Oh, Flying Pig… you lived up to the hype and then some!
This was my first time running this race I’d heard so much about. I was originally slated to run it in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic kept that from happening and I deferred it to this year.
I knew going in about the hilly first half, and my hope was that running the Boston Marathon three weeks earlier would prepare me for what awaited. I went into the race with a goal of beating my Boston time (3:49) and excited to see what was possible after a 1:38 half marathon at Cap City last Saturday.
The race expo and the other events on Saturday were great, and it was fun to bump into a few friends who were also doing the race. We were all excited for the race but concerned about the forecast which called for heavy rain and severe storms.
The forecast ended up being very accurate as the first round of storms rolled through about 5 a.m. on race morning. My hotel was less than a mile from the start, so I waited until just after 5:30 to head to my corral for the 6:30 scheduled start. Thankfully, there was no rain as we waited and soon it was time to get the race started.
As the national anthem was sung, the rain started to fall and lightning began to flash in the distance. The race started as planned, but we knew that things were going to get interesting.
The first mile of the race takes you across a bridge into Kentucky and the rain began to pour down. The lightning intensified as we headed across the second and third bridges back into Cincinnati, and the rain came down in sheets as we headed down 7th Street. It was also very congested at this point in the race and you had to really watch where you were stepping.
Around mile 5, I heard several spectators and runners say that the race had been canceled. Some runners began to take shelter, but most of us kept going. My thought was that I wasn’t stopping until someone official told me I had to because once I stopped, I was done. (I found out afterwards that a shelter in place recommendation HAD been issued.)
After the long straight stretch downtown, we began our hilly ascent up into Mt. Adams. Rivers of muddy water ran downhill towards us as we splashed through ankle deep currents at times with lightning continuing to flash all around us. Honestly, the storm kept me distracted from the hills and before I knew it, we were approaching the half marathon/full marathon split at mile 9. I was worried that they might divert the full marathon runners to the half course due to the conditions as this was our last chance to shorten our journey.
When no one was there to stop us at the split, I grinned from ear to ear as rain dripped down my face. I even flexed really quick as I felt strong heading out for 17 more miles. I had a laugh a few minutes later as I caught up to a runner with laundry suds running down his legs as the rain churned up the excess detergent still in his shorts. He had no idea until he reached his hand down and came up with a handful of soap.
With over 10,000 runners doing the half and just under 5,000 doing the full, the course really thinned out after the split. However, even with the weather, the spectators and volunteers were still out in full force and made the back half of the course the fun event that it is. There were aid stations with bacon, Swedish fish, graham crackers, licorice, smores, Cheez-its, pickle juice, and other things in addition to the normal water, Gatorade, and Gu gels. I tried as many things as I could all while staying diligent with drinking water at every station and taking my SaltStick Fastchews and Gu gels alternating every three miles and they kept me feeling strong the whole way.
As I passed the halfway timing mat, I glanced at my watch and saw that I was at 13.25 miles in 1:51:00. I determined right then that I wanted to try my hardest to negative split the race with a goal of finishing in 3:41 or better. I had only negative split two other marathons, but after negative splitting the Cap City Half the previous weekend and feeling strong it was a goal that would push me the final miles.
Miles 15 and 16 were an out and back with lots of spectators and volunteers. There was a sneaky little hill at the beginning of mile 17 that doesn’t really show up on the elevation, and then we turned back towards the city. We were down to single digit miles!
More fun awaited on the long stretch back despite the rain that continued. One group of spectators handed out nerf footballs to throw into baskets. Further down the road, a different group handed us basketballs and had hoops set up for us to try to make a shot as we ran by. They were all great distractions and I just kept smiling.
As I crossed 20 miles, I knew that my negative split goal was a real possibility if I just kept staying steady. I began to pass people who had gone out too fast or had just gotten worn out and it truly energized me. I tried to encourage them and was able to get a few to run with me for a little bit.
Soon I was down to just two miles remaining and I knew that sub 3:42 was a definite possibility. In fact, I thought I might even break 3:40 when I saw that sign that said one mile to go. I kicked it in and mile 26 ended up being my fastest mile of the day at 7:56.
I kept looking for the finish and finally saw it. I accelerated and crossed the finish line with my hands in the air. The mileage on my watch ended up being nearly a quarter of a mile over the 26.2 distance at 26.46, but my 7:33 pace to cross the line gave me a 3:40:27 final time as I wrapped up marathon 32. I had done it! A one-minute and 33-second negative split the second half!
Super proud of my splits and execution in this race. Super thankful for the volunteers, spectators, and friends who were out on the course making the day possible. The Flying Pig is a challenging course with its hills, but I can totally see now why so many people rave about it once they’ve done it. What a great day!
What a day! I’ve finally had 48 hours to process everything about the 127th Boston Marathon and it boils down to this for me – I’m grateful.
I began running in May 2010 as a way to lose weight and get in shape. I had no idea then how far those first steps of a 2-mile run would take me. I ran my first marathon in October 2011. My third marathon in February of 2013 saw me notch my first BQ of 3:13:33, but I missed Boston 2014 by 11 seconds due to the time cut. Four marathons later, I finally earned a spot in Boston with what is still my PR – a 3:10:25 at the Erie Marathon on September 14, 2014.
Since then, I’ve been fortunate to run Boston six times (2015, 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022, and now 2023) as well as spectate in 2018 when a broken foot kept me from running the race, but I still went with my bib on, rode the bus to the start, and then hitchhiked to the finish on that cold, rainy day. Boston is special.
My goal this year was to PR in fun while pushing myself to do my best. I wanted to smile as much as possible all the miles and give out high fives, but still work hard and try to break 3:40. I knew that meant holding back on the early downhills and then staying tenacious and determined through the uphills and the fatigue that inevitably would come late in the race.
I wouldn’t change a thing about how the day unfolded. I rode the bus with my Rogue Racers teammates and made a new friend from Belgium as we passed the hour to the start. We got to Athletes Village and headed straight for the Wave 2 march to the start with no waiting. I bumped into Reggie, who I’d met on the bus during my first Boston, and that reminded me of the great people I’ve met through this race. After a quick port-a-potty stop right before the corrals, I hustled to my corral with 30 seconds to spare and then the race was underway.
I held back as planned those early miles and they flew by. I saw several friends but resisted the urge to keep up with them and stuck to my plan. Even running through Wellesley and high fiving the entire line as I ran by didn’t get me off my pace. I was halfway done.
The Newton Hills awaited and I knew that I would slow down through them. The goal was to just keep moving. I did just that even when the rain became heavy. Before I knew it, I was through mile 21 and it was time for the homestretch.
This part of the course is the part that I’ve spent the most time on during my 5 previous Bostons as I’ve walked a bunch due to going out too fast. This time, I had vowed to not walk. My legs were tiring and my stomach was a little upset, but I just kept pushing. Soon, the right on Hereford was just ahead and the final victory lap awaited down Boylston.
As I turned onto Boylston, my teammate, Paul, came up behind me and encouraged me. I was able to pick up my pace a little and realized I had a shot to get in around 3:49 if I hustled. I gave everything I had and crossed the finish line in exactly 3:49:00. I had done it!
The emotion of what I had done hit me as a volunteer put the medal around my neck. Marathons are hard and especially Boston. To have completed 31 marathons overall and six at Boston is something I’m very proud of.
I don’t know if I’ll ever earn my way back to Boston as the qualifying time has become harder for me to hit these days. What I do know is that Boston will always hold a very special place in my heart and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do it one more time. Thank you to all the volunteers and spectators who gave up their day to make this race what it is. Together we were all Boston strong!
It’s been a little over a week since I ran 50 miles at the Eagle Up 24-Hour Ultra event and I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the day. There were so many positives – a new 50K PR by more than 40 minutes (5:08:31), an 11th place overall finish in the 50-mile division as well as third place masters, a new Rogue Racers team record in 9:49:31, and more importantly quality time spent with friends on the 5-mile loop.
However, I have also had feelings of coming up short. See, I had originally signed up for the 100K distance. Eagle Up is a unique event because you have 24 hours to go after whatever distance you want, but you have to sign up for a distance when you register. You can do more or you can do less on race day depending on how the day goes for you. I ended up doing less and that’s not typically something I do.
Last year, I signed up for the 100K at Eagle Up in honor of my friend, Ang, who was battling breast cancer. She had planned to race it but was unable to after the breast cancer was discovered. She did, however, come and still log 15 miles on race day including walking one 5-mile loop with me as she inspired me to knocked out my first 100K. I didn’t care how long it was going to take – I was going to get it done if I had to walk the final 40 miles through the night. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that and I finished in 14:23:45.
I had a strong reason for doing the race last year – my “why”. I was motivated to do it for Ang and to also do it for the people who had contributed towards my fundraising efforts that were going to cancer research. My “why” pushed me to get it done even when things got tough and I got tired.
Back to last Saturday’s race. When I signed up for the race, I thought I had the chance to finish much faster at the distance than the previous year. However, several factors contributed to my mileage being way down compared to last year. My longest run in the month leading up to this race was 16 miles and my highest weekly mileage total the six weeks prior to the race was 52 miles back in April when I ran Boston. I was battling a sore back the week of the race and really didn’t know what I was going to be able to do. I kind of made my “why” just trying to enjoy all the many snacks that this race provides and then on race day once I accomplished that I was left with not much else to push for. I got to 50 miles in a good time and called it a day not really wanting to do the hard work that might have included nearly three hours of walking to get to my 100K goal. Was it the right call based on how my training had been going? Probably. But it still has left me wishing I had been more determined with my why.
As I head into the hot summer months of training for fall marathons, I’m really going to focus more on my “why”. Having a concrete reason to keep pushing when the going gets tough definitely makes a difference. I want to be able to cross that next finish line and know that I gave my all and not have any regrets regardless of the time on the clock.
It’s already been a week since I returned from the 200-mile, 12-person Hood to Coast Relay from Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean in Seaside, Oregon, and I’m still basking in the great memories. This was a trip that’s been nine years in the making and I’m so glad that I was finally able to take it and also introduce my Rogue Racers teammates to this epic event.
Back in 2012, I had the opportunity to be part of a Hood to Coast Relay team for the first time. Unfortunately, I was battling injuries leading up to that event and after running my first leg I was unable to run my other two legs and my teammates had to pick up the mileage. It was frustrating and disappointing, and I vowed that some day I would come back and take care of my unfinished business.
Fast forward to late October 2019 and I found out that the Rogue Racers had secured a coveted entry into the 2020 event through the race lottery. I quickly committed to go and eagerly looked forward to a much better experience. Then, the pandemic hit and the 2020 race was cancelled. We were guaranteed a spot in the 2021 event, but like with most events the past 18 months some of the excitement was gone and we wondered if it would even happen in 2021.
Then, in March, I got a note from my teammate who was serving as the captain of our HTC team that she was unable to go and wanted to know if I would take over the captain duties since I had done it before. I said yes and immediately sent a note to all the folks who had committed to go in 2020. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there were only four of us who were still planning to go. That meant I had to get to work to make sure the team was filled with 12 runners.
You would think that it would be easy to get my teammates to say yes to this epic adventure, but it was not. Traveling to Oregon from Ohio isn’t cheap, the dates fell right at the beginning of the school year, and people already had other plans or work commitments they couldn’t get out of. There was plenty of interest, but actually saying yes was tough. I would get our team roster to 10 or 11 and then someone would need to back out.
As June rolled around, we were still one teammate short when we got an inquiry about joining Rogue Racers from a runner named Tamara. I immediately asked her if she wanted to join 11 strangers on our HTC adventure as a great way to get to know our team. She said yes and then showed up to a group run that Saturday and the rest was history. She was a great fit and our HTC team was set. What a relief for me and I couldn’t wait to just enjoy the race in August.
Travel arrangements were all set with hotels, flights, and rental vans, special Rogue Racers finish line t-shirts were designed, van and leg assignments were done and the excitement that had been missing early in 2021 was all there and we couldn’t wait to get this adventure started!
Then, on Tuesday afternoon less than 39 hours before our flight to Portland was scheduled to take off, we got the news that we’ve all dreaded over the past year and a half – one of our teammates had tested positive for COVID. We were devastated for them and thankful that their symptoms were not too serious as our first concern was for their health and recovery. They had also not been around anyone else on the team, so there was no exposure to the team.
Next, the reality set in that we needed to find a replacement or have three runners pick up an extra leg each. And would you believe that within two hours, we had done it!!! Thankfully, a friend of Michelle’s was already in Oregon for work and could get the time off to participate. She had also been a college teammate of another member of our Rogue Racers team and she was from my hometown of Zanesville, so it seemed like an ideal fit in a not-so-ideal situation. We made all the necessary arrangements to get Kim registered and we were back ready to go with 12 runners in the mixed submasters division – 6 women, 6 men all at least 30 years old.
Our flight to Portland was fairly uneventful despite a slight delay leaving Chicago from our layover. One of my biggest fears was having an issue with getting our two rental vans since they were necessary for the race and there’s been a shortage during the pandemic, but big props to Thrifty for having everything ready to go for us. Then, it was on to the Courtyard where our rooms were ready and waiting thanks to the great work by their group sales rep, Liyu, who I had worked with for several weeks leading up to our arrival. We had made it to Portland!
After grabbing a bite to eat at Chipotle, we drove both vans to Mt. Hood so that everyone could see the starting line since only Van #1 could go there the next day to start the race. We took a funny picture with the sparkling clean Honey Buckets at the starting line and just enjoyed seeing the beauty of the area and soaking in the much cooler temps. No one was missing the heat and humidity of Ohio that’s for sure!
We drove back down Mt. Hood at that point and headed to Vancouver, Washington to have dinner on the water. I was in Van #2 and we were marveling at how steep the first four legs of the race were going to be and couldn’t wait to see how Amy H, Michael, Josh, and Brittney would do the next day because they were going to be flying downhill! We enjoyed spending the dinner time all together at one table and it was a nice way to be together before we set out in two vans for the adventure the next day.
Thanks to our predicted finish time of 22 hours, 14 minutes, and 33 seconds based on times that we had each turned in that the HTC staff plugged into their formula we were not slated to start until 1:40 p.m. local time on Friday. That meant that most of the other 867 teams would already be in front of us. We enjoyed being able to sleep in a bit on Friday and then we got together to decorate our vans before we cheered Van #1 on as they left the hotel to head to the starting line.
Van #2 relaxed the next couple of hours and grabbed lunch. Michelle drove a couple of hours to pick up Kim and soon we got an update that Van #1 was way ahead of schedule as they were crushing those downhill legs. We loaded up Van #2 and headed to the first van exchange to wait for Van #1 to get there. The butterflies were starting and we were all excited and nervous to get going. The Van #1 times were inspiring all of us to really push things when we finally got our first chance.
Finally, around 5:15 p.m. local time, Van #1 pulled into the parking lot in Sandy, Oregon with our bibs and we quickly got Jared T ready to go for his first leg. It was just 10 minutes later that Bryan came cruising in to finish Leg #6 as he passed the bracelet to Jared and our van’s adventure was underway!
Jared crushed his first leg and beat his time, passed to Tamara who also beat her time, and then Amy P took off on her first leg. I was starting to get nervous as I was now the “on deck” runner as Kim would take the bracelet from Amy and then pass to me after her run. It was getting real and I was getting nervous. All those years of waiting for another shot at this race were now down to just over an hour before it was go time for me.
Here’s where I need to reflect on what my running had been like for the month leading up to HTC. In mid-July, I had started to incorporate speed work into my training as I have the Boston Marathon coming up in October and I wanted to try to see if I could get a course PR there (sub 3:28). Well, speed work and I don’t go together very well and I suffered a painful left hamstring strain while doing speed work on July 27. I later began having issues in my right hamstring and my right piriformis, so I was a mess and began thinking I might be relegated to walking my three HTC legs.
From that day until race day at HTC on August 27, I ran a total of 45 miles and primarily just walked every day to stay in some kind of shape and to be prepared to walk fast if necessary. I also went to Fit for Life Physical Therapy five times and credit Chris Lawson for keeping me believing and working diligently to get me able to at least complete my three legs at HTC without walking. The work he did made the rest of this story possible. I was so determined to not have a repeat of my first HTC experience that I didn’t race the Emerald City half marathon and instead paced the 13:45 quarter marathon by walking. I knew that I wouldn’t be 100 percent on my legs and turned in 9:30-9:50 pace for my miles and just hoped I could do that.
Flash back to Friday evening in Portland. Amy had breezed through her leg and Kim was somewhere in the dusk heading rapidly towards me with the bracelet. I had roughly a 5-mile leg on a bike path to do. Seeing the times that everyone had been throwing down, I was hoping against hope that I could do eight-minute miles and keep things moving for our team. I knew I was going to get to enjoy the sunset on my run and I tried to zone out thinking about that. I exchanged small talk with Brenda from the Lululemon team who was also waiting for her teammate to get there. Then, Kim appeared in the distance and it was time to go!
What happened over the next 31:55 I can’t really explain. I followed the path and the one lone runner who was just ahead of me and the miles began to tick away…..6:52, 6:56. “How am I doing this?” I had to pause slightly at a couple of crossroads for traffic over the next mile and it slowed to 7:04. Then, I picked up the pace again for a 6:59 mile and I knew that I had just a mile or less to go until I would pass the bracelet to Michelle. I got passed by one guy during the last mile, but soon I saw Michelle in the distance and because I had run MUCH faster than expected she wasn’t really ready for me. I gave it all I had left and passed off to her and I was done with my first leg – 6:58 pace for 4.57 miles. Wow! I couldn’t believe it!
We quickly made our way to the van and drove to the next exchange to wait for Michelle to finish and to pass the bracelet off to the other van. It was fun to catch up with everyone and hear about their experiences. My run had taken me past roughly 200 hundred tents of the large Portland homeless population and I was glad that I had been able to get done before it was too dark. It was fun to see the rest of our team from Van #1 and hear their excitement about their first legs and also for them to celebrate what our van had been able to do. We were well on our way to a great race.
After Michelle finished and passed the bracelet off to Amy H to start the second round, our team packed up the van and headed to the Best Western in St. Helens, Oregon where we had a place to shower and sleep for a little bit. It was great to get cleaned up, eat a little, and sleep for about an hour before we got a text that Van #1 was about done with their second legs. Thankfully, the next meeting place was less than 10 minutes away and we hustled to get there.
Poor Jared T didn’t have much time before Bryan showed up and then he was off. Little note about Jared…he’s really battled a crazy amount of setbacks over the past three years since qualifying for Boston for the first time in February of 2018. I know from talking to him leading up to HTC that he was worried about letting the team down because he didn’t feel like his times were where they needed to be. I assured him that this was about fun first and foremost and anything else was icing on the cake. Well, as our van drove Jared’s hilly second leg, we just shook our heads at how tough it was going to be. And you know what? Jared absolutely dominated those hills and came in well ahead of what he had predicted and even said they weren’t that bad since it was in the dark and he really couldn’t see them. I guess that’s the key with hills – run them in the dark.
Next up for our van was Tamara with not only an extremely hilly run (ummm +900 feet of elevation gain over 5.75 miles), but it was also on a gravel road and there was lots of traffic as we were now catching up to a lot of the teams that had started much earlier than us. As we drove to the next exchange, we again looked at each other and agreed that we were glad we weren’t the ones running that leg. Well, just like Jared, Tamara came flying into the exchange fired up and happy to tell us that she had “21!” (Rogue kills or runners she had passed during her leg) as she handed off to Amy P. Another runner commented “Oh, those runners are here now” which made us laugh because we were definitely using the Rogue kills as a way to motivate us to push hard.
Getting our van out of the exchange zone after leg 20 was the trickiest logistical part of our race as the turnaround road was very narrow with deep ruts on the sides that could damage the van. I got out and directed traffic to get us out of there and Michelle was an excellent driver to get us out. However, we were nervous that Amy might get to the next exchange before us because she was running so fast, she had a good 10-minute lead on us, and traffic was moving slowly on the gravel road.
About 3.5 miles into Amy’s 5-mile route, things had really slowed down and the dust had picked up. There were vans stopping to talk to their runner as they passed them and that was irritating as we didn’t want to make Amy wait when she got to the exchange. Then, out of nowhere, we saw Amy on the wrong side of the road. She was trying to find good footing among the ruts and it meant that at times she was running the same direction as traffic. Michelle yelled at her to stay on the left and we hustled to the exchange so Kim could get ready.
Thankfully, Kim had a 6.70-mile run after she took the bracelet so I was going to have a few minutes to get ready once we got to the next exchange. It was around 3:30 a.m. local time and I was looking forward to going after the Noxgear and reflective vests of the other runners who were ahead of me. At one point while we were waiting, a runner came in and couldn’t find her teammate to pass the bracelet. She kept yelling her name “Barbie” and finally the teammate appeared. She must have been half asleep because she took the bracelet and headed the wrong way to which the entire crowd yelled at her to turn around. It was pretty funny and I made a mental note that she would definitely be one to pass on my leg.
Kim came flying down the hill out of the darkness, handed me the bracelet, and I was off. I passed my first person about half a mile into the darkness but it wasn’t Barbie. I was actually disappointed that I didn’t find another person to pass until Barbie finally appeared about 1.3 miles in. However, from there, I began picking people off left and right. I ended up with 15 ‘Rogue’ kills and was passed by one person so I netted 14. I ended up averaging 7:00 pace over the 4.13 miles with splits of 6:47, 6:59, 7:11, and 7:06 before closing out the last .13 at a 6:36 clip to give the bracelet to Michelle. I was two-thirds of the way done with my HTC and I had accomplished more than my last time. I was really excited. And grateful.
We hustled to the next exchange as Michelle had less than 5 miles before we would pass the bracelet off to the other van to start the final round of legs. We were a little nervous that the other van might not be there yet because we had gone faster than expected once again and there was no reliable cell reception for most of the time from legs 19-32. Thankfully, the other van was there, and Michelle handed off to Amy H for the last time and we had time to catch our breath, relax, and refuel.
Our van decided to head for the exchange at the start of leg 27 as there was a school that offered showers, food, and a place to sleep as a fundraiser. That $5 shower was well worth the cost and I had a plate of sausage gravy over biscuits to refuel. As I was walking back to our van, imagine my surprise when I saw Olympian Colleen Quigley warming up in the parking lot as she was running that leg for the Lululemon team. It was fun to chat with her for a few minutes and even have her do a video call with a friend who she has connected with over the past year through Instagram. She was very gracious and down-to-earth. I didn’t get any sleep at the stop, but I was ramped up and ready to go for the rest of the race.
We got everyone loaded back in the van and we headed to the final van exchange in Astoria, Oregon. We were parked in a large open field with the biggest crowd we had seen yet as we waited for Van #1 to arrive and Bryan to come running in to complete his final leg.
Bryan finally appeared in the distance and passed the bracelet to Jared T for the final time. Jared was off and running and he looked really strong as he wrapped up his third leg. He was so excited after he was done and realized he had done so much better than he had even thought was possible. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me because I know how hard coming back is and how much he’s gone through to do this. I’m so glad he got to go with us.
Tamara had another strong performance before handing off to Amy P and then Amy headed off on the longest leg for our van on the trip. While she was gone, Kim, Michelle and I began to realize that we might be able to finish before noon if we worked hard on our final three legs. We knew that Amy would finish strong as the sun was coming out and it was getting a little warmer. She did, and before we knew it she was passing off to Kim. Amy was gassed and had left it all out on the course. That’s the way you do it. I waited with her while Jared, Tamara, and Michelle went to get the van. I knew that my last leg was going to be tough and I was starting to tighten up so I stayed out of the van as long as possible.
Kim had just over 4 miles on her final leg so we had to hustle to get to the exchange before she got there. We drove past her with a little over a mile to go, so I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait. Checking the clock, I needed to average 7:30 pace over my 7-mile leg to give us a shot at finishing before noon. I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not, but I was going to give it my best shot.
Kim finished her leg coming up hill and handed me the bracelet as I turned onto an access road. This was definitely my least favorite of the three legs – not because it was longer, but because the road was torn up and it was mostly loose gravel and in full on sun for most of the route that started at roughly 10:30 a.m. local time. I was definitely glad that I took a full bottle of water with me as there was no water on the course and it got really warm. I was also really thankful for the SaltStick Fastchews that I took as they helped me push through.
Even though I was tired and tightening up from my two previous runs and my lack of running the past month, thoughts of my teammates’ great efforts, reflections of my first HTC experience, and memories of battling back from my injuries from the distracted driver hitting me head-on in 2018 kept me moving forward. I started out strong with a 7:02 first mile and passed 12 people. 7:27, 7:25, 7:27, 7:39 followed and I had passed 14 more people. Then, I had an uphill that took most of my remaining energy. I wanted to walk, but thankfully there were people to pass so I kept moving. 7:57 for the mile and 7 more ‘Rogue kills’. I did get passed by one guy during this stretch or it would have been 8.
With just over a mile to go, I dug in and tried to focus on getting to the finish and passing a few more people. A 7:42 final mile and then 7:13 pace over the final .13 helped me pass 6 more and I couldn’t wait to hand the bracelet off to Michelle for the final time. I just missed my pace goal with 7:31 pace over that final run and it was all up to Michelle now to beat our noon finish goal. I ended up with 39….yes, 39, kills that final run.
I kept walking to the van as I knew that we would have to hustle to get to the finish line before Michelle got there as parking gets difficult and not close in Seaside, Oregon at the finish. We passed Michelle on our way and she was flying with plenty of runners to pass so we knew that she was going to have a great final run to close things out.
We got to Seaside and parked and headed towards the beach. I kept walking fast and was ahead of my group which I know had to seem strange to them, but I was cramping up and needed to walk fast to get there. I also wanted to make sure I was there when Michelle arrived so we could finish with her as a team. The last time I was there nine years ago I had to limp across in a boot and I was looking forward to a much different finish this time.
We all got to the finish line along with our teammates from Van #1 just as Michelle came into view. We rushed onto the sand to meet her and with the Pacific Ocean as our backdrop we all crossed together in 22 hours, 13 minutes and 28 seconds – one minute and five seconds AHEAD of our predicted time and six minutes before noon. We ended up 17th overall out of 867 teams and third or fourth out of 103 teams in the mixed submasters division (the final results say fourth, but they gave us the third place medals which is what the preliminary results said).
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful with dinner at a local Cuban restaurant after our drive back from Seaside, a quick visit to Voodoo Doughnut, and then it was time to pack and get ready for an early morning flight home on Sunday. As you can imagine, I fell asleep as soon as I sat on my bed that night and thankfully woke up in time to pack since I had failed to set an alarm. We returned the rental vans and had two good flights home that both included a nap for me and our adventure had come to an end. The memories, however, will last a lifetime.
I’m extremely grateful to my teammates for joining me on this adventure as it wouldn’t have been possible without Amy H, Michael, Brittney, Josh, Jared M, Bryan, Jared T, Tamara, Amy P, Kim, and Michelle. Each one of them contributed to the success of this trip both with their running and in other ways through driving, support, restaurant reservations, logistic suggestions, and just being great friends. Love you guys! Thanks to our high finish our team will get invited back again next year and I think we are all planning to do it again. I’m hopeful that 12 of our Rogue Racers teammates will also get a chance to experience this if we are lucky enough to get a second team in through the lottery in October.
Thanks again to the brands for all the donations you made. Thanks also to Jeffrey Hughes for the great design you came up with for our official team t-shirt. Thanks to Liyu and the entire Courtyard staff for treating us like VIPs during our stay with you, and to the Best Western for giving us a place to shower and catch a quick nap mid-race. And thanks most of all to the staff and volunteers of HTC for putting on an incredible event. We can’t wait to come back for the 40th anniversary edition next August.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone for a good cause. I decided to take part in the Rogue Racers 24-Hour Virtual Backyard Challenge and use the miles to feed frontline workers who are treating patients battling COVID. The ultimate goal was to get to 100 miles and knowing that I had never run more than 31.1 miles in a day or 73 miles in a week it would be a challenging task.
I work for Donatos Pizza and they agreed to donate an individual pizza for each mile I ran which I would then deliver. I also committed to paying $1 for every mile I ran knowing that for every $5 we could feed another frontline worker. Co-workers, friends and family have jumped on board with their own donations including some joining me in the per mile challenge and even a few donating based on the amount of elevation I would run since I had to do a bunch of hills from my house. It has been awesome to feel the support and by making each mile and hill matter it really pushed me.
The challenge got under way at midnight. 23 of us started with at least a 4.2-mile loop each hour. We would check in after each loop on a Zoom call and while we were scattered from Ohio to California and Arizona it felt like we were together. The weather was perfect and despite getting yelled at by a dude in truck on the first loop and dodging a skunk on the second loop things started off great! I even found over $6 in change over the first five loops.
At the end of the fifth loop with nearly 22 miles completed, I started to experience the beginnings of some intestinal distress. Having never done anything like this challenge where you had to report in every hour, I knew that fueling would be tricky. I tried to keep eating and hydrating because I knew I would be burning a ton of calories (ended up burning over 9,500). However, I actually think I might have overeaten early.
The sixth loop got me to over marathon distance which was another plateau that someone had based their donation on. My pace started to slow as my stomach began to worsen, but I was 25% of the way through the challenge.
The seventh loop was nearly my last as I had to use all my determination to fight through some issues (including stopping twice to dry heave) just to get back to my house before the hour was up. I knew the next loop could very well be my last, but I wanted desperately to at least set a distance PR.
In order to make the eighth loop a little easier and to keep me close to my house in case I needed a bathroom, I decided to run back and forth in front of my house. This was monotonous and mind-numbing, but it was a good decision as I finished that loop eight minutes faster than the previous one and exceeded my previous single-day distance PR.
I did the same thing again with the ninth loop and then headed out for the tenth loop looking to break the 40-mile mark. Going into the tenth loop, I was thinking about venturing out into the neighborhood again because traffic was getting busy on my road that has no sidewalks and the endless back and forth was getting boring. However, I’m glad I stuck close to home as I struggled to finish the loop as my stomach just couldn’t tolerate moving any more. I did make it back before the hour was over with a few minutes to spare, but I couldn’t get out of my chair to start the next loop. I had made it to 43.13 miles and I was done.
As I sat there and watched the 12 remaining competitors in the challenge head off from the Zoom call to do loop 11, I had a few moments of feeling like I failed especially since I hadn’t even made it halfway. I knew that running 100 miles was a tall task especially since I hadn’t been training for anything like that AND I had never run even a third of that distance in a day before. Still, I felt like I was letting down the people working on the frontline that I was trying to support with the endeavor.
I knew I was really out of it when the hour came and went and the group started loop 12 and I was still sitting there in the chair in front of my laptop. I finally mustered the strength to go in the house and take a shower hoping that I would feel better. It did help and as the group got ready to head back out for loop 13 I decided that I could at least go for a walk and try to tack on a few miles. I live two miles from the Donatos in Mount Vernon so I decided to place an online order and walk to get the pizza since pizza was playing a big role in my motivation for this event.
It was a slow walk to get there, but once I ate the pizza I decided that instead of walking back home that I wanted to at least finish with 48 miles to match my age. Then, it turned into, how about 50 miles? I ended up walking for about the same time that it took me to run the Philadelphia Marathon (over three hours and 12 minutes) and I got to 55 miles. My feet were tired and my stomach was still having issues. I was glad to be home. I took a shower and decided to lay down for a minute.
Next thing I knew it was after 9 p.m. I had really passed out. I was groggy, but I wanted to see if anyone was still in the 24-hour challenge so I pulled up the Zoom feed. There were two guys still going and my four teammates doing a four-person relay were closing in on their finish. I thought about going out and walking some more, but it was raining steadily and I knew I would be miserable in the dark.
I was looking through Instagram messages of support from everyone who had followed along with my day. I was so thankful for all the encouragement. We push each other. Then, I noticed a note from one of my fellow M3S Sports race ambassadors, Dom Hoecherl. She had congratulated me on my day and I responded that I was briefly tempted to go walk for more miles but that it was raining. Her response? “Well, you have 2 hours…do you have an umbrella?”
After reading her message, I glanced up and noticed my 2018 Boston jacket. That was the year of the torrential rain throughout the race. I was supposed to run that race but ended up being a spectator because of the car accident that resulted in me having a broken foot.
Dom was right. I had two hours. I still had not given my all. My reason for doing this was not just to push my own limits but to more importantly find a tangible way to support those on the frontlines working hard to save lives. I quickly got geared up and threw on the jacket and set out to see what I could do. I figured I could at least walk to 60 miles and that would feed more people.
What happened next is something I can’t explain. I decided to test my legs and see if I could run because the faster I went the more distance I could cover. Surprisingly, my legs responded. The first mile came and went in less than 9 minutes. I was completely soaked after one mile, but it didn’t matter. I was moving and moving well considering. I started to mentally up my goal from five miles to eight miles and then 10 miles as the miles flew by.
When I got to seven miles, I started to do the math in my head as I kept adjusting my route to allow for more mileage. Originally, I had planned to run the Cap City half marathon that day, but it was postponed due to COVID. I wondered if I had enough time and energy to wrap up my day with 13.1 miles. I decided that I was going to give it my all and try and get as close as possible.
And so the push began. The next two miles sped up to 8:18 and 8:06. I worried that I might hit the wall at some point since I had no fuel or water since I had just planned to walk. But I wanted to go for it.
As I hit 10 miles and 65 miles for the day, I began to start getting emotional. I wanted to finish strong and knew that I still had a 5K to go to hit my new goal. I fought the wall at mile 11 and then began the home stretch. As I hit mile 12, I made the decision to try to make my last mile of the day – mile 13 – my fastest of the day. I gave it everything I had left and was so happy when my watch beeped 7:57. I had done it. I looped the final .13 to wrap up the half marathon in 1:53:07 and finish the day with 68.13 miles! Wow!
I quickly got my wet jacket and shirt off. Then, the entirety of the day hit me. With the help of so many people supporting me with both encouragement and monetary donations, we had just done something very cool. So many of my teammates set distance PRs yesterday with all eight of us who signed up for the 24-hour challenge doing so and my four teammates doing a relay each setting new highs as well and becoming ultramarathoners in the process. And all of that without a traditional starting line. We are capable of so much when we put our heart into it and support each other.
I will look forward to the next part of this adventure as I begin to schedule the pizza deliveries. Donations are still coming in and if you would like to be part of it there is still time by contributing through Venmo (@dponthego) or PayPal.
Final stats for the day:
68.13 miles run – 37.03 more than my previous daily total
110,913 steps on my FitBit
3,599 feet of elevation gained
9,565 calories burned through miles logged
$6.55 in change found
68 pizzas donated by Donatos
Donation total for more pizzas raised still to come!
I did it!!! It may have taken a lot longer than I had hoped, but on Sunday I officially put the car accident from February 28, 2018 behind me as I was able to beat my marathon time from prior to the accident when I crossed the finish line in Philadelphia in 3:12:07! For me, beating that time was my way of completing the healing process.
What a journey it has been! And I am so thankful for everyone who has been there with me and encouraged me along the way. You were all part of the reason I did what I did on Sunday and it’s fitting that I’m writing this post as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow. I have so much to be grateful for!
The Philadelphia Marathon was never part of the original plan for this comeback to be complete. I trained hard for the Columbus Marathon on October 20 with a goal of running 3:18:18 or better which was my time just 10 days before my accident. I had the opportunity to share my story leading up to race day thanks to an interview on 10TV. However, I was battling hamstring issues as I toed the starting line and I really wasn’t sure what would happen so I planned to try to do as many 7:30 miles as possible.
I lined up at the front of the A corral with my Rogue Racer teammates and soon “Thunderstruck” was playing, the fireworks exploded and we were off! I ran a 7:21 first mile and then less than halfway through the second mile I could feel my left hamstring start to tighten up. Oh no! Please not today.
I slowed my pace, adjusted my gait and took a SaltStick Fastchew to see if the cramps would go away. Miles 2-6 ticked off at 7:30, 7:28, 7:32, 7:16 and 7:26. I took a second Fastchew at mile 3 as planned and my first gel at mile 6.
Mile 7 slowed slightly to 7:41, but then I found my rhythm again with 7:26, 7:26, 7:27 and 7:25 for miles 8-11. Mile 12 featured an uphill and I slowed to 7:53, but then I knocked out a 7:26 and 7:30 to get to mile 14 as the half marathoners turned off and we were on our way to second half. I took a Fastchew at mile 9 and a Gu toasted marshmallow gel at mile 12.
Things started to get harder miles 15-20 (7:48, 7:39, 7:37, 7:40, 7:56 and 7:48) as my calves and quads started to tighten up since my gait had changed, the sun was out and the temps were rising. Another Fastchew at mile 15 and a gel at 18 helped keep me fueled as we climbed a few hills during this section.
At mile 21, my friend, Amy, joined me and helped me pick up the pace the next three miles (7:31, 7:37, 7:40) as I took another Fastchew at 21. Then, we hit the dreaded cobblestone streets in mile 24 and I could feel the screws in my surgically repaired foot as I slowed to 7:58. Mile 25 was tough with a my slowest mile of the day (8:09), but I rallied to post a 7:53 for mile 26 and then averaged 6:54 to the finish to come in at 3:20:57. It wasn’t the 3:18:18 I had hoped for, but boy was I happy with how I navigated the distance on that day to post a post-surgery PR by 37+ minutes to best my 3:58:23 I had posted at Boston earlier this year.
As I began to recover the week after Columbus and my hamstrings started to feel better, I began to think about what I might do next. I felt really trained and began to think about other fall marathons I might have a chance to attempt. Two that kept coming to mind were Philly and Kiawah Island. I did an interview with M3S Sports that week for their podcast and actually shared that I was considering another marathon which by saying it out loud made it seem like even more of a possibility.
The following week after traveling to New York City on Friday I got back early Saturday morning and immediately knocked out a 16-mile run on little sleep at a 7:02 overall pace and knew that I was in good enough shape to truly consider doing another marathon. I knew that my Rogue Racer teammates Amy and Michelle would be doing the full at Philly and that Julie and Jennifer would also be there to cheer us on after doing the half the previous day. So, I signed up but didn’t tell anyone. I figured that I could try to find Amy in the corral and run as many miles as possible with her since she had told me that she was targeting a 3:15 as her ‘A’ goal for that race.
I studied the Philly course map, watched all the videos about the course that were posted on their Instagram feed leading up to the race and also reached out to a couple of race ambassadors, Rachel and Stacey, to ask their thoughts on the race and other logistics in the city. I made my travel plans so that I would only be in town for about 30 hours total – so it was all business. I also did one hard run each of the next three weeks leading up to the race and strategically threw in a tough hill on each of those runs. I felt ready!
When I landed in Philly on Saturday morning, I headed straight to the convention center to pick up my bib and race shirt. I also wanted to see if I could run into Des Linden, Meb Keflezighi and Bart Yasso who were there for the weekend and are all three people I look up to and great ambassadors for the sport of running in addition to being incredibly talented runners. I found Bart first and in true Bart fashion he reminded me that the last time we had bumped into each other I was in a trash bag heading out of my hotel to the start of a rainy Boston earlier this year.
After picking up my race stuff and visiting the various vendors, I walked down the block to grab something to eat. When I came back, I was able to meet Rachel and Stacey and thank each of them for their help in getting me to the starting line. Then, I saw Meb and was able to snag a selfie with him and have him sign my bib. I knew that Des would be coming back in a little bit, so I waited for the opportunity to see her as well. I admire the way that both of these runners have been not only champions in their sport but are so gracious with the entire running community.
Once I left the expo, I watched some of the Ohio State-Penn State game and then it was time to figure out my carb loading dinner. I googled pasta near me and then also stopped at the front desk of the Renaissance to get their recommendation. I ended up a La Scala’s and had some amazing chicken parmesan and a piece of lemon cake that I saved for after the race.
After walking back to the hotel, I laid out all of my gear for the next day and began to just relax and settle in for the night knowing that a busy day awaited. The forecast was calling for an inch of rain overnight and lots of wind. I tried to not think about it and I knew that I had run in rain before and I stood in the horrible conditions at Boston 2018 as a spectator, so I knew that I could handle it. In fact, I thought about the fact that Des had won the race that year and that the conditions actually helped her do that. That became my focus.
After a really good sleep, I woke up at 4 a.m. on Sunday – 15 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off. I made my instant oatmeal with a little bit of brown sugar and a handful of raisins. I did 200 squats because it’s been part of making my legs stronger since Columbus. I put on my bib – 3926 – which was symbolic for me because I was 39 when I ran my first marathon (26.2 miles). I grabbed four Gu gels, 14 SaltStick Fastchews and my bottle of water with a Nuun cherry lemonade with caffeine tablet in it. I layered up with a sweatshirt and sweatpants with a yellow poncho over top and grocery bags on my shoes and walked to the shuttle that would take me to the starting line.
When I got off the shuttle bus at the starting line, I headed to the corral to try to find Amy and Michelle who had just learned the night before that I was there. Before they arrived, I was interviewed by Fitz Koehler, the race announcer, and she shared my story with everyone who was anxiously waiting for the race to start and said she thought I would run a 3:14. Almost immediately after she finished, Amy and Michelle showed up and they were laughing because they had heard the whole thing and knew that the “tall drink of water in a yellow poncho from Ohio who had been in a car accident” had to be me.
We snapped a quick photo of the three of us and then took off all the gear keeping us warm and dry. Michelle was running her first marathon ever with an ‘A’ goal of sub 3:00 and we hoped we wouldn’t see her again until the out-and-back portion of the course late in the race. We wished each other good luck, paused for the national anthem and then we were off!
The first seven miles just flew by as Amy and I ran through downtown Philly together and tried to just zone out (7:00, 7:21, 6:55, 7:09, 7:21, 7:09, 6:44). I was a little nervous about the pace, but I quickly realized that my mileage was off or I was running really bad tangents as my Garmin was already showing .20 more in distance when we hit the mile 7 clock.
Mile 8 ended up being my slowest mile of the race (7:41) which it should be since it’s the steepest elevation gain (roughly 100 feet) on the entire course as you head up to the Philadelphia Zoo. We regrouped after we reached the top and knocked off the next seven miles (7:05, 7:24, 7:15, 6:55, 6:56, 7:10, 7:15) in strong fashion to get through mile 15.
It was about this time that Amy and I parted ways. It wasn’t intentional, but I kept pushing on the small rollers to get around people and to keep an even pace and it happened. This was the five-mile out-and-back portion that turns around roughly at mile 20 and we could start seeing the leaders come back to us. I did the five-mile out portion with splits of 7:10, 7:03, 7:14, 7:29 and 7:20 and then came back with splits of 7:22, 7:22, 7:22, 7:35 and 7:33 to get to mile 25. I saw Michelle go by when I was just past mile 19 and knew that she had almost a two-mile lead on me. I vowed to keep pushing hard to see how close I could come to her over the final stretch. I also saw Amy about a minute or so behind me once I turned around and we slapped each other’s hand as we passed. She looked strong and I knew that she was in good shape to get a new PR.
Fueling was tricky for me during this race because my hands were freezing from the elements. The temperature continued to drop as we ran and at times we had rain or even some sleet. The wind also picked up as the morning wore on. I ended up wearing the throwaway glove on my left hand the entire race, but I stuck the right hand glove in my pocked after my third time taking a Fastchew as it was a struggle to maneuver the Ziplock baggie they were in with cold hands. I also had trouble pulling the gels out of my shorts and screwing the lid back on my bottle of water and eventually lost the cap to the bottle at mile 22. I kept the capless bottle through mile 23 and then chugged the remaining water with Nuun and headed to the finish. I was regimented with my fueling as I took a Fastchew right before the start of the race and again at mile 3. I started my gels at mile 6 and then took one at mile 12 and 18. I was planning to take one Fastchew at miles 9, 15 and 21 but ended up taking two instead and that paid off big time for me. Then, instead of taking my final gel at mile 24 as planned, I took one last Fastchew because I thought my stomach could handle it better without water. Again, another good call on my part.
When I got to mile 25, Julie and Jennifer were there waiting to cheer us on. This was the third time we saw them in the race and I can’t say thank you enough for their support as they stood out in the cold elements for four hours or more. It’s what makes Rogue Racers such a great, supportive team. Knowing that I just had a mile to go, it was time to flip my hat backwards (which Julie captured in the photo above) and push towards the finish line. Mile 26 was a 7:25 and then the remainder of the race was 7:28 pace as I actually allowed myself to soak in the crowd and the emotions of what I had just done. Not only had I gone 8:50 faster than at Columbus five weeks earlier or registered my seventh Boston qualifying time by my largest margin yet (7:53), I had posted my second fastest marathon time ever at 3:12:07 trailing just my Erie Marathon finish of 3:10:25 set way back on September 14, 2014. I had also stayed very steady with splits of 1:35:10 for the first half and 1:36:57 for the second half. Wow! What a day!
Once I stopped, I asked a volunteer to help me get the remaining gel out of my pocket and I took it right away. I’ve learned how important it is to not let your stomach get empty and I know that this helped me start my recovery quicker. A volunteer put my medal around my neck and another volunteer wrapped the Mylar sheet around my shoulders as I started to realize how cold it was. I grabbed a banana, a giant soft pretzel, some warm chicken broth (amazing!) and a water and proceeded to devour all of it so that I would begin to replenish all that I had lost.
Pretty soon, Amy appeared and I learned that she had indeed gotten a shiny new PR with a 3:21. We didn’t find Michelle at the finish line, but she had also posted an incredible 3:04 in her marathon debut and I know that with all she learned in the race that sub 3:00 is right around the corner in 2020.
After a quick picture with Amy, I left her with her family and headed to catch the shuttle and then to make the LOOOOONG walk into the 20 mph wind back to my hotel. I was pretty well frozen by the time that I got there, but nothing could wipe the smile off my face as I really began to process everything that had just happened.
Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive along this journey. My Rogue Racer teammates and especially the New Albany members who log miles with me. Thank you to the staff and members at Next Level Fitness in Gahanna who talk to me every day at the gym and cheer me on. Thanks to my friends on social media who have poured out so much love and encouragement even though I’ve never even met some of you.
Bart, you helped me fall in love with running when I read your book while on a plane early in my time as a runner. I tweeted you about it and you responded back within just a few minutes. Our paths have crossed numerous times since that day and you always know just the right thing to say. A big part of who I am as a runner resonates with the same journey that you’ve been on combining the ability to push yourself to be your best while at the same time enjoying the journey with others.
Meb, you signed my bib with “run to win” which is your mantra. While it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever win a marathon (and that’s ok), I did run on Sunday to give my very best and I thought about that when I pulled away from Amy. I don’t know if 3:12:07 is the fastest time I have left in this 48-year-old, surgically-repaired body, but I do know that I left it all out there and I’m really proud of that.
Des, you have a couple of mantras. The first is to “keep showing up” which is what I’ve tried to do as I’ve battled back from the car accident and nearly two years of not being the runner I thought I still had the capability of being. I didn’t let the conditions bother me on Sunday and I didn’t let challenges like a pre-race port-a-pottie with no toilet paper, a gel I couldn’t get out of my pocket or losing the cap off my water bottle throw me for a loop. Through it all, I kept reminding myself of three words – tenacious, determined, unstoppable. And Des, your other mantra that you sign a lot is “run happy” which I did to the very best of my ability. I constantly remind myself that I’m lucky to be alive after the accident and that running is a blessing. My race photos captured a lot of smiles and thumbs ups and I heard comments from spectators coming to the finish line about how much I was smiling. I ran happy and it sure helped!
I’m not sure what the future of my running holds and what goals I’ll set yet for 2020, but I’ll take the time to enjoy this for a little bit. I am also excited to work with some other runners from a coaching standpoint moving into the new year as I try to share what I’ve learned to help them reach their goals. This has been an incredible journey of ups and downs for the past 635 days and as I close the book on this chapter of my story my heart is overflowing with gratitude. You appreciate things the most when you have to work hard to accomplish them and I’m thankful for everything I’ve learned through this.
600 days. That’s the number of days from February 28, 2018 until October 20, 2019. While it might not seem like all that many days to some, it’s been a long time coming for me. And I can’t wait for October 20, 2019 and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon to get here! (I was recently humbled to learn that I was one of 10 honorees selected to receive the Lashutka Spirit Awards for this year’s event and the following is a more in-depth look at my journey leading up to this year’s race which will be my 16th marathon.)
On the morning of February 28, 2018, I was up by 4:30 a.m. like I am so many mornings as I prepared to knock out most of my commute from Mount Vernon in order to get a run done in New Albany before going on to work in the Donatos home office in Gahanna. It was an unseasonably warm February day as I had shorts on for my run since it was already in the mid-40s and headed to 60 later in the day. I was still basking in glow of the previous morning’s 11-mile run at a sub-8:00 pace less than two weeks after re-qualifying for the Boston Marathon with a 3:18:18 finish time at the Warm-up Columbus Marathon on February 18. It was going to be a great day!
At about 5:30 a.m., I was approaching Johnstown in the midst of the typical steady stream of early morning traffic cruising along at 55 miles per hour like we did every other morning. Suddenly, the truck in front of me swerved to the right and I gripped the wheel thinking there must be a deer or something in the road. At the last second, I saw a car with no headlights headed straight at me and managed to turn my steering wheel just enough to avoid a complete head-on collision and BOOM!!!
I don’t think I blacked out, but I also don’t remember my airbag going off. All I remember is hearing my horn blaring and seeing smoke everywhere. My glasses had been knocked off my face and were later found in the back seat. I quickly realized that my left foot was stuck under the crumpled dash and I knew that I couldn’t get out. With smoke rising from my engine, I was starting to panic that the car might catch on fire, but there was nothing that I could do.
I remember almost immediately a man approaching my driver’s side window and trying to open my door, but it was caved in at the hinge from the impact. He told me that EMS was on the way and that he was going to check on the person who had hit me as their car was in even worse shape since it was smaller and had struck four vehicles with mine being the last one. The entire time I just remember my horn blaring and smelling fuel and smoke.
Within minutes, I heard sirens and soon the Monroe Township fire fighters and paramedics were on the scene. Someone disconnected my car battery which thankfully silenced my horn and they started the tedious process of cutting off my driver’s side door once they broke the window so they could try to get me out. A paramedic named Tracey climbed in the passenger side and began to talk to me to assess my condition. Her calm presence was a God-send in the midst of all the chaos. She kept me distracted from all the metal cutting, glass flying and loud noises happening next to me while the rest of her team worked to get me free.
At this point, I knew that the car wasn’t going to explode, but I also knew that my left foot was not okay. I was starting to really worry about what we might find when we got the debris removed from around it. There was so much pressure on it as the brake pedal had it trapped to the floor that I even imagined the worst case scenario – that it was not even still completely attached.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was really less than 20 minutes, the crew was able to move enough of the dashboard to get me out. Thankfully, my foot was intact, but I couldn’t put any weight on it and I knew that my shot at running the 2018 Boston Marathon less than two months later was most likely over. But, I was alive and that was the most important thing. They put me in an ambulance and I headed to the hospital for x-rays.
It was determined that I had a fracture in my second metatarsal of my left foot as well as very badly bruised ribs and some whiplash, but overall I was incredibly fortunate considering the damage my car sustained. In fact, I sent a thank you note to the Toyota customer service team for having such great safety features on my RAV4 and I ended up replacing it with another one once the insurance company settled the claim.
I began going doing physical therapy for my neck and ribs, but made the decision to see if the break in the foot would heal if I limited my activity and wore a walking boot. I was still hoping for the miracle that I might be able to at least jog the Boston Marathon in April.
Well, Boston came and went and although I made the trip to the race it ended up being in a spectator role in the torrential cold rain that fell during the 2018 race as my doctor told me that I would risk causing a more serious injury if I tried to run the marathon. So, as soon as I got back to Ohio, I scheduled the surgery to get a plate and screws put in.
Surgery day finally arrived on May 15 – two and a half months after the accident. Dr. Terry Philbin and his team did a great job and the only issue I had that day was having to wear a one-size-fits-all gown that would have been just the right size for six-year-old and not a 6-foot-6 guy. Ha! I woke up from the anesthesia with a temporary cast on and the countdown clock to my recovery was now officially moving.
Over the next 10 days, my time was spent staying off my one good foot and waiting for the incision to heal enough that the stitches could come out and a permanent cast could be put on. The numbing I received for the surgery took an amazing eight days to wear off and I never felt any pain from the incision and thankfully didn’t need the heavy drugs that had been prescribed to help with pain. I returned to the doctor’s office on May 25 and got to see my foot for a few moments before the more sturdy cast was put on.
With the cast on, I spent the next five weeks getting really good at going everywhere on crutches whether it was multiple trips each day up and down my stairs at work to my office on the second floor or even attending races to cheer on my friends and take photos. I watched as three races I had been signed up for – including my first attempt at an Olympic distance triathlon – came and went with me on the sidelines. But, I knew that I was getting closer each day to being able to start being more active again.
May turned to June and I knew that most likely I would get my cast off the first week in July. Then, I got the exciting news that since the doctor’s office would be closed some the week of the 4th of July that I could get my cast off early on June 29 if I promised to take things easy. Of course I wanted it off early! I can remember how shriveled my left calf looked from being compressed for all that time, but it was so good to have that freedom. I was told that I needed to continue to use crutches until I felt comfortable just using the walking boot. I actually went straight from the doctor’s office to the Heit Center in New Albany to schedule my first physical therapy session for the next week and could not wait to get started with my rehab.
The rehab process started on July 6 with Dr. Sarah Levine. She had her hands full with me, but she also knew the right buttons to push to get me to do the things that would benefit me the most. She really was the perfect person to help me get started on my recovery journey by pushing me hard enough for me to realize that I still had a lot of work to do and to hold me accountable enough to not overdo it.
As my PT sessions continued, I could see progress each time and I knew things were getting better. In the back of my mind, I was still holding on to the hope of possibly attempting the Ironman Ohio 70.3 that I had signed up for as a Christmas present to myself to push me out of my comfort zone and make me work to get better at swimming. At a follow-up visit with my doctor on July 20, I sheepishly asked if there was any possible way I could attempt the race. Surprisingly, he responded that if I wore my boot for the half marathon portion and promised to stop if I felt any issues that I could attempt it. I couldn’t believe it! It was the opening I needed and I quickly put my nine-day training program in place.
Yes, that’s right….I trained for a half Ironman in basically nine days. I took four one-mile walks, hopped in the pool a couple of times and logged 102 miles on my bike in that span. I was not really prepared for what awaited, but I was extremely excited to be able to be active and part of a race again after a five-month absence from doing what I love.
Race day came and somehow despite my lack of preparation or real knowledge of what I was doing I managed to complete my first attempt at a half Ironman in just under eight hours. While it wasn’t easy, it was such a tremendous experience for me and a big part of this comeback journey. You can read the entire recap here.
With that goal checked off, I was soon able to switch from walking back to running without the boot. Physical therapy continued as I worked to rebuild the muscles and strength in my left leg while at the same time getting my right leg used to not carrying the load of my entire body.
By September, I was ready to attempt my first race and finished the River Run Half Marathon in Cleveland in 1:46:43. I was making progress. I followed that with the Ohio State 4-Miler in October in 27:27 and that left me very optimistic about another big bucket list item that I had looming in November.
See, the night of the car accident, I found out that I had gotten into the New York City Marathon. I had worked hard the previous year to get a half marathon qualifying time of 1:27:49 to get in and I really wanted to do this race. I was thankful that my recovery was progressing enough that I knew I could cover the distance, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect.
Looking back on that race, I know that I went into it with unrealistic expectations. In my head, I kept thinking about the times I was capable of running prior to the accident. While I had definitely been able to train for the race once my physical therapy had finished and I had even shown some glimpses here and there of my speed returning, I was nowhere near ready to attempt to run a 3:30 marathon which was the pace I set out to run at the beginning. My lack of stamina showed midway through the race as I ended up walking more than I ever had in a marathon and finished with my slowest time ever in 4:02:52, but, I was able to do it and again it was steps in the right direction as marathon No. 14 and my third different World Major was complete.
Once I recovered from NYC, I started to feel like my normal training was beginning to come back. As 2019 began, it was time to start focusing on the Boston Marathon in April which I had fortunately qualified for just 10 days prior to the accident the previous year. After my finishing time at NYC, I was determined to have a better showing and worked hard to put the training in. Things were going really well until a month before the race when I began to experience pain in my right leg. All the overcompensating that leg had done since the accident finally was catching up to me and I knew that if I didn’t back off with my training that I could face a serious issue with a potential stress fracture.
So, I took a break and just began to focus on making it to race day with the opportunity to complete the race. The strategy paid off as the leg began to feel better and I was ready to run my third Boston Marathon – just not quite as well trained as I would have liked to have been.
I’m pleased to say that this race went much better than NYC as through 19 miles I was nearly back to my pre-accident self. I managed to keep running through 21 miles and all the hills, but once again my lack of stamina caught up to me and I alternated between walking and jogging the rest of the way. I became determined to keep my time under four hours and pushed as hard as I could the final mile to finish in 3:58:23. It was the slowest of my three Boston Marathon times, but again it was progress.
Once that race was over, I began to think about which fall marathon I wanted to do. Having completed 15 over the past eight years, I’m starting to look for different races to do. However, with this being the 40th anniversary of the Columbus Marathon which was also my first one back in 2011, I decided that I would sign up to do it with a goal of running a 3:18:18 or better since that was my time before the accident.
I also enlisted the help of my running partner Cindy Warner, who is an RRCA-certified coach, to develop a plan for me so that I would really focus in on increasing my stamina in the later miles of the race. I worked hard all summer following the plan she laid out and started to see the results in the various races I did including a 10K PR at the Columbus 10K in June. I posted my fastest half marathon in two years at the Emerald City Half Marathon in August and then just this past weekend knocked more than a minute off my time at the Northern Ohio Half Marathon by finishing 15th overall in 1:30:25.
Besides the people I’ve already mentioned in this post, I want to thank my teammates, the Rogue Racers. This group inspires me every day with their performances and they have continually encouraged me on this comeback journey. Some of them are currently battling injuries of their own, while others will be joining me at the starting line of this race looking to post incredibly fast times. I’m especially thankful for Cindy, Hilary Ritter and Brittney Rabell (above) for logging lots of miles with me this summer to get me ready for race day.
I also really appreciate the support of my gym, Next Level Fitness and Training in Gahanna. The people there are truly like a family and they constantly ask about my progress. Without this facility and the people there, I would not be in the shape I am in now.
The Columbus Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the site of my first half marathon in 2010 and then my first full marathon in 2011. This will be my fourth time running the full and I’ve gotten a BQ (Boston Qualifier) the last two times. While qualifying for Boston is not the goal for me this time around, if I achieve my goal that will happen in the process. More importantly, though, just by participating in this event, we are all working together to raise funds for Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the tremendous work that is being done there.
I don’t know what will happen on race day once “Thunderstruck” starts playing, the fireworks go off and we begin moving over the starting line. What I do know is I am grateful to have survived the accident and to be headed in the right direction. Best wishes to all the runners and walkers doing the half and the full marathon. Thank you so much to all the amazing volunteers, spectators and the inspiring patient champions and their families. Let’s have a safe, awesome day touring Columbus!
On Monday, I had the privilege of finishing the Boston Marathon for the third time. It truly is a privilege because so many things can transpire to keep this from happening. First, you have to achieve a qualifying time at another marathon or raise a significant amount of money for a partner charity just to enter. Then, you have to stay healthy enough from the time you get in to the race to actually be able to run it on race day. Finally, you have to cover 26.2 miles (and more if you run bad tangents like me) regardless of the weather on race day or how your body reacts to cross the famous finish line.
My journey to this year’s Boston Marathon actually started in February of 2018 when I earned my spot by running a 3:18:18 at the Warmup Columbus Marathon in Dublin, Ohio on February 18. Little did I know that my running abilities and life in general would change just 10 days later when a distracted driver went left of center and hit my car head on. Among the resulting injuries for me was a broken foot that would require surgery and an extended period of time away from any kind of running including not running the 2018 Boston Marathon which I was already signed up to do.
I spent the rest of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 working to recover from the injuries. I was finally out of my cast at the beginning of July and then began to gradually start running again later in August. I worked my way up to being able to complete the New York City Marathon in 4:02:52 on November 4 and realized that I still had a long way to go to get back to where I was before the accident.
Training for Boston was going well as the calendar flipped to 2019 and although the weather forced me inside to more treadmill runs than I would like I could feel my strength and speed coming back as well as my ability to log more miles. As January turned into February, I was consistently hitting 50+ weekly miles and then had three straight weeks of 63, 64 and 63 miles from February 25-March 17. I was one month from race day and feeling great!!!
Or so I thought. I began feeling a pain in my left leg that was eerily similar to the pain I had previously felt when I had a left tibial stress fracture. I dialed things back the next week and did three runs totaling just over 14 miles. When I finished the last one, I knew that I needed to take a break if I did not want to miss Boston for the second straight year despite being signed up to run.
So, I took 10 days off before I tried to run again. And when I did run again, I just did a few miles at a time. Finally, on April 6, I decided to try one last double digit run to see what might be possible on race day and I managed 13.1 miles at a 7:58 pace and felt good at the end.
At that point, only a couple of easy runs remained and then packing for the trip. I was trying to figure out what my goal pace for race day should be and knew that while I still had a good fitness level that it was really going to be an unknown in the later miles of the race. I finally settled on shooting for a 3:30 finish time which would be an 8:00/mile pace. It would also bring me in just slightly slower than my best Boston time of 3:28:48 in 2016 and so yes there was a part of me that wanted to try to break that.
After two fun days in Boston that included meeting several pro runners and seeing friends while at the same time trying to stay off my feet as much as possible, race morning had arrived. The forecast was not good with rain and lightning and there was actually a delay getting some of the runners to the starting area because of the lightning. I waited in my hotel until the last minute and then made my way to the bus for the hour-long ride to Athletes Village with bags tied over my shoes to keep them dry and mud-free.
The closer the bus got to Hopkinton the better the weather got as the rain stopped and the clouds started to part. The temperature was already in the 60s and I really started to worry about getting too hot in the race, but there was nothing I could do as I had dressed appropriately in a singlet and shorts. I did apply some sunscreen from a first aid station near the start corral and this proved to be a good move as it saved my shoulders from getting burned later on.
After a quick pitstop at a port-a-pot, I headed to the corrals and the race got started. It really was perfect timing as I did not have to wait in the very muddy confines of Athletes Village or even have time to get too nervous!
Instead of taking off and weaving through runners the first mile, I ran it conservatively with my running partner, Cindy, in 8:52 to keep from using up energy on the initial downhill. We parted ways after that and I picked things up slightly with an 8:15 and an 8:03 mile to cross the 5K mat in 26:05 (8:23 pace).
Miles 4-6 clicked by with splits of 7:47, 8:07 and 7:45 with the 10K split coming in at 50:41. I stayed relatively steady the rest of the first half as the miles ticked by – 7:41, 7:49, 7:43, 7:43, 7:53, 7:36, 7:50 with the 15K split being at 1:14:49, the 20K split being at 1:39:06 and the half marathon split being at 1:44:25 (7:58 pace). I was doing exactly what I wanted and was right on track with my pre-race plan. I had even high-fived a bunch of spectators at Wellesley College without going out of my way or using too much energy. I had taken my fuel on schedule – one toasted marshmallow GU gel at 3.5 and a Maurten gel at 8.5 and another just after the half marathon marker – and drank an entire liter of water.
Miles 14-16 continued to click away with splits of 7:51, 7:53 and 7:45 as the 25K mark came and went at 2:03:35. I had lowered my overall pace to 7:56, but I knew that the toughest part of the course awaited – the infamous Newton hills.
My goal going into the race was to not walk at all but especially not to stop on the hills. The first time I ran Boston I stopped at an aid station on Heartbreak Hill to get chicken broth because I was starting to feel hypothermia set in due to it being cold and rainy. The second time I ran Boston I stopped at the base of the hill and threw up twice because it was so hot and I was becoming dehydrated.
I’m pleased to say that I met my goal of running all the hills this time around even though I knew I was starting to wear down due to the heat and the fact that I hadn’t done any long runs the last month before the race. Miles 17-20 were still very respectable as I made surges when I could to try to stay sharp as they ticked by in 8:17, 8:27, 8:19 and 9:24. I continued to slow down as I trudged up Heartbreak Hill and even though my mile split was 10:19 I never quit running. I had made it to the top and to mile 21!
At this point, I knew that I could finish the race, but I also knew that I did not feel very good as my stomach just wanted to empty its contents (which there could not have been much). I was very hot from the sun and also started seeing people in serious medical situations as three people collapsed to the ground around me over the next four miles and needed immediate attention. I walked most of this part but tried to shuffle/jog any downhills as my splits were 12:18, 13:45, 13:02, 13:03.
When I reached the mile 25 marker, I knew that I would need to run the rest of the way in order to keep my time under 4 hours and so I set out determined to do just that. While it may not have been spectacularly fast at 11:11 for that mile, it got the job done and then I covered the final .44 (yes, I ran nearly an extra quarter of a mile!) at an 8:40 clip to cross the finish line in 3:58:23 (9:05 pace) to finish 16,483rd out of 26,632 finishers. It was the slowest of my three Boston finishes, but by far the one that I’m most proud of. It was also nearly four and a half minutes faster than my New York City finish so I’m making gradual progress post surgery.
Congratulations to all of my Rogue Racer teammates and other friends who also finished the race. Whether it was a PR, a first time under 3:00, a fifth Boston finish or a tough day that took all you had to finish the race, you are all Boston finishers!!!! Big thanks goes out to the volunteers who make this possible and the amazing spectators who give this event the energy that makes you want to do it again and again. While this race is tough and the course sometimes unforgiving, there is just something special about Boston and it will always have a piece of my heart! Thank you!
I have the privilege of meeting many interesting people through my job at Donatos Pizza. We are blessed with great customers who have supported us for over 55 years now and each have their own story to tell. And as I am continually reminded, many times THEY make a bigger impact on us than they even realize.
Back in June, I first learned about a wonderful lady named Clem Torma, who visits our East Broad Street store almost every other Tuesday to get her favorite food, an individual thin crust sausage pizza. As fate would have it, that day when Clem came in to get her pizza Donatos founder Jim Grote met her and the two of them took the picture below.
Upon hearing of this chance meeting, I immediately reached out to her family to find out more about her story. What I learned among many other things is that Clem, who was 102 at the time, had come to America from Italy in a boat at the age of five and landed on Ellis Island. She worked during World War II as a riveter at Westinghouse in Mansfield. She has been a widow for nearly half her life and she never had any children. But boy, has she lived life! She loved to travel and she was very active in the lives of all her other family members and has taken care of them over the years when they needed it. We were able to introduce the rest of Central Ohio to Clem and share her story on National Centenarians Day (people who are 100 or older) when WBNS 10TV’s Karina Nova interviewed her in our restaurant that she so frequently visits.
As we parted ways on the day of that interview in September, we promised Clem that we would throw her a pizza party for her 103rd birthday – December 26. She gladly accepted and I put the date on my calendar as soon as I got back to my desk.
What Clem and her family didn’t realize at the time was that a week before I met her for the first time I had lost my last remaining grandparent. Grandma Mahaffey and I (pictured celebrating Christmas in 2017) were incredibly close since I was her oldest grandchild and we both loved a lot of the same types of things – sports, good writers and great human interest stories. Grandma lived to be 96 and had an incredibly full life with so many great memories. She and Clem would have been great friends had they ever met. Grandma was also the subject of one of my favorite blog stories that showed me first-hand the power of social media and the amazing kindness of others.
As Christmas approached this year, I began to realize that this would be the first time in my life that I would not get to celebrate Christmas with Grandma. I was extremely blessed to get 46 Christmases with her and I may have watched White Christmas that many times with her. She loved the holiday season, the music, the lights and most of all the family and friends that she got to spend time with. This was probably the first time that I truly understood to some degree the feeling of sadness so many deal with around the holidays.
As Christmas came and went, I was eagerly anticipating spending part of Clem’s big day with her. In talking with her niece, Jan, I knew that there had been some challenging days for Clem since I had seen her last, but the family was really excited to have this celebration. We showed up with pizza to feed all the residents at the assisted living facility where she lives and boy did Clem’s face light up! (click for video) She greeted everyone as they entered the dining room and proudly told them that it was her birthday. She even told me to look around at how many people where there and that we should be able to sell them a lot of pizza. Good ol’ Clem! 🙂
Karina Nova had also planned to attend the party, but unfortunately needed to anchor the noon news broadcast and could not attend. So, she did the next best thing and sent Clem this video and then also wished her happy birthday during the broadcast. Once again, Clem made an impact. All the residents sang happy birthday to Clem and then enjoyed pizza and cake. It was great to see the smile not only on Clem’s face, but the smiles on the faces of the other residents and also on the faces of Clem’s family members.
At Donatos, our promise is to serve the best pizza and make YOUR day a little better. We strive for this every day with every customer. Sometimes we come up a little short and when we do we try our very best to make it right. I know that on this day we definitely lived up to our promise. But you know what is great about having a promise like this? It actually makes OUR day better too by living it out! So thank you, Clem, for coming into my life in 2018 just when I needed you and allowing me to play just a small part in one chapter of your great story. Thanks to your love of Donatos Pizza you made MY day a whole lot better! Happy birthday!
Back in January when I signed up for my first Ironman 70.3, I was set to put in all the training to attempt this new challenge. I began trying to get a mile-and-a-half swim in twice a month so it would make the 1.2-mile swim on race day seem easier. I took spin classes to get a jump on the bicycling while waiting for winter to break. And I was running well as I recorded my sixth Boston-qualifying marathon time on February 18 with a 3:18:18 at the Warm-up Columbus Marathon.
Then, on the morning of February 28, everything changed. At around 5:30 a.m. as I was halfway through my commute to do a training run before work, I noticed the truck in front of me swerve to the right as if to avoid something. The next thing I knew, I had been hit head on.
I realized immediately that my left foot was pinned under the dash and I had no idea what kind of shape it was in. My driver’s side door was smashed shut as the impact of the oncoming car had caved it in. I had a panicked feeling as I realized that I was stuck in the car and could not get out. When the firefighters finally arrived and started working to get me out, I could tell that my foot was still attached. Even though I was thankful to be alive, I was also pretty sure that my plans to run the Boston Marathon in April had just come to an end.
Long story short, an x-ray revealed a fracture in the second metatarsal and badly bruised ribs. Ironically, the pain in my ribs is what prevented me from trying to test my foot on a run. Eventually, I started to walk to see what my options might be for continuing my Boston and then half Ironman training.
Four weeks after the accident, I tried to run and realized that there was still something wrong with my foot. An MRI revealed not one, but multiple fractures in the foot. After seeing an orthopedic surgeon, I was put in a boot and we tried to let the foot continue to heal without surgery. However, the decision was made to have a plate and screws put in my left foot on May 15 after x-rays showed the fractures were not healing. Having already missed the Boston Marathon, I just wanted to move forward and let the healing start.
The surgery went well. My recovery started with 10 days of no activity as I had the surgical dressing on my foot. Then, I was placed in a cast for the next five weeks and spent the time building up my upper body strength since I was on crutches. On June 29, the cast came off and I was able to transition back to my walking boot and start physical therapy. At my follow-up visit on July 20, I sheepishly asked if I would be allowed to attempt the half Ironman that was just nine days away. Surprisingly, the doctor said if I wore the boot, walked the run portion and stopped if something hurt, then I could go for it. Well, that’s all I needed to hear.
I got in the pool a couple of times before the race to try to prepare for the 1.2-mile swim which would be my first open water swim. This part of the event was my biggest fear going into the race, but I knew that the distance was doable for me. The key was not panicking.
In addition to physical therapy twice a week, I was also able to get several bike rides in including 51 miles split into two rides while wearing the boot two weeks before the race. As for walking, I only managed four one-mile walks just to see how the foot might feel. I knew that the 13.1 miles to finish the event would probably be my biggest challenge and I was certainly not over-trained.
I was naively unaware of the whole process of what was involved with a triathlon, let alone a half Ironman. Having only done one previous event that included only swimming eight lengths of a pool, biking 12 miles and running a 5K, I was far from being a veteran. My plan prior to the accident had been to do the Central Ohio Triathlon in June which featured a 1.35-mile open water swim, a 41.8-mile bike and a 9.3-mile run. That didn’t happen.
So, I called my friend Melanie on Saturday afternoon the day before the race (nothing like waiting until the last minute) and she proceeded to offer me numerous tips such as what to pack for the two transition areas, how to best fuel for the race, how to attack the three stages and some tips about the course and what to expect on race day. I also went to the pre-race participant meeting and for the first time heard all the rules. My head was spinning and I definitely had more than a few moments of self-doubt as the full realization of just how demanding this was going to be both physically and mentally hit me. I dropped my bike off at transition one at Delaware State Park and then headed for home to carb load and get some sleep.
Race morning came and the forecast was perfect. I left my house at 4 a.m. and arrived near the finish line to drop off my transition bag for the run portion at Selby Field about an hour later. From there, I walked about a mile to catch the shuttle to the start. I knew it was going to be a good day when I found two dimes in the dark on my walk to the bus.
What should have been a 20-minute bus ride to the start at Delaware State Park ended up taking nearly 45 minutes due to traffic. It hit me how unprepared I was as I listened to others talk about their training for this race.
When the bus finally arrived, there was only enough time to drop off my bike helmet, gloves, shoes and nutrition for the ride before we had to exit the transition area and get our body marking done to prepare for the start. Each participant had their bib number (1762 in my case) written on each arm and their age by the end of the year (47) on their left calf. A quick trip to the port-a-potty and it was time to choose which wave I wanted to start my swim in.
Having never done an open water swim, I wasn’t sure what my best starting point would be. I decided to line up with the 47 to 50-minute group. Following the national anthem, the fastest swimmers got started as we began inching towards the starting line. They were letting four swimmers go every three seconds. After about 28 minutes, I stood on the edge of the water for three seconds to wait and then it was my turn. There was no turning back now!
I was not sure what to expect except that I knew I would need to keep my head up most of the time since the water was so murky and there would be other swimmers all around me. I also did not want to get off course and swim any more than I had to. I made it out past the first few buoys without much issue and was pleasantly surprised with how calm I was.
I think sometimes not having any expectations other than surviving and finishing helps take the pressure off because I just kept swimming and swimming and felt relaxed doing it. There were several times when it got congested and there would be contact with other swimmers, but nothing like I had imagined. I kept telling myself to just make it to the next buoy and before I knew it we were making the final turn to head back towards shore.
At that point, I was determined to not stop so that I could say I made it completely through my first open water swim (and half Ironman distance at that!) without stopping to rest. Soon, I had reached the shallow area and was able to walk to the shore. I had conquered the first leg and the one I feared the most. Official swim time – 55:29.
The transition area from swim to bike was tough for me. The parking lot was very rough and for someone who had not been walking much over the past five months and especially not barefoot, it hurt walking from the beach to the bike and I had to go slow. As I put on my socks, shoes, tank, sunscreen and then bike helmet and gloves, I did take the time to fuel knowing that I would need it to help propel me through the next 56 miles on the bike. I spent 8:31 in the transition one.
The bike course is very flat and can be monotonous miles of roads and cornfields as company. I got off to a good start and by mile three, I was riding at an 18.2 mph clip. I went on to hit my fastest two miles during miles 5 and 6 at 18.5 mph and 18.6 mph respectively. Not bad for riding a low tier road bike and for not being clipped in.
Melanie had advised me to not go too hard on the bike and save my legs during this portion for the run that would follow. She also reiterated how important fueling on the bike would be. I made sure I worked on the bike to keep a steady pace, but I also made sure that I wasn’t going all out all the time. I had 16 miles where I held over a 17 mph average and even at mile 17 I still posted an 18.1 mph mile. I also took advantage of the aid stations along the course for extra fuel and hydration.
The final eight miles of the ride were the most challenging with rolling hills on tired legs. I don’t mind hills on the bike if you can take advantage of the downhills. Unfortunately, the best two downhills had sharp turns at the bottom that caused you to brake going down them.
As I neared the end the bike portion, I caught a glimpse of my running partner Cindy up ahead. It was great to see a familiar face and it lifted my spirits.
I entered the transition area and had finished the 56-mile bike ride in 3:27:20 (16.2 mph average). I only had one mechanical scare at about mile 50 when I was switching gears and they momentarily locked up and I thought the chain might come off. Fortunately, it stayed on and I had my second leg of the event done with no stops.
Transition two started with reapplying sunscreen (or I thought I did as I found out afterwards I had missed a couple of spots). I racked my bike and ditched my helmet. I also took off my left shoe and put on my walking boot per my doctor’s orders. I refueled quickly and grabbed a cold bottle of water as I started my 13.1-mile walk.
Immediately, the crowds and other participants noticed I was attempting the 13.1 miles in a boot. Their comments and encouragement as I started out led to a 13:37 first mile. I managed to keep the pace below a 14:00 per mile average through the first five miles as I just tried to knock out the distance.
The comments were amazing and helped keep me working as hard as I could. I grabbed water at every aid station and began to grab a handful of chips and even a small swig of Coke to stay fueled. I made it through the first loop of the course and knew that the second loop would be tougher as I was starting to tire. By mile 8, my pace had slowed to 16:01 per mile as the efforts of the day began to take its toll. The next four miles slowly ticked away (16:20, 16:00, 15:39, 16:32) and then I managed to pick things up as I knew I was almost done.
I had been on the course so long they were beginning to tear things down as I finished the second loop. Participants who had finished were heading to their cars along with their families and I appreciated every single person who paused and cheered me on. They made a difference. As I got within a quarter mile of the finish line, a group of elite athletes waiting to receive their overall and age group awards stood and cheered for me as they saw I had done a half marathon with the boot on. The emotion got the best of me and I started to jog. Then, as I entered the stadium for the final half lap to the finish, the cheering grew louder and my pace quickened. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was running at a 7:09 clip in my first run attempt since March!
I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air and felt so proud of what I had just accomplished. My half marathon time was 3:18:21 (15:08 per mile) and three seconds slower than my marathon time in February, but I’ll take it!!! I had also finished the 70.3 miles overall in just under eight hours at 7:56:03. Wow!
Reflecting on the day and the past five months of agony since the accident as I was unable to do the things that I love doing, I am so thankful that I could complete this major goal that I had planned. I heard over and over on the course on Sunday that I was an inspiration to so many people. The truth is they were all inspiring to me. People like the 81-year-old man who blew by me on the bike. The volunteers like my friends Brian, Doug and Joe who gave up their day to work an aid station. The spectators, family and friends who came out to support and had to stand for hours and hours just hoping to see their participant for 5-10 seconds as they went by. The police officers who had to put up with disgruntled motorists who were forced to wait while we biked, ran or walked by. They are the true inspirations.
Fortunately, as the week has gone by, I think I avoided doing any further damage to my injured foot despite all the activity. Yes, my physical therapist is not happy with me, and yes, I was tired, sun-burnt and sore afterwards. But for the first time in five months, I felt like myself. And that is a better reward than any finisher medal could ever be!