Oh what I would do to have
The kind of strength it takes
to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
Shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand
But the giant's calling out my name
And he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times
I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
Time and time again. "Boy you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"
But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story
The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth
The giant in front of me on Sunday, January 14, 2007 was the Chevron Houston Marathon. 26.2 miles. The thousands shaking in fear were the years and years of sedentary lifestyle and obesity that kept me from living life the way it should be lived. My weapon, my sling and stone if you will, was the body that showed up at the starting line. A humble weapon but one that has served me well nonetheless.
That song by Casting Crowns was playing on the radio after my first ever race, the Run with the Saints 5K, in the Fall of 2004. I knew at that time that this would be my theme song. Little did I know after ankle reconstruction, a short regress into the sedentary lifestyle after surgery, losing 75 pounds, and enduring hundreds of miles training for the marathon, that today I would need to listen to that Voice of Truth more than ever before.
I had 3 separate goals for success in this race. Goal 1 was to finish the distance, period. Goal 2 was to finish in time to get all the race goodies like the medal and finisher's shirt, and finisher's stein. From talking to the race officials and to previous finishers, I learned that as long as there was still a steady stream of finishers coming across the mats, that they would keep the goodies coming. So, I figured if I just stayed close to a good steady group of runners, I'd get my goodies and I figured that 6:15 or so, 15 minutes after the official close of the race, would get me there. Goal 3, my if-everything-went-perfectly goal, was to finish at 13:45 pace, a 6 hour marathon and a guaranteed official finishing time recorded for posterity.
The Chronicle in Monday's report the next day called the weather "optimal" but to me, the near 100% humidity was a killer. Still, I'm not complaining as it could have been worse. The forecast earlier in the week called for temps in the 70's for race day so at least it was cool and unbearably muggy instead of hot and unbearably muggy.
When I got in the car on race day, I was greeted by a small balloon bouquet left there by Jan and the kids the night before. Jan must have stayed up even later than I did on Saturday night, waiting till the coast was clear so that it would be a surprise. Guess the kids painted my windows too but it all washed off through the night from the rain.
I picked up June, who parked at the Starbuck's on Memorial, and we rode in to the GRB together. We got off our feet for a while, checked our bags, talked with Striders and other friends and generally tried to chill out before the big dance.
It was getting to be about time so I made my way out to the white corral. Here, I have to confess my disgraceful behavior. Thinking about goal 2 and wanting to maybe save 5+ minutes on my gun time, I shamelessly made my way to just about the very front of the corral. I actually lined up next to the 3:50 pace group. To the several thousand runners behind me, I apologize. I've never done that before and never will again. Still, I didn't hear too many complaints as folks passed me and I had a chance to see many Striders and bloggers that I normally wouldn't see in a race so that was awesome. Pam, Amalia, Jamoosh, Cassie, Bessie, John Dimarco, and many others I can't recall. Just before mile 3, a young man passing me said, "Hello, Sir! Remember me?" I recognized him as the banana boy from the 30K, the young spectator that spurred us all on, dressed as a big banana. He was running the full, though not in a banana costume, at least not this time.
I was excited at the start but stubbornly in patience mode. I've been told enough about going out to fast so I was intent on not making that mistake. I'd heard about guys peeing on the side of the road and kind of blew it off as folklore, but IT's TRUE!!! I saw a dozen or so guys relieveing themselves at the bottom of the Elysian bridge and listened to all the ladies around me talking about how nice it would be to be a guy. At the next opportunity to pee in public without getting a citation from the policeman standing 30 feet away, I decided to take in the full experience and pulled over for my last pee break, in front of God and everybody. I was acutally laughing as the hollers echoed from the hundreds of runners behind me. I'm just glad I wasn't standing there alone or I may have been too embarrassed to go.
Mile 1 was on pace for a patient start with 13:57. Mile 2 was 14:00. Then I eased down to my 6 hour goal pace with an average pace around 13:46 through mile 8. At this point, I still seemed to be in the middle of a big group of people but it wasn't too crowded. I'm feeling good that there are a lot of people ahead of me AND behind me. About mile 6, Dusty Cook caught me and we ran a few miles together through the half marathon turnaround and past the Mecon Fountain. After that, I stopped to stretch a little bit and never quite caught back up with Dusty who finished his 19th Houston marathon in perfect veteran form.
On Saturday night, I had set out an awesome plan for my greatest supporters, my wife and kids, to follow me around the course. They ended up leap-frogging me and popping up 9 different times over the course of the race. The only one they missed was the first intercept planned for the corner of Michaux and 11th street. I think from talking to them that they were acutally there but missed me in the sea of runners passing by and I missed them as well. After that they settled into their leapfrogin' groove just as I was settling into my grove because they hit every other waypoint along the way and even one or two unplanned ones. They really moved around the course like veterans and I was so proud of them.
I felt confident and comfortable through the half marathon turnaround. I was thinking, WOW, I'm right here in the middle of a bunch of runners. At least some of these are bound to be with me at the finish. Then, all of a sudden at the turnaround, the half marathoners did just that. They turned around and all of a sudden, I found myself amongst just a handfull of marathoners. I realized then and there that it was going to be a lonely rest of the race.
The crowd support continued to be unbelieveably incredible, even as the back of the pack was coming through. It's crazy but I think my favorite group was the polka band on University. They were awesome, right on tune, professional, just the right beat and that was a good pick me up. The crowds along University Blvd. were the best. I really enjoyed that part of the run. My pace through the halfway mark was pretty much on target at 3:04:56 but I was starting to feel not quite right. Not good to start thinking about struggling at just the halfway point of a marathon.,
Coming down Weslayan, I started exercising my math skills. I figured for every quarter of a minute (15 seconds) off my average pace, I would be off the 6 hour finish by about 6 and a half minutes. So, 14 minute pace would put me in at 6:06:30, 14:15 pace, 6:13:00, and so forth.
It was an awesome sight at the Weslayan intercept where two additional family members showed up to cheer me on. My mom and our dear friend Ruthie showed up with warm wishes, hugs, and WATER!!! I don't think Mom has ever seen me run before and I got the feeling she was proud. Ruthie, one of the most energetic people I know, ran with me up on the median. The whole family was a sight, all out in the middle of the street with their signs, my daughter on her roller shoes, the little one trying as hard as he could to get in my way. That was a huge boost.
After seeing the fam at the Weslayan intercept just past Bissonet, and just before turning on Westpark, I started to slow to around 14:45 pace. I took my first walk breaks at this point but was still putting one foot in front of the other. I think at this point, my struggle was mostly mental. Yes, physically, I was in trouble but at points where I could decide that I was going to get moving, my body responded relatively well.
I walked the entire way up the Westpart Bridge but ran down and to the next water stop. At that point, things were thinning out big time and I started to see and hear murmurings of opening the streets. Although the water stop volunteers were cleaning up and packing it in, they were still serving the stragglers with a smile and much needed encouragement. I really appreciated that.
On Post Oak, I started to see the first vehicles actually on the course. Race official were driving slowly beside the stragglers/strugglers, checking us out, making sure we were ok. The sag wagon moved past me and I must admit that after considering the 10 or so miles ahead, I did actually give it a thought. Even though traffic was allowed to cross the course ahead and behind the runners, the streets remained closed through Post Oak, up San Felipe, and right on Tanglewood. This really surprised me because at this point, I was well off of 6 hour pace. It seems the reports of strict, rolling street closures on 13:45 pace were greatly exaggerated, at least through mile 17 or so.
Between mile 17 and 18, whatever mental problems I was having, if they were only mental, were manifesting big time physically as I struggled up Tanglewood. Halfway to Chimney Rock, having slowed to a 15:00+ pace, I saw a reflection in the stop sign ahead. It's like some kind of strobe light or something and I thought, oh, some spectators have a disco set up for us ahead. Then, I looked behind me and saw that the reflection was actually the flashing lights of the "pace car", not the pace car you would see at the beginning of a race but the car pacing the last runners that were allowed to stay on the course, in the street, and it was gaining fast. Before I got to Chimney Rock, the car had passed me with polite instructions from the officer inside to move to the side.
Fortunately, there was quite an entourage of various official vehicles, trucks, and race officials who crept along behind the pace car and the street was not open to general traffic so I was at least able to stay to the side of the street. I turned on Woodway and a remnant of high-endurance spectators were still cheering on the stragglers there at Chimney Rock and Woodway. I was still able to stay on the street, to the side as crews continued to pick up equipment and clean up the course. I saw the 30K timing mats and computers being pulled up right in front of my eyes, maybe 200 feet in front of me. That's why friends who were tracking me were worried because my 30K update didn't go out. After Sage, Woodway was open to traffic so I moved up on the sidewalk.
The Mile 19 water stop volunteer entourage passed me on the sidewalk, probably heading back to where they parked. I knew water would now be a long way away. I thought now I won't have water until I see Jan and the kids at Crestwood. Still, that concern was only in the back of my mind as other thoughs dominated my thinking. Serious thoughts about jumping in that sag wagon and going to the GRB to see June and others finish. Thoughts about how unprepared I was for this. Thoughts about how my 20-mile training run was cut short 3 weeks earlier due to abdominal pain. Thoughts about how I was now running farther than I had ever run before. Thoughts about my second goal now being history and my last goal of just finishing fading fast.
One foot in front of the other.
Even the belly dancers were packing up as I passed them at 610. I would have liked to see those ladies dance. Many of the experiences and memories that so many veterans talk about, I knew I would not have, not this year. When I crossed under 610 and continued on Woodway, the office instructed me to stay on the sidewalk. I was in survival mode at that time, walking mostly but shuffling every chance I got. I kept watching my overall pace on my Garmin slip by a second, then another, then another. For each second on the overall pace that slipped, that was 26.2 seconds added to my finishing time. Hey, I may have been near exhaustion, but I could still do the math. Dr. DeLaVina would be so proud. At the Arboretum, I noticed that the course was still not open to general traffic so I stepped back down on to the street, on the course, the course I registered for, the marathon course.
I saw the number 20 painted on the street but no flag, no cool miler marker sign. It had already been picked up. At the entrance to the Picnic loop, I saw the beer truck that I had heard gives out an early celebratory beverage to passing runners. There was ice dumped out on the street as the crew had packed up the truck and were getting ready to pull off. I was so thirsty, I actually ate the ice off of the street. Thinking back, I can't believe I did that. I was somewhere in na-na land.
The urge to quit was overwhelming. I had not respected the humidity early on. I went out too fast. I had nothing left. I was thinking, this is not the wall. This is something else. It wasn't anything that came on abruptly. It was more like the sum of a buch of crap that had been going on since that nice policeman in front of the Galleria said, "Just 10 more miles." Grrrr! I thought, ok, Jan's going to be up at Crestwood, I'll just get her to take me back to the GRB. I quit. I wasn't ready for this. My 3rd goal was gone. I had a new goal, to get to Jan.
Jan recognized a lot of the runners that were running ahead of me around Transco Tower and she saw them go by at Crestwood. She was wondering where I was. She walked down to the corner of Memorial Loop and continued to wait. Finally she saw me around the corner and down the hill on Memorial. She said I was doubled over with my hands on my knees and then I was leaning against a light post, stretching. When she and the kids came within my sight, I ran to them, said hello, got some water, hugs, and some love and kept on going. My head was asking my body, "What in the world is going on? I thought we were going to stop." Jan called our friend Danny who finished around 4 hours and told him that I didn't look like I was going to make it.
Just after I saw the family, things got a little better. My body didn't feel better. My energy level didn't go up. I didn't have any sort of surge in adrenaline. I just saw a small glimpse of hope.
I was walking up on the trail, head hung down, when I heard voices calling to me. "There's Vic! Hey, Vic!!! C'mon Vic!!!" I stopped walking and started running. I'll be doggone if it wasn't the remnants of the Strider water stop, packing the truck and cleaning up. My recollection is a bit foggy as to who all I saw so forgive me if I forget to mention anyone here. I remember Carlos coming over to greet me and wish me well. Then my former PIM coach, friend, and Strider, Rose, along with Reuben came up to me with water, with life. Rose said, "Get down here off that trail and onto the street. There's no traffic yet. You're doing great. You're going to finish." Reuben says something I'll never forget or quite understand. He said, "Vic, I've been thinking about you. You are such an inspiration to me." Can you believe that? Reuben, an unbeliveable runner and inspiration to so many. It was humbling and surreal having someone who is such a huge inspiration be inspired by something I was doing.
At mile 21.5, Rose and Reuben ran with me up to Wescott, and hope continued to build. Rose asked me if I needed more water. I told her that, thanks to Doug Spence, I know where all the water fountains were. I almost cracked up as Rose tells all the surrounding stragglers to "STAY WITH VIC!!! He knows where all the water fountains are. OK, everybody? Y'all stay with Vic!" I don't think at that point I really felt like leading the Children of Chevron through the the wilderness for 4 more miles.
A faithful spectator was at the Starbuck's handing out water bottles. I had a drink and a Gu and more hope. I started to really take hold of goal 3 which was to finish. I kept thinking about my promise to SteveB to be there by 2 pm, when he had to leave. Still doing the math the whole way, I figured this was doable.
Turning onto Allen Parkway, which was still closed to general traffic for a while longer, thoughts of quitting started to fade. It wasn't getting any easier to run and my muscles and feet and back were really hurting. Then hope came running across the street. It was Rose again. She had driven over to some apartments on Allen Parkway and was coming across the street to run with me. She said, "Don't worry, Vic. I'm here. I'm gonna get you to the finish." She ran with me for about 10 minutes, ran back to her car and met me up ahead AGAIN to run with me for another 5 or 10 minutes. Rose left me to run back to her car but told me she'd see me up ahead. When she left, I cried because I was so touched. But that's the kind of person Rose is and the kind of people the Striders are.
It's mile 23 or 24 and my tears were just about dried when I saw Christy running towards me, waving her hand, yelling "C'mon Vic!!! You're doing it!!!" Turns out Christy had been parked by herself on Allen Parkway for who knows how long, waiting for me to pass by. Christy had already run a half marathon earlier and drove out to cheer me on after her race. We ran together past her car. Christy encouraged me the entire time, telling me that I was going to finish and what a great accomplishment it will be and how proud she was. Then after 5 or 10 minutes, she said goodbye and ran back to her car. Hope continuted to build.
It was under 2 miles to go and here ca e hope again. I mean Rose. She parked up at Sabine and ran back to get me. Not a lot of hoopla. Not a lot of cheering. She knew what I needed at that point. Just someone to pull me along and keep my feet moving one in front of the other. She stayed in front of me and I just followed. When we got to her car, I thanked her and told her that I loved her and that I was going to make it. I was going to make it!!! That was the first time that thought entered my mind. I said it out loud again as she drove off. Hope began to feel real!
I came up Lamar, into downtown with about 1.2 miles left and Matt Wright was waiting for me in front of the library. Matt Wright, who was voted by the Striders waiting at the finish line as having the freshest legs, met me downtown to run the last mile with me. He phoned the finish line and said, "I've got him. We're coming in." Matt said some other encouraging words but mostly he just talked about how good my hair looked. He just went on and on about my hair. Well, thanks, Matt!!! Seriously, Matt was awesome. He kept me safe and motivated through downtown and I'll never forget it. Oh, and by the way, Matt is my barber.
Matt got me to the train tracks where Coach Steeeve and SteveB, who had just run a full marathon, join us. Coach asked me if I can see the blue finish line "right there." Well, it didn't look "right there" to me but I can see it. SteveB was in his friggin' sandals. Yes, he ran me in the last .3 or so miles IN HIS SANDALS!!! I remember seeing that but not saying anything. I'll never forget that image.
Over those last fractions of a mile, I tried to be tough and gut it out but my effort was relegated to either running or bending over in a dead stop with my hands on my knees trying to recover. You know the drill. The finish line was still standing and the closer I got, I could see that the clock was still ticking. The hope I was holding on to was realized in an instant when I saw and heard the cheers of what sounded like hundreds of fans, but were really my family, my friends, my Striders. No stopping now with the masses watching and just 40 yards to go. I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 48 minutes and 30 seconds. Goal 1 accomplished.
Now, as if it couldn't get any better than the oupouring of support from my family and friends along with finishing my first marathon, the Chevron Houston Marathon had volunteers still waiting at the finish 50 minutes after the official race was closed, handing out finisher's medals. When the beautiful lady put that medal around my neck, the flood gates opened and I balled like a baby, a very BIG baby. My wife came over and held me and I gave her a big ole' wet, salty kiss. The kids were there and I hugged them. Then more high 5's, hugs, tears, smiles, and laughter as the family and Striders shared in my joy. Thinking back, we must have all been a sight, standing out in the middle of Rusk, right under the finish line, just partying and laughing like this was all for us.
Wait, it gets better. After we partied out there on the street, Coach realized the mission was not over yet. If there was a way to collect the rest of my swag, Coach and company were going to find a way. The entrance where the 18,000+ runners entered the GRB Convention Center earlier was locked. Matt knocked on the door so hard it almost fell over. Then he was trying to pry the door open and a face appeared in the window. "This runner needs to get his shirt!!!" exclaimed Matt. The official opened the door and let us ALL in. He said "Runners only!" That's me.
So, moving by adrenaline only, I made my way across to the other side of the Convention center. It was like another race with another finish line but instead of FINISH, the sign said FINISHER'S SHIRTS. Somehow, my walk turned into a bit of a shuffle and I scampered to the counter just before they were about to close. I got my finisher's shirt and my finishers mug. GOAL 2 ACCOMPLISHED!!!
You can keep the tens of thousands of fans, the belly dancers, the bleachers, the cool mile markers, the music, the noise, the fanfare. Just give me my family, my friends, and the Striders there at the end. I'm so glad it turned out the way it did. I doubt very seriously it's going to be like that ever again. If it is, I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing. But this one was so special and I wouldn't have had it any other way. I accomplished my goals. I overcame with the help of some special people the overwhelming urge to quit. I AM A MARATHONER!!!
Special thanks to follow this post.