Awesome Journey of Endurance & Exhaustion: 2 Marathons in 6 Days
I insanely signed up to run marathons only 6 days apart but previously the closest I had ever run marathons was 28 days apart. Twenty-eight days felt like an eternity compared to a mere 6 days. Six days was barely enough time to let the initial “on the surface” soreness dissipate. I believed deep down I could do it or I frankly wouldn’t have elected to spend the energy and money to squeeze in another marathon so soon. I don’t mind spending money on things that I love (um, marathon races!) but I also do not want to waste money either. So, once I signed up, I was going to go the distance yet again no matter what! My first race was in West Virginia on a balmy November morning (69 degrees at 5am!). Thankfully, the race was mostly overcast with some peaks of limited sunshine otherwise it would have been that much harder. The temperature at the end of the race was 76 degrees and I was just happy to have survived. I began the race at a 7:48 pace for my first mile. That was quick, but hey, I tapered so what do you expect? I felt pretty good, but I also thought that I won’t be able to maintain that pace for 26.2 miles in this heat, so I better dial it down. My pace overall was decent throughout the first half. On my best marathons, I cross the halfway mark under 1:55 but today I was at 2:01. I wasn’t overly disappointed with that because it was a hot day. I carried a bottle of Gatorade with me throughout most of the race believe it or not. I thought to myself it would be good to always have the option to drink because it was going to be a warm race. I was able to blow by the water stops for the first 5 miles because of that, but then it got too warm and at the mile 5-6 water stop, I had to stop and get a few cups of water to splash on my face, neck, and arms to cool me down. This ended up being my routine the rest of the way to stop at each water stop to cool down. When I was running, I was cruising along at a decent 9-9:30 per mile pace. I felt very decent at times, but I took the time at the water stops to cool my body down. I don’t regret this; it was necessary to get through the race. Anytime the temperature is over 60 degrees for a marathon, it can feel too warm and this day we got up to the mid 70’s. I was so thankful the sun was not out in full force, or it would have been BRUTAL. I heard lots of great things about the Marshall University Marathon, so I said why not run it. Essentially the marathon course is two big loops in Huntington, WV with the course looping back around the university’s football stadium and back out to continue with the second loop. It was a little confusing though because you had to backtrack your steps to the stadium and then run out in a different direction. There were lots of twists and turns and frankly not being from the area, it was confusing to me because A) I was not familiar with the roads; B) Everything looked the same; C) I was getting tired, and my brain just does not function well when I am utterly exhausted. And there were not THAT many marathoners so when you ditched the half marathoners and the marathoners went in a different direction, it was slim pickings to find another marathoner to follow. There were lots of volunteers with flags, but the truth was that they were not always directing runners. So many of these people (mostly teenagers and young adults) were bored out of their minds and were staring at their phones. Several times I had to yell out, “Which direction?” Just before mile 14, I stopped and asked a cop in the road if I was going in the right direction. He seemed super nice and thought I was going on the right path. I told him, “Because I was getting tired, and I didn’t want to have to repeat any of the course!” LOL. He said, “Yes ma’am!”. Once I got away from the stadium, the route made more sense to me because I was no longer backtracking and off I went! I saw Pat and he said I was doing great but then I also saw him around mile 15 I believe. I stopped briefly to grab a drink from him and talk to him. I told him that my left hip flexor was tight for most of the first half but now it felt better. I had to take some Tylenol, so this annoying pain wasn’t completely holding me back. The truth is it was even aching that night before the marathon while I was sleeping. I was trying to push it out of my mind and stretch enough before the race. Every now and then it annoys me because it’s been a nagging injury since Reach the Beach in 2015. It was necessary to go to physical therapy for it then because I couldn’t run AT ALL without extreme pain. Every now and then it flares up just to let me know that it is still there. I continued to just push through this warm weather race, and I often thought about running another marathon in 6 days and I was trying to balance running a “decent” time in the heat with not wanting to feel so hurt that I couldn’t go the distance again in 6 days. I knew at one point my toes would be in rough shape just because of the socks I was wearing plus anytime you run a marathon in warm weather, you tend to have more blisters from the heat (even though I lathered them with Foot Glide & Vaseline). I recover so much more nicely after a cold weather race. I stopped for a bathroom break at mile 18. I knew I wouldn’t run a sub-4-hour marathon today (and I was ok with that), so it was good to empty out so I could keep hydrating the rest of the way because it was only feeling warmer as time progressed. I kept thinking about running back to that football stadium. You know, the football stadium that Randy Moss and Troy Brown played in and grabbing a football and running with it all the way to the finish line. I could not wait for THAT moment. It was awesome. I saw Pat before I ran through the campus one last time and then he met me back at the stadium. I eagerly grabbed the football (one of my favorite sports!) and ran up the sideline and 100 yards down the middle of the field to the far endzone. I wanted to spike the ball at the finish line but there were so many people around. I didn’t, but it was still fun. Marathon #38, State #36 was complete, and it was a moment of fulfillment and satisfaction. I didn’t care what my time was – only that I completed it! I have never done this before, but I wanted to lie down in the endzone right after the marathon and soak it all in. I proceeded to rest there for about 5 minutes and enjoy the moment.
Pat and I grabbed some food (that I didn’t eat) and we hung around the stadium long enough to see that I finished 2nd in my age group. I won some giant trophy which really cracks me up, but we grabbed our hardware and “sprinted” off to the hotel so I could take a shower before our flight back home. I had time at the hotel, but not that much time, so thankfully I had Pat there to help me get around and he packed up while I cleaned up from the race. We then proceeded to drive back to Columbus, Ohio for our flight home. We got home that night around 12:30am. It was literally an exhausting weekend!
Now my focus had to be on a FAST recovery because hey, I had to go the distance AGAIN in only 6 days! No doubt, I was sore after the race like usual, but my toes hurt the most. That was what I had to focus on to feel better. I mean, they were a big, giant mess. I don’t even want to describe how gross they looked. So, each day, I religiously soaked my feet in cold water with Epsom salt. For hours!! I had to do whatever I could to feel better ASAP. I even bandaged my toes after putting Aquaphor on them. I didn’t want to put socks on for a couple of days, but I had to cover my injured toes somehow. I briefly questioned if I could run another marathon again so soon because of the intensity of the pain. I mean I am not joking when I say my toes still ached when I walked to the bathroom the morning of the second marathon!!! But sometimes, it must be mind over matter. I wanted to complete the next race so bad. I wanted to believe that I could do it and push my limits. After all, you don’t really know your limits until you push past them, right? During the week leading up to the second marathon, one day I jogged a mile and it felt promising that I could run again so soon (albeit very slowly!) It is funny because I have always said to Pat, “There is NO WAY I could run another marathon a week later. I would just be too damaged still. My body feels like trash. My heart rate is way too high.” I always said that before but this time I just had to do it and I wanted to do it. I think that’s the difference. I really wanted to see if I could do it and I wanted to test my own will and endurance. I know there was no way I was recovered from the 1st race before the 2nd race but on the surface, I felt ok even though my toes were still sore and wrecked. I just believe life is meant to be explored. You need to see what you are made of when times get tough. I have been so tested in my life in so many other ways, but this was a good way to really test my strength physically and emotionally too. There was no way I was going to give in. I was going to conquer this race. I was excited by the challenge of it, if that makes sense, and that is what propelled me to do it. Some additional recovery steps I took between marathons was to only eat high quality food (bananas, beets, blueberries, steak, chicken, rice, potatoes, salad) and proteins. In general, I try to avoid processed food at all costs and sometimes it completely grosses me out to eat that stuff. I also wanted to as much sleep as possible (although I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted for various reasons). I never used my compression boots because my toes were too sore – the squeezing would have made me cry for sure. As often as I could, I elevated my legs via a recliner or pillows while sleeping and I walked as much as I could around my neighborhood to loosen up my legs.
Our trek to Kansas started early on Friday morning…like VERY early, I woke up at 1:40am so I knew that wouldn’t help my exhaustion for an impending marathon um, TOMORROW! We flew to Kansas City by 9am and we went to visit Arrowhead Stadium and the University of Kansas (for Jordyn – she wanted to see where the volleyball team plays). We finally got all the way to Manhattan, Kansas around 2pm and settled in for the night. I really didn’t want to do a lot and knew that I needed sleep more than anything if I was going to survive the long trek. I got some sleep the night before the race, but it never feels like enough. I knew it was going to be extremely cold too so I was debating if I should take a full shower and wash my hair just to go outside and freeze. I’m not kidding it was 21 degrees and felt like 16 degrees. I do like cold weather marathons, but not THAT cold! At least today I wasn’t going to have to stop at the water stops to splash cold water on my face, neck, and arms! That’s a good thing, right?! I ended up wearing a thermal dri-fit shirt, t-shirt and windbreaker jacket and my core never felt too warm. I had on ¼ spandex, shorts, and wool compression socks but I elected to keep my soccer pants on too because it was much colder, and I desperately needed to keep my legs warm. The key was to keep my core as warm as possible. I didn’t want to expend any additional energy just keeping my body warm. It had to generate its own heat. As we were standing at the start, I must admit, I felt completely insane. I was exhausted from not sleeping great, I was shivering, and my toes were still sore from the 1st marathon, and I was lining up to go the distance AGAIN. This marathon, the Little Apple Marathon, was a 4-loop course so I could keep my bag by a tree and grab things I needed each time I circled through. That was a plus! So the race went off and for my first mile, I ran a 9:21 pace. It felt comfortable to me believe it or not, but my plan was just to let the journey happen. I wasn’t trying to run a particular pace. I simply wanted to complete the race, remain alive and relatively uninjured. I noticed early in the race that my lower left calf and Achilles was annoyingly tight and somewhat painful. It did not affect my stride or gait, just that it bothered me with every step, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was looking around for a curb to pull over and stretch, but I never found a steep enough step or curb, so I never stretched it. After about 5 miles, it loosened up and the pain (about a 3-4 on scale of 1 to 10 (bad) subsided. For the first loop, I wore my pink outer jacket too because it was ridiculously cold. It was so cold that the cups of water and Gatorade were iced over and slushy!! I ditched my outer jacket after loop #1 and elected to even leave my sweat soaked gloves on for another loop before I changed them out. I finished the first half marathon in 2:16, which really isn’t that bad of a time considering. I texted Pat to tell him so he would know where I was on the course. I ended up seeing Pat & Jordyn on the course at mile 16 on Dyer Road. He yelled out the window at me and I put up my 2 hands, “I have 10 miles to go!”. This 3rd loop was the hardest for me. I got out of rhythm because I stopped to switch gloves, text Pat and stop at the bathroom. I don’t like stopping because that tends to get me out of rhythm, but there were tasks I had to take care of! When I was reaching my final loop, I knew I was going to see Pat & Jordyn at mile 20. I stopped to give them both a hug. I told Jordyn, “This last loop is for you. I’m so tired.” I needed to say that to her for many reasons but also because I needed that to motivate me to “just run”. To forget about being flipping exhausted and “just run” for the joy of running and pushing limits. As I gave her that hug, I hung onto her the same way you see a bloody-faced boxer hang on to their opponent. Exhaustion was setting in and I wanted to be done and rest so badly but I still had 6+ more miles to go! I HAD TO reluctantly let go of her and keep going. My mind had to suppress the exhaustion my body was feeling and trudge forward because quitting was not an option. I was going to finish this thing no matter what! At mile 22, I had to hit the bathroom again and the sun was finally poking through the clouds, and I was feeling warm even though it was only 20 degrees outside. I decided to ditch my soccer pants and winter hat now and I asked the guy at the water stop if it was ok if I left my stuff there. He said yes and I texted Pat to tell him that’s what I did. I could pick it up on my way back. Anyways, off I went for the last 4+ miles. It was a gamble to take off some layers but when I start to feel overheated, I usually say “It’s time”. My head was sweating under my hats for hours, but I knew that was where a lot of heat would leave the body. I am always amazed in marathons when I see other runners on such a cold day wearing no winter or baseball hat at all! As I continued my journey, I suddenly got a burst of energy and speed. I don’t know if it is because I ditched my soccer pants, but my legs felt free, so I just ran. I was feeling good at mile 22 of a marathon and I was enjoying the moment. I was feeling strong and even singing out loud, and this seemed unbelievable, but I was going with it, and just running it. I was thinking how I told Jordyn this loop was for her and I was running my heart out. I was thinking how wonderful it was that my 15 year old daughter was "there for me". I mean usually it's the other way around, right? But I was just thinking about what she means to me, our hug at mile 20 and why I just needed to do this. Plus it is so exciting to be near the end of a marathon and just know that you are going the entire distance AGAIN. Even though you are completely exhausted and feeling delirious on one hand, you are also completely propelled by this excitement. Once I got on the concrete trail, I started to lose it a little though. Sometimes that happens in a marathon too. One minute you can feel awesome and the next minute you feel like trash, and you quickly use up any new-found energy. The marathon is a constant struggle to maintain a high-level of energy and keep your body moving when it is tired and aching. It is a series of many battles between the mind and physical body. How far and how long can you hold X pace and feel in control with your breathing and your legs before you just completely falter and crash? It’s a fun lovely game that you never know how it is going to unfold until you are completely immersed in it. And then in the middle of your delirium, you must figure out how you are going to accomplish it if things go awry (and they usually do). Stopping and DNF is not an option. Plus, the marathon is so incredibly long and so many things can happen over the course of hours. It is unlike many other races that way. My legs were starting to feel cold and hard like cinder blocks even though I was moving faster for the past mile or two. But there was no way the heat generated by my body could keep up with the frigidness of mother nature. I was at mile 23.95 on my watch and I knew I was a bit off the tangents, so I really had about 2.5 miles to go. I decided to take it one last lick of my electrolyte salt and then the weirdest thing happened. I immediately wanted to throw up. I mean, I have heard that people can throw up if they eat salt, but I have done this many, many times before (even this same day) without ever doing that. It was only the 3rd time during this marathon that I was having salt but clearly it was more than my body needed. I thought I was going to barf and so I stopped for a couple of minutes, heaved a few times, wondered if I could finish the race, but kept running. I decided to have one of my Gatorade Endurance gels as I thought maybe just putting something else in my stomach except for salt might help and these gels are very smooth and a bit watery. (It did the trick.) My main goal was to finish under 5 hours, and I knew it was going to be tight! There were a few people on the course, and I chatted with them as I ran by and I was telling myself to “Freaking go, finish this thing!” I passed the mile 24, mile 25 and then the mile 26 sign. I LOVE seeing that number on that sign. I was going as fast as I could for being exhausted. At one point I looked down and my pace was 8:45 on my watch. I think overall my last mile was 10:07. I didn’t really care. I was completing the race, running the entire distance yet again and that feeling of accomplishment was greater than any time achieved. I saw Pat & Jordyn as I approached the finish line and my day was complete. Marathon #39 and State #37 complete! We took a few pictures, walked to the car (no time to hang around in the freezing cold!), and drove to the hotel to clean up and drive back to Kansas City for the plane ride home. Another marathon mission was complete, and I proved to myself that yes, I can run them that close together and survive! Every single marathon is a journey of self-discovery. There is always a challenge to overcome and find your way to the finish line. Because of this process and what I endure physically and mentally, the race itself means more to me than any time on the clock. I know in my mind and my body what I had to do, what demons I had to fight, to reach the finish line. And that is where the true sense of satisfaction of having reached the finish line is the REAL victory. It is THAT experience that I want to achieve over and over and that is what keeps me chasing this challenge of running marathons in all 50 states! It is exciting that I am getting so much closer to finishing this journey. I should be able to run 6-8 marathons each year for the next two years and complete it. This journey is an amazing experience, and it has made an indelible mark on my life and my family’s life. It is not an easy or short-term accomplishment but rather it takes years of daily commitments to myself. I started training for this journey in 2014 and my first marathon was in January 2015. To think that this journey is 8 years old right now and I am not even done yet, is incredible. When I finish running marathons in all 50 states, then I will switch over to running half marathons in all 50 states and THAT should be much easier. Like I always say, if you want to be good at running a certain distance, then double that distance in training. All these full marathons are just training me for my next act, the half marathon. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I am enjoying this current journey and know that it is not complete yet, but it is good to know that the fun doesn’t have to end in a couple of years.
Post-race recovery: Because the last marathon was a cold weather race, recovery is going much better. The only thing that really bothers me still (a week later) is my middle toe on my left foot. The toe is very bruised, and the toenail has most certainly separated from the nail bed – even under the skin. I think that toe just got squashed during both of my 26.5 mile treks! This is the only thing keeping me from running again. I am treating it with topical ointments (Neosporin with pain relief, Aquaphor and soaking in cold water with Epsom salt). So basically, it is has been a restful week activity wise and I am getting lots of sleep (8-9 hours per night) to aid in recovery. When we travel on marathon weekend, it is a true test of endurance as we are up early and go to bed late plus squeeze in a 26.2 mile run, so it often feels good to be home the week after a race and be able to “just sleep” once the initial soreness wears off and doesn’t keep waking you up at night! I started officially running again a little over a week after the marathon and did a reverse taper (1 mile on day, 2 miles the next, etc.) I consider it an accomplishment to have run 20 super slow miles this week and now I am up to 6 miles a day. The goal is just to ease back in, keep the heart rate low, but get the legs used to running again. I do feel a bit fatigued still and suspect that true recovery will take longer this time. But I am listening to my body and letting it dictate my pace.