My First Marathon
Note to readers: the following actually happened...hard to believe...I did it just 3 short years ago. The photo on the right is offered as proof! The woman to my left is Irene Ortiz - she will attest to my actually having crossed the finish line 5 hours and 17 minutes after the starting gun.
Anyway, here is the saga of one man's folly....
MY FIRST MARATHON EXPERIENCE
February 2, 2003
by Rafael Gomez
On the night before to the marathon, I tried to get to bed early, but found it very hard to fall asleep. However, after asking my wife to change the channel to the incredibly sleepy Turner Movie Classics channel - I quickly dozed off. (For those of you who struggle with insomnia – I highly recommend this tactic, find a boring movie and fall asleep watching it – Turner works like a charm so does the Family Network and other similarly sedate channels.)
(photo on the left is me "bright eyed and bushy tailed" - 3:45 AM - February 2, 2003 - "Day Of")
Anyway, all told, I managed about 4 solid hours and arose at 3:30 AM anxious to get downtown and run. I brewed some strong stuff and drank it down, since I had “carbo-loaded” the previous night I didn’t feel very hungry. In retrospect, I think I ate way too late – about 9:30 pm or so. I had thrown together some whole wheat pasta and wolfed it down with just a bit of olive oil, salt, and a sprinkling of garlic. All the books had warned against ingesting veggies or fruit on the night before a marathon. Frankly, I can’t see how much more gastrointestinal distress I could have experienced by throwing in some simple tomato sauce.
I caught the Metro at Dadeland arriving at the station at 4:30 am or so. It was quite cold – one of the coldest days of the year - if not the coldest. At first it was a source of misery and concern. I later discovered the low temperature to be an unexpected blessing in disguise that really helped me to endure the first 13 miles in relative quite comfort. That year, 2003, the starting temperature for the Miami Marathon was below New York's and Chicago's.
When I arrived downtown, I discovered a bustling Bayfront Park packed with thousands of raring to go runners...hundreds were warming up jogging up and down the closed off street. It was a sight to behold. All shapes and sizes of runners...th good, the bad, and the ugly. There was noticeable “voltage” in the air....and as luck would have it, the coffee and long forgotten “carbo-load” began to insist on some attention. Glancing about this mêlée I spied a long row of port-a-potties about 200 yards away - in front of the American Airlines Arena – but alas arrayed before each of the 50 or so “stalls” there were 50-75 edgy women. (o.k., o.k., some men too – but not many all right!). I moaned and sought out the shortest line I could find....and as Murphy’s Law of Port-a-Potties would have it, (the shortest line will contain the people with the largest and most voluminous bladders)....and this was certainly the case...anyway...I finally got to use the thing 3 minutes prior to the race.
Following that short interlude, I rushed over to the marathon holding area, the “pen” as they call it and waited for the gun. I'm just thinking, go slow..go slow..just want to finish this thing alive. After a not so stirring and off key rendition of the National Anthem by someone who was introduced as a finalist in the American Idol competition, we were treated to brief remarks from the mayors of Miami and Miami Beach. Conspicuously absent was the illustrious Dade County Mayor Penelas – we all chuckled when the call which went out over the P.A. produced no Penelas.....but we all wrote it off to the fact that he probably is not a “morning person”. So, following some encouraging remarks from Frank Shorter (the great American Marathon runner and gold medal winner at the 1972 Olympics in Munich) we set off on our 26.2 mile journey.
I have to say, to sum up this story, that the first 12 miles were like a daydream. The weather was cool, the surroundings spectacular – the only “down” was the fact that there were very few portable “johns” between South Beach and the Venetian Causeway. So...arrggghhh...I “held” it for about 8 miles. By mile 11 I was in the midst of the fabled “runner’s high” – this lasted for a blessed 4 miles or so – as I crossed through downtown Miami on my way to the Brickell area....suddenly, as I approached Coconut Grove, I experienced the fabled “wall” – and....I hit it...hit it hard....let me try to explain the feeling...basically, in a nut shell, to put it succinctly - the wall “sucks”. I should have hit this wall thing at mile 20 – the fact that it met me squarely in the gut at a mere 17 miles was a sure indication that I had not done enough long runs….(note to self…next time run several times at the 18-22 mile range a month before the marathon….now that I think about this more, I also should have weighed about 20lbs less! 188 instead of 208 would have helped enourmously!)
At this time I was faced with a great dilemma...do I turn back a couple of miles and call it a long half-marathon? It was a tempting and alluring thought I have to admit....my burning quads screamed YES! - but my heart said no. Was it Pascal that said “The heart has reasons of which Reason knows nothing?” I found this to be patently true. I could not stop....I would not stop...but mainly because I had committed to running this thing – the whole thing! It fascinated me that at that point, what kept me going - the only thing that kept me going - was my loud and public announcement to all who would hear that I would run the marathon....I “had confessed before men” – and now I knew that my wonderful family waited patiently and expectantly at the finish line....as I thought of Cathy and the kids lined up by the finish line...waiting for their Dad....I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline....this satisfying thought filled my mind as I picked up the pace through the dimmer and less glamorous parts of the Grove.
This chemical burst worked for about a mile and a half...then, reality came to bite...I began to feel the sharp jabs of spastic muscular contractions by mile 20 – I was entering marathon hell....as I approached Kennedy Park on South Bayshore Drive...I fully expected to the Rod Serling, the Twilight Zone guy, leaning against a tree with that surly, knowing grin of his mumbling something about “Ralph Gomez….a pathetic picture of a tortured man with something to prove...finding that there is no glory in...The Twilight Zone.” I shook my head and refocused on the surroundings. After all, this was Kennedy Park – I had trained here...week after week...month after month - this was my home turf... but this mental ruse was short lived.
At mile 21, I now had to stop for the first time and walk for a few minutes praying that the spasms would stop. Skeletal muscle spasms...how to describe them? They feel as if someone took a knitting needle and plunged it deep into your flesh then hooked up a car battery to it and moved it around with sadistic glee. At each subsequent water station I drank Gatorade until I could hear the stuff sloshing around inside...I was almost there! It was at this point that I really began to appreciate the sidewalk cheerleaders...”go on!”, “you’re almost there!” I'm trying to smile and look like it's a piece of cake....right...
A seeming eternity later, at mile 23, one, much faster runner, who had finished probably a hour or so ago, was at the intersection of Bayshore and the Rickenbacker Causeway entrance holding up his own gold medal for us mere mortals to see, I will never forget looking at this man - seeing his beaming face – he said “you’ve got about 3 miles to go for the medal – you can do it” – and he held up his own gleaming gold medal! Talk about the power of encouragement! Wow....this was like the “great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews”. This energized so much me that I actually picked up my 11.5 minute mile crawl and ran towards the final bridge over the Miami River every step was painful now but the climb was barely noticeable because from about 3 or 4 stadium type speakers music from Rocky - “The Eye of the Tiger” thundered and echoed throughout the surrounding skyscrapers . You know the old Survivor song - “went the distance and I’m back on my feet...”. How could you not pick up the pace...right? (note to self…next time…load IPOD with this sort of stuff…amazing the power of a song to overcome absolutely fatigue and pain.)
As I crossed the bridge and transitioned from the ritzy Brickell area into the the Bayside vicinity, out of the blue I was roused from my Stalonian fantasy head trip by someone shouting “500 yards to go”! No way! I felt the goose bumps travel up my legs and across to my arms! I looked ahead and saw Irene Willis standing with my son Jonathan next to her....Irene came running over (she had done the half-marathon earlier) when I saw my son Jonathan I was so overcome with emotion that I sobbed with joy...the spasms were now slicing through every leg muscle – even the tiniest ones....but somehow the pain was not a factor now....here were people I knew – for the first time – people who were there for me! I continued to run despite the now steady muscle cramps – I was feeling the jabbing contractions steadily now...But as Irene approached she cried out – “You made it! You made it! You’re almost there! Cathy and the other kids are up ahead! Then I saw them and the finish line at the same time...at this point I gave it everything I had left – which by now was nothing more than a trickle of pure resolve – every other store of fuel was burnt...I recall Jonathan running along the sidewalk and Irene behind me...but my eyes were fixed on the magnificent finish line...I had never seen a more inviting inanimate object – ever! As I stepped over the threshold...a race official guided me over to a line where people where receiving their medals....I walked up, bowed my head trying to hold back the sobs...I heard my wife running over. She was as exited as I was...my wife, my daughter Lauren and David ran over to hug me.....what a moment!
I had started the race at 6:07 am – it was now 11:10 PM – I had been running for more than 5 hours! Not a bad way to turn 48!