I was 37 and standing on the corner of 4th & H NW in Washington DC, right outside a great little wine bar and my legs were covered in my own feces. It was the first time I had tried to go to church in weeks and I was frantically texting/calling friends while graciously accepting the bar manager’s invitation to clean up as much as I could in one of their bathrooms. Just over 3 years later I struggled my way through an 8 hour ordeal and finished the Honolulu marathon.
It starts something like this: I injured my back playing lacrosse during my senior year in high school. My doctor misdiagnosed the injury for two years and our HMO didn’t allow seeing other primary care physicians unless ours was unavailable. The first time I saw a different one I was in surgery the next day getting disc and vertebrae repair done.
As the years went by I got increasingly out of shape. During the late summer of 2012 I had tipped the scales at over 260 pounds despite being 5’9″. My body fat was at least 40%. One night, at my parents house in the suburbs, I went to get something out of the refrigerator and my back locked up to the point that my entire right side couldn’t move. In the ER they tried everything until they finally gave me Dilaudid to get the muscles to relax. I don’t even remember going home.
After 6-8 weeks of recovery time I finally decided to drive back up to DC and resume my life as normally as possible. I underestimated just how weak my core muscles still were and after parking hustled as quickly as I could towards that wine bar. I made it to the side door before everything let loose. The best part for me was that it wasn’t particularly humiliating. I was so comfortable that I texted the guys from church who were bringing me a clean pair of pants to “hurry up, I can’t take this crap any longer.” My sense of humor never wavered.
Fast forward to the late fall of 2014 in Honolulu. I had completed a 5k and was running about 20 miles per week. My weight fluctuated between 195-205 most of the time. One week before the 2014 marathon I decided I was going to run the 2015 version and began training. I stumbled across ideas like Jason Fitzgerald’s awesome Strength Running website and implemented many of the tried and true training techniques.
When the 2015 marathon finally came around I was fairly confident. Even though I had just moved, had a housemate who kept me up until all hours despite my constant protest, and the 12 pounds I gained during the 2 weeks my parents were visiting, my long runs were going well. Everything was pointing towards a time around 6.5 hours for my first marathon. Not bad for a 40 year old with lingering spinal issues.
The day of the marathon came and it was the most hot and humid day in Honolulu in at least 6 weeks. I started out well, my pace being slow and easy so I wouldn’t burn myself out and not finish. At mile 8 I had my first stomach issue due to the heat. At mile 13 I had to start walking intermittently. At mile 17 I was already contemplating stopping. During that last 9.2 miles I was experiencing mood swings like nothing I’ve ever had. I was in tears several times due to the pain.
After 8:41:47 I finally walked slowly across the finish line. It took laying on my back for 30 minutes before I could even think about finding my car and going home. Some great friends showed up and brought the car to me. By the middle of the next day I felt fine. 4 months later I ran a half marathon. I’m still running fairly consistently today and have a goal of doing at least one ultramarathon (50 kilometers or more) before I turn 50.
If a guy with a serious lower back injury who had gotten so out of shape that getting something out of a refrigerator can finish a marathon in terrible conditions, then what else is possible?