Well, I did it again—a marathon—The Full Monte in Huntsville, Utah—Saturday, September 21, 2019. My weight training at the local VASA gym for a year and a half provided me confidence as I planned to run another 26.2 miles with six months to train. Since my first marathon-training plan consisted of running daily and one successful long-distance test run, I knew making the distance was possible. Due to my busy schedule, I could not commit to such a plan. I instead chose a training plan full of long routes with hills—adding mileage gradually—while reducing my weight training to abdomen and lower body workouts, since a recent carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists. This inconsistent schedule left me feeling less prepared, so I made a plan to walk every aid station taking the fruit and water/Gatorade available—unlike my first marathon—where I ran through almost every aid station without consuming the available nutrition. I chose to carry in my waist bag the GU gel from my registration pack, a granola bar, a few Bandaids per my mom’s advice, two tissues, and my small flip phone—in case of an emergency.
A runner’s rash, bloody toe, and blister on my right foot were ailments I didn’t discover until after the race. Raw skin areas began to develop on my feet around mile seven where I thought for sure my second pair of Hokas would be fine. The 15-mile test run I had given them before the race had all been in vain. Why do running shoe companies still create shoes with separate insoles, leaving a gap around the entire bottom inside perimeter of the shoe, rather than connecting the insole with the shoe itself to prevent blisters? A connected insole would make for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept of a shoe and make running more appealing to people. The Hoka brand has got one thing right, however, being the first shoe with cushion that lasts longer than a couple months. My first $130.00 Hoka pair sold to me over a year ago never gave me any issues. Despite the blister issue I faced during this race, my second pair costing $160.00 and specific to ultra-marathoners, took me to the finish line far better than any other cheap-cushioned shoe I’ve ever experienced in my life.
The slight numbing sensation came from my bloody toe and blister, which was a culminating effect of the pounding I had given my feet. The entire race, except for the last four miles, was all down hill. The gentleman at the head of the bus taking us to the start line recommended for everyone to tie their shoes tightly, so that our toes would thank us at the end of the race. There was plenty enough room at the front of my one-size-larger shoes—even with laces tied tightly—which made me glad to have followed the age-old advice. Sincerely though, this experience was a fulfilling journey. The marathon was more enjoyable than my first one four years ago. This time, instead of taking a bus ride and waiting in a dark tent alone, I made two new friends and saw an old friend: 1.) A nice gentleman on the bus—Jim 2.) A former colleague teacher, announcer, and starting line leader for the race—Candy Facer 3.) A girl I chatted with in the tent—Emma.
The dark morning hour was still wet from the previous day’s rain, which left the air on the very chilly uncomfortable side. I stepped onto the first bus available with only seven seats remaining. I found the closest seat to the front, which was the third row back on the left next to Jim. He asked, “You want to sit next to an old man?” I responded, “I don’t care, as long as I have a seat!” He talked the entire bus ride up to the start line practically—for which I was glad—because, I would have otherwise just stewed in my miserable nervousness. He explained how he had completed 40 marathons with a five-bypass heart surgery ten months ago—having to quit his last race—due to breathing difficulties. He claimed this marathon would be the last as I continued to listen with hands-down respect. He spoke with sarcastic humor about how stupid it was to wake up at four in the morning, get on a bus up to the mountains—in the cold to run a marathon. I listened further as he continued with as much sincerity as possible exclaiming how he wouldn’t make it to the finish line and wished his daughter would run a race with him—a thirteen miler at least—but said would never happen.
When it was time to get off the bus I gathered myself up to go, down the bus stairs, and was surprised to see a veteran teacher I had taught with as a first and second year teacher over fifteen years ago. Candy Facer was a marathon running teacher everyone respected greatly. She greeted me with enthusiasm—just her style—and continued with each runner after me as I said goodbye to Jim. We both had a lot to think about to prepare mentally. A few minutes later I met Emma, who became my confidant in the tent, for almost an hour before entering the cold air to the start line. She and I learned quickly about how much we had in common as she explained her race successes. We agreed with one another how much time it takes to train and how we would like to train more. We waited and chatted a bit more before it was time to leave the tent. We then parted ways with a positive “Good luck!”
When I stepped out of the tent, the dark morning had revealed a lovely pink sunrise peaking through heavy broken clouds amidst the cold fog that surrounded the trees. A light film of snow covered the ground surfaces ever so gently. This beautiful sight couldn’t have been a more perfect start to the race and took my mind away from the cold instantly. I chose to place myself near the front of the line near the faster runners, like I did in my first marathon—for motivation. I said a quick hello to Mrs. Facer, who was ready to send us off with the blast of the gun and pulled myself back a bit, staying to the left per the advice of Jim. I watched the runners near me with eager energy, as I also centered my thoughts and energy toward what was about to happen. The cold was beginning to be more noticeable now that I had stopped moving when suddenly, Mrs. Facer started the countdown from five to one. Hearing the gun was a jolt to my ears and body as I found myself relieved to begin running finally.
The first few miles ticked away pleasantly enough to allow myself to soak up the breath-taking scenery. The coldness I had felt at the start had left me, except for my face and a few top area layers of skin through my running garb. A few runners along the way were a helpful distraction to my thoughts, giving me verbal support—like the girl at about mile four saying, “Good job, keep it up!” I appreciated each supportive comment. Another girl, who wore a soft fleece bathrobe, began to pass me about mile two or three. She reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad the night before as I was putting my stuff together. I could hear him say, “A marathon is not a fashion show!” I agreed with him that preparation is key to any good race and thought to myself, “Whatever works!”
Miles passed by me bearably, until I realized my shoe issue. I was angry about the shoe purchase more than myself and worried if I would be able to finish the race completely. Both pressure points that were giving me trouble were symmetrical to one another. This frustration was cut short when I found the perfect stopping ground to fix my toes with the two Bandaids in my bag—thanks to my mom. The stopping ground was on a log in the entrance of a dirt driveway off to the right of the road, which couldn’t have come at a sooner time. I sat down and started to place the first Bandaid on my left foot, which stuck together leaving it somewhat workable. I made sure I didn’t make the same mistake on the second Bandaid for my right foot.
When I made it back on my running feet again, I somehow assumed there would be Bandaids available at the next aid station about a mile and a half away from my sitting log. This gave me motivation to run through the pain. I tried to enjoy the scenery from a lady runner’s suggestion as she passed me. I would have been relishing in the vast array of autumn-colored trees like her, but the discovery of pre-blistered skin was the only thing on my mind. I was forced to deal with the problem one running step at a time—providing me just enough relief to continue. A hand-written sign came into my view after a few road-bends, which read, “BIRTH—Born to Inspire. Run and Train Hard.” Ironically, this gave my mind a bit of respite from the growing concern of my feet and inspired my thoughts to continue running in the future.
I began to feel the Bandaid on my left foot starting to slip away, which made the raw skin more painful. The other raw-skinned toe was still very tender, but could feel the Bandaid relieving most of the pain. The next aid station appeared about thirty minutes later where I was relieved to find a First Aid table with better Bandaids to replace my failed ones—thankfully. The new Bandaids worked, making them a non-issue for the rest of the race. My aching muscles became the next focus point, but the 40% continuous downward slope helped me maintain a confident pace. I knew that after studying the race map, if I could just make it to mile 22, I would be out of the canyon with a little over 4 miles of flat terrain remaining. This thought gave me hope as planned, but when I reached somewhere between nine and twelve miles, the road began to flatten into what seemed to be an endless one. The heat from the morning sun was beginning to make me sweat under my layers of clothing. These two issues started to wear on me, forcing me to think about similar moments in life when my patience was tested. I continued to place one step in front of the other patiently as I focused far ahead where I could see shade and a bend in the road.
When I reached the bend at last, the road began a gradual decline once again with appreciated shade from the trees. I began to follow two male runners, one with a shirt that read, “This is the good pain.” I continued my own steady and simple pace for at least a mile or two more contemplating how the nagging pain I was feeling was far better than emotional pains I had once experienced in life. This was a frightening—yet interesting conclusion for me. The consequence of my hill training also helped suppress my need to walk and pushed me through each lengthy curve I faced. Suddenly I found myself passing a lady in a yellow neon jacket speaking to me forthrightly, “Good job, you’re half-way!” I focused my attention on her words—realizing the good news and grateful as I watched the two male runners disappear ahead of me. This adrenaline fueled my body for the next several miles, leaving miles thirteen through twenty-one a blur mostly, except for the last curve of the canyon leading into the valley. Cars began to appear on the endless gradual downward slope of road that lasted for about twenty to thirty minutes. Then, a 90-degree junction where I was to turn left came into view.
The closer the junction came into view, the heavier my legs began to feel. The good news, however, was when I did reach the junction finally—I knew that the downhill part was behind me. I felt a strange emotion of emerging tears surface as I passed the corner group of cheering people. I fought the unexpected tears, for I had wondered many times over how I would feel at this point in the race. I continued 200-300 yards on the new flat ground, looking at a new endless stretch of road. I dug deeper as I passed mile 22 and told myself, “Only four more miles!” The state of my muscles had changed dramatically, along with every breath more difficult.
Despite the difficulty, the next aid station was upon me quickly. I began to walk. I must have looked terrible, because the first volunteer lady asked if I was okay. I consumed the half banana and Gatorade provided to me like clockwork and picked up my feet to start running past the second 90-degree junction. This right turn brought me onto another stretch of road where I could hear a finish line crowd. A flock of geese flying above me was reality to my ears with my new running pace—an unbearable shuffle—taking over my body as the new normal. Perhaps I should have eaten my granola bar or GU gel for a different kind of nutrition. Neither item in my pack came to mind as possible solutions as I forced my legs along another long straightway.
What seemed like many minutes later, I reached the end of the road, turning right again at a third 90-degree curve onto another stretch of road. Halfway along, a short 40% incline of a whoppin’ fifteen or so feet seemed almost humorous compared to what I had experienced thus far. Finishing the incline, I could see more clearly a fourth 90-degree turn to the left a couple hundred or so yards ahead of me. Once I reached the turn, I came upon another group of cheering people managing the second to last aid station and began to walk through the station ingesting the water and fruit. The aid station ended quickly with a fifth 90-degree turn to the right and another long stretch of road to conquer. This time, I couldn’t find the strength to begin running. A few minutes later, a male runner from behind yelled to me, “Come on, only two more miles!” Boy, was I glad for this—he became my target and motivation to continue—even though he ran out of sight before I reached the end of the long stretch.
The next junction was a sixth 90-degree left turn onto what appeared to be the last straightway of the race. Feeling numb emotion making the turn, my body felt the desperate need to walk again as I looked at the intimidating straightway ahead. I kept pursuing what seemed like a 2% incline, picking up my heavy-beaten legs, alternating between a run and walk before reaching the last aid station. One hundred yards before the aid station, an older gentleman from behind me began coaching a young runner I had just begun to walk past. I remember seeing him in the warm-up tent before the race. The older gentleman spoke in a firm voice saying something of the sort, “You are a better runner than walking!” The boy in response began to start running, giving me enough strength to start running too. The three of us pushed forward, when somehow, my granola bar came to memory. I didn’t feel the need to eat it and instead chose to refuel with what the aid station had to offer.
An orange slice, a few sips of water, and a brief walk later—I turned my attention to African drumming I could hear across the busy highway ahead of me. Somehow my energy was refueled, and I picked up my dead-beaten legs to start into a new grateful cadence. Once I had passed the highway and drummers, the scene was a flood of memories as I noticed the familiar road. Somewhere just a few blocks further would be the finish line where I left on the bus that morning, near what used to be an old elementary school where I taught as a brand-new teacher. Since I knew the finish line was around the last 90-degree corner just ahead of me a few hundred yards, the pain I was feeling became more tolerable. Feeling this new energy, with the help of a 100-yard downward slope, I set my eyes on the corner and forced my body to continue. I was determined not to walk and to run as quickly as I my legs could take me. Turning the corner, I could see the finish line finally! I ran one hundred or so yards more and heard my mom call my name from the left. There she stood with my dad, both cheering for me.
I could hardly believe I was almost finished! A quick muster of a sideways glance was the only response I could give; and, with a grimace in each step—less than a minute later—I crossed the finish line. The announcer called out my name and hometown over the large speakers. A medal with a pretty, light blue ribbon was placed around my neck. My emotions surfaced again slightly, reminding me of my hard effort then settling for the blue instead of pink I saw others wearing. Meeting up with my parents was most pivotal of all. My emotions became more visible as I gave them a big hug for loving me, since none of this marathon business would have been possible without them.
My parents and many others have been a major support to me as I’ve come to grips with a mental illness for 2½ years now. Exercise has always been a way for me to release unexpended energy, but even more so after receiving the diagnosis. My desire to run the race evolved from the familiarity of Huntsville city, my desire to run a second marathon, and being coaxed by a professional counselor. I am grateful to everyone, who cheered for me along the way. I agreed with an old friend, who I met up with at the end of the race commenting how impressionable it was to watch the runners come down the finish line pike—each having his or her own story. He had run the marathon too. I won’t ever forget the courage of Jim, my new friend, whom I saw running through the finish line in a miraculous time. I congratulated him and explained how I had said a big prayer for him out there. He returned his thanks with his gentle grandfather-like hug. I was able to meet his friends and talk with another spectator, who was waiting for a runner friend too. His friend hadn’t even trained! This spectator man himself had a goal of doing a marathon eventually, but said he wanted to do Spartan races for starts. I hope he can do it!
I also will never forget the lady, who ignited my desire to run a marathon back in 2008 after completing the Deseret News 10K. I had chosen to hang around to watch the marathoners run through to the finish line, while she had been waiting for her husband to complete the race. She asked me if I had ever run a marathon. When I told her no, she responded directly, “You just have to do it!” I took to heart her advice that day and later, in 2015, finished the Top of Utah Marathon in four hours and forty-five minutes. Today, I finished with a time of four hours and thirty-five minutes—ten minutes faster. Most importantly, I soaked up my investment of $111.47 by staying after the race to chat with friends. This was when I heard over the speakers of how $400,000 was raised to support a non-profit cause. Hearing this made the marathon even more worth my effort indefinitely! Goals really do work, and we are not alone in this world. I hope Jim will get to run a race with his daughter. I say thanks to Mrs. Facer for inspiring me. I hope my new friend Emma and I can find more time to train; and of course, I will experiment more with the nutrition side of racing and just might give the GU and/or granola bar a try in my next marathon.
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