Only 0.5 percent of Americans run a marathon in a year. Yesterday; I was ready to join that rank.
My intention when I woke up race morning was to run 50 miles. This same weekend, I had planned to run the Fall 50 in Wisconsin, but we were unable to make the trip. Rather than lose four months of training, i decided to create my own 50-mile route, using the Columbus Marathon for the first 26.2 and running back to and around Hilliard for the last 23.8.
This year in Ohio we had no spring and now we have had no autumn. Two weeks ago, it was in the 90s, now I scrape ice off my car in the morning. Race morning was below freezing. I debated whether to wear shorts or compression running pants. I walked outside in shorts and felt fine, so went with that. That would turn out to be the biggest mistake of the day. In the cold, my leg muscles tightened up and never let go. I kept thinking that surely after 10 or 40 miles my legs would warm up, but they never did. All day long, I never felt like I found my natural stride.
With these tight legs, I considered quitting at the marathon finish line. That would still be a solid accomplishment, nothing wrong with counting myself among the 0.5 percent. Or so my brain told me.
My friend Johnny Rutherford wasn’t buying it.
I knew Rutherford was tracking me and had planned on running with me at some point. I sent him a text saying I was planning on stopping at the finish line and got this reply:
Unbeknownst to me, Rutherford had also setup a chat group. While I was whining about my tight legs, he was lining up people to run the final 24 miles with me back to Hilliard.
Even by this time, I ran with several amazing people. The Team Possum motto is that if you get to the end of the race and haven’t made a new friend, you are doing it wrong. About two miles in, I started talking with a woman running next to me. She was running her first half marathon on a dare. A few miles later I found out the dare came from my friend, Jonathan Flores, who she works with. There were 18,000 people on the course and the first person I talked to is a mutual friend.
About 14 miles in, after the half marathoners split off and left the course deserted, I ran with a woman named Marilyn who was having a hard time. I gave her the two Motrin I had with me and we promised to pray for each other.
Not long after, a church friend named Sean ran up behind me. He injured his hamstring at Burning River 100, recovered from that to assist his wife, Julie, with the Columbus half marathon, and now encouraged me for about 10 miles. I probably pushed him faster than he needed to go, but we both would finish.
I came across the finish line while loudly rapping the Public Enemy song, “I shall not be moved.” Darlene met me there with some Gatorade and a peanut butter sandwich. She later said she didn’t see me cross the finish, but she heard my distinctive scream of victory. This marked the third time Darlene met me. She brought me food and hydration on the desolate part of the course around mile 22 and cheered with David and Stephanie Connor in German Village.
By the time I finished the marathon, I had given in to Rutherford’s persistent texting and was going to give the 50 a shot. I made my way out of the secure area, back to the Scioto Trail, and met Jennifer and our friends Jon and Lisa. Jon served as my crew chief for the day and helped me with gear change, nutrition, and hydration. Seasoned boiled potatoes, Nutella wraps, and Tailwind infused water had me ready to go. All day long, I managed my nutrition well. I began the race overhydrated (thanks to a large Tim Hortons coffee) and took three porta-potty breaks in the first 12 miles. However, throughout the race I ate before I was hungry, drank before I was thirsty, and walked before I was tired. The sweetness of tailwind got tiring, but overall I did well in nutrition and hydration management.
At my crew chief led stop, a fellow Possum known as Goat met me. Goat is a remarkable man who recently overcame a significant injury and successfully completed Hallucination 100. Goat ran with me for about the next 12 miles, keeping me laughing and entertaining me with his stories.
As Goat and I approached the Culvers in Hilliard we saw a gentleman with a Team Possum hat waiting for us. I first met Michael near mile 10 of the marathon. He asked if I was doing the full, I replied “that and some extra,” and in typical possum style, he gave up the next few hours of his day to help me run my final 13. A couple of miles later we stopped for another bathroom and nutrition break at Erin’s house. Wil made chorizo burritos (my favorite) and Gatorade waited on the table.
About 4 miles later we picked up a phenomenal runner and human being named Morgan. Morgan recently completed the Hennepin Hundred in just over 21 hours. She is amazing and in a class beyond me. Yet, she was so supportive and complimentary of me. She kept saying, “you don’t look like someone who has run over 40 miles”. High praise from a high-end athlete.
Michael and I dropped Morgan off with her husband at Heritage Park and headed toward downtown Hilliard for the last five miles to the finish. We made an ill-advised stop in the nicest public bathroom I have ever been in. The warmth of the bathroom contrasted the cold outside. In the short time I stood in the bathroom, my legs tightened up again and it took a mile to loosen back up.
Nevertheless, press on we did. While my legs were never right all day, I never once felt tired or winded. I had a positive spirit, energy, and experience all day. Although cold, it was a beautiful day that began with fireworks at the start line and ended with a beautiful sunset.
Michael and I ran the last two miles at a solid pace, finishing at the Beer Barrel. Jennifer, Erin, Wil, and Kye cheered. Cold beer and warm food waited for us. But I would have never savored this experience without the dozens of people who carried me on race day. The Possum community shined with its true colors, the church community rallied around me, and my friends and family fueled me with much more than potatoes and Tailwind.
Running may seem like the most individual of sports, but there was nothing individual about completing this 50-mile run. 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of when I started running and this was my 10th marathon or ultra. This one is the most special of all, not because of what I did, but because of what we did together.
I am blessed beyond measure.