Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Marathon Journey

   Today is Thursday October 21, 2010 officially four days after my first marathon. I have been reading blog after blog and different race reports posted from the fall racing season. All of the stories have been very inspirational so while out on a run this afternoon I decided to share my story as well.

  My journey began about four years ago and when it started I didn't even realize I was on one. Recently it hit me when I was reading my bio on Facebook that said "I enjoy running a few miles a day". After reading that it was almost like stopping in the middle of a long run and looking back at the road behind you and thinking "Wow I've come a long way. I might as well keep going." At that point in my life running was an escape. A reason to burn through the stress, not calories that had been building in my marriage. Running quickly became my outlet to get centered and deal with the stress of a marriage falling apart.

   Fast forward two years my wife now my ex and the two children I raised for the past 10 years moved on to a different state. My life became a scene out of the movie Forrest Gump. Feeling sorry for myself I went on one of my normal 3 mile runs. Once I got to the end of my road a decision was made to keep going and I've been going ever since. Three miles became five. Five miles became eight and I kept going. I kept my legs moving through the cold harsh winters on Northeast Ohio pushing myself to finish just one more run for the week. At some point during the winter a friend contacted me about a half marathon in May. At this point I had no ambition to race or know anything about them but as I thought about it I decided to try something new. With that decision almost as if I was at the end of my road again the next mile in my journey began.

   Still completely ignorant to what the sport of running was I logged my training miles. Some of the toughest miles I ran in the deep snow and cold blowing winds. I figured that was all I had to do. I had no knowledge of form, nutrition, hydration or equipment. I assumed that racing was just putting on your shoes and running. Although I loved the experience of my first race I was disappointed with my time (1:57:56). Feeling beat down on that cold, rainy day in May I knew in the back of my head that running had become much more that an outlet. It had become part of my being.

   Knowing I left some time on the course in May I decided to go for a PR and registered for another half marathon in July. I healed and trained harder not smarter for the race. I battled through some foot and knee injuries and when July rolled around I set a new PR by 6 minutes (1:51:00). That improvement was still disappointing to me. That was when I started to educate myself and what a rude awakening it was.What I learned was that I had been doing it all wrong. The first 2 races I didn't eat, I didn't hydrate I was even wearing the wrong shoes. My form was horrible wasting energy with every stride so I decided to start over. After the race in July there was an Expo to promote the Columbus Marathon. That very day I decided I was going to run this race but this time I was going to train smarter not harder and let the chips fall where they may.

   The summer went by in a flash. In a short time I felt myself becoming a more efficient runner. I taught myself how to eat and drink while running. Learning how nutrition plays a part in my results (I'm still working on this piece). I've logged some long runs listening to my body to fend off injuries. All of this with the date of October 17, 2010 on my brain. The best part of all of this is I've met some incredible people (@mparmann) with the knowledge and the patience to support my stubborn ways. The running community is amazing. Athletes who support all that you do just for the love of the run, ride or walk.

   So the day has come. All of the pre-race preparation was complete. Sleeping the night before was almost impossible and the nerves at the begging of the race were almost unbearable. Standing there alone a calm came over me when the National Anthem played. The nerves were put to bed and the excitement was awakened when the fireworks went off to start the race. In a few minutes I was going to cross the start and continue this journey I started 4 years ago.

   The first 5 miles went by in the blink of an eye. The people and the sights along the course were amazing. Dodging 15,000 runners and trying to settle into a pace was the hardest part well until mile 6 when nature called. Thankfully we were running by a park and there was a tree that needed watered so I obliged. I continued on taking in fluids along the way soaking up the energy from the complete strangers that were out to cheer the runners on and before I knew it I started to make up some of the time I had lost earlier in the race. My pace was smooth and my form efficient all coming to me just as I had trained.

   The next five miles were really easy. They evaporated before my eyes all because I was in awe of the people out in the different neighborhoods. Right after we crossed the mile 9 marker the first wave of emotion hit me like a truck. Anyone that knows me knows I really don't show my emotions but as I came up to some kids holding their hands out for a high five I was reminded of my step kids and how they always supported my 2 and 3 mile runs as they rode their bikes. Fighting back a quivering lip and the tears forming in my eyes I pressed on with a smile.

   I had broken the race up in my mind to help me get through and as we were coming on the half way mark my heart started to beat a little faster. It could have been the big flashing sign that pointed to the left for the half marathon runners and straight ahead for the full marathon. I passed the sign and thought "this is what I love to do, I've got this !!" I was feeling a little cocky because I felt amazing. It felt as if I had only run 5 or 6 miles and I was just finding my groove.

   The miles ticked away with ease and somewhere between mile 17 and 18 my emotions crept back up on me. Thinking about everything that I've been through and where I was at that point in my life the tears began to swell up. Managing to fight them back at this moment I knew this race was more than just a race. As we came up to the 20 mile marker my body was feeling incredible. This is where I made my only mistake. I didn't stick to the plan to eat as I had trained. I was feeling incredible as if I had only run 10 miles. With that in my head I said to myself " It's only 6.2 miles left, piece of cake" The marathon had different plans for me.

   Cruising along I had to fight back one more wave of emotion that crashed into me at mile 22. A little girl that looked like my daughter holding a sign that said "Run Daddy Run". This was hard to push down because that is exactly what my daughter has said to me on those short runs up and down my road. Getting tired at this point I found the energy to swallow that emotion, force a smile and keep pushing on.

   At mile 23 is where the marathon decided to smack me in the face. The athletes were struggling and I felt my energy fading to nothing. The roadside was beginning to look like a battlefield. I passed runners laying down on the sidewalk with medics, runners puking up green Gatorade and countless runners beginning to walk from exhaustion. My mind was telling me only 3.2 miles left. I began to think how lucky I am to have people in my life that care for me. I thought about the kind, caring and happy smiles that I had the pleasure to experience over the past 2 years. Those thoughts along with remembering what my friends have gone through or are going through made the next two miles possible. The thought hit me that everyone is fighting their own battle and what I was experiencing at the moment was small in the grand scheme of things.

  Finally the last 1.2 miles !! The crowds are getting bigger cheering for you that you're almost there. Magically (actually it was probably adrenaline) I had a burst of energy. The banner that said 1/2 mile to go was in sight and I picked up my pace. As the crowds got louder I began to soak it up. Coming up the final incline a runner fell over his hamstring cramped up I kept pushing. I rounded the corner and there was the FINISH. All down hill. I picked up speed and as I was getting closer I raised my arms as I crossed the line (3:50:03) and as I did I expected the emotions that I battled on the run to all come rushing back. To my surprise nothing, nothing but relief.

   I received my medal got a few bottles of water and made my way to Celebration Village. I found a nice patch of grass exposed to the sun and I sat down. The sun felt incredible and as I sat there legs stretched drinking my water and just like that tears that I fought back earlier fell down my face. Happy and sad both fell but in that moment everything seemed to make sense. I don't know why or how things just seemed to line up and now I know I can accomplish anything.

                                                                Joe Vanek 1410 /3:50:03
                                                            Columbus Marathon 10/17/10


  1. I am proud to call you my brother. I love you!

  2. Great recap! Congratulations! Awesome job!

  3. Joe, you are such an inspiration! Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your story....I admire you even more for sharing your emotions regarding your kids.

  4. Great race report Joe. Congratulations on a great finish time as well.

  5. Wonderful and inspirational first post! I hope you keep blogging :)

  6. Some what late after the actual race but still better late than never :o)

    Fantastic race report and emotions report Joe.
    I look forward to reading more