I’m a MARATHONER! Those are certainly three words I NEVER thought I’d use to describe myself. I’d never even run before June 2014, and even then – the 1 minute running intervals on Day 1 of the Couch to 5k program I was using were nearly “impossible.”
This wasn’t my first attempt at 26.2 either. After completing the couch to 5k program last year, I ran my first 5k. There were then several more. I ran a 10k and a couple races of slightly longer distance. I signed up for the Four Season Challenge through our local Fleet Feet running store. That was a series of four half marathons, one every season. I thought that too would be impossible, but one-by-one I managed to finish them and began training for the last piece of that resolution. Then, towards the end of August, having logged 120 miles that month in preparation for an end of year marathon, I threw out my back on a 16 mile training run, ending my bid to complete a race of all distances between 5k and marathon in 2015.
Having taken some time off from training to recover from my back injury I found a group on Facebook, Streak Runners International. I was immediately intrigued. Though you can join the group, it isn’t until you log 1 mile of running every day for 365 consecutive days that you can become a member of the club. I wanted in. So, October 4th I began my run streak and decided that I would find an early spring marathon in 2016 to train for.
Right around that time I saw a post on Twitter that a runner was using a marathon to raise funds for an organization called I’mME, an organization which started after former Buffalo Bill (and current Pittsburgh Steeler) David Nelson visited Haiti in 2012.
“i’mME is a non-profit organization who exists to End the Orphan Cycle through care, prevention, and partnerships. Since beginning its efforts in Haiti during the summer of 2014, i’mME has provided over 22,000 meals, educated 250 children, rescued 11 orphans, created 37 jobs, and prevented close to 200 children from being abandoned. They are currently in the beginning phases of expanding their efforts to a couple of new countries.” You can read David’s account of his trip to Haiti – and the experiences which led him to start this organization at The Players’ Tribune. I was moved by his story and decided to start a fundraising campaign based around completing a marathon. To date, the campaign which had a goal of $500 – has raised $670 and continues to grow.
Two Rivers Marathon in Lackawaxen PA was one of the first marathons of 2016 (March 26) – and it was within driving distance from Rochester NY. I would have ample time to train for the race and raise awareness and funds for I’mME. Whenever I posted a training update (and I have run every day since October) I also put it out there that I was using this race to raise funds for a great cause. As the miles started to add up, so did the donations. Contributions came from friends at work, family members, numerous running friends from the Rochester running community – and folks I’d never met, runners from running groups I belong to on Facebook were sharing my posts and contributing to the cause. Somewhere along the way, this race became bigger than a runner banging out his first 26.2 mile race and crossing the finish line. Even while running this race, the total raised continued to climb.
The race itself was awesome. First off, you’d find it difficult to find a value priced race ($70 registering later on) with better swag. In addition to the standard finishers medal and t-shirt, runners received a branded pair of socks and backpack! And with the Pennsylvania hills surrounding this course, runners experienced nature all around them as they ran much of the course along the Lackawaxen River. Though it boasted a net elevation drop of 600+ feet, there were plenty “rollers” as the race director called them, along the way as well. Where I’m from in New York, we call them hills. We would also describe his “small hill” somewhere just short of a mountain but with the first two miles of the course being run downhill you were able to bank some time for the previously mentioned rollers. After around mile 10, the course basically flattened out the rest of the way.
The plan for this race for me was simple. Just finish. I targeted about a 12 min/mile pace shooting to finish in 5:30:00 or less. I figured 5:15:00 to be an achievable stretch goal and anything under 5 hours to be barely out of reach. Aid stations were placed every 2 miles so there was nothing to carry as I planned to hydrate with water and Gatorade every 2 miles and refuel with GU every 4-6 miles.
When the race started, and I hit that downhill start I committed the cardinal sin. Adrenaline pumping and running downhill I hit Mile 1 in 9:29. Conscious of the possibility of burning out by going out too fast I slowed down. Or so I thought. Mile 2, 9:28. I made a real effort to try slowing things down and the “rollers” and “small hill” helped by doing their part. Miles 3-8 ranged between 10:06-10:34.
Still feeling pretty good, I hit the 13 mile mark at 2:15:59 which was only slightly slower than my half PR of 2:15. The remaining 13 miles were in the 12’s and 13’s with my slowest mile being mile 24 at 13:48. I knew those last 4.2 miles would be tough though as my training plan maxed out with a 22 mile run, and tough they were. I resorted to my run/walk strategy somewhere around mile 18.
Overall, I just tried to stay within myself, stay at a comfortable pace (even if faster than planned) and enjoy the scenery and experience. There was never a doubt that I would finish, and I knew that the struggles and pain I would endure in my first marathon paled in comparison to the struggles the children and their families I had been fundraising for endure on a daily basis.
I finished my first ever marathon with a chip time of 4:59:25. Proud to have just completed a marathon, and super proud to have finished my first-ever in under 5 hours – the support that all of you have shown in supporting I’mME through my race and fundraising campaign makes me the most proud. Proud to be part of such a wonderful group of people called runners, and proud to call you my friends.
The fundraising campaign runs through 3/31/2016. If you’d like to contribute, Click Here!