Last weekend I completed the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon, my first ever half marathon. I completed this half marathon just 16 months after weighing in at 325 pounds and kicking off my fitness journey. Fast forward 16 months and 130 pounds later and I completed this major athletic achievement!
As a reminder, here’s my before and after…
In lieu of my normal weekly blog update, I wanted to do something a little special in honor of my accomplishment. I am publishing this recap of the day full of ups and downs in hopes of sharing the experience with you.
I know this post is a little long but it was a really big day packed full of excitement and agony….
Saturday: Bring on the Carbs
After a full week of resting and minimizing exercise, my half marathon morning really started the day before.
I started my Saturday with a long leisurely walk of 4.5 miles. I was trying to get some exercise and keep my muscles ready for the big day but to also not overdo it. My other goal was to work off some of my nervous energy that had been building all week. For much of the week the marathon was the ONLY thing my mind could focus on and it was really distracting.
After the initial exercise the rest of the day was focused on rest and relaxation and nutrition.
I tried to fuel my body with sufficient food to carry me through the big day. The best way to do this is to load up on the carbohydrates while being cognizant of the other nutrients in my meals. By doing this my body can store up the fuel and draw on those reserves when needed during the race. This isn’t a normal practice for me before runs, but my runs are usually 4 miles or less and I needed the extra energy.
My brunch consisted of delicious French toast:
My dinner was a smothered roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes:
The goal of both meals was high carbohydrates with low fiber to help guard against digestive issues. Plus nothing heavy with fats like pizza covered in cheese. Plus I made sure to constrain alcohol intake and maximize water (200+ ounces) to prevent dehydration.
Early to Bed
I ended my Saturday night pretty early around 9:30. I set out my clothes for the morning and then headed to bed.
I set my alarm for 5 but really didn’t sleep all that well? My fitness tracker said that I only got 7 minutes of deep sleep through the night but I got some sleep nonetheless.
Early to Rise
When my alarm went off I sprung out of bed… it’s race day!
After a quick stop in the bathroom and freshly brushed teeth it was time to get dressed and eat. I semi-nervously put on my race clothes.
Next up I ate some toast with peanut butter, sweet potato butter and a banana on the side. I drank 36 ounces of water and brewed some coffee.
When 6:00 rolled around I was out the door and in my car with a fresh cup of coffee. I was bundled up for the 33 degree temperatures and wind chills in the 20s.
A long, cold walk…
I parked about a mile from the starting line and walked along the Scioto Mile to the course. My goal was easy parking where I would be free from race traffic when I was done. Plus I wanted to take a long walk to start getting my muscles stretched and warm. Unfortunately the 28-degree wind chills made warmth very hard to find!
The minute I got out of my car the gravity of this event started to hit me. I could hear the music playing at the finish line from across downtown. This started getting me into pump up mode and I actually enjoyed the walk with my coffee to North Bank Park. The last stretch of this walk was through the final stretch of the course near the finish line.
Things get emotional
I got into my corral at the start line around 6:30 or so which was an hour before race time. I stood around taking it all in, looking around and listening to the pre-race pump-up music.
As I am standing in the corral mentally running through my strategy the moment starting hitting me like a ton of bricks. I was preparing to run a half marathon. I am standing in an “athletes only” area and they mean me, I am an athlete.
I have worked so hard for 16 months to get fit and healthy. I have whittled my way down from 325 pounds and a life of obesity to being under 200 pounds. Plus I was 100% confident that I would be finishing the half marathon. Plus I was getting the final round of “good luck” and “proud of you” text messages and social media posts.
That is when I noticed that I had a few tears running down my cheek. It was all just so overwhelming! And this is just the starting line, what’s going to happen when I finish?!
And…. We’re off!
The festivities all kicked off right on schedule. Some opening words, the national anthem and then the gun to start the wheelchair racers. Plus a plethora of fireworks.
Next was more fireworks as the first group of runners got started. Then the whole pack starts moving and, before you know it, I am running with the pack of athletes.
My buddy Bryan was a corral ahead of me and fell back to meet up with me and we ran together… for a while.
We were pointing out the fun signs to each other and observing some of the other people and their running styles. It was a great time.
Segment 1: My 5k
Bryan and I ran together for the first 3 miles, or a 5k. I was feeling good through this entire time and running a bit slower than normal which would help guard against running out of gas. It was going great.
However, this meant that I had already deviated from my training and my strategy. My plan was to alternate miles of running and waking and I had already run 3 straight miles. So I told Bryan to go ahead and I was going to slow to a walk. Time to get back onto my plan.
I shed one of my layers of clothes (I was sweating) and plugged forward.
Segment 2: Adversity – Miles 4-6
I walked a few blocks and that is when I had a problem. I developed a serious cramp in my left thigh. It hurt so much!
I stopped for a minute at a port-a-potty to use the bathroom and rest for a minute. I stopped to stretch. Unfortunately nothing seemed to help.
This is when I started to doubt whether or not I was going to be able to finish the marathon. I seriously considered stopping and wasn’t sure how much further I was going to go. I wasn’t really sure, if I stopped, how I was going to get back home or to my car. I also didn’t really want to stop though I thought my body was going to force the issue.
But I kept pushing forward as best I could but it was slow.
Then I discovered that running made the cramp subside. It felt much better to run than it did to walk. I am convinced that the cramping was related to the cold. When walking my muscles would cool down and cease up. When I would run they would get warm and loose.
Suddenly I had a new strategy. I was going to run as long as I could to make the pain go away and then walk a bit until it started coming back. Unfortunately I had not trained to run for more than half the distance so my new strategy my cause different issues later in the race – exhaustion.
But I was halfway there!
Segment 3: Back on Track – Miles 7-10
With the cramping finally done I was comfortably moving again. Not only was I comfortably moving I was feeling good. I was running through Old Town East and was moving at a fast pace with my run.
I was enjoying the entertainment along the course and all of the sights including the kids cheering on the crowd around Children’s Hospital. I found my trainer Teresa along Livingston Avenue with a sign cheering me on and I even stopped to hug her.
With all of the support and the fast pace I was feeling good that I would finish this thing! In fact the remaining route is something that I have at least walked dozens of times and I was confident. The absence of pain really helped too!
Segment 4: Adversity Again, But Worse – Miles 10-11
When I got into the 10th mile the pain came surging back with a vengeance!
The last time I had pain it was a cramp in my left thigh and it hurt to walk but running made it subside. This time it was my right thigh and the pain was even worse. Plus running didn’t really make the pain subside this time. In fact the pain was so bad that it felt like it may be more serious than just a cramp.
I was limping down 3rd street in German Village and was only 2 blocks from home. Nothing I did made the pain better even when I stopped to stretch it out. I still had 3 more miles to go and wasn’t sure that it was possible to continue. It would have been so much easier just to pull the plug and walk home.
In the final leg of the 10 mile mark I was doing a lap around Schiller Park and approaching the last minute to decide to stop. That’s when I slowed down to get some water at the hydration station and the cramp finally started to break.
I started running again and felt the cramp start to get better. So I kept going into mile 11.
Segment 5: The End is in Sight – Miles 11-13
Mile 11 of the Columbus Marathon is called the Angel Mile. It is a salute to the kids who didn’t make it through their illnesses and died. There were parents and others with pictures, names, details and very short birth/death dates. It was really sad and enough to make tears start forming for anybody.
On top of the emotions (all the feels?) from the Angel Mile there was something else that happened in mile 11 that brought the emotions. I could see all the way up High Street through downtown Columbus up to Spring Street which is where the finish line is. I could literally almost see the finish line from where I was.
Even if I had to crawl though the pain I was going to get to the finish line. Oh my god, I was on track to finish a half marathon! I still had some pain but it was getting better with every few steps and my confidence was increasing.
Another random runner slowed down to join me and talk to me. I was wearing a bib saying that it was my first half marathon and that made lots of people give me encouragement. This is the first person to stop and join and ask how I was doing. He told me it was his 49th marathon and that the first time is really hard. He said he had seen me stop to stretch and told me that he knows I can finish. He was so supportive! Then he took off and ran ahead of me. This semi-elderly runner just left me in his dust.
Between the random supporter and the crowd that was building as I approached the finish I knew I could make it.
Segment 6: Sprint to Finish Strong
When I reached the fork in the course where the full marathon runners continued forward and the half marathoners turned I knew I was in the home stretch. I also pondered how in the world anybody could reach that spot and want to run that whole distance a second time!
I started running down Spring Street which was the last quarter mile or so. That is when I started hearing the finish line announcers and fans. I started seeing bleachers along the route and I knew this was something special.
In the finish stretch I was still running but I was a little slow and getting passed by lots of people. But I couldn’t care less, I was going to be crossing the finish line. That is when more tears started flowing down my cheeks but I was doing a pretty good job holding them back.
“You still have 45 seconds to get across the finish line in less than 3 hours!” That was what I heard the announcer saying. I was shocked! How did I end up taking 3 hours? That is a lot slower than I thought I was going.
Suddenly the 3-hour mark was a barrier that I was going to conquer. I used all of my remaining energy and started to sprint. I was down to around a tenth of a mile and I could easily sprint that in less than 45 seconds. So I started hauling ass!
When I crossed the finish line it dawned on me that the 3 hour mark applied to the people who started in the first group of runners. Turns out that I started 15 minutes later than those people so I was 15 minutes behind that point. Sometimes I am not very smart!
I crossed the finish line at 2 hours and 44 minutes….. I had just finished my first half marathon!
Oh my god! I had just finished a half marathon!
Just a Bit Further
Right after crossing the finish line there is a flurry of activity.
First I stopped to get my medal. Once the medal was around my neck the emotions really started to build. But no time for that because there was more to do!
Next I came to the support staff members who were passing out mylar runners blankets. I was still hot and sweating and decided to pass on the blanket. Never do this! This is a mistake! Always take the blanket! Your body temperature WILL start falling!
The next stop is something that I have been calling grown-up trick-or-treat. I was handed a clear shopping back sponsored by White Castle and wasn’t sure what it was for. I walked ahead another 5 feet and the mystery was removed… it is for food! So much food! Glorious food!
I went through the line like a zombie and AT LEAST following things were put in my bag:
• Granola bars
• String Cheese
• Chocolate Milk
• A Bagel
• A quarter Subway turkey sub
• Lays potato chips
Once I got through the food line I arrived at the “family reunion” area where I didn’t expect to see anybody I knew. I just wanted to get through it and start to eat and relax. But I unexpectedly found my sister-in-law there waiting on another person I knew who was walking it. It was good to see a friendly face. I mentioned to her that I just wanted to go sit down and she warned that I may not want to do that quite yet.
I moved on to “Celebration Village” and tore open the chocolate milk and chugged it. I needed calories quickly! My normal 13 mile distance usually meant a calorie burn of 1200 calories or so which is a lot. But this time, with the extra running and cold and pain and adrenaline, my calorie burn was close to 2600!
Food = good!
A Ton of Bricks
There I was in “Celebration Village” drinking my chocolate milk and stretching a little bit. That is when I turned into a mess!
It hit me like a ton of bricks that I had just finished a half marathon 16 months after being 325 pounds. This was a big f-ing victory! This was a clear win in my journey. I couldn’t believe how far I had come. That’s when the tears REALLY started flowing.
I was crying in Celebration Village!
The crying was only exacerbated when I listened to another runner on the phone with his family behind me. He said “mom, I am going to Boston! I qualified!” He was so pound of his accomplishment and I was proud of mine. We were all winners in that village! We were all athletes!
My next step was to the “Personal Record Gong”. If you just completed your first half marathon or marathon or if you set a personal record you got to ring the gong in celebration. I am happy to say that I rang that gong with gusto and everybody heard it! I think I actually dented it.
Then I started walking around aimlessly and taking it all it. The people around me were hugging, crying, celebrating, stretching, resting, partying and just enjoying life! I was enjoying it too! Though the tears may have made it look otherwise.
The only problem at this point was that I was FREEZING! The wind chills were in the 30s, I was cooled down after the run and I didn’t have a runner’s blanket. I asked lots of the volunteers and there were none to be found in the area. So I had to buy a VERY over-priced sweatshirt to help warm me up. Unfortunately I made that decision with runner’s brain and the expensive sweatshirt really doesn’t even fit me. So….
On to the Next
After hanging out for a while it was time to head home. Just one problem, my car was over a mile away and there was only one way to get there. I had to walk!
So I slowly walked through downtown. My body was super exhausted and my muscles had been pushed past their limits. Every ramp and curb I scaled was painful. But I finally made it to my car and that is when I finally sat down for the first time since 6:15 that morning. That meant I was on my feet for about 6 hours.
Home Sweet Home
I walked into my house after slowly removing myself from my car. That’s when I started stripping off layers of clothes since I was finally in the heat. My wife came downstairs to greet me and I was stuffing my face with food from my goody bag like a crazy person.
That is when I recapped the past 6 hours to her in like 3 minutes. The excitement made me almost unbearable! Plus she was going to get to hear the story like 10 more times through the afternoon and evening.
My next stop was the shower. I took a very long very hot shower and started getting the feeling back in my extremities. I got dressed and was full of energy and ready for a day full of fun.
Celebrate Good Times, C’mon!
We went to brunch to get real food and I stuffed myself! Eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuit, potatoes, bloody mary, beer and more. It felt good to get real food in me. My friend Bryan came and met up with us and we all celebrated together. It was awesome.
Later that night we went to dinner with some other friends who had been major supporters through my preparations and even cheered me on in the cold. I ate so much food and am not even a little sorry!
In all I ate more than 4000 calories for the day and burned about 6000 calories.
One Week Later
It is a week later now and I am still riding the high. I am so happy that I completed my first half marathon.
I have already signed up for my 5k runs and will be signing up for my next half marathon soon – the Cap City half marathon in April.
This week has been physically rough as I have been recovering. My body was really push to and beyond its limits and requires healing. I took pretty much the whole week off from running and ran again for the first time on Saturday. I learned that I was clearly not fully recovered and it was a difficult run. But any run is easier than the half marathon.
I have to keep running though because I am training for my next race.
Big thanks to all of you for reading this post and all of my posts along the way. I really hope that some of my experiences can help you with your own goals. I want everybody to have the chances to feel like I feel now
Last week’s stats (10/15-10/21):
Distance walked/run: 48.6 miles (+6.6 vs. LY)
Total calories burnt: 25,409 (-3,839 vs. LY)
Total calories consumed: 18,096 (+3,198 vs. LY)
Net calories this week: -7,313 (+7,037 vs. LY)
Weight change: 3 pounds GAINED (+5.3 vs LY)