Wednesday, June 14, 2006

26.2 Miles of Fun/Death-Like Feelings

First of all, thank you once again to everyone who either donated, called, e-mailed, or even asked “YOU are running a marathon?!?!?!?” It’s interesting how every comment of support or slight poke-of-fun really can motivate a person.

I started training for the San Diego marathon through Team in Training back in February. I was pretty fortunate not to have to do any real fundraising…and by merely only sending out two emails, the people who I have known throughout my life sent me the money that I needed as part of my charity obligation. It was a humbling experience for me to even ask for donations, so I felt and continued to feel amazed at the amount of financial support I received right from the start. But, in comparison to actually running a marathon, asking for money is simple.

The day before the race began, I tried to make sure everything was in perfect order for a steady and hassle free race-day morning. The Team in Training coaches told us time and time again “On race day, DO NOT try anything new. Do nothing different from what you trained for.” I had this tattooed in my brain….Nothing new…Nothing new…Do not attempt anything new. I got my gear together…all in place. I even bought a Powerbar and banana for race-day morning, so I could start fueling up by the 6:30 AM start time. My alarm went off at 4:00 AM, and I began my day.

By 4:10, I was out of the shower, dressed, and wide awake. I had already poured Gatoraid into my fuel belt (Like Batman, I was) the night before, and I literally had nothing to do until 4:45 AM, which was the time I decided would be most convenient to leave and beat race-day traffic.

My running partner, who I met through Team and Training, was asleep on the couch. I woke her up after I got out of the shower…and she went in to do whatever it is girls do first thing in the morning. Do people really need to primp before running? Anyway, she wouldn’t be ready until 4:45. The time I determined we should leave by.

While she was in the shower, I did some light stretching…and just kept thinking: Nothing new…Nothing new…Do not attempt anything new. I was getting a little restless, so I walked into the kitchen where I had placed the Powerbar and banana.

I have never been a person who has been able to eat first thing in the morning. Even throughout my training for the marathon, on my 14, 16, 18, and 20 mile-runs…I never ate breakfast before I left. I never ate anything until about three miles into the run. But this was a marathon. This was 26.2 miles. I needed energy!

I don’t know why I even bought the banana. When I talked to a friend of mine the day before the race, she said that she ate bananas during her marathon training. And while I had not eaten one stinking banana in the course of four months of training…I bought one the night before the race. And there it was…sitting on my counter. It was about 4:30 in the morning. I was nervous. I needed something to do. The banana was staring at me.

Nothing new…Nothing new…Do not attempt anything new.

My gaze turned to the Powerbar. It was Cookies and Cream. Throughout my training, I had had Powerbars…just never before I ran….but in my 4:30-AM-hours-before-my-first-marathon logic, in comparison to the banana, the Powerbar wasn’t “new” per se…it was just slightly different.

Nothing new…Nothing new…Do not attempt anything new. No way I’m eating that banana. I’m so smart.

So, I open the Cookies and Cream Powerbar and start chomping away. No cares in the world. I am a seasoned Powerbar eater…and at 4:30 AM…I am even certain that I have had this variety of Powerbar before.

I was wrong.

I eat about half the Powerbar…or as it should be deemed, THE BAR OF DEATH, and I start feeling a little sick. Hmm I think. Powerbars don’t normally make me feel nauseous. I take a few more bites, when I start getting a scratchy feeling in the back of my throat. Odd I think this is normally the feeling I get when I have eaten PEANUTS. Of course, I take a few more bites.

I have been allergic to peanuts for as long as I can remember. No, I have never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. No, no Reese’s Pieces. And no…no Snickers bars. These are the three things people ask when they first find out I am allergic to peanuts. These questions three are then usually followed up with either (a) “I don’t know HOW you live without eating peanut butter;” or (b) “My aunt’s cousin’s sister’s friend is allergic to peanuts, too. So I totally understand, Mark.”

Believe me, asshole. You don’t understand.

As my throat continues to itch, and my mouth is starting to salivate, this is definitely starting to feel like the second of two reactions I get from eating peanuts. The first reaction is when I eat something that has pure peanut in it. That reaction is SUPER fast. I can feel the peanut the second it hits my mouth…I start overly salivating combined with wheezing, hives, itchiness, abdominal pain, and the eventual throat closing. This all happens in the course of about 30 minutes. Yikes, indeed.

The second reaction is MUCH slower. My theory has always been that I get this second reaction be eating some kind of peanut by-product…or something that was touching peanuts. I get the same symptoms I mentioned above, it just takes hours.

At about 4:33 AM, I am no longer certain that I have eaten this kind of Powerbar before…but I am pretty certain that I feel like shit. I turn the bar over to read the ingredients in an attempt to assuage my feelings. My feelings were not soothed.

Literally…a spotlight turns on in my brain and shines down onto the bar. When I turn the bar over, I instantly see the two words that supplant the Do not attempt anything new mantra. I saw the words peanut flour.

“SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I scream. But, I am not worried. I am very prepared for these types of situations. I usually have tons of Benadryl just lying around the house, just in case something happens. Benadryl is probably my best friend. It literally has saved my life a number of times…it just has one little itsy bitsy teeny weeny side effect. It makes me instantly fall asleep. Not a good thing to feel when trying to run 26.2 miles.

Somehow, I can only find one bottle of Benadryl in my house. No problem. I only need one bottle.
“Are you kidding me?” I say to myself as I check out the expiration date at 4:35 AM. The thing frickin expired in September of 2004! Good thing I have some in my car, I snicker to myself. I’m so well-prepared.

I get to my car, open the glove box…and my throat is pretty darn itchy…and I am starting to feel flushed. The hives will be coming in about ten minutes. I pull out the Benadryl. Empty? Empty? Holy shit…this stuff evaporated! Hmmm…well, how bad could two-year-old Benadryl be?

I walk back into my house…get the Benadryl, and take one small capful. I’m trying to simultaneously stay alive AND not get drowsy…and get ready to run for five hours. I don’t know if this is going to work...and there are no drug stores open by my house at 4:45. I start doing what any person would a food allergy would do. I start pacing. Waiting and pacing.

My running partner gets out of the bathroom…and she just starts talking to me. And talking…and talking. And I have nothing to say. I am just pacing back and forth and giving curt, one-word answers. Yes. No. Yes. No. The Benadryl isn’t working.

I get into the car…and I am NOT feeling better. Four months of training are about to go down the tubes! Before she gets in the car, I decide to take one more capful to see if that helps.

We get stuck in traffic on the way to the race. Being stuck in traffic is a wonderful feeling when you are inflicted with a food allergy. I start having visions of dying, in my car, moments away from race time. I am completing zoning out…and she has had enough:

Seriously…are you ok? You are being super quiet this morning. (meaning: Why are you being such a dick?)

Well…to be honest…I ate something with peanuts in it, and I don’t feel very good. I just didn’t want to talk about it (meaning: please don’t over react at my stupidity.)

I hate telling people when I am having a food allergy because THEY freak out more than I do…and the main thing I need to do is remain calm. Luckily, while she is in the midst of calling her Dad (who is at the race), to see if the medics have Benadryl at the race, I actually started feeling better. The expired Benadryl just took a little longer than usual to kick in…and, I didn’t get that pesky drowsiness that accompanies unexpired Benadryl. Just a little drama before the race, right?
I didn’t die! Hurray! So let’s go running for FIVE hours!


The race itself was extremely challenging, and it is amazing the things one thinks about while running such a far distance. Personally, I got a little OCD. While I was running, I kept checking to make sure my keys and food were in my fuel belt, and that my fuel belt’s velcro was closed. I would move my hand away to get back into a running motion, but then would need to recheck the velcro again because logically it could have un-velcroed the second I moved my hand away. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I am doing this about every ten minutes. Checking and rechecking that velcro.

I also tried not to, but I kept thinking about what mile it was, and then used that knowledge to do some remarkable mathematical equations while I was running.

OK…I am on mile 10. That means if I run six more miles, then I only have ten more to go…and I have already done 10, so it will be like I just need to run these same ten miles again. Brilliant!

Of course, these math skills get a little sketchy later in the race:

OK…I have run 15 miles. If I run one more mile, then I have ten to go, and ten divided by 2 is 5, so I really only have five more miles to run, after the next mile, times two. Brilliant!
I’m not kidding…I really thought that crap. But that is nothing compared to what happens the last six miles of the race.

OK…if I died soon…and someone rolled me a few miles, it wouldn’t be so bad. At least then…I could stop running. Yeah…not running. That’s sounds like so much fun! So I’ll run for a few more miles. Then die. Brilliant!

One of my goals for this race was NOT TO WALK, which wasn’t all that difficult of a goal for the first 20 miles. But miles 20 through 26 were a constant argument with myself. I kind of felt like Tom Hanks from Cast Away when he starts fighting with Wilson. The roles of both Tom Hanks and Wilson were both played by me, though.

  • Tom Hanks: Mile 22. I only four miles to go. I could totally walk for a few minutes. Walking. God, that sounds fucking awesome. Don't you think, Wilson?
  • Wilson: No. You can’t walk. Just keep running.
  • Tom Hanks: But no one would know. And walking would feel so good. I HATE running, Wilson.
  • Wilson: Yeah, I hate running, too. But just don’t walk.
  • Tom Hanks: Look, I’ll make you a deal. If you let me walk now…I’ll let you run faster later.
  • Wilson: Well, that does sound like a good plan. Hey wait…have I checked my fuel belt?
  • Tom Hanks: Focus! Forget the fuel belt, Wilson! Let’s walk!
  • Wilson: Hmmm…But I really should check my fuel belt. What mile is this? Only a few more miles to go until a number divisible by 3.
  • Tom Hanks: I hate you, Wilson.

And this would just go on and on and on. On the bright side, I didn’t walk. I did actually watch Cast Away a few days after the race. I felt somewhat more understanding of the character of Wilson. I feel he is slightly misunderstood.


It’s funny that I was so OCD about my fuel belt because I did end up losing one of my goos while I was running. I had been using Powerbar Gel, which is this stuff you eat that has a ton of salt and calories in it, but you don’t have to chew it. You kind of just squirt it in your mouth. Think of overly gelatinous, regurgitated jello…that it what goo is like. I don’t like how goo is spelled or how it is said, but that stuff does give you a lot of energy. And yes, it is gooey.

I packed three Powerbar Gels and planned to eat the last one about mile 18. But this magical goo was able to escape from my fuel belt…so I had to resort to something they had on the course…which would be new to me: The Clifbar Shot. And I know I wasn’t supposed to try anything new, but of course I did anyway.

When I picked up the goo from one of the volunteers, I noticed that it was strawberry flavor. That might be a little sweet I thought, but while busy arguing with myself about how to mathematically divide the last 6 to 8 miles of the run to somehow make it seem physically shorter, I ignored my gut reaction to the strawberry-flavored goo. For the moment at least.

I started getting really hungry at mile 19, so I ripped open the goo and tried to drink/eat it. But, as soon as the goo hit my mouth, my body started violently…and I mean VIOLENTLY reacting, convulsing really. I somehow was able to projectile vomit the goo from my body without even swallowing it. Luckily, there was no one right next to me as the goo was flung from mouth, but something was telling me my body didn’t like the Strawberry Clifbar Shot. As soon as I “mouth-puked” the goo from my body, my convulsions dissipated. Hmm…guess I won’t be buying that after the race. Now if I just run 3.3 more miles, it will be like I am running less than four miles. Where are my keys? It never stopped. Ever.

I was like Steven Hawking.


Before we ran, we were told there would be a moment during the race when you would know that you were going to finish. “At this moment…slow down. This is/will be one of the crowning achievements of your life that very few people have done. Enjoy it.”

Seriously…I don’t know WHAT these people were thinking, but I never had this epiphany during the race. I kept trying to be excited about the physical aspects of the run, but I never was. Those last six miles were by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I did not enjoy one second of them, nor did I want to run any slower than I already was to enjoy what was going on.

Excuse me...Mr. Mass Murdered…do you think you could perhaps…I don’t know, strangle me a little more slowly? This feeling like I am dying thing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, so I would really like to enjoy this.

Yeah, so I wasn’t really into all that. But I am into how unbelievable it is. I seriously cannot believe that I ran that far…and that I finished…and that I didn’t walk. I have actually felt a little bored the last week because I have no impending doom looming over my shoulder. It gave my life a lot of perspective, and I hope to keep up that “Well, this shit isn’t as hard as the marathon” feeling I have had. The daily grind has felt a little more grinding, but not insurmountable. Being able to push myself to the point of exhaustion…passing out…convulsive vomiting…it all sucks at the time. But now, in retrospect, it’s kind of cool to look back, slow down, and enjoy the moment.

I ran a frickin’ marathon. And I think I might have enjoyed it. And I could care less where my keys are at the moment…because I just checked a few seconds ago. They are still in my pocket. Wait, let me check again…


prez said...

I feel like I've just run a marathon after reading all that.

Anonymous said...

I am extremely proud of you, Mark. You have an amazing inner strength and I bet you will run another marathon in the future. xoxo

Wade said...

This is one of the most entertaining race reports I've ever read. I laughed out loud several times.. particularly at how you feel Wilson is misunderstood. BTW, I keep my keys on a velcro pouch on my shoe and I can't stop thinking they've all fallen out 2 miles ago.

Lali said...

Batman Begins:
Alfred Pennyworth: Why bats, sir?
Bruce Wayne: Bats frighten me. It's time my enemies share my dread.

Mr. Peanut Begins:
Lali: Why Mr. Peanut, Maki?
Maki: Peanuts frighten me. It's time my enemies share my dread.


McNastabator said...

THAT's funny!

Alee said...

So I randomly found your blog via googling expired Benadryl. I love your sense of humor! I think I am going to bookmark you.

Anonymous said...

oh wow...i was googling expired Benadryl too.