started focusing on small efforts. I'm going to run 1 mile in pain, then walk, stop and stretch, then go again. So I did that until about mile 23. Then from mile 23 and on, I just said... suck it up and run it in. I ran (remember this is at a really slow pace, running super weird because I can barely lift my right leg, and I can't put pressure on my left foot), to mile 25... and had to stop and stretch. These felt like the longest 2 miles of the whole run because my negative thoughts came back in. Should I stop? Should I just walk? No, keep going! But what if...? Come on! Go! Keep going! I'm in pain. I need to stop... Don't slow down, keep going. These are the things that were just going through my head these 2 miles. Felt like forever.
My last mile I said to myself, this is it Jose, just finish. Doesn't matter how, just finish. So I started up, couldn't run anymore. So I just simulated running and walked as fast as I could. I see the finish line. I'm getting passed by so many people including more little old ladies. I don't care anymore because I am about to accomplish something that took so much out of me. With about 200 yards to go, a lady comes up to me and tells me, come on, let's run it in, don't quit... and I tell her, I'm right there with you... I'm going as fast as I can. She looks at me and smiles and takes off. 100 yards, 50, 10 I finished!
Was it worth it? You bet it was! I was still in pain, but the feeling inside of having to endure such pain and finishing such a task in my conditions were unexplainable. It's something I can live to talk about and be proud of. Painful experience, but well worth it. Will I run a marathon again? If I want to run an Iron Man triathlon, I'm going to have to. My training will start very soon again. I'll keep you posted.
Jose Nilo aka Coach Nilo