Overcoming injuries, a great training season, hitting double-digit marathon finishes, and a strong desire for taking care of unfinished business!!!
In order to properly put the 2012 training season and Austin Marathon in perspective I need to go back to the weeks following the 2010 Austin Marathon. A few weeks after finishing the 2010 Austin Marathon, I began to experience a lot of pain on the bottom of my right foot. After several failed attempts to rectify the issue with “band aid” solutions and orthotics as well as endless consultations with 3 physicians I came to the conclusion that the only way to fix the issue was through a surgical procedure. So on July 4th weekend of 2010 I had a bunionectomy which is a fairly major surgical procedure that consisted of shaving the bone of my big toe and 2nd toe and inserting screws to hold it all together. I was worried sick about the procedure but knew if I wanted to run again it had to be done. My doctor said if everything went right I would be running in 10 short weeks. Well 10 weeks from the day I had surgery, I took my first painful steps in running shoes. I built up from that first 10 minute run at the end of August to a 10 mile race (Run for the Water) the last day of October. I joined the Sole Survivors and Coach Bobby’s 2011 Team in November. I was actually able to ramp up to the mileage with minimal pain and swelling. My doctor assured me that structurally everything looked great, and it was just a matter of me dealing with the discomfort. I couldn’t believe that I was able to come back so quickly to not just running again but training for a freaking marathon! I was ecstatic! However, about 4 weeks prior to the marathon I started to get very bad muscle pulls in my hamstrings and calves. Pretty much all of them! I decided to give the marathon a shot not knowing that I might be able to go a mile or 26.2. Well right from the start my calves felt tight and I had a feeling it might not be my day. I made it across the Congress Bridge and boom, my left calf seized up on me. I tried stretching and running a few times but to no avail. I knew then and there that my day was over after 2 short miles.
I’ll never forget the emotions I was feeling right then and yes there may have been a few misguided “F” bombs targeted at myself. I stripped off my race bib, crumbled it up and deposited it in the nearest trash receptacle as fast as I could. My thought was to get to my car and get as far away from this damn race as possible. And I almost did it but I’m glad I didn’t. I went to my car and decided to stay and cheer my fellow Sole Survivors on. I went to the cheer station on Exposition and met Bobby and the others. I went to Mile 25 at San Jacinto and cheered the Soles Survivors and others on as they were approaching the finish. Instead of feeling sorry and disappointed for myself which I think I would if I just “left the scene”, I was consumed with the emotions of seeing my fellow runners charge up that hill on San Jacinto. Even though it wasn’t going to be “me” charging up the hill that day, I knew that I wanted to come back and take care of the unfinished business from that day.
My hamstring and calf issues continued all through the spring and I was unable to train for a fall marathon, however by September of this year I was ready to begin making a plan to take care of the unfinished business from 2011. I had 3 goals going into the 2012 race.
1.) Make it through the Rogue Training Program uninjured
2.) Finish the 2012 Marathon which would give me 10 completed marathon finishes – Take care of the unfinished business from a year ago
3.) Attempt to break 4 hours
2012 Sole Survivor Training
One thing I’ve learned is that when you are injured for an extended period it is just as tough if not tougher from a mental perspective to learn to trust your body again. I talked to Coach Bobby about waiting to commit to the training until I felt my body would hold up. Well by not making a firm commitment to the marathon or training program I found that it was easy to not show up for a Tuesday night workout or miss a long run here or there. Part of me forgot how hard it is to train for a marathon and that you really cannot take any shortcuts. I specifically remember at one of the early September Tuesday night quality workouts when Bobby approached me and asked me “Are you going to do this”? I replied with something like “I guess it’s time to figure that out”. Having him say that to me right then and there was the best thing that could have happened. The next day I decided that I was going to fully commit to the training program. I was mentally just going to have to learn to trust my body and that it would hold up through the workouts and decided to take the training 1 week at a time. After committing I became fully engaged and also learned again what training for a marathon was. It was hard work and I came to love the hard work again. As I started to battle with my mind and push my body at the Tuesday Night track workouts I started to regain confidence in my ability for my mind to push my body and that my body would hold up. Were there dings and minor bruises? Yes of course there were but I figured out a stretching and hydration system that worked for me and I came to realize that my body can indeed make it through the training. I started to see my times improving and my stride getting better. I knew that I was getting stronger each and every week. And just knowing that I was running and running strong again after such a prolonged time of injury is worth more than I can put into words. Where in previous years I may have skipped the recovery run because I was too sore, I knew that doing the recovery run would prepare me for Tuesday. And Tuesday became my day to let it all out. It felt so good to just be able to push myself again. I feel so lucky to have had such a great group of like minded teammates who also pushed themselves on Tuesday Nights. I want to especially thank Andrea Saathoff who was my regular Tuesday Night track workout partner (Well at least until she hit another gear and dropped meJ). Andrea, thank you for making me work hard each and every Tuesday!
6 weeks prior to the marathon I started to really feel strong and knew I was peaking. For the first time in a very long time I became less scared of my body breaking down. I had a great 2 week taper, especially marathon week. I was well rested and hydrated during marathon week. Physically and mentally I was ready. As the last few days approached I was just so excited for reaching my first goal of making it to the start uninjured. Hard work was done. “The Hay was in the Barn”!
The pre-race strategy was to attempt a negative split given the nature of how tough a course Austin is. Something Chris said at the Rogue pre-race talk resonated with me. “Chances are that if you have a good race on this course, you will also negative split”. Luckily, fellow Sole Survivor Melinda Huizar had a similar time goal as I did and was planning on going sub 4:00 hr which would be a PR for her. And Melinda was going to be paced by another Sole Survivor – Sarah Stein-Lobovits. Sarah put together a great negative split race plan for Melinda, shared it with me and asked if I wanted to join them. I decided that Sarah’s race plan would be great as it would prevent me from going out too fast which I have done before. The training was done, the pre-race strategy was set, and now all I had to do was execute the plan.
Race Day! – Did I mention this is a very tough course?
As I mentioned previously, I really prepared well during race week. In fact I’ll go as far to say that I hammered the Taper! I had over 8 hours of sleep on Friday night and went to sleep Saturday Night early feeling relaxed and not really caring how much sleep I had. Maybe that’s why I slept good Saturday as well! I had laid all my clothes out, put on my bib, packed my shot blocks, etc…..the day before so there was no wondering about what I was going to wear or preparation. Got up before my alarm(s) at 3:30am feeling very rested. Coffee, Bagel w/peanut butter, a bottle of Nuun, put on the body glide, got dressed and out the door. Arrived at Rogue at 5:30 or so to meet up with Sarah, Melinda, Marissa Ramirez and Stacey Shapiro who was running the half but planned to start out with us. It was a bit warmer than I thought and way humid out which was a bit of a concern for me even though I knew I was well hydrated. We got a pretty late start and walked over to the starting area. After gear check and bathroom stops we made our way up Congress to the start. Usually I’m in place for 15 or 20 minutes waiting for the start and all that does is make me nervous. We decided on getting in a starting group up front as there would be less traffic. We literally got to our group as the Star Spangled banner was playing. Not sure I would always cut it that close but not having to stand and wait was really neat. The gun went off, it took us about 2 minutes to cross the start and we were off. I think we started in the perfect spot and we all commented on all the space we had. A nice easy cruise up San Jacinto (why wasn’t it that easy the 2nd time around?) past the Capital, down Guadalupe and over Town Lake. After crossing the 2 mile mark I mentally flashed back to a year ago and how different things were then and now and gave myself a little grin! We settled into a nice conversational pace going up South Congress and began to see some familiar Rogue’s along the course which is always awesome. As we approached the descent on South First we all talked to each other about taking it easy and holding back. It was good to have the others with me to pace off of. One thing that clearly became apparent early on was that we were not going to run 26.2 but much further due to the way these courses are measured with the most efficient lines. The new GPS watches are great but because they are also exceedingly accurate you start to see that by veering off to that water stop, or not cutting each corner, that you are adding distance to your day. And the longer the race, the more the disparity.
Came off South First back into downtown and the roar of the crowd. Felt great through the long stretch of Caesar Chavez. Took the turn onto Atlanta Street heading north and began the climb. We don’t do that road much in training probably because of the traffic but that is a bitch of a hill that hits you early. We approached the split and then the hills came. Throughout the training program I have always loved running the hills of Exposition. I don’t know why but I do. We took the turn on Exposition and I felt really good. Cruised the rollers and it was so neat seeing everyone at the Rogue cheer station at the top of Westover. Made the climb up and over Mopac and crossed the 13.1 timing map at exactly 2:00 and change which was right on Sarah’s training plan target. The plan from here on out was to progressively pick up the pace. Turned on Hancock and left on Bull Creek which always sucks. I’m convinced that there is always a headwind heading North on Bull Creek. The 3:55 pace group went past us and we hung with them for a bit. I took the turn on Shoal Creek and started to feel a twinge in my Left Hamstring. Houston, we have a problem!!! I knew that my hamstring was in the early phases of cramping. I wasn’t sure why although figured the high humidity may have something to do with it. A little further down the road I felt it tighten some more and briefly stopped to stretch. Started running again and told Sarah and Melinda that I was starting to cramp. I took a salt pill from Sarah which I’m sure aided in me being able to run the rest of the way. We turned on White Rock and Great Northern and at this point it was Goodbye to Sarah and Melinda. I knew that was the last I would see of them and was hoping that Melinda would reach her goal.
The hamstring really affected my stride and pace and I knew that I would need to alter my plan and that the next 11 miles were going to be much different than planned. But one thing that helped was I remained calm and told myself that as long as it doesn’t seize up on me I’ll be okay. My pace quickly started to deteriorate but I was still running with a laser focus to just keep moving forward albeit at a slower pace. I caught up to fellow Sole Survivor Meghan Klotz on Great Northern and found out she was having a tough day as well. We ran together a bit for the next several miles until she pulled ahead of me around mile 21. At this point I was trying to take in as much Gatorade and water as I could. Much more than I normally would take in but I knew I had to try and prevent my hamstring from seizing up even though my stomach felt like crap from strong uncut warm Gatorade. I stopped 5 or 6 times to stretch but never really walked and for that I am very proud of. Quite frankly from about Mile 18-Mile 25 much of it was a blur and I don’t remember much expect about how much effort it took to make it through each mile. It got really hot, very hot out there and I don’t remember too much of those 7 Miles. When I reached Duval I thought, okay nice downhill but my hamstring prevented me from increasing my stride on the down hills. As I made it through the stadium I started to realize how close I was to finishing this and started looking forward to seeing familiar faces on San Jacinto. I started to think back to a year ago and even though I was physically depleted and not all there mentally, I couldn’t wait for that damn hill because I knew that my Rogue Sole survivors were going to be there to help me up that hill. And yes I knew it really was the last damn hill. As I started up San Jacinto I heard a nice cheer from Sole Survivors Alan and Heather Stanley. I turn around to see who it was and almost fell down. Then I was worried that I might fall down going up that hill and told myself that that’s just not an option. I saw Cory Leahy running towards me and soon after Oscar Gonzalez and Barry Pederson were there running alongside me as well offering what seemed like non-stop support willing me up that hill. I saw Coach Bobby and several other Rogues’s cheering me on and although I was kind of out of it, it really helped me. As depleted as I was I do remember pushing my arms to push my legs and I knew I was smiling because unlike a year ago it WAS me going up that Hill. With the help of Barry, Cory, and Oscar I made it up that Hill and quickly looked at my watch. It wasn’t going to be the sub 4:00 hr negative split I was looking for or even close but damn if I can pick it up I can go sub 4:15. Not sure where I found the energy but I did pick it up and sprinted down that chute to a 4:14:26. Glanced at my Soleus watch and it told me I ran 26.6 miles! Goal #2 complete and the demons from a year ago have been put to rest.
Post Race/Final Thoughts – This is a very tough course!
Crossed the line and staggered through the finish chute for a bit. Got the medal and it was a sweet feeling. A feeling that you only get when you know you really earned something. Thought about going back to the Hill at San Jacinto to cheer on others but didn’t think I could make it that far. Decided to try and stretch so I could walk. I knew there was beer at Rogue and decided to go back to Rogue because…..well there was beer. Although it was hot on the course it made for a nice sunny post race gathering at Rogue. And it was so much fun seeing everyone and sharing everyone’s stories of the day over some great Hops and Grains Beer. Thank Josh! Found out Melinda indeed hit her goal and felt so happy and proud for her! Ended the day with a great gathering of friends and food at Red’s Porch – Oh and more Beer……
Enjoying hard earned Post Marathon Beers with fellow Sole Survivors Ashley Rollins, Chris Chuter, and Patrick MacAlpine
So Goal #3 of sub 4 hours was not attained but in the end that was just the cherry on top and it tastes just as sweet without that cherry. To me the journey is just as important as the destination and even more so this time around given the injuries I have battled. As many people have said, the Marathon is designed to beat you. The best you can do is fully prepare although on race day you never fully know what will happen. I’m glad that when I encountered some difficulty yesterday I was able to alter my plan and my mental state and push on. As a veteran (okay insert OLD J) marathon runner, I may never set another PR even though I may work harder now than I ever did for races with much better finishing times. This was Marathon #10 and although the finishing time was far removed from my best, I’m not sure if I ever had more focus, determination, or mental strength than I did for the last 11 miles of this one. And I am very proud of that!
Thank you Coach Bobby Garcia, my Sole Survivor Teammates, and Rogue Running for truly making this a wonderful journey and a spectacular destination!