A Journey of 26.2 Miles

It Started Back In January Of 2014

My wife,Morgan, and I were at a Holiday Inn in Frackville,PA shooting our documentary, “Strange Meats : The Soupie”, when I was given the bad news.

“Hon. Don’t be upset, but the Space Coast half marathon already sold out”

How could I not be upset? This was going to be the the second of year of what will become a five-year commitment to running this race. After begging the race director to let me in I was told there were still plenty of spots for the full marathon open. I had already had several friends tell me I should graduate to a full so I signed up. I posted this same story here and along the way,the progress I had made.

In a blink of an eye, that day had arrived.

I managed to stay somewhat calm compared to most races and big events in my life. I had 2 days in Florida with my brother, his wife and my parents. The night before the race I laid out all of my clothes and gear in “Flat Matthew” style:

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As expected I did not sleep well that night. It’s natural to toss and turn the night before a big event. I wasn’t worried. I know the protocol. What matters is getting good sleep in the days leading up to the night before race day. 4:00 am came and I was up and getting dressed. All body parts were lubbed up, nip strips applied and gear on and assured. I ate a bit of salmon, cauliflower and string beans and made my hemp protein shake to take along the way.

We got to Cocoa Village a little before 6:00 am. and got in line. For this race, the half marathon starts at 6:00 am and the full at 6:30. I stood on a side street in downtown Cocoa Village as the National Anthem played far away followed by a series of cheering and yelling as the 13.1 runners took off. I saw some of the pace groups and noticed a 6:15 and 6:30 sign. I asked if that was mile pace or finish pace. They all laughed answering finish time. I stayed with this crew.

We made our way towards the starting line where I met Bonnie. Bonnie asked me to take her picture and I did the same. This is me, 10 minutes before lift off:

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If you look behind me, you can see these new age lights they have hanging from the trees. the lights almost drip in a  downward motion. There is also a monitor, the bright flare behind my left side, that displays a shuttle take off. In talking to Bonnie, this was her first marathon,as well. She had an injured knee and was going to be doing a walk/run ratio. I stuck with her for the start.

The National Anthem always makes me cry, so I did. The tears were a bit heavier because the reality was sinking in. I was about to embark on a 26.2 mile journey. The shuttle lift off happened and the runners took off. Being in the back, it took us a good 5-10 minutes before we were over the official starting line.’Major Tom’ by Peter Schilling was playing over the PA as I drew closer to the start. This was it. I started my GPS watch and moved my feet, clapping my hands with a seriously hard smile on my face.

We ran a few blocks in Cocoa Village and eventually I heard my brother, Tim’s loud voice. He was doing video on his phone of us passing by. It was dawn now. Bonnie was next to me for a while and so we chatted it up. Because of her walk/run technique we’d be together for a few moments then I’d be ahead, then she was ahead, then I’d catch up. She would be my gauge for this race.

The first half took us northbound and back to Cocoa Village. The half marathoners do not run this part of the course. The course ran along the Indian River. It was supposed to be an overcast day but it wasn’t. The sun was shining bright. here is what that view looked like:

 

 

 

Somewhere around mile 5 I couldn’t hold it anymore, I had to pee. I found a port pot which probably took 5-7 minutes off my time but I needed this. I also made time for a #2. Sorry but these things happen and running for 6 hours it’s almost inevitably going to happen so better now than later in the game. One of the people who live along the route had the theme to Rocky playing. I gave them a bit of a Rocky dance (punching bags and hands in the air) and they waved and yelled back to me. I met and talked to a lot of other people along the course. It was soon time to turn around. I heard this voice yell my name, it was Bonnie.

“Go, Matt! Almost at the turn around!”

I didn’t lose that much time since Bonnie wasn’t too far ahead of me. I was now running back towards Cocoa Village and approaching the 13.1 mile mark. I saw a man wearing a Phillies hat and Phillies jacket so I told him I came down from Philly. He answered me with a very heavy southern drawl and I realized he probably hasn’t lived in Philly for a few decades. I passed the Rocky people again and told them Philly thanks them for playing this song. A mile before the halfway mark a couple came up to me and thanked me. Apparently I was their pacer and they fell back a bit. Since I was wearing a bright red shirt I was easy to spot.

“I feel like popping confetti around you,brother! You were our finish line!”

13.1 to 26.2

At this point the sun was beating hard on me, and I didn’t wear any sun block. I made the half way mark in 3 hours and I could feel the fade happening. I picked up my pace to run through Cocoa Village. I was expecting to see my family there so I had to look good. I smiled and looked around and saw no one that I knew. I was now heading onto a familiar course. The second half is the half marathon course and since I ran this last year I was familiar with it. Suddenly there were more people around me since this is also an out-and-back portion of the race course. I was jealous of the full marathoners heading back. Those people could get their medal, go home, shower and watch Star Wars and I’d just be coming across the finish line. That though was not in my head at the time.

I saw a lot of half marathoners while at mile 16 who looked bad. I’m not judging but these people had 3 more miles to go. I just hope they all finished. Mile 17 came and I did not have a dry spot on me. Luckily I have good running shoes so my feet and toes were fine. Nip strips were still on so no problem there. My knees were great, but my legs were heavy as bricks. I could feel it in my thighs and hip flexors. I was also chaffing well below my normal thigh chaffing area, and it hurt. My breathing got heavier so I slowed down and walked a bit.

The shirt I had on is from a local running group I belong to, The Fishtown Beer Runners. They meet every Thursday and run a few miles, end at a local bar and toast to the professor. As I ran along I heard a runner yell,

“To The Professor!”

YEAH! That was really cool. It certainly picked me up. Not too long after a local who had set up shop (food and beverage) called me out.

Hey beer runner, have a beer”

I had to stop.They had their own home-brew out in what I assume was a 1 or 2 oz. pour along with bananas and snacks. That certainly put a pep in my step!  I walked on and even ran a little. At this point my pace was starting to slow down. I focused on my breathing and my heart rate.

When I started I was slightly ahead of the 6:15 and 6:30 pacers. I saw the Mile 20 marker on the other side and couldn’t wait for that to be me. About two miles before the turn around I saw Bonnie again, along with the couple from the first half.

“Go, Bonnie!” I yelled. “See you at the finish!”

Then the couple to me,

“Go, Matt! You’re doing great! See you at the finish!”

I made the turn around and told myself this was it. I haven’t listened to my music at all at this point. I was saving it for the home stretch and not burn out on music too soon or to have an upbeat song get me fired up. On my way back, after the turn around I saw the 6:15 pacers. 15 minutes later I saw the 6:30 pacers. I was doing fine, but it was so hard to run.

I had my phone wrapped in a plastic bag and took these pictures on the way back:

 

I took my headphones out to put on some music and saw that I had some texts. My wife was cheering me on and following me on the app they have for this race. I also got some cheers from Erin and a nice text from another running friend of mine, Katrina that said “Mile 20! Keep up the good pace, you got this!” I also took a moment to post a photo to Facebook and to read all the love people were sending me. I was now 3 miles away. Just a 5k. THIS SUCKS! I just kept thinking to myself that I want this to be over. Then I get a text from my wife “Concentrate and push through! You are a rock star!” How could I not move now?

The 6:15 pacers caught up with me so I tried my best to stay them. They slowly faded away in the distant horizon. Now was the time when people wearing the full marathon medals were out cheering us on. They put your name on your bib so I heard a lot of “Go, Matthew” (Note to self: Next year sign up as ‘MATT’)

26 to 26.2

I could see the village ahead of me. This was it. I was going to finish running a full marathon. I was approaching the last point two miles when ‘Sunday’ by Sonic Youth came on. Oh, ok, so this is gonna be it. I was too weak to change it and too focused on finishing. Besides, it’s an awesome song and it was a Sunday! I came to the rotunda where you run the last lap. It is always swapped with people, and that helped. I turned the corner and saw 3 big signs with my name on it.

“Hey Matthew,your cheering section is down there”

It was my family, screaming their heads off and holding these bright yellow signs. I heard my brother’s voice at what seemed like a mile back. I tapped the sign for good luck when, all of the sudden, my dad got up and ran next to me. Holy Shit. I was on the verge of tears to begin with. He ran next to me and we held our hands in the air. He was telling everyone “This is my son!” “Go,Matt!” He was holding a sign that said “C’MON!” This is something he says when he is upset and has handed this down genetically to me and my brothers.

I saw the official finish line and cried with my fists in the air, a sign of victory as I passed over it.

I got my medal placed around me by a very kind woman who congratulated me. I was hyperventilating. I could not inhale, but I knew it would pass. I also know you have to keep moving after a race like this. The worst thing you can do is come to a complete stop. The rest of my family was there and they told me to stop. I waved them on and told them I can’t stop just walk with me. There was much confusion and as I pressed on I felt someone grab my hand. I turned to look and it was my wife. She surprised me with a visit at the finish line. I am now convinced that my family was trying to kill me that day.

6:20 for my finish time. I’ll take it. I have the rest of my life to get faster so each marathon after this will be a PR.

I also saw Bonnie. Her knee held out and she kicked asphalt that day.

 

I was thrilled that this was over. I immediately text my coach a picture of my with medal and beer in hand. He was very proud of me.

 

Another Reason To Run

This race is Space Shuttle themed. Each year features one of the 5 shuttles. This year was for the Challenger. I was in 8th grade when this happened and to me it was one of the first events in history that effected me like 9/11 affects others. I have a god friend who works at NASA so he got me this signed photo of the crew. A lot of runners along the path were complimenting me on it and some tried to get a picture of it. As my fried, Kevin, said they did not die in vain.

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2 responses to “A Journey of 26.2 Miles

  1. Congrats!!! The part with your dad made me tear up too. The support runners get makes me so emotional.
    And your new friend Bonnie is an inspiration to me because I’m having some knee tenderness and have a 15k this Sunday. I can walk fine but can’t always run so I may be doing the run/walk method to get through this race as well. Then I can hibernate for a while. 🙂

  2. Thanks,Nora! There’s a famous runner, Jeff Galloway, who teaches a walk / run method and a lot of races are Galloway friendly. Most of these people pass me so I know it works!
    Im sure your 15k has come and gone by now but I hope you keep blogging those winter recipes!
    🙂

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