Chapter 2
26.2 With Donna Marathon

Jacksonville, Florida

February 14, 2015

Although I had completed my goal of running a marathon, it felt strangely unfulfilling. Technically, I had crossed the finish line and it had been enlightening to experience the many facets of Greece. However, I caught a bad cold a day or two after the Athens marathon that had hindered my enjoyment for the remainder of the trip and the plantar faciitis was so bad I could barely walk while in Greece. The pain still persisted at year end, even though I had given up running completely. Frankly, it didn’t feel like I had completed a marathon, it felt like a marathon had completed me!

Back at home I had gotten refocused on the business and the year ended well. I had been uneasy about leaving at the busiest time of the year. However, things had gone smoothly. Ruth Lane, our business partner had kept the bills paid and the office running smoothly. Rob Frederick, who had joined us a couple of years before had the warehouse and shipping & receiving working with precision. Kris Lane, who handled the IT and desktop publishing had kept me informed with daily reports. Kris had worked with us from the time he was 15, and now almost twenty years later, knew the business inside and out. Though he had moved to Port Charlotte, Florida after getting married, he was integral to the daily operations and success of the business.

The largest trade show of the year was coming up at the end of February and Joann and I left Kentucky on New Year’s eve and headed for Port Charlotte to assist Kris with the design and construction of our trade show booth. We planned on staying in Florida until mid February. The condo we had purchased a couple of years earlier was right across the street from the YMCA. We signed up for a seasonal membership and began walking over every morning and taking a yoga class. The instructor, Joanie, was in her eighties, yet had the flexibility of a child! I also signed up for a swimming class. Like Joanie, Gracie the swimming instructor, exuded a quiet calm and was always nurturing and supportive.

With the help of these capable instructors, I soon regained some flexibility, was relatively pain free, and began running very cautiously. Joann and I had made a pact that we would eat no sugar or refined carbs for the entire month of January and the extra pounds I had put on since Athens quickly disappeared.

As the weeks passed, I slowly returned to my previous training schedule: speed intervals on Tuesday, tempo run on Thursday, and a long run on Saturday. Though I never intended to ever run another marathon, this training seemed the most well rounded program for general health and well being.

With our trade show booth completed, Joann and I left Florida on February 13th heading back to Kentucky to make final preparations for the upcoming trade show. As it was a 14 hour trip and we had gotten a late start, we planned on staying over somewhere along the way. Joann and I take turns driving and during her first stint, I was looking on my phone and found there was a race in Jacksonville the following day. Like many southern races, it had an early start time (7:00am) and I convinced Joann that I was in good enough shape to run the half marathon and we could still make it home before dark the following day.

We took the Jacksonville exit and went straight to the marathon expo. It was almost quitting time and many of the booths were already vacated. I went by the Jeff Galloway booth and they too were gone, but I found out his organization was doing pace groups for the marathon. Chris Twiggs, whom I had become acquainted with in Athens was listed as the leader of the 4:15 marathon group.

The registration table was located to one side of the expo and they were getting ready to close up when I reached that side of the building. There was a popular comedian in the 70’s named Flip Wilson. His by-line was, “the devil made me do it”. To this day, I do not know why, but when I filled out the registration form, instead of checking the “half marathon” box, I checked the “marathon” box.

When I returned to the vehicle, I told Joann what I had done and I won’t say she was angry, but let’s just say she wasn’t happy with me! She did not want me to relive the same experience that I had in the weeks following Athens. We found a hotel about a half mile from the start/finish line and made our plan for the following day. She would stay at the hotel until noon which was the latest check out time I could obtain and then just wait for me in the car if I was not back. If I started at 7 am, I hoped to be done and back to the hotel by noon or shortly thereafter.

The following morning I entered the starting corral between the 4:30 and the 5:00 pace group. Many larger races have experienced marathoners who volunteer to “pace” other less experienced runners. Typically, they will carry a stick with a sign attached displaying the time in which they intend to cover the prescribed distance. I had determined to try to stay behind the 4:30 group. This should get me back to the finish line by 11:30 and I hoped to be able to get to the hotel by noon to reunite with Joann. It was a cool, crisp morning and I really wanted to run with my friend, Chris Twiggs. Even though his 4:15 pace group seemed too fast for me, I decided to move up to his corral. However, by this time it was getting close to start time and all corrals were closed. The race marshals informed me that I could not get out of my corral. As the race started, I had to just watch as the faster corrals moved out ahead of mine.

When I finally crossed over the start line and it registered my timing chip, I calculated I was already 3-4 minutes behind Chris’s group. However, it was chilly and I decided to pick up my pace both to stay warmer and to see if I could catch up with Chris. Early in any race it is easy to go too fast as I had in Athens, so I tried not burn myself out by going over my lactic threshold pace. About 20 minutes later I was delighted when I saw Chris’s 4:15 pace sign bobbing up and down ahead of me about three miles into the race.

Joining Chris was his wife, Diana, an accomplished runner herself, and about 10 others who were striving for a 4:15 marathon time. I soon experienced the “magic” of the Galloway run/walk method. We would run 3 minutes and then walk 1 minute. Chris had the time for each mile split marked on pole of his pace flag. Each mile needed to be done in 9:44 and as we passed the mile markers over the next 20 plus miles, Chris kept us within 2-3 seconds of the goal pace. I was amazed at the ease of this pace. The one minute walk break was refreshing physically, but maybe more so mentally. Instead of looking at the miles yet to be run, I only focused on keeping my form and attention on the next three minutes.

This pace kept me steady but I felt I still had energy in reserve. Around the 17 mile mark, an older runner stumbled on a pothole in the road and fell in front of us. Our pace group stopped to assist. Though a little bloodied, the runner was more embarrassed than physically hurt. The pace group went on, but I went back a few hundred feet to an aid station and got some paper towels and water and returned to help the runner get cleaned up and back on the course. That done, I again picked up the pace with the goal of trying to catch up with the pace group. Within a mile or two I again caught up to them.

My cousin, Tom Newkirk, an experienced marathoner, had given me a piece of advice I have never for-gotten. He told me, “the half way point of a marathon is not the 13.1 miles point, but at the 20 mile marker”. Most runners can store enough glycogen (sugar) in their muscles to go about 18-20 miles. After this, those energy stores are depleted. Runners call this point “hitting the wall”. I had certainly “hit the wall” in Athens and was apprehensive about coming to that point in this race.

The 26.2 for Donna marathon was started by Donna Deegan, a three time cancer survivor, with the goal of raising awareness of cancer victims and their families and providing financial support. The race begins in Beaches Town Center in Neptune Beach, Florida and runs along hard packed sand for about eight miles before winding through the seaside communities of Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach. Each community has it’s own unique vibe, but all had festive, supportive spectators encouraging the runners along.

Ironically, the twenty mile marker is next to a brick wall in Neptune Beach. We had been ticking off a mile every 9 minutes and 44 seconds like clockwork, keeping up some banter and short conversations and I had really lost track of where we were. I was shocked (and pleasantly surprised) when Chris exclaimed, “This is the dreaded ‘wall’, does anyone feel it?” It was then that I noticed the 20 mile marker and was elated that I was experiencing none of the symptoms I had in Athens.

The miles continued to roll by and before I knew it, we were on a high bridge that allowed a view of the finish line about a mile and a half ahead. By this point, our pace group was down to about six people and Chris encouraged anyone that felt like it to cease the walk breaks and run on in. I decided to wait until the 25 mile marker and then go in as fast as possible. As we passed that marker, I thanked Chris and Diana for their assistance in getting me to that point and set off at the fastest pace I felt I could maintain to the finish. Though I was in the 4:15 pace group, I hoped to do this last mile a couple of minutes faster and maybe even hit 4:13.

I was shocked when I crossed the finish line and discovered I had finished in 4:09. At first thinking that couldn’t be right, I remembered that I had started several minutes behind the 4:15 pace group and had raced the first three miles to catch up. As I walked through the recovery area grabbing a banana and a chocolate milk, it occurred to me that Joann wouldn’t be checked out of the hotel. If I hustled, I could get back in time to take a shower before we continued our journey back to Kentucky, a luxury I had not counted on. Clutching my banana in one hand and chocolate milk in the other, I began running the half mile back to the hotel. I could not believe it. I had just finished a marathon yet had the energy to run to the hotel. The Galloway run/walk/run method really worked!

At this point, I still didn’t consider myself a “marathoner” and had no plans to run another. However, felt vindicated from being whipped by the marathon as I had been in Athens and relished the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as we continued home to prepare for the upcoming trade show.