So back in July, my wife and I celebrated Independence Day by signing up for this November’s Philadelphia Marathon. Some may look at the month discrepency and wonder why we needed to sign up so early. The answer to that is twofold.
Firstly, marathon training takes time. That’s really an understatement. Marathon training requires a Herculean effort of scheduling and committment by a person and if there are two members of your family who’ve made that pact then your whole family has to be pulled in to the gravitationl force that is marathon training.
Second, Independance day holds special meaning for my wife and I because it was on that day last year that we signed up for our first marathon. We took the 26.2 mile leap of faith and dove into the deep waters of the running experience. After running for 5 years, I had decided that I was ready for a challenge and there is typically no challenge that we as a team could not face. And so, sign up we did. We then trained all summer into the fall and ran our first marathon in November of 2014.
We had been bitten by the bug. We were infected, and the disease that left us tired, hungry and exhausted also renewed our souls and provided us with a feeling of genuine accomplishment that one can only experience by triumphing over a mind’s willingness to quit and a body’s rebellion to move. As someone who lived a mostly sedentary life, the marathon was a labor that seemed unearthly and unattainable. But after transforming myself over the last few years, the mountain in the distance seemed to gain some perspective and looked to be a hill that I could definitely climb.
So after completing Philly last year, Beth and I looked at each other and said, “I know this sounds crazy, but let’s do it again.” As I said, we were infected. The endorphins had barely left our systems and we spent the Thanksgiving holiday looking for a spring race.
We found the Pocono Run for the Red Marathon scheduled for May. This required us to begin training in Feb and again, clan Murphy was training for a marathon. Run for the Red, was an exteremly difficult course and it didn’t help that the temperatures were in the low 80’s for the last 90 min making it even more daunting. But we were stronger runners than in the fall and muscled through, exhaushted, dehydrated and hungry. A month went by before I brought up the Philly Marathon and we signed up again.
This training season we each employed our own plans. I was using the FIRST training plan which focuses on three key runs: a speed workout, a tempo run and a long run. With less runs, the pace times are important and you seek to hit time goals that are predetermined by previous run times. Beth used a 3 day a week plan designed by running guru Hal Higdon. We both had fantastic success all season long. Early in the training, after reading Born to Run, we both experimented with employing lower profile shoes in some of our running.
It was around late September early October when I noticed a pain at the ball of my foot where my toe meets my foot. It was consistent but it would show it self periodically the days after a hard run and then go away. Eventually, however, one morning I woke up with a swollen ankle and a pain on the ball of my foot. Tendonitis had set in around my ankle and the capsulitis on my foot made walking barefoot painful.
Two days after that morning I spiraled into a state of depression. In my mind, my season was over. I had researched and found that only rest would bring things back to normal and I knew that there were still 6 weeks until the marathon and in that time I had two 20 mile runs scheduled. My first of those two was to occur just 4 days after waking with the injury. To prepare myself, I took my NSAIDs and ice and rested for the days prior to the run. That long run was awful. I was able to muscle 16 out of the 20 miles but the pain in my foot hampered me. This run did nothing to calm my fears and now my mind was lost in a forest of doubt–something I hadn’t dealt with before in my career as a runner.
The doubts were a combination of not being able to do something that I had committmed to so many months ago with the possibility that this injury could permanently hamper my running. So I dug down deep, researched taping techniques, invested in an arch support or two and began to carry on.
Each run hereafter was accompanied by a taped ankle and experimentation with taping my toe to help with the pain in the ball of my foot. I also shifted back to a more stable shoe with more padding. Each of these stop gaps helped during the runs and made it doable and sometimes pain free during the run, but after I would need to ice, NSAID and elevation to help make walking and standing at school doable.
What the tape had really done was given me a cautionary confidence as I accomplished my long runs, especially a 20 mile run which was one of the fastest of my career. These long runs were always completed on the Delaware canal towpath, a sometimes paved trail that impacted my foot with less force than the street.
So when tapering began, I was feeling like the marathon was going to be a good race. My pace times were hovering around 9:20/mile and I was definitely seeing a decrease in my finish time over the last two races. I was in it to win it and winning it would mean that I had reached my goals.
So approaching this weekend, I was a pendulum of high expectations coupled with concern over my injury. But my eternal optimism pushed me to believe that everything would work out the way it was supposed to.
Sunday morning, Beth and I caught the train to the city at 5:30 in the morning. We arrived at Suburban station at 6 and began the 1 mile walk to the start. With the recent attacks in Paris, the city of Philadelphia had responded with securtity checkpoints at a few locations along the parkway. The lines of people at the checkpoints was outrageous as runners and spectators were forced into 3-4 cattle shoots and have their bags checked or body’s searched.
After cutting in line so much so that my elementary school teachers would be ashamed of me, I had made it through the line with Beth not far behind me. We finally got down to drop our bags off and it was 10 min until the start of the race. We still needed to get to our corral and hit the bathrooms. Now all runners know what the lines at the bathroom would be like. The time continued to fly and I remember being in the port a john as the national anthem was being sung. Just another surreal moment on the journey.
We joined our corral and finally made it to the starting line. The race start time was delayed due to an accident on the course they said, but we suspected that it was the serious back up at security.
The gun sounded and the rush of adrenaline went through my body. “Here we go!” Beth and I kissed good-bye and we took off on our separate journeys.
The crowd of runners through the city was ridiculous. The streets were tightly packed and more than once I felt trapped within a molassas swamp that I couldn’t escape. Around mile 5, I was finally able to begin to move forward a bit more, but I noticed that my foot was already feeling uncomfortable. This was new, typically this pain didn’t start manifesting until miles 14-15, so I wasn’t pleased with hurting so early.
Mile 9 I was climbing the hill in Fairmount Park and on the downside each step was like a hot knife piercing my foot. After reaching the bottom, I took the next mile to assess how my body was doing. All was good except my ankle and foot were both experiencing pain and the combination was definitely pulling my attention off of my form and breathing.
By mile 11 I had decided that if I didn’t notice any real improvement that I would be moving off the course at 13.1 instead of 26.2. This was probably one of the longest miles I’ve ever experienced. In it, the weight of my decision pounding my feet even harder into the street below. The anguish I was feeling wasn’t just the physical pain now. It was this feeling of letting not only myself down but also those around me. The pain in my heart amplified the pain in my foot and I pulled up took out my phone and texted Beth telling her that I would be taking myself off the course.
The last two miles had the weirdest feel to them. I knew that I was making the right decision. I had weighed my present goal against my lifetime goal and it was really a no brainer. That is when the weight lifted. I was walking off and on now. I hadn’t heard back from Beth yet, and so I was checking the crowd for her to come by.
With no sign of her, I decided to finish as strong as possible and push to the end, grab my bling and check my phone. Wrapped in my foil blankiet, standing by a set of trash trucks loaded with gatorade cups, I received a text from Beth saying she was coming off the course as well. Her hips were bothering her, she never felt good on the course and she took it as a sign that I had pulled myself off.
So together we made the longest walk back to our bags, back to the train station where we sat in quiet disappointment at our failure. I appreciate that many commented to me on Facebook that they wouldn’t call it failure, but it’s alright. I’m not afraid to own the word. I failed. It’s not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.
As Beth said, it’s all a part of this journey that we are on–together. It is certainly better to fail today in order to have a lifetime of potential successes tomorrow.
So as I woke up this morning, I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes from Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, asks his son, “And why do we fall Bruce, so we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”
So today was day one of picking myself up. Thankfully I won’t be alone.