A Tale of Two Halves: The Philadelphia Marathon

“The Marathon Will Humble You.”

-Bill Rodgers

I’ve written about this before, but I believe that in many ways diabetes and distance running are similar. Both take dedication and commitment to manage well. Both can be quite difficult. And both can return unexpectedly poor results despite our best preparation.

The race weekend really started for me on Friday evening. The Girlfriend and I went into the city to meet up with a bunch of folks in town for the race and the Insulindependence educational symposium which was to take place the next day. Dinner was… okay. Honestly it was a restaurant I’ve never been to before, and will almost certainly never go back to, but seeing everyone was fantastic and made it all worthwhile. Saturday morning after an easy 3 mile jog to keep loose I headed over to the previously mentioned symposium and cannot speak highly enough about it. This year the speakers were:

Scott Johnson – Well known diabetes blogger and advocate, Scott was this year’s Insulindependence Athletic Achievement Award winner. Scott’s “everyman” approach to living with diabetes was fun and motivational.

Gary Scheiner – Author of Think Like A Pancreas and current Diabetes Educator of the Year, Gary gave a great presentation on managing glucose during exercise. It’s easy to see why he has such a great reputation!

Anna Floreen – Anna gave a fascinating presentation about her experiences with the Bionic Pancreas. I was fortunate enough to sit through a presentation by Dr. Steven Russell on this project back in August, but to hear the patient’s perspective took it to a whole new level of excitement. I know we’re still a long way from this being a reality in the marketplace, but I can’t help getting a little bit excited!

Dr. Matt Corcoran – Dr. Corcoran is the founder of Diabetes Training Camp, and as such has a remarkable amount of experience looking at the physiology of endurance athletics and diabetes. I learned from every presentation, but this one had me re-thinking how I do some of the things I do.

Suffice it to say it was well worth attending. I even got to finally meet some folks I’d previously only known online (I’m looking at you, Kunik!).

Anyway before I knew it I was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast at 3AM Sunday morning so my bolus insulin would have time to clear before the start. An hour later I woke up The Girlfriend. An hour after than we were in the city. An hour after that we had met up with several other IN runners. An hour after that we were on our way!

The first few miles were uneventful. Mostly spent trying to move past people that had clearly started in the wrong corral. As is the norm for me, I wasn’t wearing a watch, but I knew the course would have a clock at each mile marker. Personally I try not to know my exact time when I race, as I think it can be limiting. If you’re running along and feeling good, then you find you’re running faster than you thought you were, the natural tendency is to panic and slow down even though up until that point you felt fine. In other words if you think you can’t, you can’t. So to avoid this as best I could I tried to not pay attention to what the clock read when I crossed the starting mat. If I’m honest, I still had a fairly good idea of my pace, but even still when I caught up to a pace group around mile 9 I was pleasantly surprised. The group was for a time I thought I could realistically finish within, so at that point I was content to slow it down a touch and stay with them. As it happened, a woman running in the group noticed my singlet and struck up a conversation. Turns out her husband is a type 1 iron distance athlete and coach! We chatted for a bit until some other runners drifted between us, but it was reassuring that I could still hold a conversation while we went through halfway. One thing I did notice, but didn’t think much of, was a bit of twitching in my calves.

By mile 14 the twitching had become more pronounced.

By 16 the twitching had become full-on cramps.

Toe-curling, leg-crippling cramps.

By 17 a volunteer asked me if I wanted medical attention.

By 18 I found myself sitting against a guardrail questioning everything. In retrospect that moment may well have been the lowest moment I’ve ever had in a race. All those lonely miles. All that time spent away from my friends, my family, The Girlfriend, and even my dog. They had all led up to me sitting on the side of the road unable to run more than a few steps without my lower legs seizing completely. And as I sat there, head hanging between my knees, I did something I’ve never done before – I gave up.

But then something remarkable happened: I began to walk.

At first I told myself I was just walking to a place I could more easily be picked up, but as I continued I began to think. I thought of my friends Vic and Lindsay who, at that very moment, were in the middle of Ironman Arizona. I thought of my friend Danielle who was told a few years ago that she may never walk again thanks to her diabetes and was at that very moment in the midst of another half marathon. I thought of all the love and support I’ve been given by the diabetes community, even people I’ve never met face to face. And I began to run.

Then my calves cramped again.

But I continued to walk. Finally I was able to jog a little. Then jog a little more. By mile 22 I was jogging more than I was walking, and by 23 I didn’t have to walk at all provided I kept the pace very slow.

I crossed the finish line over 45 minutes after I expected to, but I crossed the finish line. Suddenly I was filled with conflicting emotions – relief, joy, pain, and a bit of soul crushing disappointment. But then I heard my name, and The Girlfriend was there, on the other side of the barrier, smiling and looking at me with such pride that I couldn’t help but feel like I had just accomplished something amazing. Then, after I made my way out of the finishing chute, she gave me a hug that made it all worth it.

Then I got sick in a bush next to the sidewalk. Hey, it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows. :)

Philly Marathon

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4 Responses to A Tale of Two Halves: The Philadelphia Marathon

  1. Great post, Stephen.

    It was an absolute treat seeing you again and having a bit more time to hang out and visit.

    Hanging out with you guys (and gals) is a whole new world of information, admiration, astonishment, and inspiration for me. You’re infectious! :-)

    I’m really proud of you for just taking that next step, even when full of doubt and questions about whether you could do it or not. In this there is another parallel to diabetes, isn’t there? To be brave enough to not give up even when we are beat up and ready to throw the towel in.

    Thank you for doing all that you do, Stephen! You make a difference!

  2. kelly2k says:

    Stephen –
    I’m thoroughly impressed and very proud of you. Proud of you for getting up at 3 a.m. so your breakfast bolus would be done by the start of the race – that’s hardcore and a total Dr Matt & Gary move.
    And I’m proud of you for running and for getting back up and for working through the “giving up,” when most of us would have stayed down. I’m proud that you walked and then jogged to and then past the finish line. Way to inspire dude, thanks for that!
    Also, I love that you referred to me as “Kunik,” because that means we are going to be great friends!

  3. Pingback: Running 8k in Philly - AWESOME!

  4. Jeff says:

    Well done finishing your marathon! I did my first in October and hated almost every minute of the last 10K. And I didn’t even have the cramping that you did. Sometimes finishing is enough.

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