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My Marathon Journey

(Photo by Wang Zhao/Getty Images)

Normally I wouldn’t write about one of my own accomplishments, but after the experience that I had on Saturday, December 4, and the journey to get there, I couldn’t help but share.

Proudly, I can say that I am now a “marathoner”, after completing the St. Jude Marathon, in Memphis, Tennessee.

There are still two statistics that I still can’t get out of my head since that day; 1)-26.2 miles. That’s how far I ran, and 2)-One percent. That’s the number of people in this country that have ever completed a marathon.

Please allow me to share with you why I would subject myself to this grueling venture, and share just a little bit of the journey that got me there.

I wasn’t in great shape in April of 2003, but I wasn’t horribly out-of-shape either, as I had about 160 pounds on my 5:8 frame.

That changed on the morning of Wednesday, April 23 of 2003, when I broke the femur bone in my right leg, in a one-car accident.

I can laugh about some of it now, like having to ride on the motorized shopping carts at Wal-Mart, or having to crawl backwards down the stairs of my old townhouse to get to the bathroom, or having to  drive up to Oklahoma City with a broken leg to call play-by-play for the UL softball team in the Women’s College World Series.

For the most part however, there wasn’t much to smile about. I was in constant pain for about three months, and running a marathon wasn’t even a dream, much less a goal.

I couldn’t walk at all for three months, and couldn’t walk without the use of a walker, or cane, for another.

It wasn’t until about six months after my accident that I was able to take a leisurely walk around my neighborhood with my wife.

At that time, I felt like I completed a marathon.

My orthopedic surgeon told me I still had a lot of rehab in front of me, so again, running a marathon seemed as realistic to me as becoming President of the United States.

I knew I had to work diligently to make my leg better, and I knew that I was in the worst shape of my life. My plan was to do a lot more walking, to address both of those issues.

Happily, those goals were set on the back-burner, when my wife informed me in May of 2004 that we were going to be blessed with a child.

Obviously, with a child on the way, everything became secondary, so the pounds continued to pile on, and the leg continued to stay weak.

Things didn’t change when my beautiful daughter, Mia, was born, on February 2, 2005. As you might expect, everything became secondary on that day.

It wasn’t until over a year later that I took it upon myself to get on the scale, and to my horror, I weighed 192 pounds!

And it wasn’t just the weight. I looked older than what I should. I looked tired. I looked weak. I looked  like I wasn’t going to be able to run around the yard with my daughter five years later.

It was right then, and there, that I made to decision to take off some weight, and to start looking better.

But how?

I’m not the type of guy that fits in well with any kind of a diet plan. I hate the thought of eating anything green, I rarely drink water, and due to my schedule, I was in the habit of just going through one of the drive-thru windows.

Now, I did eat a little better, and drank a little more water, but not nearly enough to do what I wanted to do. What that was, I really didn’t know, but I knew I wasn’t going to get there without some form of exercise.

I decided that I was going to run. After all, you didn’t need any expensive equipment, a gym membership, or even anyone else to do it with…you just go out and run.

The date was August 12, 2006. I remember the date easily, because it was the date of the New Orleans Saints’ first pre-season game that year, as they took on the Tennessee Titans.

It was the first time I had a chance to see what a Sean Payton-coached team might look like, the first chance to see Drew Brees throw a pass in a Saints uniform, and the first chance for me to see Reggie Bush in the NFL.

It was also my first time to run…really run…in maybe 11 years.

I warmed up and  and stretched all throughout the first half of the game, and I was scared to death that I might pull something, or worse yet, aggravate my leg, which I still wasn’t sure was 100%.

Right when the teams went to the locker room for halftime, I went out the door, and ran around my block, which is exactly one-third of a mile.

When I was done, I was winded…really winded. I don’t think I could have run 100 more yards. But I didn’t care, I did it! I ran around my block!

Two weeks later, I was able to run twice around my block, and that made me strive for a third time, plus a few more yards, which would be the equivalent of one total mile.

I’ll never forget that late September afternoon. I was trying to get myself mentally prepared, just like a marathoner would to do 26.2 miles.  For me, running a mile was something that was beyond my comprehension, just six short weeks ago.

I made it around twice, and wondered if I was going to be able to make around around one more. But somehow, I did, and I was exuberant after, letting my wife, Melissa, know every two minutes, what I had done.

Before Christmas, I had increased my mileage to three miles, about three days per week, dropped about 30 pounds, and began seriously thinking about running in some 5k (3.1 miles) races.

After the first of the year, I started to become more confident in my running. I was running longer, faster, with less effort, and I made the decision to get myself ready, because I was going to run my first 5k event in late August.

I thought I was ready before that, but I had to wait until late August, because there were no 5k’s scheduled in the area, from late May-July, due to the heat in this part of the country.

Everything was going well in the early part of 2007, until April, when my stepson, Chris, was killed in an automobile accident.

He was fresh out of high school, and was in the Army.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget two Army Sergeants showing up at my door.

It’s kind of strange, because really, they could have been there for anything. But looking back on it, I had a kind of  sinking feeling when we opened the door, and saw them standing there.

My wife was devastated, and well she should be.

I was hit hard too. While Chris wasn’t my own, he was still a big part of my life. I watched him grow for seven years, and I was really proud of him for putting his life in such a positive direction.

After that tragedy, you’d  think that running would have been the last thing on my mind.

Funny thing though, is that I wanted to run, and almost needed to run. We all have our own way of dealing with things, and I quickly realized that running was therapeutic for me.

You know how things come into your life that you have no explanation for?

In my case it was running, which I have no doubt now that I needed.

Not only did I have to deal with Chris’ death, but my brother, Tony, who had been battling a rare case of small- cell lung cancer, began to take a turn for the worse shortly after, when the cancer spread to his brain.

Words simply cannot describe how helpless I felt, watching somebody I love deteriorate right before my eyes.

I found out there’s no “easier” way to lose someone you love: whether it’s quickly, like I lost Chris, or slowly, like I lost Tony.  Either way hurts just as much as the other.

I understood that I needed to stay strong, for both my wife, who had just lost her son, and for my mom, who was about to lose hers, so I threw myself more into running.

It was the one half-hour out of the day where I could gather my thoughts, grieve a little, and just stay strong, and most of all, sane.

My first 5k was the 2007 “Run Through the Jungle”, at Acadiana Park. This turned out to be the only race where I was really nervous.

Every question went through my head; “Are you sure you want to do this?”, “Do you think you can make it?”, “Do these people think you look stupid?”

I didn’t win that day. I didn’t finish second. I didn’t smell a medal in my own age group.

That being said, I felt as good as I did in a long time.

When I weighed myself that morning, I weighed 152 pounds, and I went on to run 3.1 miles, without stopping, and i just completed my first-ever 5k race!

I did medal two months later, in the Fatima Family Fun Run, as I finished in second place in my age division.

I was proud, and I remember going directly to the hospital to show my brother, who was losing his mental capabilities, but still, I think, understood that I ran 3.1 miles.

I say that because he asked me; “What are you gonna do next, run a marathon?”

My brother lost his battle with cancer, just a couple of weeks later, on November 1, 2007.

It was like a piece of me died with him, a piece I’ll never get back, but he left me with that question.

Oh, I don’t think he was serious. Heck, I can’t say for certain he even knew what he was saying, but it got me thinking, how far could I really run, if I took this seriously?

Right after the beginning of 2008, I started to run farther. I was still running in 5k runs, but I began to extend one run a week to five, six, seven, even eight miles.

I did this through the summer, into the fall, when Bruce Mikels, who works for 97.3 The Dawg, and is one of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, asked me to train, and then run with him, and a friend, in the 2009 New Orleans Mardi Gras Half-Marathon, in February of 2009.

A half-marathon is 13.1 miles, but I accepted the challenge, and threw myself, 100% into the training.

I knew I’d be ready, from a physical standpoint, but I was still a rookie, and had a lot of questions; like “How exactly do I train?”, “How do I run through a water-stop?”, and  “What should my diet be?”

After countless hours on the internet, I found a training program, and a diet plan that fit me.

I also found answers to questions that rookies, like myself, might have.

I was ready to go!

When I got to the starting line, prior to running the longest I had ever run, I wasn’t nervous. I was at ease, and really felt that I belonged there.

I ran, and  ran well, finishing 13.1 miles in about an hour, and 51 minutes.

I had completed my first half-marathon!

I was mildly excited. Mildly, because almost as soon as I finished, my thought process was; “It’s time to run a full marathon!”

Again, I scoured the internet, and looked for marathons that might fit my schedule, and again, Bruce informed me that he and a friend were going to run in the St. Jude Marathon, in Memphis, Tennessee, in early December.

“Count me in” I proclaimed!

This was it. I was really going to run a full marathon!

I found myself a good training plan that fit me, and I was ready to begin training for a marathon.

I was going to train to run 26.2 miles.

It usually takes about four months for a regular runner to train for a marathon, which meant I was going to have to train in the southwest Louisiana heat and humidity for at least two months.

It wasn’t going to be easy, but I was going to do whatever it took to not only complete the 26.2 miles, but to have a respectable time doing it.

My thought process was that if I could run a half-marathon in an hour and 51 minutes, then if I pushed myself, I could probably complete a full marathon in under four hours.

So that was my goal…four hours!

When you train for a marathon, you may run five days out the week, but you only run more than six miles one day a week, so the fist day of training for me was a Sunday, and I was going to go ten miles.

Due to the August heat, I awoke before 5 am, so I could be on the street for 6 o’clock.

The run was difficult, due to both the heat, and the distance, but I got through it, in a time of about an hour and 22 minutes.

That time was good, and that run was good, but training continued to get even better. Every time I ran, I felt like I stronger, and faster.

I was running three miles in under 22 minutes, six miles in under 46 minutes, and eight miles in under an hour and 20 minutes.

Lady Luck was even smiling on me, as I ran my first 20 mile run in a steady rain, which helped beat the heat.

In mid-October, I ran 22 miles on a training run, and did it in 3 hours and 22 minutes!

I couldn’t believe how well my training was going, how great I felt, and how confident I was feeling.

I was beginning to think I could easily make my four hour goal. After all, everything was going my way!

That changed two days after that 22-mile run, and five weeks from the marathon, when I went out for a routine, no pressure, four-mile run.

Halfway through, I felt a sharp pain at the bottom of my foot, and I immediately stopped. I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the next day, but due to the pain, and the fact that I could barely walk, much less run, I really had a sinking feeling.

When I went to the doctor, he told me I had a torn plantar fascia tendon at the bottom of my foot, and that I wouldn’t be able to run for at least three months.

It was like I got hit by a truck!

I thought of all the work I put in in training.

All the weekends waking up early to run. All the miles I ran. All the sacrifices I made.

It all went down the drain.

I was down for a couple of days, but then, as time so often does, began to heal my mental wounds. I knew that there were so many other things in my life so much more important than running a marathon, so I began to feel better.

All I did was try to recover by putting no undo pressure on my foot.

Running a marathon was again something that felt so far away in my dreams, as my doctor told me I didn’t have good “running feet”, and that I may never be the same runner I was before the injury.

If I was to never run a marathon, then that’s would have been ok, as I came to grips with the possibility, but I was sure I was going to run again.

Four months after my injury, on a cool February day in 2010, my doctor gave me the go-ahead to start running again.

Man, was I psyched!

I knew I had to get back into running slowly, and I knew that I may never be as fast as I was. I even knew that I may never run anything longer than a 5k event, ever again. I knew all of this, but it didn’t matter, because I knew I was going to run!

My first day back running was an experience.

First off, I was concerned about my foot. I had that mental block, where I thought that every time I took a step, that my tendon would tear again.

Then there was the layoff factor. Having not run for four months, I had no wind, was struggling to breathe, and my legs felt like iron.

It really did feel like I was starting all over again, but I wasn’t complaining. With apologies to John Mellencamp, it did “Hurt So Good.”

In March of 2010, I made the commitment to participate in the 5k “Corporate Challenge”, with a number of my co-workers. I had about two months to get ready, and I found that I always trained better with a goal in mind, something to look forward to.

Training for the Corporate Challenge went okay. I was slower than I was before the injury, but that was to be expected, especially since I wasn’t training as hard as I normally would, due to fear of re-injuring my foot.

My goal of running  the 3.1 miles in under 24 minutes was not met, but only by about 15 seconds. I finished that event in 24 minutes and 15 seconds.

While that was about two minutes and 45 seconds slower that what I was running that distance in before the injury, I was still pleased. If nothing else, I got over a mental barrier. I showed myself that I could train for an event, and run in one, without the fear of injury.

The 2010 St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, Tennessee was still seven months away, but I decided right after that event that I was going to give it another shot.

I could have picked another marathon, but I wanted to do Memphis. I had heard good things about it, and really appreciated the fact that the money went to St. Jude’s and cancer research, which obviously had a place in my heart.

Memphis also fit into my schedule. It would take place exactly one week after the completion of the 2010 UL football season.

To be honest though, the main reason I wanted to run Memphis was because it would help me bury my failed attempt of the previous year. To be able to train for it, then conquer it, would be like killing two birds with one stone. Finishing that marathon would erase a bad memory, and replace it with a great one.

I started training for the 2010 St. Jude/Memphis Marathon in August, and although I was still technically a “rookie”, in a marathon sense, I knew what to expect.

I knew I was going to have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, on Sundays, to beat the heat before my long runs. I knew how much I had to bring with me to drink while training. I knew there would be some days that would just wear me out, due to the heat and humidity. I knew I’d have some sore muscles. I knew there would be some days where I’d have to force myself to train, because even though I like running, there were some days where i just didn’t feel energetic enough to run my scheduled miles.

I knew all of those things. What I didn’t know was if my body could withstand the rigors of training, and allow me to make it to the starting line.

I took a different kind of training approach this time, as I backed off, just a little. It was more important to me to actually finish, than it was to finish in under four hours. It was a little tricky, because I wanted to train hard enough to do well, and more importantly make it, but not so hard to risk another injury. Another one of those, and I may have just cashed it in.

I was pretty pleased with my training. I suffered a two-week setback with an illness, but I was consistent, and I logged the necessary miles. Missing those runs was something that really would have eaten at me the previous year. This time around, I trained myself to enjoy the process more, appreciate the fact that I’ve accomplished so much already, and didn’t let it bother me nearly as much.

When the calender flipped to December, and it was marathon week, I knew I was finally going to be able to run that marathon. Sure, I knew my projected finishing time was going to be about 30 minutes slower that what i wanted just a year ago, but I also knew I was close to doing something only 1% of the population has ever done.

I did have one more hurdle to overcome, however. I should have known that I’d have to overcome one more obstacle.

On the way to Memphis, in Jackson, Mississippi, a truck two vehicles in front of me  lost a small, metal step-ladder. The car in front of me swerved to avoid the arrow, but I was in no man’s land, as there was a car to my right, so I couldn’t swerve, with that ladder only feet away from me. Acting on instinct, I slowed down, from 70- 20 mph. The truck behind me, seeing that I had slowed down quickly, tried to do the same, but couldn’t stop in time, and hit me from behind.

My first thought was to check on the condition of my daughter and wife. Thankfully, they were both just fine. Not a scratch on either one, and I came away unhurt, as well. My SUV didn’t even suffer a whole lot of damage.

As I was waiting for the Jackson Police to come do an accident report, there were some negative thoughts that crossed my mind, such as; “Am I cursed, and not destined to run a marathon?”

The accident set me back two hours, but that may have actually been a blessing in disguise. I didn’t want to think about the marathon much that day. I wanted to think about other things, as much as possible. I had done all I could do to prepare, and thinking about it was only going to tense me up, and make me lose the fun I was having.  Getting an accident is never fun, but it did make me forget.

Finally, at about 7 pm, on Friday, December 3, I arrived in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s where the blues were born, the home of Jerry “The King” Lawler, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, the city where Graceland is located. But most of all, I was in the city that I was going to fulfill a dream in!

When I woke up on marathon day, I was more anxious than I was nervous. I was just ready to do it, to be a part of the experience. I had run two 22-mile training runs, but I had still never gone 26.2 miles, so I’m not going to say there wasn’t any doubt in my mind, but I was fairly confident going to the race.

I arrived at Auto Zone Park, home of the AAA Memphis Redbirds, about an hour before race time, and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere. Men and women of all different ages, races, sizes, representing all 50 states were there, all running for different reasons, and without meeting any of them, I felt an immediate camaraderie. I knew what I had to do to prepare for a marathon, and I assume that they had to do something similar, so there was immediate respect.

After I checked my bag, and hydrated for the final time, I made my way to the starting corral, and I took in the unbelievable atmosphere. There were bands playing, mascots dancing, and people stirring.

The weather was almost perfect. It was cold in Memphis the day before, and scheduled to be cold the day after, but on that day the temp was in the 50′s, under overcast skies, which is great running weather.

The atmosphere was electric, and while I wanted to enjoy the experience, I also didn’t want to get too caught up in the hype. My mindset was to complete my goal, then celebrate after.

When I got to my starting corral, numerous thoughts crossed my mind,  with the first being pride. I thought of how much work I put in to get to that point, and I gave myself a little pat on the back, which turned out to be a nice little pre-race pep talk.

Secondly, I thought of how great running was. Most baseball players could only dream of playing on the same diamond as Derek Jeter, most football players could only dream of playing on the same field as Peyton Manning, and most basketball players could only dream of playing on the same court as Kobe Bryant. But there I was, preparing to run with the Kenyans!

When my group started, a lot of runners were jumping up-and-down, waving, and hollering. While I appreciated their excitement, I preferred to stay stoic, as I knew I needed to conserve as much energy as I could.

The first couple of miles of a marathon is indescribable. There we’re 2,400+  runners all on Beale/Fourth St., and I had bodies around me every step I took, for the first three miles.

I made sure I drank something at every mile, even if I wasn’t thirsty, as I know that if you wait to drink until your thirsty, it’s too late.

I covered the first six miles, fairly easily, in 57 minutes, 57 seconds.

In those first six miles, we ran past some scenic sights in Memphis, such as the Pyramid, and the river.

The were plenty of spectators cheering us on. Some were even giving me high-fives and calling me a “hero”. It was the first time I felt emotional.

In the second half of the race, we ran through the campus of St. Jude’s Hospital. There were a couple of children there that cheered me on as I ran past them. I still can’t get over that. Here’s some kids, some of whom, sadly, won’t be around for next year’s St. Jude/Memphis Marathon, and they were cheering for me, simply for running, something I, and most of us, take for granted.

I can only imagine what kind of pain these kids go through, on a daily basis. I think of that, and I know I’ll never whine about being sore from running, ever again.

I ran the first half of the marathon, 13.1 miles, in two hours, six minutes, and seven seconds.

I think that’s the first part of a marathon where you have to be mentally tough. You see the people running the half-marathon run to the finish, but you know you’re only halfway done. Still 13.1 miles to go.

I continued to feel good, through mile 18, as I was at three hours, 15 minutes, and 55 seconds on the clock, running at a pace of 9 minutes and 48 seconds per mile.

It was then that I slowed down. It wasn’t even really for fatigue, but mostly because I knew i had never gone more than 22 miles, and I just wanted to save a little.

So, I slowed down to a 10-minute per mile pace, which is still not bad, after running 18 miles, and set myself up for the stretch run.

The crowd was still cheering us on, and the bands continued to provide music, and inspiration at water stops, but I blocked most of that out. I was just focused on running six more miles.

Once I got to mile 23, I had to slow down even more.

Again, it wasn’t about fatigue. This time, it was about emotion.

I knew then that I was going to make it, and while I was running I just thought back on everything that I covered on here, and I got choked up.  One of the ladies at one of the aid stations even asked if I was okay. My response was, “I haven’t felt this great in a long time.”

Once I hit mile-25 the adrenaline really kicked in. I started running faster than I was running at the 8-mile mark, and I began savoring every step towards that finish line.

I ran back into Auto Zone Park, with the public address announcer alerting the crowd to my upcoming finish, and I crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 22 minutes, and 9 seconds.

I finished 978th, out of 2,427 runners that day. That’s not bad, but I felt like a winner in so many ways.

Crossing the finish line, I received a heat-wrap, and a finisher’s medal, but what I really wanted to do was hug my wife and daughter. Luckily, my wife was in a seat near the finish and hollered at me soon after I finished.

It was like the ending of “Rocky”, when Rock was hollering for Adrian. I ran up in the stands and shared a very special, tender moment, which I’ll always remember. No words had to be said. The moment said it all.

There are times when I look back and have a hard time grasping the accomplishment myself.

I ran 26.2 miles!

That’s like running from Lafayette to Estherwood.

I ran for four hours and 22 minutes!

That’s like running for one-and-a-half Saints games!

I’m a lucky guy. I have a wonderful wife, a beautiful daughter, great friends, and work at a job I love, with the best co-workers anybody could ask for. But other than marrying my wife, and my daughter being born, completing that marathon was my greatest achievement.

Yeah, it’s special to me, but it’s the journey that made it special.

I don’t know what marathon I’m going to run next, or even if I’m going to run one, but I’ll tell you this; it won’t be anything like the first one.

They say the more trials and tribulations you go through, the bigger the accomplishments. Oh, how I wish some of those pitfalls had never happened, but to understand the truly special times, we unfortunately have to go through the not so special ones.

This marathon wasn’t just a running journey, or an athletic journey for me, it was a life journey, and I thank you for letting me share it with you.

Babes

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