I was supposed to run this marathon last year, but alas! Got the pesky ARDs and it took months to recover, blah blah blah. I still went, however! I spectated and got to watch my friends Jefe and Gid crush their races. It was awesome, and I knew I’d be back a year later.
And I was.
When you train for a marathon after being seriously ill and not running for, oh, 8 months it’s a lot like training for your first marathon ever. Everything feels new. And uncertain. Before signing up for this race I had several false starts. I would do short runs consistently for a little bit then stop because I had nothing to train for. I decided that the only way I was ever going to get back into my running groove was if I just bit the bullet and registered for a race. I was right!
My goal for this race? To break five hours. That’s right! Before this my slowest marathon had been 4 hours flat, but this was a new me! This was post-recovery me, and I wasn’t sure what my body had in store for me. I ran my tune-up half in 2:05:34. Which was slower than my first half ever. See? It’s all new.
Look, I’m not whining about being slower. In fact, I say all of this with exhilaration. Time doesn’t really matter to me right now. My perspective changed significantly after being bedridden. There was a point where just lifting a fork was daunting. Where standing up for a moment made my heart race and my breath stall. Even though it was a year ago those memories are still fresh, so every time I hit a new milestone in my running I get overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.
When I was in the hospital I had the following conversation with my Pulmonary Doctor. Note: This doctor had run Boston 30+ times. Dude was a runner so he understood how important it was to me.
Doctor: So the only permanent effect you’ll have from the ARDS is scarring on your lungs which means–
Me: I won’t be able to run anymore?
Doctor: No! you can run!
Me: But not marathons.
Doctor: No, you can run marathons! You just might not be as fast as you once were.
Me: OH THANK GOD.
Doctor: In fact, as soon as you get out of here I want you to run one block. It’s going to suck, but I want you to do it.
And I did. Honestly, it didn’t suck. It was hard as hell and I was out of breath, but it gave me hope which made all the suckiness disappear.
Suffice it to say there was a lot riding on this race. It was a redemption race. It was a comeback. It was to prove to myself that I was still a marathoner, lungs be damned! I was feeling pretty confident the week before the race. I’d run a few 18 milers, and a 20. The 20 was HOT and humid, and I had to walk a bit the last two miles. But I figured there was NO WAY Vermont was going to be hotter than that.
As race day loomed closer the forecast was bleak. 86 degrees. I was nervous. When my friends and I arrived in Vermont my anxiety increased as my allergies worsened. I was a stuffy, coughing mess which wasn’t an encouraging position to be in physically. Luckily I was with four awesome, supportive friends who distracted me from my stress. We had a great time in Vermont the days leading up to the race. At moments I forgot about the race all together!
But, of course, race day arrived. My friend Silas massaged my legs out before I went to the starting line, and for some reason that is what finally made me get my head in the game. I was going to run this bad boy. Heat be damned.
I left my friends and found a spot near the 4:45 pacer. As soon as I got settled in I started to cry. This was happening. After the craziest year of my goddamn life I was back. Something about being surrounded by other runners and being in the midst of all that raw emotion set me off. I knew I could finish. It might be slow going, but I had this feeling in my gut that I was going to be able to do it.
The first two miles were a lot like the first two miles of all my runs this year: plodding. My legs just felt heavy. I have a mantra during the beginning of a long run and it’s pretty simple “This is what we’re gonna do for awhile”. I just repeat that to myself until my body accepts that running is all there is at the moment, and we’ve just gotta do it. The first 5k felt like an eternity. Honestly, I think it’s because I’m not used to running that slow. I didn’t let myself think about how long I had to go. After the first 5k loop I saw my buddies and that lifted my spirits. I stopped and hugged everybody because I wasn’t in a rush and I was just so happy to see them already! After that it was like I woke up! All of a sudden my legs were like “AH! I remember running! Hell, I like it!”. The next 10k loop of the race was probably the most boring scenery-wise, but I didn’t care! I had found my groove and was happily ticking off the miles. At some point during this stretch I passed the 4:30 pacer and was on track to finish in 4:22. I knew that wasn’t going to last and that once it got hotter I would have to slow down, but I decided to keep the pace while I could.
Every aid station I dumped water over my head or down my shirt, and made sure to drink electrolytes. Even though there was very little shade from mile 4 – 10 I didn’t find the heat unbearable. I think constantly soaking myself really did the trick! After looping back through downtown again the course became a lot more suburban which I loved. People were outside spraying us with hoses and squirt guns. The support was unbelievable! I crossed the halfway mark feeling strong.
From miles 15 – 18 a few things happened to slow me down. I stopped to pee. I briefly got a cramp and walked until it went away. I walked up a giant hill and used my inhaler. I didn’t let any of this get to me. I knew I had to take care of myself first and foremost in the heat. I also prepped myself for 16 – 18 being the hardest miles. I told myself if I could just get to 18 I could finish. Well, I got to 18! The next few miles were a blur to me. The miles felt long, but not impossible. I just stayed focused on the moment. I knew when I got to 20 that would be the homestretch. At mile 20 the rest of the course is on a bike path which is lovely because it’s all shaded! At this point the 4:30 pacer had caught up with me and I decided to hang with her for a bit. The next few miles I just put all my focus into getting through each mile. It was tough, but I knew I could do it. I was about to reach the mile 24 marker when I got an alert on my phone:
“Race is discontinued. Proceed to nearest aid station”.
I kind of laughed manically to myself. THIS CAN’T BE REAL. What are they going to do, pull me off the course? I only had TWO MILES LEFT. You can’t ask runners to stop at Mile 24. I get to the aid station and none of the volunteers say anything…they just give me water. Bless them. Ahead of me I see two cops signaling for runners to exit the course.
I dip around the cops and continue on the course. Uncertain of the consequences (if any?). All I knew was I was finishing this goddamn race. One of the spectators said “You guys are going to be the last finishers” and I responded with “They’re really cutting it off right here?!” and he said “yeah, my wife is behind the cut off…”.
So now I’m defiant and pissed off. I have no problem running. I get several texts from my friends asking what was going on so I slowed to a walk to call them back. I told them “I was one of the last people to make it past the cutoff, but I’m going to finish this! See you soon!”. Not long after that we got a message that said “The clock is being turned off and your time won’t be recorded”. A woman next to me looked heartbroken “This is my first marathon..” she told me and I responded with “You’re going to finish, and nobody can take that away from you!”.
As I ran that final mile I saw my friends screaming for me, and soul is filled with joy. I love them SO GODDAMN MUCH. So much that I flipped them off to express my “ef you” to the cancelled race. They laughed. They knew. I rounded the corner and I triumphantly crossed the finish line.
14 months after being released from rehab I ran a marathon. A marathon that got cancelled mid-race.
Amusingly enough my time “won’t count” because I missed the cutoff by 13 seconds. The cutoff for official times was 4:30. Seems pretty shitty to not count people’s times when they finished the race and you’ve got the times recorded. I get it, they wanted people off the course, but we’re consenting adults who know the risks of our sport. I don’t need an “official” time to validate my experience out there. I feel bad for the people who were led off course in the final miles. I feel bad for the people who were running their first marathon. For people who were running as a celebration of their health. For people who are members of the 50 States Club and now this state won’t count for them.
But, hey, that’s life. If I’ve learned anything this past year it’s that shit happens that’s beyond our control, but you know what I did have control over? Dodging that cop and finishing the race in spite of it all.
I’m back, baby.