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Run Forrest, Run: My First Marathon

by Richard Guida

Running a marathon is a deeply personal experience - just ask anyone who has every run one. Some do it with virtually no training and with little or no physical consequence. Some do it as a quest - overcoming all obstacles including prior injuries exacerbated by continuing training mishaps. Why do we do it? Mallory when asked why men climbed mountains had as good an answer as anyone. (AW)

About the Author

Richard Guida has worked in virtually every aspect of the thoroughbred racing industry. He has been a hotwalker, groom, exercise person, foreman, farm manager, trainer and owner. He is currently employed by Greenwood Racing, Inc. in Philadelphia, PA. He has become an avid skydiver, a scuba diver and a cave diver. He has alway been a runner - even if it hurts.

Run Forrest, Run: My First Marathon

I've run my entire life: to there, away from here, across the street, to and from school, at recess, for errands, against my brother, and to safety from the marauding gangs of grade school bullies. Even my running genes were in place; my uncle ran the 220 and 440 in the '48 Olympics. Watching great track stars in competition thrilled me and my obsession with motion eventually decided my choice of profession. I became a trainer of thoroughbred racehorses. Despite the rigors and long hours of such work I always found time to run: wee early mornings … late, late nights. Gentle snowstorms particularly induced me to lace up my sneakers. Speed work became a weekly regimen at some college stadium, circling and circling to the sound of one hand clapping.

As I aged, running became more and more a solitary recreation. Having gotten sore I started running slower and further. I always shunned headsets, nature being a preferable musician. I yearned to see and hear every autumn leaf fall or the ripple of the swift river water as the wind blew and I ran past.

Just about the time marathons came back into vogue I turned forty-five and as injury had compromised almost anything I did, running one, unfortunately, was not a viable consideration. My sister in law (I'll call her "JC" no pun intended), staff writer for the Herald-Leader, ran her first marathon in May 2001 and wrote a rather humorous, triumphant article about her experience. She and her running group followed the weekly training textbook and ultimately accomplished their once unthinkable goal in Cincinnati. Admittedly she hadn't a history of playground abuse my body had taken; however, running 26.2 miles will lay a lick on most anyone. I was in awe and she remains today an inspiration.

It was about then that I seriously gave though to attempting the "unspeakable" myself. My bodily injuries would virtually appear to be a Bosnian map of bombsites on an MRI image. Still, I kicked off the Philadelphia running season with their "Derby" of races, "BROAD STREET", a straight ten miler with 8,000 people crowding and jockeying for position along the widest street in town. It, after all, was a tradition, and despite little training I ran well. Soon afterwards a bicycling friend asked me for help training him in preparation for our premier race, the half-marathon (I think Joan Benoit once won it), and so I began to share my weekly Zen jogs with company and began "serious" training. In early September we completed it. I, beginning to feel worse for the wear and tear, nonetheless got my competitive juices flowing and cruised on by him three miles out in what was my fastest half-marathon ever. One week later I crashed.

An injudicious training run relegated my running books to dust collectors again and what was taking shape as the impossible dream had become a series of sore sleepless nights. Swimming was out of the question; I had been nursing a partially torn rotator cuff due to such horrible technique that one day a ”poolie" remarked, "was I recovering from a stroke?" My old abdominal fascia tear started to pain at sit-up #5, my patella untracked just walking, and my big toe now was left with only 20% dorsal flexion. I began wearing orthotics in my bedroom slippers. Did I mention the Achilles tendonitis? In short, I was a mess.

I now had four weeks left to moan about another and final missed opportunity to put the finishing touch on what I started as a child. After two weeks literally on the couch (when not working), I arose on fine sunny day, cramped into my new sneakers ("new", another MISTAKE!) and jogged a mere eight miles. Finishing that easy run in one piece, however, was like pulling a trigger. I would now do anything to at least "try" and make the race.

I don't advocate what I did do to anyone of sound mind but in quick order: I pressed my orthopedist for one last steroid injection into my knee, my podiatrist to inject both toe joints and completely remold my orthotics. I cleared the local RiteAid shelves of all burn, blister and support bandages I could possibly use. I bought every conceivable goo and power gel, combined them into a thoroughbred "milkshake" with caffeine, narcotics and any anti-inflammatories that would still be on the safe side of toxic, and began to drink.

There was a rare meteor shower at 3:30AM the morning of the race. I set my alarm and forfeited sleep in order to watch the celestial event. At dawn I began icing and bandaging and by 8AM I was off and running. Almost four and one-half hours later I stopped. Not forever; but at the finish line. Once more I am a mess, but I had accomplished something astronomers said might not happen again in my lifetime. I limped home, more humbled by the experience than proud. Later that evening, I threw up.

Copyright © 2001 Richard Guida

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