Almost one year ago, while recovering from my first of 4 surgeries I wrote post hoping that I would be able run just one more marathon. I wasn’t sure if I could ever run again and if I ever had the chance I wanted to aim high and not squander the opportunity to shine.
Charleston was emotional. After Sid and I lost Enzo to cancer, a few days later I got an email from the Charleston Marathon announcing the race date of 1/11. We found Enzo on 1/1/11 and this date close enough to feel like a sign. I sitting was outside working at the time. As I read the email, a red cardinal landed nearby. Some believe this is also a sign that you are being visited by a loved one who has passed.
At that point, I didn’t hesitate. I registered myself and personalized my bib. Then I sent Sid, who was inside, a text to let him know what I did.
And once he saw the date, he texted me back that he just register himself too. This would be his first marathon. He, too, personalized his bib for Enzo. We didn’t even discuss that part. We just both did it.
Let's pause for a moment to remember the little soul who made Sidney and I better people.
After my last surgery on October 4, I had 13 weeks to prepare. I had spent the 12-week interval between my prior surgery and this last one using a Run/Walk training plan to build my base. Once recovered from my last, and fortunately minor, surgery, I picked up my training intensity and got to work. I was quickly on fire and making huge gains in short periods of time.
But starting the Thursday before Christmas, on 12/19, I got very sick, I suppose it was bronchitis? I really don’t know. I had three days with a fever and then an obnoxious cough that lasted for 3 weeks. Once the fever broke, I resumed my training despite having that serious cough. The only time the cough stopped was when I was running, so it was hard to not just go run.
If I had more than three weeks before my "A Race", I would have rested but this was peak week and I was about to taper so I powered through. I am happy with my decision to continue to train the best I could. I cut out the very fast highest intensity work. I cut out the hill repeats. I cut out lifting. I did manage the best 24 mile solo training run of my life on Christmas morning and then I started to pull back from a 115 mile peak week of training. I hoped to be well by race day.
My chest congestion lasted until about 4 days prior to Charleston (about 3 weeks total). I was coughing so often for so long that I strained a muscle in my abdomen and caused inflammation in the cartilage in my rib cage that has been waking me up at night for weeks now.
I actually did not get the abdominal strain and costocondritis (rib cage inflammation) confirmed) until 1/28 (this week when I saw three doctors to help me rule why I have been in pain for this long. I am still in pain from both of these problems and I haven' run very much at all since this race. I was concerned that I gave myself a hernia from the coughing. I was terrified of the rib pain. I am grateful both are not serious.
I raced a 5k on 1/1 despite this pain because it wasn’t excruciating at the time and I really wanted to see a 5k time before I set my final race day goal for Charleston. I had already dropped my weekly mileage from 115M to 60M that week. But I was not feeling any better. After that race, my mind starting drifting to worries about a possible ovarian issue. Or worse, my biggest fear which kept me up at night and led to stress eating too much chocolate, my fear that my abdominal pain was related to my colorectal illness and it was recurring. I am exhausted by this illness. It has been a tremendous struggle to stay mentally at peace through this ordeal.
With a significant and sudden major reduction in my training volume and the appetite of a runner training at 100M+ per week, I ended up 5 lbs heavier than I wanted to be by Charleston and this made me feel a little less confident. I worked so hard only to show up heavier than I was at the start of my last marathon and also now with abdominal and rib pain and whatever else was not 100% fro 3 weeks of bronchitis. This was not how today was supposed to start.
Everything I have done as an athlete since my last two surgeries was in preparation for this race. Even the walking I was doing in July when I couldn’t run non-stop for very long was to help me build my base for this race. Racing for Enzo and with Sidney kept me motivated when I feared I would never be able to run again.
I made a spreadsheet with my weekly goals and the check-in race times I needed if I wanted to run my best in Charleston. I got off to a good start but I fell off my schedule at the NCR Marathon, despite finishing second.. And when I won the Sly Fox Half in 1:28, I happy with my time but I knew it wasn’t nearly as fast I wanted to be by mid-December. And then I got bronchitis 4 days later. Excellent!
Sid had a hard a time too. He made it up to 18M in training without much trouble. Then he ran the Ashenfelter 8K and pulled a hamstring. He wasn’t able to get any more quality training done since that happened on Thanksgiving Day.
Although both of us felt like a mess, nothing was going to stop us from racing for Enzo and giving him our best effort.
As I walked to the start from the school, I pointed to the giant paw prints painted on the ground (the school’s mascot was a bull dog) and I said to Sid, “OMG, Enzo is here with us and by the size of those prints he is a Giant! He is everywhere!” It took all my strength to hold back tears.
I weaved my way up front, feeling just not well. My lower left abdomen was sore and painful whenever I lifted my left leg.
I started at the front of the race anyway. Matt lined up next to me and asked me if I was trying to go low-3 again (like at NCR where I ran a 3:08 on 11/30). I said I was planning to go out hard to find a pace I could possibly hold on to. I would either achieve my goal or blow up trying. Today was the day to take some risks.
It was 64 degrees at the start at 7:10 am. The humidity was already over 90%. By the finish we would be close to 80 degrees with 90% humidity. Runners around me suffered and I was 14th OA.
I got a fast start off the line. I don’t hold this. I do this for a few seconds, so that I can count ladies as I settle into my pace. My first mile was 6:44 and I was comfortable. I also knew this was going to be the coolest temperature of the day
My plan was to sit just at 3:00 pace (6:53 pace) through Mile 16 and if I felt like I had the ability to pick it up from there I would do so. If I needed to hold that pace, that would be find too. As long as I sat at 6:53, I could dip under sub-3 with a kick to the finish.
I was pleased with my work. I felt like I was holding a sustainable pace through M13. At this point I considered picking up the pace but I just didn’t feel like I could hold a faster pace for the last 10 miles. However, I really didn’t feel bad. I just knew the weather, especially the wind was challenging.
I just need to say how much I dislike wind.
This course was primarily north with a wind coming at us from the north, however the first 5.5 miles of this race went south. It was easy to hold a faster than average pace with the wind helping a little. But at 5.5 we turned north and that is when the work really began. There were several sections that had no shielding and long stretches in the wind made my pace drop 30 seconds per mile until I got out of it. It was a constant battle adjusting pace to deal with wind-resistance.
I decided to wait until M20 to make a push for sub-3 but by Mile 16 I started to feel the heat catching up with me. I was feeling overheated. I started to get goose-bumps and chills and I know this is not a good sign. But I was running well and I wasn’t falling apart. I was just not able to shift gears.
From the out and back sections, I could see the first place female was significantly far ahead of me and I was just as far ahead of the 3rd place woman. I couldn’t win and if I just help my pace I would finish second. I decided to set my sights on passing as many men as I could in the last 10 miles which was hard because I was most often running completely alone during that time.
Some of the men (there were no women) around me were struggling. I passed one who was sitting on the ground massaging out a hamstring. I passed another who was throwing up on the side of the course. It was clear the warm weather was a factor. I passed everyone I could pass, even with my own pace fading into the 7’s. I felt that I was running very well for the conditions and for not be heat acclimated.
And then at M22, I buckled. It was bad. I almost went down. It was sudden and it was shocking. I was unstable and getting so fatigued I could not lift my left leg without straining. I didn't know if it was the abdomen pain that buckled me or the heat. The day after the Charleston, I could not walk with about searing abdominal pain so I know I made the strain much worse. But this was the day to leave it all out there.
I didn’t notice the pain during the race. I did notice I could not lift my leg properly. I felt like I was having mechanical problems rather than limitation from pain. Sometimes I am really good at not allowing pain to register. I think today was one of those days.
At 4 miles to go, I just took the race one mile at time, trying to stay upright and finish as strong as I could. Despite not negative splitting this one and not achieving my A-Goal of sub-3, I am so very proud of my work. I knew I wasn’t feeling 100%. I knew the climate was going to stress my system. But every time I felt tired I looked at my bib and knew why I was there. Enzo is my CoPilot and He will not allow me to give up!
After I finished, I waited for Sid. When he came through, finishing his first marathon in 4:45 despite having screws in his knee that prevent him from running painfree and with a strained hamstring that was not healed, I was overwhelmed with joy for him.
We were both flooded with emotion at soon as we saw each other. He said “At mile 9, “I could feel my knee was having trouble and I could feel my hamstring grab if I tried to push myself, but I wasn’t running this for me. I was running for Enzo and I was going to finish it”.
He explained that when it got hard he slowed down, but he must not have looked that good because a cop actually gave him a donut!
For the first 10 miles, he was confused about why so many people were cheering “Go Sidney! Go Sidney!” We don’t know anyone except Veronica and David in Charleston and they weren’t on the course yet. After a while, he figured it out. A female runner nearby was wearing a sign on her chest with her name, "Sydney", printed on it and people were cheering for her… LOL. But then at M22 when Veronica and David were actually cheering for Sidney. He didn’t look up right away because he just thought “Syndey” was back.
And I laughed at first at his stories and then my eyes welled up because I know how much pain Sid had to fight through to finish. And only Sidney truly understands that there is no amount of pain a marathon can cause that could ever equal the pain we carry daily now that Enzo is no longer in our home.
Today we ran in honor of him, for his memory, to express our gratitude to have been given the chance to know and love him. Enzo will forever be alive in our hearts and through the sharing of our memories of him, but the void he left can never be filled and this is as it should be. Thank you, my boy. You gave me #OneMoreMarathon, #ForEnzo, #TheLittleMonster, #TheMonkey, #TheKing
Shannon McGinn, MS, MA, JD, EdS. is the owner of Shannon McGinn Creating Momentum, LLC.