Run a Marathon. Check.

by jennifer

I did it.

Today I successfully completed the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon – 26.2 miles, baby!

The first thing I said when my husband, Jeff, met me at the finish line with the video camera rolling is this: “I am a humbled woman.”

Boy, am I ever. While I’m happy to have completed the race, my performance was disappointing at best.

This morning I suited up for the big race shrouded by a cloud of denial. I slipped on my compression pants and Zenzah Training and Recovery Sleeves and let myself believe that because I really wanted to run fast, I somehow would despite the fact that I haven’t been able to run for the last three weeks. (Ridiculous, I know.)

I held onto this optimism even after a frank discussion with the marathon pace team director, Dr. Rick, a.k.a. “Dr. Reality.” He broke it down for me at Saturday’s pre-race expo at the David D. Hunting YMCA. He told me my dream to run a 3-hour 40-minute marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon was not realistic and urged me to consider running a slower pace.

He was just doing his job, but I walked away from his table feeling a bit deflated. He doesn’t know me. How could he possibly know what I’m capable of? I’m determined. I’m tenacious. I don’t give up.

But sometimes that isn’t enough.

Well, it turns out the good doctor totally had my number. He didn’t have to know me personally to make an educated guess about what was going to happen out there on the course today.

For the first several miles I held my 8:30-mile goal pace and felt like I was going a little slow, which was exactly how it’s supposed to feel.

But, then around mile 8, I couldn’t ignore my throbbing right Achilles.

It started bugging me after a 20-mile training run about a month ago, and I’ve been trying to nurse it back to health with a combination of physical therapy and therapeutic massage appointments. I subbed swimming, boxing and stationary bike riding in for my marathon training runs to keep my endurance up. I knew my plan wasn’t foolproof, so I’m not surprised it didn’t work too well.

By mile 13 my right ankle was throbbing and every time my shoe made contact with pavement, pain radiated up the back of my leg and across the top of my foot. Quitting was not an option, so I slowed down even more and turned up my music in and attempt to dull my senses. (Fortunately, the worst pain didn’t set in until after the race.)


The most frustrating part of this experience is that I know I had the endurance to run faster than I did Sunday, but I couldn’t will my leg to move any faster. It hurt something fierce for more than half the race but there was nothing I could do about it.

A smarter, more patient woman, probably would have sat out this year’s marathon, focused on healing and than made a plan to run next year injury-free. But me, well, I didn’t want to wait. I’ve thought about the race every day since I registered. I trained as hard as I could with the aid of my friend and trainer, Gary Strehlke, and I wanted to run no matter what. I didn’t want to drag out my obsession with marathon running for another year and continue to struggle to fit three-hour runs into my already-hectic family schedule. My husband has been very cool about supporting my running, but I didn’t want to put him through that for another year.

So I ran injured, clocked in at disappointing 4 hours, 28 minutes and 27 seconds (48 minutes slower than the Boston qualifying time) and watched my ankle swell up to twice its normal size when I got home and took off my shoe. (I’m icing as I type.)

Knowing what I know now, would I still have gone through with today’s painful run?

The smart answer is “no.” The honest answer is: “Absolutely.”

There’s nothing like crossing the finish line after running 26.2 miles with friends and family waiting for you, even if your performance is sub par. The marathon is a test of mental toughness and I salute everyone who ran today’s race. As I struggled with my shrinking stride through the last section of the course, a woman cruised by running bare foot. I found this confusing and impressive.

On the upside, my injury prevented me from spending everything I had out there, so I felt better crossing the finish line than I did running the 25 K Fifth/Third River Bank Run in May. (I was basically bed-ridden after that.) Sure, the GU energy packets gave me terrible heartburn and my legs hurt like hell, but I didn’t feel faint or sick and was able to smile and raise my arms at the finish line today. For this, I am very thankful.

I don’t know if I’ll ever run another marathon, so I wanted to make sure I celebrated this finish appropriately.

I wasn’t fast today, but I made it and can finally cross “Run a Marathon” off my list of “Things to Do Before I Kick Off.” I’ll take that.

For now, I’m resisting the urge to add: “Run a FAST Marathon” to the list.

(You can read my pre-race blog entry here.)

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