So why in the world did I decide to run a marathon in Myrtle Beach? Of course some of you might be asking "why in the world would you want to run a marathon at all?" Well the 2nd question can be answered by reading my previous posts. It's just what The Beast does. As for the 1st question though, it really came down to a couple of things: (1) my wife and I had not been on a vacation alone in about 6 years. She grew up going to Myrtle Beach in the summers with her family and she and I have gone there several times together in the past, and a couple of times in the winter, so going again sounded like a great plan, and (2) I needed a marathon that fit into my training plan. The Myrtle Beach marathon fit perfectly into my training.
I ran my 1st half marathon, the Iron Horse, in Midway, Kentucky on October 23, 2011. I knew that after that race I needed to immediately move into full marathon training. I knew that without a specific goal in mind I would lose my focus. So as I was looking at races I found the Myrtle Beach marathon and saw that it was going to be run on Feb. 18th. I counted the weeks backward to Oct. 23rd and realized that it would leave me 1 week short of being able to complete the entire Hal Higdon Novice Marathon Training plan. That was close enough for me so I set my sights on Myrtle Beach.
After the Iron Horse I really thought that with my plan in place for Myrtle Beach that I would jump right back into running. But I really struggled. I think I experienced some post-race blues. It took me several weeks to recover from the Iron Horse but by mid-November I really felt like I was back on track. And I run with some AMAZING people and they were all so encouraging and supportive of me. They really helped me get back on track.
One thing that I didn't expect was the weight gain that I experienced through the training. With the winter months, I was not able to get out and ride my bike like I did in the summer and fall and after Christmas I realized that I had gained some weight. Not a lot, but as a runner you never want to add body weight in training. Especially when you've worked so hard to lose 100 pounds. So in January I refocused and was able to shed the weight.
One other thing that I found difficult was staying motivated. Especially when it was just downright cold and miserable. I really struggled with forcing myself outside on those 20 degree days. Especially the long run days. For my 1st 21-miler it was 18 degrees with a windchill of 8 and snow and ice on the ground. That was really hard. But I was able to get the runs in and get them done. Again, a LOT of thanks goes out to my running buddies. Without them none of this would have been possible.
We decided that it would probably be smart to go down and spend the week on vacation first and finish the vacation with the marathon. The marathon was on a Saturday and I just didn't think it would be smart to try to drive down on Friday and run a marathon on Saturday. And honestly, I thought that if things went really, really bad I didn't want to be on vacation and be absolutely miserable.
We jumped in the car on Saturday nite, the 11th, at about midnite and headed out. The drive was uneventful. We were very fortunate. We hit a little bit of snow in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC at about 4:30 am. but we made it through safely. I love driving all nite. I'm not sure why I do, but it is something that I seem to have the ability to do well. I've been doing it since my college days and have driven as long as 23.5 hours straight with no sleep. Of course, doing that at 22 years old versus 43 years old is quite different, but I can still do it. I guess I use it a yardstick for my youthfulness. I guess once I get to the point where I can't drive all nite, I know that I've gotten old.
We arrived in North Myrtle Beach at around 10:00 am and it was beautiful. Check out this amazing picture that I took from our 3rdfloor balcony. Pretty amazing huh? I mean
seriously. If you're going to run a marathon
can you imagine a more beautiful place to run
one? Ok. Maybe there is a more beautiful
place but after running in 20-30 degree weather
for months I was so thrilled to see sun and beach
and ocean. There is just something about the
sound of the waves crashing in the surf that
just absolutely relaxes me. Once I stepped out
on the balcony and got this view I knew that
we had made a great decision to do this.
The weather for the week really was turning
out to be perfect. It was in the upper 50's to low
60's all week and there was only a day or two
with rain forecast. The weather for Saturday's
race was going to be mid-50's with clouds and a
slight chance of rain. I was happy with that for
I thought that going to the beach for a whole week before the race might be a problem because I would be on vacation and would be tempted to let loose and eat bad stuff and drink a few beers. But honestly it worked out very well. We had a full kitchen in the condo and went grocery shopping the very first day we were there. We bought all the healthy stuff that we normally ate at home and cooked in the condo quite a bit. We also saved a TON of money by doing that but that is a topic for some other blog.
I was also able to get in my last 2 training runs while I was at the beach. I was supposed to do my last "long run" on Saturday before we left but the weather in Kentucky was awful. It had snowed and was icy and very, very windy. I knew that in just a day I was going to be at the beach so I decided to wait to do the long run. I'm so happy that I did. I ran from North Myrtle Beach up Ocean Blvd. to Cherry Grove. I ran to the pier and actually ran out to the end of the pier. It was so amazingly beautiful. I felt so alive. I was out there by myself surrounded by the ocean and I could not have been happier. Now that beat the heck outta running in 20 degrees in Kentucky. I got my last 3 mile run in on Tuesday and that was all. I was done. The training was done and I felt ready to run my race.
On Wednesday I knew that I needed to get my "BEAST" shirt done. For the Iron Horse I had special ordered the shirt from Nike but I didn't want to spend that much again. So I found a great Nike Dri-fit shirt on Zappos.com and ordered it a couple of weeks before the race. I took the shirt with me and my wife found a place at the mall that did printing. We took it down there and I was a little worried at first because the lady said the shirt had to have some cotton in it to make the letters stick. Well Dri-fit has no cotton. She gave it a shot and it actually worked. Whew! I can't run without my BEAST shirt. Ha! You can see how cool it is. Well I think it's cool. And the 12 stands for 2012. I just thought that made sense instead of randomly making up some number to add to it. So with the final runs knocked out and the shirt ready, I felt like I was ready to go.
On Thursday we headed down to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center for the expo. I had never been to a race expo before so this was quite an experience for me. I picked up my swag bag, my bib and my race shirt. As you can see, the race shirt was magenta. I was not too thrilled about the color and I seriously doubt that I will ever wear this shirt. But I love the logo. I wish they had made it in a black race shirt. I was so happy with my bib though. I forgot that I had requested "BEAST" on the bib so when I got it out of the swag bag I just had to laugh. I took this picture and posted it on Facebook to see what kind of reaction it would get. Amazingly no one said anything negative about the shirt color. I was shocked. I have the best DailyMile/Twitter/Facebook friends in the world. Either that or they all just lie to me and don't tell me the truth. Either way I'll take it.
At the Expo I had hoped to meet a young lady named Lily Embury who is from Lexington as well. I had seen a story about her a few weeks ago on the local NBC affiliate, WLEX. Lily is 10 years old and was training to run her first half marathon. That alone is absolutely amazing, but what really makes her so awesome is the fact that she was also fundraising to raise money for children with Muscular Dystrophy. She was raising money to send kids with MD to summer camp. And the even more amazing thing is that Lily herself has MD. And although I missed meeting her at the Expo, I knew that somehow our paths would cross. And indeed they did. But more on that later. To read more about Lily you can click here: Making A Difference: Watch Lily Run | LEX18.com | Lexington, Kentucky
Prior to the race, I spent several days watching the local NBC affiliate, WMBF. They were covering the marathon and were going to be doing live coverage of the marathon. I thought they might be interested in my story so I Tweeted one of the news anchors and sent her a link to my story that was recently on Huffington Post. (Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/weight-loss-success-mark-d-rucker_n_1224275.html) The next day she sent me a message and told me that she had passed my story on to another reporter. The reporter contacted me later that day and then drove up to meet me and Annita at the condo on Friday. I haven't done a TV interview in a long time and although I've shared my story in print format several times, this was my first time doing it for a TV interview. I was a little nervous but very excited as well. The reporter, Sean Maginnis, did a great job and I was so honored to have my story shared as part of the marathon coverage. You can check out the story here: http://www.wmbfnews.com/story/16966930/kentucky-man-loses-100-lbs-and-runs-marathon.
It was race day. The race was going to start at 6:30 so I knew that I needed to get up at 4:30 so I could eat, get ready, and have plenty of time to get to the event. I'm not the best at getting up early so I really struggled with getting up. But once I was up and going I felt really good. I made my usual pre-race breakfast of Nutella on whole wheat toast, a banana, and water. I have found through trial and error that this really works well for me and doesn't cause any issues for me during the race. Don't you like the way that my breakfast is smiling at me? It just looks so happy. How could you not have a great race when you start the day with such a happy breakfast, right?
I got all my stuff packed the nite before so all I had to do after breakfast was to shower and get dressed. I was starting to get the jitters but then I just stopped, took a few deep breaths, and relaxed. It was really strange how calm I felt. It was nothing like I felt before the Iron Horse. I'm not sure what was different but it really was. I really felt like I was ready to run and as long as I did my best I really wasn't concerned with the end result. I wanted to finish and that was really all that I wanted to achieve.
So we took off for the venue about 5:30. We had driven the course on Thursday nite so we knew where we needed to go and where to park. As we pulled into Broadway at the Beach I felt so much excitement. I got out of the car and saw all of the people and could hear the music pumping already. It was still dark and in the low 40's but my adrenaline was going and I felt really strong.I made my way over to the marathon starting area and instantly I knew right were I needed to be. Yeah. If they'd had a 6:00 hour flag I'd have headed there. But Annita was with me and we had a LOT of fun watching all of the runners getting ready. The half marathoners were right beside us and it occurred to me that I could probably see Lily over there. I figured there certainly wouldn't be too many 10 year old girls lined up to run the half. And I was right. Within just a few minutes I was able to see here and I went over and said hello. She was with her grandparents (her parents were also running the half-her dad is part of the National Guard running team). She was a little bashful but it was so awesome to get to meet her and wish her good look. And just so you know she is still raising money to send kids to MD camp this summer. Please read her story and find her page on Facebook. You can find information on how to donate there. What a pint-sized inspiration she is.
At about 6:15 they had a guy sing the National Anthem. He messed up the lyrics and started all over. I've never witnessed that before. I hoped that his
messing up wouldn't be an omen for things to come. Ha! But
he sang it through on the 2nd attempt and did a great job.
I'm sure he, like most of us, was extremely nervous. So shortly after he finished the gun sounded and the wheelchair racers took off. For a moment I'd forgotten about them going off first and I thought "Why'd they start early? I'm not ready!" It's so funny the things that you think about when you're waiting. But soon after that the gun sounded again and we were off. Well, all of the fast people were off. I was at the back of the pack just slowly walking toward the start line. It was like being on a roller coaster. As you start climbing that 1st big hill you get that feeling and you think "I don't want to do this." Then you realize it's too late. And it was. I was there. I was going. It was too late. It was time to put all of the training that I had endured to the test. To push myself above and beyond all that I thought was ever possible. I was going to actually do it! I was going to run a MARATHON!!
As we took off I had to chance to talk to a few people here and there. It's really funny when you're running how many people want to chat. I really don't mind. I actually quite enjoy it. So I had several quick, but nice, conversations in the first mile.
As we hit the 2nd mile the sun was starting to break through and it was getting lighter. It was a beautiful morning. I felt so good. I had my pockets full of GU gels and had my Simple Hydration water bottle tucked into my shorts and I was good to go.
At Mile 2 there was a water station and I noticed that Lily and her grandmother were standing in line to get some water. I thought about saying "hi" but I was ready to run. I continued on. Shortly thereafter Lily, yes the 10 year old little girl. passed me with her grandmother. I had to laugh. I thought that was awesome.
It was fun to listen to all of the conversations going on around me. It's so funny what people talk about. I also thought it was so funny how much clothing people were stripping off and throwing on the side of the road. Hats, gloves, toboggans, shirts, jackets, arm warmers, sweatshirts. Just about anything you could imagine. I'm shocked that I didn't see any pants or shoes!
The spectators were awesome as well. As we ran there were so many people out early to cheer us on. Cowbells and whistles and noisemakers. It was so much fun. And the race was set up very well too. There were water stops every 2 miles. They had water and Powerade. That was great to know that every 2 miles I could hydrate as needed.
It was somewhere around Mile 4 that I really feel like my purpose for running this marathon began to be revealed to me. As I ran, somehow I struck up a conversation with a woman who was running her first half marathon. She was in her 40's like me and had not been running for very long. The more we ran the more we talked. I actually lost myself in our conversation and the miles just went by. She told me that she had several running buddies who were there with her but that they were all faster than her and that she usually ends up at the back of the pack. Ha! Boy did that sound familiar. We had a comfortable pace and several times she told me "please don't slow down for me. Go run your race." It was like she didn't believe me when I told her that I was very happy with the pace. We continued on and ran more and more. I told her about my weight loss and about all of the exciting things that were happening with my story. I had so many people along the race course yell out "Go BEAST! I saw you on TV!" Even other runners were saying that. It was so amazing and it encouraged me so much. And all the while my only focus was to run with Gwyn and help her get to her goal. It became my mission. So we ran. And we ran.
As we approached the turnoff spot for the half marathoners to head toward their finish line, I realized that we were almost at Mile 12. Gwyn was going to make it. And I assured her that she would. As the race volunteers pointed us into our separate lanes she started to cry. And for a moment I felt overcome with emotion. I gave her a HUGE hug and told her that she was going to make it and that I was SO happy for her. She wished me well and I continued on my way. It was so sweet because she was worried about me not having anyone else to run with for the rest of the way. I assured her that I would be fine.
It's so funny how God puts you in certain places at certain times. And for as much as Gwyn felt like she needed me to be there to help her get through, I needed her just as much to take my mind off of the running. I was enjoying the race and it was because of our conversation. I know God put her there just for me. And he put me there for her. And after that realization I honestly didn't care where I finished. I knew that my purpose had been served and I felt awesome. And Gwyn if you read this thank you for everything. And congratulations. You are now a marathoner!!!
After the split I was just thinking about all that we had talked about and I was lost in thought. I looked over to my left and there was my beautiful, sweet, wonderful wife standing on the sidewalk with a little sign that said "Go BEAST". She felt so bad after we had watched "Spirit of the Marathon" the nite before and realized that she hadn't made a sign. So after the race started she found a little shop and made a sign just for me. Isn't this just an awesome sign? And it couldn't have come at a better time for me. I did kinda feel all alone there for a few brief moments and this was just the lift that I needed to keep on truckin'.
So the next few miles were just time for some self-reflection. I thought a lot about where I had been only a year ago and all of the changes that I have been through. It was such a great time for me. I started thinking about all of the things that I want to accomplish in the future. And I just couldn't stop smiling when I thought about all of the possibilities and the exciting things that lay ahead in life for me.
As I got to about Mile 15 one of the guys from the Idiots Running Group on Facebook was standing on Ocean Blvd. He was yelling and screaming for me and took a picture of me. He also had doughnuts. Now I never thought that I'd eat a doughnut during a race but I was SO hungry so I grabbed one and took off. I enjoyed that very much. Thanks Rob! That was awesome man. It was kinda funny though because as I continued running a little old couple was standing not much further down the road and yelled "Go BEAST! We saw you on TV! Great job losing all of that weight!" I smiled and laughed and said "yes and doughnuts were a big part of it." They laughed as did I. That was pretty funny.
I was still feeling pretty hungry as I got close to Mile 16 but I knew there was going to be food. At least there was supposed to be. But as Mile 16 came and went I realized there was no food. There were a lot of orange and banana peels on the ground. I was not too happy about that. And I think I let that get to me a little bit. I kept on running but I really felt like I was starting to run out of steam.
As i got close to Mile 17 I had a wonderful thing happen. I saw a woman standing on the side of the road. She appeared to be in her mid-30's and was overweight. She had 2 children with her and an older woman who I assumed was her mother. As i got closer she started cheering "Go BEAST!" I smiled and gave he the "thumbs up" and said "thank you" as I had to many people on the route who had cheered for me. But as I got to her she said "I saw your story on TV and you are my inspiration. I know that if you can do it then I can too!" I was elated. My heart jumped for joy to hear that. I can't even express in words what it meant to me to hear her say that.
At about Mile 18 I finally made it off of Ocean Blvd. and headed into a little subdivision. It was here, at about Mile 18.5, that the wheels came off. My hips locked up and it was almost impossible for me to move my legs forward. I slowed to a walk but was determined to keep going. I would jog for short periods and then walk. I knew that I was going to just have to pace myself if I wanted to finish the race.
A little after Mile 22 I hit the 2nd food station and there were lots of bananas left. I was in heaven. I had some Powerade and 2 bananas. I'm probably the only person who gained weight during the marathon. Ha! Ok. I didn't gain weight but it felt so good to get some solid food. That was enough to get me back on to running again so I took off. I would stop and walk a little and then run some more.
And then I saw the Mile 25 flag. I knew that I was going to finish. I felt overcome with emotion. I didn't cry but I wanted to. I just started jogging and wanted to finish strong. As I approached the last quarter mile I noticed a guy taking my picture. It was a guy from DailyMile who had come out at the request of 2 of my friends to support me. Thank you Logan for coming out and waiting for me. Man you helped me get that last bit done. And thank you Nora and Andrea for sending him out. You guys are awesome!
And after Logan and I parted ways I could see the orange chute guiding me to the finish. I took off. Not running fast, but running faster than I had for a few miles. As I rounded a corner I could see the finish line. I could hear the announcer and the cheering of the fans who were still there. As I approached the finish line I could hear the announcer say "Number 1488 The BEAST". And I couldn't help but smile. I could see my wife just past the finish line videotaping me. I was thrilled. I know I ran over to her and said something into the camera, although I didn't know exactly what, and I gave her a big hug. Here's the video.She handed me my chocolate milk and I stumbled over to get my medal. I was so happy to get that hunk of metal. Check out how happy I am. I wore that medal all the way home, out shopping with my wife afterward, to the after party, and then out to dinner. I wore it so long that the ribbon actually chaffed my sun-burned neck. Ha! But I was not going to take that thing off. I worked pretty hard to earn it and wanted to show it off.
After the race, I went to the food tent. I had a two doughnuts and two cups of chicken noodle soup. Yup. Chicken noodle soup. A guy at the finish told me that they eat it all the time at Ironman comps and that the sodium is just as good as having an IV. And even though it was in the mid 60's I grabbed a cup of it and then grabbed another. It was very tasty.
I had to walk about half a mile back to the car. It was so tough to walk but I think in the long run it was best for me. After we got back to the condo I had a beer and hit the hot tub. That felt awesome. Then I got cleaned up and took my wife out to do a little shopping. She is so amazing and such a trooper to put up with all of this stuff so I wanted to show her my appreciation so I got her a little bling. I figured since I got my bling she deserved some too.
After that we went to the after party at the House of Blues. I was so happy to get to meet Lily's parents at the party. We talked for some time about Lily and what she has accomplished. I just can't say enough about how much she inspires me. And look at that picture. Is she not just the cutest thing? Look how proud she is and deservedly so. Awesome job Lily! I'm so proud of you.
So after the party we went out to dinner at a local seafood place and I got, of all things, a bacon cheeseburger. Go figure. But that was the tastiest cheeseburger I think I've ever had.
After dinner we went back to the condo and packed up. I was sad to be leaving but I still couldn't stop smiling. I felt like I had a HUGE secret that no one else knew about but one that I wanted to share with everyone.
And today I was able to share that secret with everyone when I went out and made it official. I'm not sure what it is about these stickers but I really look forward to putting them on the car.
WHAT I LEARNED
Well I guess I could say the obvious: that I learned that I can push myself and achieve things that I once thought was impossible. I think everyone who completes a marathon can say that. But I did learn some things that will help me in future races. First of all I need to remember to buy new shoes a couple of weeks out from the race. I realized as I was struggling with my hip issues that the shoes that I was wearing were the same ones that I wore for my half marathon almost 4 months ago. I am very hard on shoes. I needed more support. I think that is why I had problems with my hips. Second, I learned that running a race is about having fun. For me running and racing are not about being the best. It is about the experience. I got more out of meeting Lily and running with Gwyn than I did from crossing the finish line. I know that sounds crazy but it is really how I feel. Finally, I learned that I have some pretty amazing friends. Once I finished the marathon I started checking my social media pages. I over 50 mentions on Twitter, over 50 comments and posts on Facebook, and almost as many comments on DailyMile. I still can't get over the outpouring of support that I have received from all of you. Thank you all so much.
Now it's on to the Ironman!