I limped to the starting line. Literally. I’ve never been in this much pain at the start of a race before. This was a bad idea.

I haven’t run a road marathon in over three years. I suppose this isn’t a road road marathon, as it is on a mostly gravel rail trail, but it’s definitely not on single track. Melissa found the Frisco Railroad Run and wanted to do the 50 mile race. They also had a marathon, which was around the distance I planned to run for training at this time leading up to the Berryman 50 mile race next month. I’ve already done two training runs this distance.

I didn’t taper for the marathon, but I did ease up a bit on my training a few days beforehand. Then on Thursday, two days before the marathon, I was doing one last easy four mile run when, for no discernible reason, I tripped on a straight, flat, smooth sidewalk and face planted. I bruised and scraped my left knee, hip, and elbow. I also managed to tip over the jogging stroller in the process, which scared me far more at the time. I got up, calmed Will down, and dropped him off at daycare, trying very hard not to think about how badly my knee hurt. A quarter mile from home I had to stop and walk the pain was so bad. There goes the marathon.

Banged up

I couldn’t walk the rest of the day. The next day was a little better, but not much. I decided to make the trip down to Springfield, MO anyway so I could be there to crew for Melissa. And maybe my knee would feel better by race time. Who knows?

I gave myself a 50% chance of starting and a 25% chance of finishing. My knee didn’t really feel any better by Saturday morning, but maybe it would be better running than walking. I already paid the entry fee. If this was a running injury that would threaten future events I wouldn’t have considered racing. But since it was just bruises and cuts… I’ll go ahead and start, then drop out after a few miles if it doesn’t improve. It didn’t improve.

Photo courtesy of Fun Memories Photography

Pre-fall I figured I could easily cruise to a 3 hour finish, so I started around that pace. I kept a close eye on my heart rate to make sure I didn’t overdo it early. The pain in my knee was intense, but the rest of my body felt superb. I was still breathing through my nose comfortably at mile 7.

Photo courtesy of Fun Memories Photography

Photo courtesy of Fun Memories Photography

Until that point I had been slowly catching up to the leader, but then he picked up the pace and started to pull away. Ignoring common sense I went into race mode and sped up to catch him. I passed him around mile 11 and he stayed with me. I sped up to try to drop him, but he remained. I continued to lead until mile 18-19 or so when I needed him to share some of the wind breaking duties. So we took turns in front for a few miles.


It was raining hard now. I was anaerobic, but nowhere near my red zone. I started to have some serious muscle fatigue in my legs around this time and the pace which was previously downright easy for me was becoming more and more difficult to maintain. When I started to notice other pain in my body besides my knee I knew I was in trouble. I slowed. He slowed as well. I slowed more. He slowed slightly less. And that was all it took for him to pull away from me. I chased him the last 5-6 miles, while he gradually gained.

Weaving through half marathon finishers I eventually crossed the line in second place at 3:02, about 1½ minutes down on the winner. Despite averaging 6:58 per mile my last two miles were over 8:00. I’m a little disappointed at my spectacular collapse at the end of this race, but I’m not too concerned. I didn’t train for this race, I didn’t taper for this race, and I was in excruciating pain the entire time.

My time of 3:02 was good enough for a new marathon PR. Here’s a comparison of my splits compared to my previous PR. What I find most striking is my significantly faster pace at a consistently lower heart rate.

Rockford Marathon 2009 Frisco Railroad Run 2013
Time Split HR Time Split HR
Mile 1 00:07:24 07:24 145 00:06:57 06:57 142
Mile 2 00:14:48 07:23 153 00:13:51 06:53 148
Mile 3 00:21:59 07:11 156 00:20:41 06:50 151
Mile 4 00:29:20 07:21 156 00:27:34 06:53 152
Mile 5 00:36:45 07:25 158 00:34:28 06:53 155
Mile 6 00:43:51 07:05 159 00:41:15 06:47 157
Mile 7 00:51:00 07:08 161 00:48:07 06:51 158
Mile 8 00:58:04 07:04 159 00:54:49 06:42 159
Mile 9 01:05:11 07:06 160 01:01:23 06:34 161
Mile 10 01:12:22 07:11 160 01:07:58 06:34 164
Mile 11 01:19:38 07:15 158 01:14:30 06:32 163
Mile 12 01:26:48 07:10 161 01:20:59 06:29 161
Mile 13 01:34:03 07:14 164 01:27:29 06:29 161
Mile 14 01:41:11 07:08 165 01:34:04 06:35 169
Mile 15 01:48:18 07:06 167 01:40:46 06:41 169
Mile 16 01:55:17 06:59 168 01:47:30 06:43 167
Mile 17 02:02:29 07:12 167 01:54:10 06:40 167
Mile 18 02:09:28 06:59 169 02:00:58 06:47 166
Mile 19 02:16:30 07:01 172 02:07:53 06:55 164
Mile 20 02:23:33 07:02 170 02:14:43 06:50 167
Mile 21 02:30:43 07:10 169 02:21:49 07:05 165
Mile 22 02:37:46 07:02 172 02:28:58 07:08 164
Mile 23 02:45:06 07:20 172 02:36:29 07:30 165
Mile 24 02:52:10 07:03 174 02:44:00 07:31 164
Mile 25 02:59:38 07:27 174 02:52:02 08:02 162
Mile 26 03:07:04 07:25 175 03:00:10 08:08 162

And now for a dark turn. Why did I bother racing so hard for so long through so much pain? I don’t really know for sure. It was dumb. But I was in a very bad place emotionally last week. I lost a dear friend to colon cancer. He was in his mid-thirties, the prime of life. I was thinking about him throughout race. I don’t recommend contemplating issues of life and death while running a marathon. But running is my coping mechanism. I was so distraught that all I wanted to do was run. And I was enduring so much emotional pain that all I wanted to do was suffer physically to try to mask that pain. I guess I just did what had to be done. I had to face my demons. I don’t know if I will ever get over the tragic loss of my friend, but at least now the healing process has begun.

4 thoughts on “Catharsis”

  1. Nice job! Sorry about your friend. Running does help cope as well as remind us that we’re strong enough to get thru hard times.

    Good luck at Berryman!

  2. Rob,
    That is really something that you are able to maintain a HR in the 150s early in the race.. it does show how strong you are aerobically and is interesting data. I gave up wearing a HR monitor a long time ago but it does give interesting data that can be of value.
    And I am very sorry for your friend. I lost a friend at work (who was only in his mid 40s) a couple of years ago and it was such a shock.. and it has always been such a hard thing to fully accept.
    Yes.. running is an escape and a coping mechanism for most of us. I sometimes think if our lives were perfect we wouldn’t train so hard but who’s life is perfect?
    Great race and Congratulations!!

    Good luck at Berryman! I have done the Marathon but never the 50.

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