Up until those last four weeks, I had been running pretty well. I had some soreness in my right Achilles, but it seemed to be doing okay. I was running in some $50 Nikes that I bought off the clearance rack at Sportmart. I am not even sure they were legit running shoes.
Anyway, that last month was a busy one. I had decided to enter the half marathon that year so I could get a race under my belt before I attempted to run 26.2 miles in the full marathon. I also thought it would be a good idea to see what it was like to actually run a race, seeing as how I never had up until that point. The half was on September 19th, which was three weeks away from the marathon. Most training typically suggests you complete your last 20 miler on that weekend. I thought, no big deal, I’ll simply move my 20 miler up one weekend to on or around September 11th. The 11th was already scheduled to be a day and night of drinking and fun for my brother Nick’s bachelor party. So, I decided to pound out my first ever 20 miler on the Friday night before. I decided this at about 3:00 on that Friday after I got home from buying a few hundred dollars worth of food and beer for the impending bachelor party. So I hit the road and headed for the lake path at about 4:00 with a few bucks in my pocket and my $50 Nikes on my feet.
I don’t remember much of the early part of the run. I do remember the halfway point when I turned around somewhere around 39th or 43 rd street. I turned around and saw I was quite a ways from the loop. Regardless, I began motoring along as the sun began to set as I was running out of sunlight. Somewhere around Monroe Harbor, I had developed a sudden and major problem. My feet began to throb. Not only were they throbbing, but every step I took felt worse and worse. It felt like my shoes were pieces of plywood being held on by rubber bands. They weren’t falling apart, but they may as well have been. I had no idea what was wrong, but something was and it was very painful.
I kept chugging along at what had to be a 10 minute pace or so. I tried to walk a little bit, but that still hurt and would just make it longer until I got home. I finally made it up to Fullerton and I vaguely remember taking my shoes off and jogging in my socks on that September night. I ended up exiting the path at Roscoe and put my shoes back on as I would have to run on streets and sidewalks. I was only about a half mile from our apartment, but I was absolutely starving. I think I was gone for over three hours at this point. I stopped for a smoothie and walked it on in the last couple of blocks from there.
I walked in the door and Matt had informed that Tiffany had called a few times wondering where in God’s name I could possibly be. I think I mentioned to him that I was entertaining the idea of going for a 20 miler that night. He was very congratulatory as he had not done his 20 miler yet. I called Tiffany, took a shower and assessed the entire situation. It wasn’t pretty. My feet were absolutely killing me, especially the right one. To this day, that was the worst running injury I’ve ever had. I was walking with a noticeable limp and couldn’t put any weight on my right foot.
I awoke the next day and started getting ready for Nick’s bachelor party. I think his buddy Ryan Lovell showed up at about 9 in the morning still drunk from the night before. The rest of the day involved Ryan Lovell repeatedly yelling to A.J. Burnett that it was a bachelor party, Lovell getting kicked out by the fourth inning for being too drunk, the Cubs beating the Marlins, me cooking dogs, brats, and burgers for about 25 guys and finally leading the same group of nearly 25 guys to see a Cake concert. Sometime between the cooking out and Cake concert, my foot really began to hurt. And this was with a steady flow of beer in me all day. I was hobbling around the park where the concert was and saw Max Konzleman now wearing a recently purchased trucker hat that said “Buzzzzzed.” Nice touch. Here's a photo of my four brothers and me from Wrigley Field that day:
(l to r: me, Michael, Pete, Nick, and Brad)
I woke up the next day to a disgusting mess in my apartment and a foot that I could barely walk on. I decided to take the rest of the week off from running until Friday. I went out for about three or four miles and was in pain pretty much the whole time. It was at this point that I considered both going to the doctor and investing in a new pair of running shoes. I decided to hold off on both until I ran the half marathon that Sunday.
The night before the half marathon, Tiffany and I had to go down to Joliet for something. I don’t really remember what for, but we followed that up with some dinner at Merichka’s. For those of you unfamiliar with Merichka’s, they are famous for their poor boy sandwich. I guess the best way to describe a poor boy is kind of like a long piece or ground sirloin on a buttery garlic bun. I highly recommend stopping by and having one next time you’re going through Joliet. What I don’t recommend is having one of these the night before a morning of strenuous physical activity, such as a half marathon.
Tiffany and I ended up getting back to the city late, had trouble finding a parking spot and got to bed well after midnight. I took what amounted to a cat nap and headed down to the southern part of Lake Shore Drive for the 13.1 mile 2004 Chicago Half Marathon. I had all of the essentials with me: my cotton shirt, some basketball-type shorts, my cd player and accompanying Velcro-able case and my cell phone. One horrible thing about the half is the parking situation. It’s a nightmare. I ended up finding a parking spot on a side street somewhere about a half mile away. As I was getting out of my car, my cell phone rings. It’s a co-worker who is trying to get into the office at 7:50 on a Sunday morning. As I was trying to help her punch in a code on the alarm panel, I decided to run while talking on the phone to her to try to get to the starting line before the gun went off. I got Penny in the building and made my way to the back of the pack of runners and was able to catch my breath for about two minutes before the race began. At that point of my life, I didn’t talk to many runners or even read anything about running. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t start at the back of the pack. I didn’t know cotton wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t know poorboys and a general lack of sleep the night before a race is a bad recipe. I know some of this sounds like it should be common sense, but sometimes a few missteps help get you on the right path later on down the road.
So, the gun sounded and I began the slow procession to the starting line. As soon as I hit the starting line, I fired up my portable CD player and took off. I didn’t have a solid goal in mind. I was thinking perhaps 8 minute miles. My main objective was to see what it was like running a race. I began weaving through these incredibly slow runners. They were actually more like run-walkers. I don’t recall my split times. I do recall my foot really hurting for the first four miles. After that, it seemingly went away. I seemed to be running pretty well by the time I reached mile 4 or 5. I had finally trudged through the slower runners and was feeling okay. I was approaching mile 8 or so and really had to go to the bathroom. I figured there had to be some port-a-johns pretty close by. I was not that lucky though. I had made it to mile 9 and then mile 10 and still hadn’t come across a toilet. For those two miles, I was contemplating the pros and cons of waiting until I found the next port-a-john or pissing my pants. My shorts were completely soaked with sweat at this point, so I am sure it would have blended in quite well. I was unsure about the physical action of pissing and running at the same time. I saw a small bunch of bushes off of the right side of the course and headed for them as fast as I could. I made it to the bushes, relieved myself and made my way back to the course. I felt like the bathroom break had really slowed me down, so I picked up the pace the remainder of the race. I pushed it pretty hard right through the finish line. My time was 1:45:29, good for an 8:03 pace. Pretty impressive for my first half marathon, I have learned in retrospect. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking too clearly, didn’t care about my time and was considering seeking some medical attention. I was dizzy, disoriented, wasn’t able to walk in a straight line and was as thirsty as I can ever remember being. I had someone cut off my timing chip and made my way towards some bottled water. I downed some water and tried to get my wits about me. I walked through the finishing corral and started to head towards my car. I began meandering the streets near the course looking for my car. I ended up walking for about thirty minutes around the Hyde Park area looking for my car and still couldn’t find it.
At that point, my feet were swollen and hurting, my nipples were raw and on the verge of bleeding and I still wasn’t thinking completely clear. At that point, I decided to call Tiffany to see if she could borrow Matt’s car and come down and help me find my car. In this conversation, I told her there was no way I could run 26.2 miles if I have no idea what’s going on after 13.1 I kept looking for the car while she made her way down. She finally found me. After a brief talk about what had happened, I hopped in shotgun and told her to make a left turn on the next street. And wouldn’t you know it, there was my car. It took all of about a minute. By this time, I was feeling well enough to drive and hopped in my car and headed home wondering what the hell had I gotten myself into by deciding to run a marathon.
Here are a few pictures I scanned from the company that takes pictures of runners out on the course. I apologize for the lack of quality, but they are still pretty funny.
Notice the sweet Brewers headband, the cotton tee shirt and the general look of pain and desperation in the second picture, which was taken later in the race.