May 1, 2010 was a day I'll never forget. It was the day I completed my first - and possibly my only - marathon. The Wisconsin Marathon.
The morning was filled with the usual nervous anticipation any runner ever feels before a race. The run commenced in Kenosha, Wisconsin at 7 a.m. - roughly an hour from my house. My wife and I met other Milwaukee-area runners at 5 a.m. and we drove down in 4 cars. The effort to travel together was valiant, but failed as we didn't manage to keep the caravan together all the way into the downtown Kenosha. Still, we all managed to park and meet (mostly) everyone again before the start of the race.
As I made my way to the starting corral, I lost everybody again. I did run into my new friends Dan and Sherry Wilde just before the gun sounded. They were running the half - Dan's run 'em before, but this was going to be Sherry's first. If you ever met Dan, you wouldn't soon forget him. He has great energy and seeing him definitely settled my pre-run nerves.
Seven o'clock came. The gun sounded. The run was on. I separated from Dan and Sherry right away and set about finding a comfortable pace. About 2 miles into the run I saw Milwaukee runner Tracey Gessner ahead of me about 20 yards. I thought for a moment about trying to catch her, but Tracey's fast and I would never be able to keep up with her even if I did catch her. Somewhere around mile 4 - maybe 5 - I found myself running alongside Anne Munkwitz and Marty Burian. I think they started behind me, but at that point, I caught up to Anne. We ran together a mile or so, before separating again. Marty and I were pretty close in stride, but at a water stop, I got held back about 20 yards from Marty. That's okay. Marty was a on a pretty good pace and I didn't want to hold him up. Approaching mile 10, I caught up to Anne again. We ran 'til about mile 12 where she kicked in high gear to finish her half marathon strongly.
I can't praise the organizers of the Wisconsin Marathon enough for the energy and organization they put into this fine event; however, one oddity I'll note is this: the peeling off of the half-marathoners versus the full. I wish it wouldn't have been like this, but maybe it's the only way. I think around two-thirds of the runners were running the half, so when they separated, it left the full marathoners feeling in a strange and lonely place. After running with a large group for 12 miles, I was suddenly left with only 2 people near me in about a 100-yard span. Mentally, this added an unforeseen challenge. Nonetheless, the route journeyed south alongside some pleasant lakeside homes and some nice lake views.
I rarely broke my stride until around mile 17. There I walked a few paces here and there. The volunteers were excellent at providing motivation. Two girls cheered me on and ran alongside me for 40 or 50 yards; we high-fived. That was pretty cool. The residents of Kenosha also stood at the end of their driveways and offered support. I made it to mile 23 with intermittent walking and running - mostly running.
However, mile 23 is where it all went downhill. Running with my usual stride and pace was no longer an option. I felt like I had to "throw" my legs forward and use my upper body more than usual to get my legs to advance. No lie: miles 23 to 25.5 were the most agonizing miles and minutes of my life. I kept thinking "All you've got left is the shortest training run you've run all spring!" but it didn't make a difference. The body wasn't cooperating. I walked way more than I'd like to admit in these 2 and a half miles, but I was determined to hit the finish line running - or some semblance of running anyway.
Finally the home stretch came. I was able to summon one final push and ran the final half mile. It really wasn't running; it was more like waddling. Within 25 yards of the finish line, I saw the signboards of friends and family pushing me through to the finish. What a moment. Seriously. At the finish line my wife and Marty - who had finished 20 minutes before me - were waiting. I crossed the line and momentarily broke down. Anybody who has ever completed a marathon knows this hard-to-describe feeling. It's one of great pain, happiness, and highly emotional. I think I would have cried much more had I had the energy.
I have been on a high all week after this accomplishment. It is satisfying to look back and realize that what I once thought was impossible, has now been done. It took much effort, but I did it. However, what makes the day so special, is the people who shared and made this experience with me. I cannot thank them enough for the support. It was amazing that they waited hours to see my sorry self cross the finish line. There are many others who were not at the race that day who provided great support through dailymile, but to those that were there, I wish to dedicate this next section to each of them so that I may look back at this post someday and remember them so.
Anne Munkwitz - Co-founder of Fit Milwaukee and a huge instigator for pushing me from casual runner to marathoner. Anne is inspiring. I may have been one of her first subjects, but by the time I post this, I'm sure she has inspired a hundred more! Keep up the great work, Anne. Anne is also co-captaining the Team Challenge team for Crohn's and Colitis research.
Tracey Gessner - Co-founder of Fit Milwaukee. Tracey's drive and love of running is amazing. Late last fall Tracey ran alongside me on my longest 'til that point: 9 miles. She always is encouraging and is an excellent fitness role model. Tracey is running the Rockford Marathon next weekend. Join me in wishing her good luck!
Amy Kant - I'm having a difficult time summing up Amy in a few short lines. Amy is doing such great things and has more creativity in her little finger than I have in my whole body. Not only is she pushing herself to improve her fitness, she's raising money for Crohn's and Colitis. Please visit Amy's webpage: http://www.losingitwithoutlosingme.com where you'll see any number of ways to have fun while helping Amy in her quest. You'll be doing it for all of the right reasons. Thanks Amy for your tremendous support. Please know that you've got mine too!
Anthony and Rochelle Van Hart - Maybe it's unfair to pair them up together in this post, but they're two peas in a pod! This super cool couple is always fun to hang out with before, after, and during any run. Tony and I could talk music and sports for an entire marathon I think - we have at least for an 8K, and Rochelle is just amazing all around. She's smart, funny, and fast. I love watching Rochelle compete. She puts a game face on like few athletes I have seen. She also keep can't keep a secret, but let's just keep that our little secret. ;) [Rochelle, you made my week when you told me about the sign-making party. I chuckled about it all week!] Rochelle is also taking place in Team Challenge to raise money for Crohn's and Colitis research.
Sarah Schwoerer - Sarah is also raising money for Crohn's and Colitis research. I've had the most fun watching Sarah quickly become a runner. Just a few short months ago, Sarah was running 2, 3, and 4 miles at roughly a 10-minute per mile pace. Now she's running half marathons and it's not uncommon to see her mile pace in the low 8-minute range! Keep up the good work Sarah. You know what's next, right? [Hint: it starts with 26.]
Lindsey Paulsen - What a trooper. In about mile 9 of the half marathon, Lindsey's knee failed and she struggled to make it to the finish line, but finish she did! And not only did she struggle through that, she waited to see me cross the finish line. Now that's amazing! Me? I might have said, "That's enough. I'm going home!" Thanks Lindsey. I appreciate it a ton and hope you heal well and soon and are out running another half this year!
Krista Ledbetter - Krista makes everything look so easy, but that's selling her short. I know she trains hard and puts a lot into it. I love looking at her dailymile posts and seeing how she runs double-digit miles often and has fun doing it. I see Krista more in the virtual world (dailymile, twitter, facebook), but whenever I see her, she's quick with the biggest smile you'll ever see. Krista, you're a great inspiration and I'm glad to know you.
Joe Phillips - Joe is a different league of runner than I am. I saw Joe in the race once. He was, oh, about 4 miles ahead of me. Joe ran the half and can really move. He is a swell guy and always - and I means always - makes me smile or laugh with his witty dailymile posts and commentary. Keep it up Joe. You make the social part of running a lot of fun.
Nicholas Crawford - Nick's an amazing guy. He volunteered at the water station at Mile 8 and took many great pictures of the marathon - including a bunch of me! Nicholas brought his one-year old son Jude along too and warmed everybody's heart. Furthermore, Nicholas claims that I've inspired him to start marathon training. That to me (I think) is a fantastic compliment. Either that or Nick looked at me and said, "Heck, if that guy can do it, anybody can!" Thanks for everything Nick. I look forward to joining you on some of your training runs.
Marty Burian - Nobody made this whole experience more fun than Marty. He signed up for it a few weeks before I did and was the one who really got me thinking about it. Once I signed up, I had no regrets. Marty and I encouraged and poked fun at each other the entire training period [Well, maybe I poked fun at Marty more than he did me, but he took it well (I think)]. There were so many nice things Marty offered along the way: he offered to bring me water along my 20-mile training run, he kept good beers in the trunk after his 18-miler (my 17.4 miler), and he gave me a life-saving Shot Blok along my first 15-miler. He was the first person to greet me as I crossed the finish line and immediately offered me something to drink. Marty, you are a hell of a guy and I'm so happy to call you a friend. I look forward to our future runs together.
My sister and brother-in-law (Christine and Jeremy McGovern) - they surprised me by showing up to the marathon's finish line. I had no idea they'd be there, but was it ever great to see them when I finally did! Thank you guys so much for the support. I can't tell you how great it was to see you at finish!
Last, but not least, my wife Kay. Kay was so supportive of me the whole time I trained for this. She was encouraging and listened to me complain when I was in a complaining kind of mood. She was there at the finish line and gave me a look that told me she was proud of me, and that's a look I'll never forget. Plus, she brought the beer. Thanks Kay. I love you.
P.S. - I mentioned Team Challenge's effort to raise money for Crohn's and Colitis research above. Please take a moment to learn more at http://www.ccteamchallenge.org/site6.aspx or contact me and I can put you in contact with one of the team members. Thank you.