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.