In October of last year, I determined to do just that and selected the Glass City Marathon, in Toledo, Ohio on 04/13/2008 as my first marathon goal and that I would run this marathon in honor of my 35 year old cousin, Cassy, who has severe cerebral palsy and has never been able to take a step in her life. I chose this race for three reasons: 1. It is virtually in my backyard, so I was fairly certain that I would have some great personal fan support which I knew I would need and, would not have to travel. 2. It is a small race in terms of the number of runners, and, 3. It is not a well-supported fan race so, though I thought I would have good fan support, the race would be more about me and the marathon, if that makes sense.
At mile 18, my right leg became excruciatingly painful. It felt as though with every foot strike, whether heel or forefoot (an RA joke), that someone was whacking me as hard as they could with a sledgehammer. I was still able to run, but was now favoring my right leg severely. Mile 18 I was able to muster a 9:43 pace. Mile 19 I had declined to a 9:55 pace. Both Leo and Vicki and the Gamble van passed me here and asked if there was anything they could do. I asked if I could borrow a pair of legs. Notta. I was pretty well delirious with pain at this point. The Johnston van posse had headed up the road and were apparently on their way to the finish about the time I got to mile 20. Gambles were riding alongside me and somewhere into mile 20, my right hamstring seized fully in cramp and I stopped dead in my tracks. Wayne and Kim asked if I was alright and I told them I had a major cramp in my right hamstring. I was lightly stretching it out and shaking it out to get the cramping to stop and it subsided.
I walked on, for the first time in the race, to make sure that it didn't cramp up right away again, knowing that my ability to run the rest of the race through was done. My head was racing thinking of what I could do, of reading someone's Columbus Marathon report that this happened to as well in the latter stages of the race and not being able to do anything about it. Gambles must have called the Johnston posse van, because they had turned around and come back and were at an intersection ahead of me when Tammy got out of the ran and ran up the sidewalk to me. There was such a look of concern on her face for me that it overwhelmed me. She was nearly in tears telling me I was gonna be fine, that I could do this, that I would finish. I began jogging again hobbled by my right leg pain and the cramp and she jogged along with me on my right telling me how proud she was of me. I was in tears and looked over at her and just said, "I love you soooo much." She cried and again, encouraged me and told me how proud she was of me.
She asked if I was going to be ok and I said I would be fine. She said they were going to go on ahead to the finish and that she'd see me at the finish. I said, "Ok, I'll see you at the finish." The Johnston van posse headed off to the finish and I continued on as best I could with Gambles next to me. They drove on up ahead a bit and Leo and Vicki pulled up by me. Vicki asked if there was anything they could do and I again jokingly asked for a fresh paid of unbroken legs. They laughed. My fleece gloved hands were soaked and frozen to the bone as were my feet and Leo said he had a pair of Gortex mittens in the car and Vicki said she also had a pair of Gortex gloves and asked if I would like them. I was all over that! Vicki swapped me the gloves and immediately my hands felt better which made me feel slightly better as well. They went on ahead.
The next few miles were mostly walking with some lame joggin, in a literal sense due to the pain in my right leg, until I would have another cramp, which were now playing no favorites and gladly moved to my left leg as well to "balance things out" and "keep things fair" with my right leg. Friend, Tim Dawes, had now shown up on the course and was cheering me along as well. Fellow firefighter and friend, Matt Menchaca, and his wife, Amy, were also along this horrible stretch of race to encourage me onward. Gambles kept with me as well. I did the best I could to jog when I could.
It was the darkest period/stretch of running that I have ever been through. I was still more than 4 miles out and thought about bagging the race at this point and hopping in Gamble's van and taking a DNF for the race. I was hurting so very badly and just wanted to get out of the weather and warmed. I thought about Cassy. I thought about the miles and miles I had run over the winter in snow and ice and wind and rain and sleet. I thought about all the people that were pulling for and praying for me, many of you who are reading this right now. I determined not to quit. I had come too far and this race was not just for me, but for Cassy, my family who have put up with all my training and complaining, and all of you as well that came alongside of me to support me and encourage me in this endeavor. I plodded on remembering a saying related to me in my mens' group from church a few years ago... "forward is forward." It made a great deal of sense to me at that point.
Gambles left me at just under 4 miles to go stating they were heading to the finish. I continued on entirely on my own alternating walking as fast as I could and jogging when I felt my body would hold up to it. Race participants in front of and behind me were doing the same... just doing what they could at that moment to press on to the finish. At one of the next major intersections, there was a cop tying one of the runner's shoes because he was either too sore to bend over and do it himself, or his hands were too cold that he could not do it for himself. I got inside mile 24 I think and was feeling quite lonely and desperate to be done and out of the weather. That is when I looked up and saw Phil on his bike at an upcoming intersection!
I was stunned and overjoyed! He ended up rolling along on his bike next to me as I either (mostly) walked or jogged chatting about our running, our families, our work, our injuries, our goals. Before I knew it he was telling me I was coming to the sidewalk to make a right onto which would lead down to the riverside sidewalk to make a left onto and down toward the finish. We headed down the sidewalk toward the river, he said Tammy was up ahead at the corner of where the sidewalks meet. I was so delirious, I didn't really even realize who was there. Phil said that he was going to leave me now with my family and friends and I thanked him as he departed toward the finish on his bike. He was most certainly an angel on two wheels for me that day in addition to all of my other friends and family that were out there.
I met Tammy at the corner of the sidewalks, I think she asked me if I was ok, I think I said that I was and was ready to jog in. I had about a quarter of a mile left to the finish. She began jogging with me and as we got up the riverwalk a ways, my whole posse out along the race course that day joined with me telling me I could do it, they were so proud of me, handing me a "This Runs for You Cassy" sign and, as I turned the last corner heading away from the river toward the finish chute, I could hear the race announcer saying, "and here comes first time marathoner, Rick Velich, 41, from Temperance and, this run's for you, Cassy!"
I made a right turn up the walk and jogged into the finish chute in around 4:38:00. The race volunteers tore off my race bib info, gave me my medals and a mylar blanket, and I came out of the chute to the congratulatory hugs of my family and friends, and my new friend, Eric, who had graciously hung around after finishing his own race nearly an hour earlier. I think he was still hypothermic as was I after finishing my first marathon. Eric and my friends encouraged me to get inside the hotel and get some food in me, which I gladly did because it was warm and dry and I was exhausted and couldn't stop my uncontrollable shivering. I was now a marathoner. It was a very good day.
Edited 04/15/08 (Happy Tax Filing Deadline Day everyone!) to add the link to my running log notes and race splits times here for anyone interested in seeing the crash and burn finish "on paper". :)
The official race results are also here on this link.