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!