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Despite ‘electrolyte crash,’ another marathon may be in future

Running a marathon had always been a bucket list item for me but I hadn’t planned to kick the bucket on the same day. More on that later.
My 1980s softball teammate, David Freeze, encouraged me to take up running and insisted I was “the type.” Though his words lingered in the back of my mind, I spent most of my adult life running 3-4 miles at a time and hating every step of it. When a constantly aching back forced me to give up basketball two years ago I picked up my mileage. About that time neighbors Keith Cunningham and Martin Thorne invited me to join their group and since summer 2012 my miles have steadily increased. After running the Davidson half in September 2013, I committed to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon and began training in earnest, averaging 45 miles per week from November through February under a plan targeting a 3:30 (8 minute miles) time.
Race day started with a 5 a.m. alarm, three hours of sleep, and a downpour outside my hotel room. I spent the next hour studying the weather radar, and fueling up with a banana, peanut butter and bottle of water. At 6:15, I walked with other SRR (Salisbury-Rowan Runners) members to the start line and settled into the 3:30 group as the rain lightened. The gun sounded at 6:30 and we were off, adrenaline pumping, jockeying for position in the crowd…Here I go. I’m doing this. I’m running a marathon.
Miles 1-4: In darkness we work our way south through downtown Myrtle Beach, dodging puddles, and fighting a headwind. Watch your pace… keep it at 8… not too fast…you’re into the wind…you’re going to need this energy later…
Miles 5-7: We turn into Market Commons and wind along feeling crosswinds and tailwinds for the first time. Spirits are high and my legs are light as we move along at a good pace, in just under 8 minute miles. This is great. This is fun. I love this.
Miles 8-15: My training partner Kelly Lowman and I settle into 7:50-7:55 minute miles with a breeze at our backs. For the first time I realize we’re running in daylight now and I see rays of sunshine sneaking through the clouds and dancing on the ocean waves as we cruise north on Ocean Boulevard. This is cool…have we really run 12 already? My legs are light…
Mile 16: Kelly eases ahead as I realize I can’t quite keep the sub 8 pace. The course turns inland now. OK, you’re on your own now…10 to go…you know what to do…just believe…keep it going…
Mile 17-18: The miles get a little harder now. My pace falls to 8:10-8:15 and for the first time today runners begin passing me.
Mile 19-21: My left hamstring cramps, putting me in momentary agony and I drag my leg 30 yards until the cramp subsides. I never regain my pace. Turning south now onto Highway 17 wind slaps me in the face. The last 6 miles will be into a 20 mph headwind. Adding to the pain is the only hill on the course. Between the wind, hill, and fatigue, I find myself wishing for a cramp so I’ll have an excuse to walk. Turning off 17 we transition into a greenway, wind howling now. My legs feel like trees. Each step is like lifting a log. One after the other – heavier with each step. You will not walk in a marathon…just keep moving your legs…just keep them moving…700 miles of training for this…You will not walk…
Finally I reach the mile 22 food/aid station. I ask for a banana as I pass the table but the volunteer and I miss hands. I tell her to throw it to me and like a wide receiver I look over my shoulder for it as she lets it fly. But the wind knocks it down behind me. I can’t go back for fear that if I stop that I’ll never start again. I then grab an orange slice and take a bite. The pulp gets stuck in my throat and I spend the next 100 yards with a burn in my throat until I’m able to cough it up and begin swallowing again. So much for the food station. Four miles to go…just four miles…a little more than a 5k….you can do this….
I reach mile 23 and become tempted to walk it in. You ran 23…your time will still be OK if you walk the last 3… You will not walk in a marathon…just keep your legs moving…don’t look at your pace (now 9:30)…it’s only a 5k now… keep your legs moving…
Mile 24: Meredith Abramson passes me now with a pat on the back and encouraging words. It energizes me and I vow to go with her. I speed up for 30 yards but realize there’s nothing left in my legs. She is gone and I struggle on. Passing the 24 mile marker I feel good for the first time in the last 5 miles. You’re at 24…two more….I’m really going to do this…I know I’ve got two more in me….this is going to happen…
Mile 25: The wind is gusting now well above 20 mph. My golf friends will recognize this as a “3-club wind.” There’s the hotel….it was near the start line…you’re closing in now…just get to those people up there 500 yards ahead…they’ve got to be on top of the finish line…
I reach that point and realize the finish line is nowhere near the start line. What’s happening? Why are people still running way ahead up there…where’s the finish line?…25.7…OK half a mile to go….It’s just two laps around the Knox track….just two laps…that’s nothing…just two laps…just keep your legs moving….
The finish: With 300 yards to go I see the last turn, the finish line, the barriers lining the route and crowds forming alongside the rail. As I close in on the finish I hear my name. There it is…30 yards left…3:40 on the clock…don’t let it get to 3:41..keep pushing…don’t forget your posture…shoulders back…strong finish…Done…I’ve done it…I’ve run a marathon….elation…
I cross the finish line and high five old friends who’ve come to see me as well as SRR runners Brad Kluttz and Sam Golden who have finished the half. I quickly head to the food tent — the best part of any race — and as I’m about to feast on fruit, pretzels and Powerade, things start spinning. Over the next several minutes I get dizzier and my hands, nose and chin go numb. Medics take my blood pressure and after getting a systolic reading of 90, drive me to the medical tent. There I’m placed on a cot, covered in blankets, given an IV and EKG. Though very scared, I checked to make sure the doctor wasn’t a Tar Heel before he touched me. Assured that he wasn’t I allowed him to proceed. Thirty minutes later I recovered from an “electrolyte crash” — near death experience was my term for it — gathered my things and slowly made my way back to the masses.
Like all marathoners, I’ve been asked 50 times if I’ll run another. In spite of thinking I was having a heart attack, it took me about 24 hours to say, I’ll be back.

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