Friday, February 4, 2011


January 30th, 2011
Chevron Houston Marathon
Officially: DNF
Unofficial Time: 6:23:32
Unofficial Time to write this: 6:23:32
Unofficial Time to read this: 24:25:24

Everywhere I turned, I got advice. Run intervals. Run with a pace crew. Run without your watch. Run naked. Nutrition every four miles. Nutrition every 45 minutes. Start slow and put some extra speed into miles 14-18 before you don’t have anything. Pretend you have to run 34.2. Wear plastic around your feet if it rains. Use band aids everywhere …everywhere. Just run like you’ve been doing in training. Shotblocks. Gu. Beans. Don’t eat the stuff on tongue depressors because it’s not paste. Water only. Get pretzels whenever you see them. Run at the 5:30 pace and fall back as needed. Run at the 6:00 hr. pace and don’t go any faster than the last balloon. Don’t run. Wear a brace. Run in silence. Run with music. Take in the crowd. Drown out the crowd. Wear two braces. Get up close and personal with Body Glide. Wear compression socks. Tape everything.
It’s a lot to filter through.
Training had been difficult. According to the Garmin and my calendar, my longest runs prior to Sunday had been 17.2, 19.25, 18 something, 16 something, 15 something, 14, 14 and multiple 13’s. The problems: All of those had some walking and the bigger issue was that I hadn’t run any of those distances in three weeks because of a cold and my left leg.My left leg: I hated it almost all of January. Somewhere around Hermann Park and Rice University on a long training run, I jammed it. I had done something similar in December, but I just woke the monster up a bit more and it didn’t want to go away. Every step on this one January training run, it gnawed at my muscle and bone. Rather than stop, I hobbled through because I assumed the pain was simply part of the process of training. I ran until I cried and that’s when I first thought the marathon dream was over.

Consulting smarter people (i.e. people with any common sense), I was given great advice: rest, Advil, ice, repeat. After three days of that, I grew restless and tested the leg out (complete with a compression sock to augment the recovery). The advice worked. The leg was tight, but I could manage. I eventually found my groove on my runs after the first two miles. Only on occasion would it flare up.
(SIDENOTE: As a Boy Scout, I had learned to say “Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits” whenever smoke got in my eyes from a campfire. This always made the smoke turn in a different direction. Hoping for something similar, I got into the habit of whispering under my breath, “Left leg, left leg, left leg.”)

I woke at 4:30 on the morning of the race, and I felt okay. I hadn’t slept much due to nerves, but I figured I would settle down on the run. Following the advice of the wise, I figured it best simply to focus on finishing the thing. I would run with the 6:00 hr. pace crew and not even think about pulling ahead for the first 18 miles. It wouldn’t matter how slow I felt I was going: I was not permitted to speed ahead. It wouldn’t matter if I felt like I was chomping at the bit to drive forward; I was to remain with the pack (never leave your wingman / stay on target / stay the course / etc.).

So on Sunday morning, there I was at 5:45 in the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston with 22,000 other participants and Lord knows how many volunteers. It was a humid, misty morning, the race conditions were oh so muggy, and everyone was wearing disposable bags all over the place. Despite the less than perfect temperature, the energy was incredible. I saw Lara Allen, my first PIM running coach, and we had a nice visit. My friends Kristin and Lisa each had different starting positions from me so we all said our goodbyes, took a couple of pictures, offered up some Tolkien quotes (most notably Theoden's "DEATH!" over and over), and went out onto the streets for the start.

Outside, I found my pace crew, visited with some of the people who would be running alongside me, and tried to appraise my fitness in comparison with them. Some were injured. Many were first timers. …Hearing their stories, I felt good about my chances. I had plenty of nutrition, my compression socks, a bib with something everyone could yell (“DAN THE MAN!”), and an ipod with music I wanted on it as well as some inspirational messages from friends and family.

(SIDENOTE: This ipod thing quickly became one of the more humorous aspects of the run. Chris Wardwell had cornered various teachers, friends, and my sister and had them offer words of advice and humor to keep me running. In addition, he had also spliced together clips from Animal House, Full Metal Jacket, and God knows what else to try and get me inspired. Occasionally on the run, I heard Beth Breuer offer cheesy advice: "You've got to forget the last mile before you try the next. Your body can't remember the next mile." Sometimes, it would be Mike Adair trying his best to bore me to tears, " Dan, I'm, ...waking up right now, ...and, um, I can't decided if I want the French roast or the dark roast... um, well let's think about this..." There were even moments where the Wardwells' dog Delilah chimed in as a harmonica played. She has always had an uncanny pitch for a canine. )

As we started out, I cried. It had taken me a long time to get to this point, and a starting line that big meant so much to me. I thought about everything -the training, the injuries, the worry, the countless conversations, the love of family, and the sacrifices (not hunting, not traveling, not sleeping in, etc.). I thought about the support shown me by everyone this past year. In my mind, this race was some sort of grand tribute to all of my friends and family – some grand thank you, a love note to my mom and dad, some proof to my sister that I love myself and care deeply about my life. In those first steps, my gratitude for all of the responses to the fire, the help with the training, the places to stay, the guitar, the furniture, the clothes, the gifts, the letters, the bike, and then the donations to combat Alzheimer’s …well, those thoughts came crashing down on me. It was a cathartic mile one cry to say the least (but I also immediately grew worried about hydration).

The two pace leaders made sure to let us know what we would be doing. We were to run everything at 4:2 intervals (4 minute run following a 2 minute walk). This was actually lighter than anything I had trained ever. I really thought it sounded easy so I was glad to do it. In fact, I was thrilled. These guys had run ultra marathons and were serious about getting us to the end. As nervous as I was, I felt confident they could get us in on time.

In fact for the first 9 miles, there were no problems. 4:2 intervals seemed an ideal way to run! I set the pace for a long time. They gave me the balloons to hold onto so that they could use the restroom or confer. A running friend grabbed a picture of me as the pace leader –awesome stuff. My legs felt strong. No injuries. No pains. Life was good. At this point, I felt confident.

Also, we were running with all of the half marathon people so we were part of a large group. Our name was legion. It was a wonder that I found any of my friends along the way but I saw so many. Mike and Dorothy McConnell were there. Jeff, Sara, and the Breuers saw me. Positive energy everywhere. Everyone seemed happy about the whole thing. Kristin Necessary showed up right next to me right before the half marathon turn off. We had a nice little moment together and then the half marathon people turned back up Montrose. …Hello silence.

MILES 9-13: MONTROSE TO UNIVERSITY: Goodbye fans! Hello new pace?
I didn’t realize how far back in the pack the 6 hr. crew was until the turn off of the half marathoners. All of a sudden, we were left on our own and we were traveling toward Hermann Memorial Park with little to no fanfare. I must admit I enjoyed the bagpiper, but I never saw the priests sprinkling holy water. In fact, the crowd was darn sparse, but I understood. I mean, the weather was hot and humid; the light drizzle couldn’t have attracted people to stay outside for long. So instead, I simply took in some of the scenery, reminding myself that this was actually my city, my home. I knew Hermann Park and Rice University. I had run multiple loops around both.

Somewhere on University Boulevard, one of the pace setters said we should pick it up a bit so that we could have a little wiggle room at the end. This seemed perfectly logical and I was feeling good so I didn’t speak up. We picked up the pace. When I say we picked up the pace, it was not a light transition. My watch, which has yet to work since Sunday, revealed that our pace had shifted from a 13:30 average down to a 12:20. …I know these speeds might not seem fast to other people, but after 11 miles of running at 220 lbs., that speed hike is herculean.

Suffice to say, I grew somewhat uncomfortable with the new speed. In truth, I started to fall a little off pace. The balloon guys were now a bit in front, but I was with the majority of the pack and we were trucking along at the fastest rate we could muster. We were still on target, but the speed grew faster and faster and the distance to the balloons grew greater.

MILES 13 to 18: WESLAYAN to TANGLEWOOD --the last decent split.
At the end of mile 13, I was scared by the pace, but luckily I saw Mike Adair. He was enjoying the fun of the day with his wife and children. There they stood on Weslayan to watch all of the runners try and tackle the Westpark Bridge. …That @#$#%^**&!!@ bridge!

Anyway, Mike and Leslie were excited to see me, and I certainly was glad to see them too. Also, I spied one of my theater parents, Cynthia Lokken, who has alway made me smile (It’s amazing how a friendly face at just the right moment inspires.). This gave me such encouragement and I got excited about the race again. Then Mike surprised me even further. He instructed a band to play some music for me. The band actually announced to the crowd on their PA that “DAN THE MAN” was coming through. The crowd went nuts. They roared. My running friends and I laughed. …I soaked it all in and well, wow!

But truly, I hurt there. Mike Adair has raced more than a few of these marathons, and he saw that I was in a bad way with the humidity, the heat, and the pace. I had lost track of the intervals for a time and simply wanted to walk. Instead, he helped me run toward the bridge. …I’ve never liked him more.

When I got to the bridge, we said our goodbyes and I hobbled my way up. At the top, the breeze reinvigorated me a bit and I took stock of where I was, how far I had gone, and what I had gotten myself into. Marathons …they ain’t for wimps. My pace balloon guy was about a quarter of a mile ahead of me, but the majority of the pace group was still with me. So at the base of the hill, I talked to them all and asked, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? …Well it ain’t over now!” We laughed and pressed on. (SIDENOTE …I had heard this on my ipod earlier thanks to Chris Wardwell.)

Anyway, the group and I decided that we would run what we could and try our best to stick with intervals. So miles 15 to 18 were essentially that. We ran, and then we walked, and then we ran, and then we walked, and we ran, complained, and never gave up. None of us were confident that we would finish in time by now; however, all of us were hell bent and determined to finish. …And somehow, I got a pebble in my shoe.

MILES 18 to 21: Chimney Rock to Memorial Park: “WHAT DOESN’T HURT?”
…My earlobes? They were fine. The skin below the elbow? A-Okay. Right eyebrow? Hunky dory. Sadly, these were on the short list after 18 miles. Certain parts HURT. Now up until now, I had been panicking about when my knee might buckle or when my left leg would quit on me. I had fretted over my lower back which had given me such trouble at the San Antonio Half. However, I was amazed at how none of these injuries were bothering me. That being said, I was slightly more amazed at which parts were.

Mile 18: The right foot, Old Reliable, is nothing more than a damn turncoat of an extremity. Who needs the right foot? Actually, it wasn’t even the whole foot …just the toes. They were not happy. Stupid toes.

Mile 19 –what I currently refer to as the “Robert Earl Keen Mile” in that the road went on forever. By the 610 Loop, all the little pains had slowly grown into larger pains. All the small hurts were combining into one -aches upon aches, tense muscles, taut muscles, strained muscles, just keep moving, just keep moving, ouch, ouch $#%$@#$ OUCH! Stupid pebble. Again I reminded myself, “Marathons ain’t for wimps.”

Under the 610 Loop, I lifted my head up a bit to stare at the entertainment. It was in that moment when I discovered where all of the hidden pains had resided. Maybe I knew where they were before, but I had allowed myself not to think about it. This time however, the pain wanted to say, “Hello.” Evidently, I had been carrying my head down for the better half of the race. This is not good. I have a big head (7 & 5/8” in a fitted cap –huge and filled with rocks). When I finally lifted my head up, a searing pain shot through my shoulders and I knew I had an interloper far more severe than any stupid pebble. I had the mother of all knots parked on my back. I was Quasimoto with the world’s meanest hump.

It’s like someone must have come up from behind me and jammed a knife into my left shoulder blade. It was not simply on fire. It was stewing in acid while on fire and exploding all over the place. “Left shoulder, left shoulder, left shoulder,” I whispered. It didn’t work.

I looked at my watch and realized I had time to finish if I could only run for the remainder of the race. However, I questioned the feasibility of that. The pack had dwindled down. Some of the people had fallen back. Some had quit. The cop cars were telling us to get to the side of the road as we neared Memorial Park. It seemed like the race was trying to get us to surrender and we didn’t want to. We weren’t done.

Mile 20: I had never gotten this far. Mile 20. What was it that Mike McConnell said? A marathon is two races: the first 20 and the last 6.2. Son of a gun! I had made it to Memorial Park! Who cares who pushes me to the side? Official or not official, pain or no pain, dead legs or live legs, I was going to see this out. …But yes, I still had to walk on occasion. I had a running friend near me and we were still trying 4:2 intervals. It was still working, but she was complaining in the walk, and I was just about to lose the will to start the interval back up.

That’s when I saw Beth, David, Kristin, Sara, and Jeff. There they were -friends who were waiting to see me cross the finish line. I felt like a kid and I made the best effort I could to run to them. I wanted to hear their support. I wanted to be near them and I was going to jog over. I knew they would laugh at seeing me pick it back up. I thought they might smile at my sudden enthusiastic jog. To be truthful, I was slightly surprised where the energy came from. But who cares, huh? I just wanted to hear what they might say. And as I was nearing them, so grateful they were there, I also thought that I had let them down. I had fallen behind the pace group. I had tried and now I was behind the slowest marathon finishing pace. The tears started again big time. I was feeling so guilty right when I trotted by them.

Beth yelled out first, “I know how you feel Dan! This is the farthest you’ve ever run!”
I continued to cry.
“Way to go Dan!”
“You’re almost there!”
“You got this!”
I continued to cry.
“It’s okay Dan. I cried too!” …One thing I love about Beth is how well her voice carries.

…But before you knew it, I was alone again. I was now running by the park my friends and I always went through and it was all in my grasp. Six miles? I could do that even if I had to hop in on my left toes. I was not going to let anyone down. I was going to stay positive and finish the darn race. Not only that, I had determined I was going to sign up and do it again next year and drop fifty pounds and cure cancer and…
“Hello Mr. Green.”

Mile 22-26 –the Beauty of Friendship
David Breuer joined me on the run. For a second, I thought I’d be running it in on my own, with just my thoughts to keep me company. They were the only things about me still running wild and running quickly. However, David ran up from behind, and said he wanted to help me finish. For those who don’t know, this is the same guy who took me in after the fire. …Beth married a good man.

It was awesome. I simply surrendered and yelled at him for a long time. He got me past Starbucks and Tri on the Run where I bought my first running shoes. On we ran. He got me past St. Thomas where Beth Breuer and Will Nash inspired me to start running. On we ran. The shoulder still hurt. The toes still hurt. He got me to the Allen Parkway where I ran my first 5 mile race (Jingle Bell 2009). He got me up the little valleys on Allen Parkway …and I have no pleasant memories connected with them now or ever.

“David, call Kristin. Tell her to text Kathleen Woodhead. I think her parents are waiting for me at the finish line and I want to let them know I’m going to be there …someday.” …He called Kristin. He got me to the beer mile and we drank the beer and there was much rejoicing. (NOTE: GOD BLESS THE BEER MILE). Anna Aniban yelled out at us as she was walking away from the race. I might have waved, but I can’t recall. He let me walk a bit.
Nearing downtown, I saw Beth and Kristin and Jeff and Sara one last time.

“You have this.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“Way to go!”
David stayed with me. He got me into downtown. Finally, I could take it no longer.
“David, are we breaking any rules about having you run along side me?”
“What rules?”
“Great. Can you get this %^#$%# knot in my back while we run? It’s killing me.” …He massaged the knot.
“Dan, you are almost there. We are going to turn the corner and you’ll see the finish line.”
“What if they have closed it down? Is this a DNF? Does this count?”
“It counts.”
“I better get to cross something after this.”
“I’m sure you will.”
“…Where are we going to go eat?”
“We’ll call Lisa and decide later.”

Downtown Houston was closing down the race. Runners were leaving the GRB. The awards had been handed out. The gates were still up, but the celebratiion was ending. I had definitely missed the cut off for an official finish by 20 something minutes. Still, I turned the corner and there was the finish line.

…David pulled over to the side.
“Way to go Danny!”
“Dan the Man!”
”Finish strong!”

Would you believe it? I had a group waiting. Theresa Torres had made a sign for me and was standing right near my Beaumont neighbors. She had been the last friend to wish me well that morning right at the starting gate. Now she had remained to be one of the first to welcome me home -a beautiful friend.

Also Kathleen Woodhead and her parents were there alongside Karen Clark. These were my Beaumont neighbors, and they had promised my mom they would see me across the line! The Woodheads and the Clarks were standing there waiting for me because my mom and dad were up in Maryland with my sister and her newborn. I was so touched!

I waved at them, smiled, and then ran as fast as I could toward the end.

...So many people have run these things. So many people have managed to trek 26.2 miles. Well, I never thought I'd be one of them. And so as I ran in I cried (That's kind of my thing I guess). The shoulder no longer hurt. The toes were inconsequential. Dad was in my heart, Mom was in my heart, and just a bunch of love for everyone, you know? It didn't matter that I missed the time. It didn't matter that I had to walk some of the race. It didn't matter.

I had set a goal. I had promised myself I would run my first marathon before I turned 40. I had promised myself I would not give up. On top of that, I also raised $2100 officially and a little more unofficially for Alzheimer's Research. I honored my grandmother and my father and my whole family with that. So my thoughts in my head as I crossed the finish line?

10) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you God.
9) Why didn't I just take the pebble out?
8) I love my friends and family.
7) The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
6) Yay me! Go Green Go! Freeeedom! DEAAAAAATH! For the SHIRE!
5) My shoulder is killing me.
4) Where are we going to eat?
3) Do I get a medal or not?
2) I bet I can do this faster if I drop 40 lbs.
1) Please don't die.

Rejoice. We conquered.

And if you can’t tell, I love everyone …and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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