Thursday, May 21, 2009

PRESS/Race Recap: Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon

On May 3rd, I completed the fifth marathon of this ten race campaign, the Cincinnati Flying Pig. 

The 2009 edition marked the 11th year for this race and The Pig continues to grow and attract both new runners and new sponsors each successive year. In an economic environment like we're experiencing now, that says a lot. 

For me, this was the halfway point of a year-long effort. I deliberately front-loaded the first five marathons into the first four months of the year. The remaining five will be spread out over the last eight months of the year. Though that might sound like a reprieve of sorts, I assure you it's not. The cumulative fatigue at the midpoint is already substantial and it will only increase exponentially with each successive race from this point forward. 

I arrived in Cincy on only 14 days of rest following a brutal marathon course in Charlottesville, VA on April 18th. I knew my legs were tired, but it wouldn't be until mile 16 the following day that I'd really see how beat I was and how much fatigue had begun to accumulate throughout my body. 

So despite prior rainy forecasts, I landed in Ohio on Sat. May 2nd and was greeted  by sunny skies, a slight breeze and 70 degree temperatures early that morning, when my cousin Chris picked me up at the airport. We drove in to downtown Cincinnati where I visited with some people at the Expo and did an interview for Cincinnati NBC 5 news. (see the link below)

After that, Chris was kind enough to drive the course for me so I could actually see the course, get my bearings and we could talk and catch up along the way. The course was winding from the start and in the first couple miles, it crossed a bridge into Kentucky--which is literally just across the river, much like the Potomac River splits Virginia and DC--and then back into Ohio, where we wound through downtown Cincinnati before beginning the start of a five mile winding climb. From there, the course flattened out before hitting some rolling hills through mile 17 and then a flat/gradual descent over the last several miles, to the finish line. 

After the TV interview and a driving inspection of the course, I got a great tour of the greater Cincinnati area and its rich history. As I mentioned in a prior posting, the town was once referred to as Porkopolis because it was a nerve center for the nation's slaughtering and distribution of pork products. Since then, the pork industry has been split with Chicago and other regional locations, but the town has retained those pork roots as there are literally flying pig statues all over the place. It's both kitchy and cool at the same time. The pig is an icon that the city has really embraced over the years and the marathon is extremely well supported by the surrounding community.

So with that, Chris and I met up with his girlfriend, Andrea, and the three of us had dinner on the outdoor patio of their favorite little Italian place. It was delicious and by the end of the meal, I was exhausted. Chris has always been a night owl, but I was so tired, I don't think I saw 2100hrs. 

The following morning, my alarms (two watches and a blackberry) went off at 0330hrs and I began my customary consumption of 180 Energy drinks along with a vigorous stretching regiment in the middle of the hallway. About 90 minutes later, Chris and I were driving in the misty rain to the starting area. The place was packed with runners and the damp, humid air created an ideal temperature and feel for a marathon. Most people don't like the rain and wind, but I thrive on it; the harder the conditions, the better I do. I think I attribute that to Coach Saunders back in high school...repeat 500s in the driving sleet and freezing rain. 

At any rate, the conditions seemed ideal. The gun went off and I felt good through the first 15 miles or so. Then something very weird happened. Around mile 16, I started to feel completely flat. My legs were dead, my shoulders felt heavy. My breathing was erratic. It was fatigue. The first four marathons were finally starting to show their wear. But that wasn't the weird part.

It was around this time that I looked around and saw three guys up ahead who were running a similar tempo so I hit the gas to link up with them, so that I could use their pacing to my advantage. It turned out they were all running hard in an effort to qualify for the Boston Marathon, next spring. The weird part, however, came two miles later when they asked me my name and in turn introduced themselves: Gary, Randy and Tom.

My father's name was Gary. Randy was his brother, and also the second oldest, next to my father. Tom was their middle brother who was killed in their hometown of Detroit during the turbulent race riots of the late '60s. My tired, achy body suddenly got the chills. For the next several miles, I ran silently next to those three, content in the notion that they had been put in my path as an omen, a sign and a message that I was to continue, and to push, and to finish what I've started; both in Cincinnati and beyond. 

Gradually, I started to separate from my running mates until I could no longer see them over my shoulder. Everything, every area, every muscle, every tendon, every joint, every part of my body hurt.

...and then the wheels fell off.

At mile 22, I got the spins. My vision was blurry, I got dizzy and I was forced to stop and walk. Cramps, aches, stitches, assorted pain--you run through all that stuff; the spins, however, will bring you to your knees. Literally.

I walked for several minutes until I'd regained my composure and I jogged on until they returned at mile 24. It was bad. I felt wobbly, lightheaded, and generally about the bonk. Again, I was forced to walk for several minutes--something that I said from the outset that I would not do during this campaign. I felt as though my commitment to the wounded servicemen for whom I am running demanded at the very least, that I run, no matter how much pain I am in at any point, during any of the ten marathons. But again, you can't really run through the spins; either you stop and you gather your wits, or you push and eventually collapse on the pavement. I ceded to my ego and I stopped for the second time. 

Frustrated, exhausted, and completely dizzy, I began running again, and ultimately crossed the finish line in a time of 3:33:18.

This was my slowest time of the first five marathons by a good two minutes, but as a friend and colleague pointed out, this race was on only 15 days of rest and it was an indication of the fatigue that my body has accumulated and is now starting to manifest. 

When I first started this people laughed, almost mockingly, at the notion of ten marathons in a year. As I began to click off the marathons in monthly succession, all at an eight minute average, the doubters grew silent and eventually, their silence turned to support. Prior to Cincinnati, those who once smirked when I talked about my campaign, had suddenly started billing me as some kind of Superman who would fly through all ten of these marathons, impervious to pain, with an S on my chest and a flag clenched in my teeth. 

This race was a wake-up call. I am not an endurance machine. I am human. I am fallible. And in Cincinnati, I was hurting. Quite frankly, the remaining five marathons are going to be utterly brutal; each will hurt more than the previous one, up to and including the tenth race in Las Vegas this December. But I have made a commitment. I have made a promise. I have set a goal. I will not stop. I will not rest. I will not turn back. 

I WILL run ten marathons. I WILL do it in 12 months. I WILL raise $100,000 for the WWP.

That is the 10-12-100 Campaign. That is my promise. These men and women are my cause. 

Five down. Five to go.

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports