Jersey Shore Marathon 99

In high school I ran in several marathons, back before the "running boom" of the 1970s.  It was aversive enough that I never got up the energy to do it again, even though I never stopped running daily.  During the autumn of 1998 and into the following winter, I found myself running pretty regularly on Sundays with a group from the Jersey Shore Running Club.  I found myself going on longer and more challenging runs, and as I got used to the longer distances, I found myself enjoying it more and more.   By February, I had done several 19 mile runs, and finally ran 23 miles and felt OK at the end.  I figured that if ever I was going to run another marathon, this was it.   I went home and filled out my application the same day. 

In retrospect, that 23 mile run was my peak.  Within a week, my calves were feeling tight and my Achilles tendons were hurting all the time.  Three weeks later I ran 20 miles and then left for two weeks in England, where I hardly got to run at all.   I figured it would give my legs time to heal.  As soon as I got back in town, I ran the last eight miles of the marathon course, then the next week I ran a 15K race, averaging 7:30 per mile on a very hilly course.  My Achilles tendons still hurt a lot, but it was two weeks to the marathon and I was cutting back and resting. 


A few ominous signs preceded the marathon.  I developed a chafing problem, new to me after 30 years of running.  I tried all the standard remedies, but bandages fell off, Vaseline did not stay on, and as the problem got worse and worse, even a light synthetic jersey weighing only a couple ounces caused trouble after ten miles.   The last Sunday before the race, on an easy 12 mile run, I got a blister on my toe.   It developed in the first few miles, but by the time I realized what was wrong I had gone five miles and had to run five more to get back.   I never get blisters!  I can't even remember the last time I had a blister.  This would have ruined my marathon.  What was going on ?  In the 15K race the prior week, my left calf felt strange, especially running downhill.  But I thought nothing of it, since my legs were hurting all over.  Mar99-03.jpg (47403 bytes)

This was embarrassing.


Marathon99-1-07.jpg (48623 bytes) On the day of the marathon, I was really confident.  I wanted to run 8:30 for the first eight miles, then 8:00 for the next ten miles, and 8:30 for the last eight.  I secretly hoped that I could do better the last part of the race, but this was my plan, and it would get me in at about 3:40

Before the start.


Marathon99-1-13.jpg (138747 bytes) The runner in the blue stripe on my left (380) finished two minutes ahead of me. The runner in front, (196) finished less than two minutes behind me.  It sometimes seems like 90% of the race is superfluous.

I was feeling great near the beginning.

As the race began, I felt great.  I held myself back, telling myself constantly not to go out too fast.  I did the first couple of miles under 8:00.  Oops.   But I felt great, and I was within sight of lots of people I knew, people about my speed.  Than just after mile four, it happened.  I got a tremendous cramp in my left calf.  It felt like someone had hit it with a baseball bat.  I limped off the course, into the grass, and tried to massage it.  That didn't help.  I tried to stretch, but that made it hurt worse.  I figured maybe I could limp-jog back to the start, where my car was parked (four miles).  As long as I did not go too fast, the leg did not get any worse.  I noticed that I was going the same speed as those around me, and that the group I had been running with before was now about 100 yards ahead of me.  I was still limping, feeling pretty silly.  As long as I kept running slowly, the cramps eased up and the pain subsided.  But if I sped up even a tiny bit, it would suddenly hurt worse.  I just kept it on the edge, and kept going.

Marathon99-1-15.jpg (506870 bytes) Because this had never happened to me before, I did not know what to expect.  It took extraordinary concentration to keep running -- if my attention wandered my leg would start to cramp up again.  I was still making pretty good time: I went by 10 miles in 83 minutes, a minute ahead of plan. But any thought of speeding up at this point was gone.   I was surprised I had made it ten miles, and doubted I could make it another ten.   I just aimed to make it from one water stop to the next, concentrating on keeping going. I was still feeling strong at 24 miles, but when I started to speed up, the cramps returned suddenly.  I had to stop and stretch, but my leg felt like an overinflated balloon, and I could not get it to stretch at all, so I just went back to running, more slowly.  I was really glad that I had run the last eight miles, as I saw the landmarks passing and the finish approaching.  It was not until I stepped on the track that I knew I would be able to finish. 

Mile 8, going by the starting line

I wound up finishing in 3:43, about three minutes off my plan.  I felt great about the time, considering what I had been through.  Marathon99-3-01.jpg (131840 bytes)


Marathon99-1-18.jpg (160819 bytes) I was surprised at how sore I was afterwards, immediately, and for the next few days.  Not just my calf, which was swollen several inches in circumference, but all over.  This is exactly how I had felt before, as a teenager, after a marathon.  Everyone told me this was normal, but I did not feel sore after the 23 mile run.  Anyway my left leg was turning purple.  It was really stiff, and I figured it would be good to jog a little to loosen it up, but the first couple of times I turned around after 50 yards. I finally realized this was a muscle tear of some kind, and that it would only get better with rest, so I took the next week off and started back very gradually after that.  

At the finish with my medal

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