I did it! I ran (and finished) the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio last Sunday. And even more amazing, my time for the 13.1 miles was 3:28:49 (3 hours, 28 minutes, 48.7 seconds, including bathroom stops)! Thank you to everyone who helped me prepare for that major challenge, each one of you who donated in support of my goal, and all of you who provided emotional support, positive vibes and more. (And apologies for the delay – this post has been a week in the making.)
Crossing the finish line was literally one of the high points of my life thus far. Even five days later, it still amazes me that I was able to get my body and mind in shape to accomplish this ambitious goal. The photo to the right captures the emotions I experienced – despite the physical aches and pains – at the moment of crossing the finish line. (By the way, the runner to the right of me who is barely breaking a sweat is our team’s running coach Rick.)
Before the Race
Our Wisconsin team woke early and gathered in the hotel lobby at 6:00 am for some quick stretching exercises, then stepped out of the hotel and got in line for the bus ride to the Start. Thanks to some major planning snafus on the part of race organizer Élite Racing (and which have been covered elsewhere), our shuttle bus didn’t actually get us to the Start Line until 8:30 am, or about an hour after the race had started. Fortunately everyone’s time is calculated on the basis of a chip attached to their shoe, so we were able to start the race when we arrived without any real penalty.
Despite having trained for 16 weeks at distances up to 10 miles, I experienced the typical “first marathon jitters” in the moments leading up to the start. What had I been thinking?? After all, I’ve have two major surgeries in the prior year, one just 12 weeks ago. Standing there in the corrals before starting the race, I looked around at my Team Challenge teammates. Everyone was running or walking this half marathon for a reason. Like myself, several of them suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis*. Others have a daughter, father, relative or good friend fighting those diseases every single day. I realized we all were there, preparing to go 13.1 miles, for an incredibly good reason. And just like that, my jitters were gone and I realized I would finish – we all would finish – because we all had a reason and the drive to accomplish this.
And They’re Off!
The first thing I noticed after we started were piles of winter clothing on the sides of the road. The temperature at the starting gun was in the lower 30s, so many runners had worn sweats, jackets, extra shirts, etc. to stay warm and then discarded those items once they began moving and warmed up. Having trained in Wisconsin, I felt comfortable in my running shorts and a tee for the few moments between the shuttle bus and our race start. Volunteers collected the clothing from the road and it was later donated to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Keeping Up the Pace
I ran the first several miles at a very slow pace, with the intent to avoid burning out early. By about Mile 4, I was in a very comfortable zone and having a great time. That pace lasted until just past the Mile 8 marker, at which point I started to feel winded and experience low intensity muscle aches. I began using a variation of the Galloway method where I alternated 4–5 minutes of running with 1 minutes of walking.
Being a paranoid person (which comes naturally when you have Crohn’s disease*), I carried my cell phone during the race. Just past the Mile 10 marker, where the course split between the marathoners and half marathoners, my phone began to ring. I glanced and saw it was my wife Priya calling, no doubt to cheer me on for the final few miles. After I answered, the first words out of her mouth were, “How did you do?” It then dawned on me that since she didn’t know about our late start, Priya probably assumed I had crossed the Finish Line already. I politely updated her, promised to call after the finish, and picked up my pace just a little. Unfortunately that pace only lasted about a mile and a half, after which everything began to take its toll and walking became my default mode.
During Mile 12, I met up with Rick, our team’s running coach, and he walked and ran with me for the final half mile of the race. As a coach, Rich had run different parts of the race with almost every member of our team, and by the time I met up with him he had already gone something like 18 miles that morning.
The course was almost entirely flat, with a couple of exceptions. There had been a small hill right at Mile 5 that slowed me to a fast walk for several minutes. But the killer came about 200 feet before the Finish Line, when we had to run up a steep concrete ramp to reach the Alamodome parking lot and the end of the course. Since we were almost done, I tried running up the ramp, at which point the backs of my lower legs immediately cramped. (Damn!) Rick quickly showed me some stretches I could use to relax those muscles enough to finish the race. Despite some continuing pain, I pushed it and Rick and I ran the last short distance and crossed the Finish Line.
Seen Around the Course
This was of course one of the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons, so live music was a key part of the event. The bands added a real degree of fun to the event, and every band I ran passed sounded great. Overall, their choice of songs were on target for a running event, ranging from the high school brass band playing Led Zeppelin to the “free beer guys” chanting Marine Corp Drills. Elvis kept popping up all over the place, Mr. and Mrs. Claus made an appearance, and an almost cliched mix of running gorillas, superheroes and clowns also were seen.
After the Race
It unfortunately didn’t take long after the race for my body to rudely remind me that I’d just run the longest distance of my life. I felt dizzy almost immediately after finishing and sat for about an hour at the CCFA*/Team Challenge tent before several of us caught a shuttle bus ride back to the hotel. I tried eating a banana and drinking some water and Gatorade, but to put it tactfully my stomach and food were not on speaking terms. At the Team Challenge celebration dinner that evening, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to keep any food down. Several of my teammates realized something was up and kept asking how I was doing and if everything was okay.
The next morning we caught our flight home. After returning to Milwaukee, I went to clinic (whom I had earlier alerted to my post-race health issues) and was promptly diagnosed with severe dehydration. Three liters of IV fluid later, I felt like my normal old self. (Thanks, Sarah and Chrissy!) There was some good news, however, buried in all of that. The medical team had anticipated that my electrolytes – and specifically my magnesium – might drop due to the 13.1 mile run. (Low magnesium has caused me problems in the past, and in fact was why I was unable to run the Miami half marathon with Team Challenge back in January.) When my blood tests came back, however, it turned out that despite all of my prior low magnesium issues, my electrolytes had all stayed at normal levels. So it was indeed a case of all’s well that ends well.
You Can Still Show Your Support
I achieved my goal of running the half marathon, but unfortunately I haven’t yet achieved my fundraising goal. As of this moment, I’ve raised $2,040 of the fundraising minimum of $3,500 required for every Team Challenge participant. If you’ve already donated, Thank You! If you haven’t donated yet, there is still time — please visit my participant page on the Team Challenge website. And if you have friends or family who also might be interested in our goal of eliminating Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, please share that link with them as well. Remember, you also can post your Team Challenge comments, feedback and support on the Share Your Thoughts page in this blog.
Thanks once again to each and every one of you who is helping make a difference for the 1.4 million Americans who suffer from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
*The best source for information about Crohn’s disease is the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, also known as CCFA. CCFA is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to finding the cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. CCFA provides accurate, current, disease-related information to the public, health care professionals, and patients and their families. The CCFA Information Resource Center can be reached at: 888.694.8872. The CCFA website is www.ccfa.org.