Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eye-Q Two Cities Marathon

"Hail Mary, Full Of Grace, please get me through this race. Hail Mary, Full Of Grace, PLEASE GET ME THROUGH THIS RACE."

It's not uncommon for athletes to pray to a higher being before or during a game or competition. I've seen football players make the sign of the cross before taking the field and figure skaters look up to the heavens with clenched fists right before stepping onto the ice. Sometimes hard work and ability is just not enough, and athletes need affirmation from a higher power. I grew up catholic, so I am no stranger to prayer. I know that God is really busy on Sundays, so I usually don't burden him on race day. However, today was different.

I came into The Eye-Q Two Cities Marathon very confident. I had just come off of an eight minute PR at The Silicon Valley Marathon the weekend before, so I was feeling really good. On top of that, everything seemed to point to a third consecutive marathon personal record in Fresno and Clovis: fast flat course, sea level, and an extra hour of sleep courtesy of daylight savings time. How could I not achieve a personal best? Well, I think I may have gotten too cocky. Damn shin splints hit me hard at mile two, and I found myself begging to the Virgin Mary for help. MILE TWO!! Who gets shin splints at mile two?? I ended up walking miles two through six, which is a marathon first for Endorphin Dude!

These shin splints were a huge problem for me, but I believe it was more detrimental to my psyche than my feet and legs. I suffered a colossal meltdown and by mile four, I seriously considered stopping at the halfway point. I figured, it's not really a DNF if you finish at least half of it, right? The pain was unbearable, but I kept plugging along. It was very discouraging to fall so far behind the pack, but what made it worse was the fact that the ultra marathoners were looping back and were running towards me. I had to keep telling myself to keep at it and not give up. Thankfully, the third ultra runner to ran by was my trainer and mentor, Charlie. Can you believe this guy finished second overall in the ultra marathon? Amazing. Seeing Charlie gave me a little boost. I was still in shin splint hell, but hearing him yell out to me, "Good job Tony, keep it up," really helped my mental state.

When I reached mile four or so, all the ultra runners were at their mile 12 and were looping back. I was inching along when I heard someone shout out "Endorphin Dude!" I looked up and guess who it was? Dean Karanazes! No joke. To truly appreciate this encounter, I have to take you back in time. You may recall from my previous race, I met Mr. Ultra Marathon Man at mile three of The Silicon Valley Marathon. As I jogged along the residential streets of San Jose, I felt a presence to my left. I looked over and it was Dean Karnazes. I proceeded to say, "Hi There! I am Endorphin Dude! When you hit the wall at mile 18, call on me and I'll send you some endorphins!"

Well, fast forward a week to the Eye-Q Two Cities expo, I see Dean once again. I approached him and said "I ran with you at mile 3 last weekend! I am Endorphin Dude!" Dean laughed and responded "I remember you! Cape Guy! Was it hot in that thing?!" After a few friendly exchanges, Dean signed my book and posed for a picture with me. In that photo, he is catching the endorphins from Endorphin Dude!

After our exchange at the expo, it didn't surprise me that Dean Karnazes recognized me on the course. I mean, how many runners out there was running in a cape? I counted, and there was only one that day: moi. It probably helped that my moniker was printed on my bib and my head band, but I still got a kick out of Mr. 50 Marathons In 50 Days calling out my name! In any case, after hearing his voice, I looked up, smiled, yelled back "DEAN!" and we high fived. All the ultra runners behind him looked perplexed.

As corny as this may sound, getting that high five from Dean Karnazes did wonders for my ego, which helped to get my mind off of my pain. Fortunately, by mile six, the shin splints dissipated and I was able to keep a solid pace for the rest of the marathon. Yes, I did take walk breaks here in there, but for the most part, I made up for the lost time early on. Miles 6 through 20 were pretty solid. By miles 21 and 22, I felt fatigue kick in, but by the final 5k, I was determined to run to the finish line. I cranked up my music, took a shot of GU, and ran. Yes, there was a lot of grunting going on in the final stages of this race. I have been told that I am the Monica Seles of marathons, and sure enough, I channeled that hard hitting tennis ace all the way to the end. HHHHUUU!!! (Sorry, I don't know how to spell the grunting onomatopoeia). I kept pushing and running like someone had just kidnapped my dog and I had to chase them down. As I got closer to the finish line, spectators and marathon finishers cheered me on.

When I hit mile 25.9, waiting for me there was my fellow Dolphin South End Running buddy, Elizabeth McKay, with her dogs and friend Jennifer Walker. Elizabeth snapped a shot of me heading towards the finish line, and I couldn't help but stop to give Jennifer a big hug. I had emailed and commented on Jennifer's Facebook wall for some time now, and to finally meet her in person with only 0.3 miles left was a huge deal. These two did not have to wait for me, but they did, and that made all the difference when I reached mile 26. With only 0.2 miles left of my journey, I sprinted to the finish line!

Shin splints and a melt down early on did not break my spirit. After a very slow start, I was able to find the strength to complete this race. I was hoping for a PR at Eye-Q, but I'm not going to fret over this. What I take away from this race is that I managed to snap out of my funk and finish this marathon in 6:27:41. Along the way, I got to see some old running friends and make some new ones. What I love about running is that everyone is so supportive. Seeing people I know and meeting new peeps on the course keeps me motivated to work hard and finish what I start. Thank you Bill, Peter, Naomi, Greg, Eddie, Elizabeth, Jennifer, Charlie, Dean, Terri & Gang, and Jeslen, for helping me complete marathon #7!

Hail Mary, Full Of Grace, thank you for getting me through this race.