I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2001. My goal was to complete my first marathon in under four hours, but that day I crossed the finish line at 4:15. I was overwhelmed by such a large race atmosphere and was not prepared for a race of that caliber. A few months later I ran the St. Jude Memphis Marathon where I finished at 3:39. Comparing the two courses, I saw Memphis as the more difficult course. In my mind I knew I could return to Chicago and get the 3:30 BQ time I needed.
Shortly after the Memphis marathon I began training seriously for my return to Chicago. What I remembered about the Chicago course was it was flat, fast, and there were around 40,000 runners, and well over a million spectators. Over the last quarter of the race, there were bands stationed every mile, with musicians anxious to help push tired runners to the end. Thinking of all this motivated me during my training. On October 12, 2003, I crossed the finish line at 3:30.08 and qualified for the Boston Marathon. Thank God for cushion time! My wife and girls had accompanied me on this trip and were there to celebrate with me. I still get emotional thinking about reuniting with them after I made it through the chute.
I was on track to run Boston the following April. Two weeks after I came home from Chicago I began training. I returned to Memphis six weeks later to run the half marathon as part of my preparation. During the race I noticed I could not maintain the pace I was used to running, and when I would hit that particular pace I felt a burning feeling in my chest. I knew something was not right, so after the race I consulted my physician, who is a good family friend and fellow runner. He urged me to get this checked out immediately.
The following week I made an appointment with a cardiologist. I completed a stress test on a treadmill where I was told to run as long as I could. Well, it did not take long till the doctors and nurses started referring to me as “The Marathon Man.” I was told I passed the test with flying colors and there should not be a problem with completing the Boston Marathon in April. I was then instructed to go across the street to eat a hamburger and come back for one more test. It was during this test the doctor saw something suspicious. He ordered a heart cath for the following day as a precautionary measure. However, during the heart cath they found blockage that could not be corrected with a stint and would require open-heart surgery. I had this surgery the next day and returned home after a four-day stay in the hospital on Christmas Eve. I told the nurses Santa was coming and I had to be home for my girls.
Knowing I had two years eligibility to run the BM and knowing there would be no way I could run that April, I made the decision to run the second year. I guess it was not really a decision, but just what had to happen. Time went on, and even though I had been given the go-ahead by my physician and cardiologist to start training, there was still a part of me that was hesitant to put my running shoes back on. I bumped into Kenneth Williams one night at Walmart, and he asked about how my running was going. After sharing I was not doing any running and hesitant to start training again, Kenneth told me to stay put and he would be right back. Next thing I knew, he comes back with a heart monitor and told me to see if that would give me the peace of mind I needed to start running again. This did in fact provide me the encouragement and confidence I needed to get back on the road. After my hopes began to rise a little more, I got back into running 5Ks and 10Ks nearby until the time came to become serious in my training for Boston. In these races I would wear a shirt that said, “A guy with a by-pass just passed you.” While I was making my comeback, I was still hesitant to complete my long runs out on the road. I found solace with the treadmill at work. It was on the treadmill where I completed every single one of my long runs. Work even bought me a brand new treadmill, and I ultimately burned out the motor by the end of my training!
April came and it was time for my wife and I to make our way to Boston. We were both so impressed with how organized the expo was, and I loaded up on my Boston Marathon merchandise, unsure if I would ever have the chance to get more. We had a great weekend in Boston. My wife and I ate great food and enjoyed sightseeing. Come race day I soon found out training solely on a treadmill for a marathon was not wise. I vividly remember looking up and realizing I was at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill. I was so discouraged I started walking. I experienced cramps for the first time. I was planning to complete the race in four hours, but finished in just under five.
Although this was not my best race experience, I was so thankful to have made it to Boston. I know running saved my life. If I had not been running, my doctors told me I would have never felt the burning in my chest that led the doctors to find the blockage that would have led to a fatal heart attack. While I was running the Boston Marathon I focused not on the pain I was in, but how grateful I was to have the opportunity to run.
Recently I have put my running shoes back on and am training for my first marathon in many years. I am proud to say I will be running with my youngest daughter for her first half marathon with hopes of one day soon returning to Boston for my revenge on Heartbreak Hill. We have a score to settle.
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