|May 21, 2005, a day that I will not likely forget for anytime soon.
It was a day that went from high hopes to near crushing defeat to
a humble victory. This is my story.
As I waited for the hour of my premiere as marathon runner on Saturday
I remember thinking that I had done everything by the book. I tapered,
I ate right, I got the nerves under control, I slept well a couple
nights before the race. I even managed to get 6 hours sleep the
night before the race – I felt ready to take on the marathon.
Where the mind goes the body should follow, right? As I mentioned
in one of my earlier posts last week, one dude in my office was
sneezing, wheezing and coughing the whole day last Wednesday. Add
a little fever, runny nose, headache, body ache, whatever else and
you have me today. The first symptoms started showing there ugly
head on Saturday morning, but I still felt good…
We arrived in Mannheim about 12:45, checked into our hotel, then
headed across the street to pick up my start packet. My wife went
on to the shopping district, I went back to the hotel. After laying
out everything for the race I laid down and tried to take a nap.
About 3:00 p.m. I got up and ate a sandwich that I had brought along.
I drank water up until about an hour before the race.
About a half hour before the start we left the hotel and made our
way over to the Start. I stretched a little, jogged around the block,
received my good luck kiss from my sweety and lined up in the 4:30
starter block. I felt good, at this point there were no indicators
that trouble was on the way.
There were 2847 runners signed up for the marathon, 484 for the
rollerblade half-marathon, 2800 for the 4-person team marathon,
and 70 for the wheelchair/hand bike marathon.
I didn’t hear the starting pistol, the crowd's cheering was
overwhelming, it was powerful! I set my stopwatch as I crossed over
the start, surprisingly it only took about 2 minutes this time.
Actually it was a dual start from two parallel streets that gradually
merged after the first kilometer. I ran the first 2-3 kilometers
in 6:15/K (10:00/M), just what I had planned on. I felt good, I
tried to keep my pace under control. The first service point was
at 5K (3.1M), I grabbed a cup of sport drink and walked long enough
to drink it. I picked up the pace to about 6:00/K (9:39/M). Beginning
at the 7.5/K (4.7M) marker there were water points every 5K, so
we could drink every 2.5K (1.5M).
It had rained most of Saturday morning, was nice outside until
about an hour into my marathon. The temperature at noon was 24C/75F,
19C/66 at the start of the race, and 16C/60 by midnight. The air
was thick and humid…at about the 10-11K point it started raining
slightly, just a drizzle, but one that continued off and on for
the rest of the race.
I kept up my 6:00/K pace, walking through most of the service and
water points to drink a sports drink or water. I think I ran through
two without drinking because I heard sloshing in my stomach (textbook
stuff). I crossed the 21.1K (13.1 M) chip scanner at 2:12:17 (official
time). I was still running strong at this point.
It is interesting to note that there was a tremendous turnout of
people to cheer us on, almost the entire route was lined with people,
especially in the center of the towns we passed through. Our first
names were printed on the start numbers, so I heard my name constantly
throughout the night. This was to be an important fact as time went
At about the 22K/13.6M point I first saw the bridge looming in
the distance. The bridge in front of me (actually two bridges) can
only be described as a bridge from hell. Based on the kilometer
markers the span was over two kilometers (1.2 miles) with steep
(for this flatlander) entrance and exit ramps. We were running directly
into the wind and on the bridge you felt the full force of the gusts.
Halfway up I paused and walked. After a minute or two it started
leveling out so I started running again. I noted that I would see
the bridge again, as the return runners were coming back on the
other side (oh God).
It was shortly after the bridge (~24K/15M) that I got the first
leg cramp, in the calf of the right leg – kind of like a Charlie
horse, so painful that I had to walk it out. I walked for a minute
or so that slowly started running again. A couple minutes later
I reached the 25K/15.5M service point and grabbed a sports drink
and a sports bar. I walked long enough to finish these than continued
on. Three or four minutes later, the painful cramp again, this time
in the hamstring muscle of the right leg as well. It hurt so much
I had to walk again. I walked a minute or so until the pain subsided,
than continued running. My legs were getting really stiff at this
point. I remember passing the 26K/16.1M marker, went around a corner
and then got such a spasm of pain in the both calves and the right
hamstring muscles, that I just about fell over. I painfully walked
it out, stopped and tried to stretch the legs some, than tried to
From the bridge we went from Mannheim into the neighboring town
of Ludwigshafen. At about the 26K point we turned off the road that
came down from the bridge and went on a long nervey straight away
that went about 5 K’s out then came back on almost the same
streets. You could see the returning runners almost the entire distance.
I remember thinking at one point what kind of sick person thought
I made it through the 27K/16.7M marker and was continuously getting
hit with new bouts of cramps every few hundred meters (1/4 mile).
The cramps (or spasms?) were so painful that I had to stop and walk
each time until the pain subsided. A couple times I felt kind of
dizzy and another I thought I was going to throw-up. I reached the
30K/18.6M service area and drank a sports drink and ate a banana.
I stopped and explained my problem to the fine people at the Red
Cross tent. They questioned if I had been drinking enough (I had),
then took a couple minutes and massaged my legs. They suggested
that if the pain persists that I should quit. No way!
I left the tent determined to keep going, I started off at a slow
jog, but soon had to succumb to the cramps again. I started playing
with different strides; I figured out right away that when I stretched
out my stride it almost immediately resulted in pain. So I took
small steps, this got me to the 32K/19.9M maker. By this time I
was totally exhausted, the fight with the stiffness, the pain –
my nerves were shot. My mind had left long before this, I was somehow
in a daze, my race plan was no more, survival was the new game in
By now I was on the return leg of the straightaway from hell (maybe
33K/20.5M maker), I noticed the ranks were getting mighty thin now.
Would I be last? I recall a little voice inside of me saying last
is not least, stay brave, keep going, one step at a time!
The route turned off the straightaway onto some dark street, you
could only see a short distance in front of you (it was raining
again). I was running maybe 3-4 minutes, than walking 1-2 minutes.
I had figured out by this time that if I keep my legs fairly straight
I wasn’t getting cramps so often. I passed by a marker, no
here was the 33K/20.5M marker. I felt like I was the Tin Man from
the Wizard of Oz, running with my legs stiffened, I must have been
a funny sight.
I past a runner who was using rather colorful language to describe
the fact that we hadn’t reached the %%& bridge yet, the
weather sucks, and cursed the first newborn of whoever planned this
route…maybe I wasn’t in the worst of shape here.
My legs were like lead, but I wasn’t cramping up so much
anymore. I kept going, keeping my pace down, concentrating on not
bending the legs too much…I started running uphill…the
bridge thank God! This bridge went on and on and on…at least
I wasn’t alone, there were a few runners around me. I tried
to keep pace with one runner, but he started walking, I made it
almost a whole kilometer without stopping to walk...down the exit
ramp…a service point. I tried to eat a sports bar but couldn’t
swallow it, so I ate half a banana and drank a coke. I started running
again 7.2K, less than 5 miles – I have to finish this –
I glanced at my watch oh already four hours thirty-six minutes.
Back into the city of Mannheim, I remember feeling incredibly nauseous,
than dizzy, I walked for a minute or two, than forwards! The 36K/22.3
marker. Forwards. Hey I know this street the shopping district,
but we still have 6K/3.7M? Okay right turn, where are we going now,
ohh a big crowd ahead, don’t stop running. A whole line of
kids wanting high-fives, slap, slap, a few more steps. Walk a little,
run a little.
By this time I was in some kind of daze, I only remember running
and walking, running and walking. Then I heard my name “What,
somebody called my name?” Oh yeah its written on my number.
“What did they yell, keep going! I’ll try. I’m
doing it.” The 38K/23.6 marker, where was the 37? I missed
it somewhere. Back to the shopping district, right turn, we’re
heading towards the finish, I can hear the band. Walk, run, run,
walk, run. We ran through the start (the finish was on the parallel
street), the 39K/24.2M marker, still 3.2K’s (2 miles).
I started passing people, here one, there one. Gosh is this hard.
I had to walk again, my legs hurt! I ran again, a man and woman
in matching blue running shirts were in front of me. I latched onto
them, they ran maybe 5 minutes, than walked – I walked. They
ran, I ran. The 40K marker…they ran, I ran, they walked, I
walked. We passed a few, a few passed us. I felt dizzy, I walked.
I caught up to the blue team at the 41K marker. They ran, I ran,
they walked, I walked. They ran, I ran, they walked, I ran…the
water tower, the finish. I kept going, my legs hurt…I see
the Finish…I ran faster…I…I…I finished!
I stumbled forward, tears in my eyes (as are now as I write), someone
slipped a “Finisher” medal over my head. I stumbled
forward, the room started spinning, hey wait I’m not in a
room. I grabbed the corner of the fence to steady myself, a Red
Cross worker appeared…he asked if I was okay…I don’t
know what I told him…he called a couple dudes and they brought
a stretcher…I laid down…oh this felt good. They carried
me in the first aid tent. I told the EMT dude that I was feeling
dizzy, but that it would pass in a minute. Obviously he didn’t
believe me, he checked my pulse, blood pressure…90/60…kinda
low! He had me lay down again, covered me with a blanket, got some
water for me…thank you, thank you.
After a couple minutes the doctor came over. She asked if my blood
pressure is normally low. Having really no idea, I told her that,
also about my severe leg cramps, and about the first signs of a
cold. She checked my blood pressure again, it was a bit higher.
She told the EMT dude to check it again in 10 minutes, he did 90/70.
He called the doctor back, she released me.
I made my way out of the tent, up a couple steps (ouch!) to the
service area. I tried to eat a banana, yuck! I drank some sports
drink, than limped over to the T-Shirt area to pick up my T-shirt.
All out! “We’ll have to mail you one”. “Do
we have your address?” Yeah, I think so…yes.
I wandered out towards the aid station and the exit, down the steps
(OUCH!). Through the exit – ahh there is my wife, thank God.
She only needed one look and knew that I had had trouble. She asked
me if I was okay, I told her I was by the doctor – she only
said we should go back to the hotel, it was getting cold and starting
I wanted finish in 4:15-4:30. I finished in 5:10:56. I FINISHED!
I keep telling myself that I finished, but I am disappointed, sad,
confused – I had a lot of things happening to my body that
didn’t occur doing training, that I don’t understand
the reason for. The leg cramps – I’ve had cramps before,
but nothing like the pain that I experienced during the marathon.
I am trying to discover a reason for this. I drank at almost every
station, except for a couple where I could hear distinct sloshing.
Was it my oncoming cold? The humidity? Did I start too fast?
I am trying to tell myself that I at least finished, true, but
I don’t feel fulfilled somehow. Maybe I’m just worn
out, sick, tired…
But one thing is clear, there will be a rematch! Jack vs. Marathon