Monday, April 20, 2009

Earth Day Challenge Marathon - 4/19/09

I never get leg cramps. So, how in the world did I end up with a cramp in my left calf? I have no idea. As I sit here, my calf is still sore and tender to the touch. I practically walked 18 miles of the Earth Day Challenge Marathon in Gambier, OH. I would stop and massage the calf, trying to stretch the muscle a little, and then attempt to run. It hurt to run. The knot in my calf protested with every pounding step, but I could walk if I put most of my weight on my right side. I actually thought about taking a half-marathon finish at the 11 mile mark because I wasn't sure how I would cover the second half of the marathon, relying on one leg.

Gambier is a very small town about an hour northeast of Columbus, OH. It was about a 7 hour drive for me, but my friend Glendon rode up with me to keep me company. The race started and finished at Kenyon College, which was relatively easy to find. After packet pick-up, we found an Olive Garden close to our hotel in the not much bigger town of Heath, OH. I had eggplant parmesan, and it was soooo good. We then checked into the hotel and turned in early.

I debated about taking the one-hour early start. The regular start would allow a 7 hour cut-off. I had yet to be that slow in a marathon, so I foolishly decided that I did not need an early start. Will I ever learn? I still have these grandiose thoughts of posting faster times than I've been posting recently. I keep hoping that my faster times will magically reappear, lol.

We started on the track, doing a loop before heading out onto the rolling, rural hills of Gambier. The course was well marked with plenty of volunteers at various intersections. After about 4 miles, the course ran along a flat, paved bike path. It was really nice and scenic and reminded me of the bike path at the Tallahassee Marathon a couple of months ago. We did an out-n-back on the right side of the path and then did a longer out-n-back on the left side of the path, before doing a finishing loop on the track. It was a simple but functional course. The aid stations were every two miles. Unfortunately for me, they were serving HEED (race sponsor) instead of Gatorade or Powerade. I started out drinking it, but the usual problems I have with HEED started early, and I was forced to stick with water and gels for the remainder of the race.

On the first out-n-back portion, I ran into Jim (CA). He had taken the early start. I did not see his camper in the parking lot at the start and initially thought he had not made it to the race. He ran the Trail Mix 50K in MN the day before, and it would have been a 14 hour drive from there to Gambier. He said he decided to book a flight instead. Smart man!

I also saw Bill (OH). It had been a while since I'd run with him. He also took the early start and was race-walking along at a good clip. He told me at the finish that he was taking a break from racing as much as he's done in the past because of financial reasons. Bill's good people, so I hope he'll be heating up the roads and trails very soon.

Steve and Paula (TX) are the organizers of the 50 States Marathon Club. They are both running well and had taken the regular start as I had. I tried to keep up with Paula in the first few miles of the race, but I was forced to take a back seat to her pace. I was alone very early in the race, and that's when I started thinking that I should have taken the early start.

At about the 8 mile marker, I was running along, and then all of a sudden, I felt a pain in my calf, like I had been shot. I hobbled to a stop, examined the calf, and tried to run again. Pain. I started walking. Was that a cramp? No, it couldn't be; I don't get cramps. After a few minutes, I tried to run again. Nope, I can't do that. It hurts too badly. I pulled off the bike path and massaged my calf, and again tried to run. It's not happening, but stupid me kept up this routine for the next few miles. What in the heck is wrong with my calf? Then I started to panic. Maybe it's not a cramp. Maybe it's a blood clot.

Okay, calm down. Let's have some more HEED (yuk!) for the electrolytes, in case the problem is a sodium deficiency. Let's take some Advil, in case it's inflammation. Let's stretch and massage the muscle every mile or so, and let's walk as fast as we can.

Any thoughts of quitting at the half-marathon point vanished, as I started doing my mental math on the run. I could finish the race just walking under the 7 hour cut-off, and that's what I would do if I had to. I kept trying to run for a minute here and there to test the calf, but I pretty much walked it in.

After the half-marathon point, I was the last marathoner. The volunteer at the turn-around point at mile 19.5 had packed up and was headed to the closest aid station. He wanted to know how they had missed me. I'm not sure how that happened either. I had not left the course, not even to use the porta potties. He pointed to a spot on the path, along the fence, and told me to turn around there. The "sag wagon" (a motorized cart with 2 volunteers for radio communications) was parked at the turn-around, a painted white circle on the path. Now I would have the sag wagon behind me for the remainder of the race. Ugh!

I tried to pick up the pace. There were a couple of early starters not too far in front of me. They were walking at a pretty steady pace, so I would have to put some fire under my feet. Around the 24 mile marker, I finally caught up to them. At least now I would have some company, other than the sag wagon behind us. Allan (OH) was a fellow 50-Stater, and Lisa (OH) was completing her first marathon. We chatted for the last couple of miles, helping to take away some of the disappointment I had been feeling for most of the day.

Within the last half mile, Lisa's family joined her and walked with her to the finish. I continued to walk with Allan, and we crossed the finish line together. My finish time was 6:21:57, and Alan's finish time was 7:18:50 with the early start.

Bill joined Allan and me in the Athletic Center for post race food - soup, sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and soda. Not that I worked that hard, but I did have 2 veggie sandwiches and vegetarian black bean soup. Delicious!

Even though it's normal for me to have a slow finishing time, I'm a little disappointed but not completely down about it. I'm just worried a little about the calf. I'll continue to stretch, ice, and massage it this week. I have several races lined up for the next couple of months and would like to be able to participate. However, I'm not sure if all of these races have generous enough cut-offs for me to just walk. The Kettle Moraine 100 Mile in June will take a lot of effort (i.e., running) to be able to finish under the cut-offs, and I just found out today that I'm off the wait list for the Viaduct Trail 100 Mile in August. Surely, my calf will heal by then. I have the Country Music Marathon on Saturday. Will I have to walk the whole marathon with a messed up calf?

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