Don’t Try This at Home

It’s been a couple of weeks, dear readers and I’m terribly sorry for the long absence.  I know you’ve all been waiting to hear what I might write about next.  Well, wait no more.

I signed up last year to run in the Big Sur International Marathon with the team from Afghanistan.  We were running in memory of Joe (and Marty and Aaron) and to raise funds for the Captain Joseph House; check out the site by clicking on the picture below (and feel free to make a donation):

Knowing myself, I knew if I could find any excuse not to run, I would, so I did what I did the last time I had the crazy idea to run a marathon… I procrastinated to start my training runs until the last possible moment.  That way, I couldn’t let silly things like the desire to sleep get in the way.  I didn’t have time for that.  I had to run.

Except I didn’t.

The Last Marathon - 2006

My first (last) marathon was in 2006.  It was appropriate.  I was 26 on the 26th of April.  The year was 2006.  A marathon’s length:  26.2.  Could there have been a more appropriate time to run a marathon in one’s life?  I think not.  So I signed up for, you guessed it, the Big Sur International Marathon.

I made the decision in September 2005.  I began training in January 2006.  And not a moment before.  I held a full-time job (go Air Force!), a part-time job (ten-key at a bank encoding checks), and carried a full-time plus student load (23 semester hours anyone?).  I was a busy little bee.  As a result, I decided to forego the short runs during the week (who has time for that?) and ran only the long weekend runs on Saturday mornings (or afternoons, or evenings).

The results were better than I’d have thought with a schedule like that.  On drill weekends (go Guard!) I drove my car to the base on Friday night and my sister drove me home.  That way, on Saturday morning, I was forced to get up on time in order to run to work.  It was brutal some winter mornings, but enabled me to get 15 miles in without any trouble.

One weekend, a friend invited me to ski on Saturday.  I was supposed to run 19 miles that weekend.  I had a tough decision to make.  I made it.  I ran Friday night, completed 30 minutes of DVD Yoga in my living room (probably causing the Hindu gods tremendous embarrassment on my behalf), and skied eight hours.  I followed up skiing with 30 more minutes of living room DVD Yoga.  My legs were tired, but surprisingly not sore.  That’s when I became a Yoga believer.

When April rolled around, I was ready!  Except the USAF had other plans for me, and I was slated for deployment.  I arrived in Afghanistan rather than Monterey at the end of April 2006.  I awoke one morning at around 0330, and thought to myself, “Well, now is as good a time as any,” so I strapped on my GPS and proceeded to run 26.2 miles around Bagram Air Field.  (They have since started a Bagram Marathon, but at the time it was just me:  A Marathon of One… I am such a trend setter!)  There were no aid stations and nobody along the route to cheer me on.  I couldn’t wear headphones, and the heat of the day kicked in early.  There were others on the course that day… but nobody else completed the entire race.  To be fair, I’m not sure they knew they were supposed to be running a marathon.  I took first place overall as well as in my sex and age categories which is easy to do when you are the only participant.  Woot!

Bagram International Marathon Champion Pose

Which brings me to this year’s event.

There I was, procrastinating the winter away, not a care in the world, waiting for January when I could start preparing for Big Sur.  The morning after Christmas, I noticed I was feeling a little under the weather.  I rested for the week, and into the New Year.  My cold symptoms cleared up pretty quickly… all except that lingering cough that so frequently accompanies the flu.  I gave it some time.  And then some more time.  And then I really couldn’t wait any more so I went for a short four-miler.

My cough got worse, and I had to take more time off.  My supervisor finally insisted I go see a doctor.  Six weeks from the initial cold I was diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis.  Apparently that pesky little cough wasn’t going to clear itself up.  Ever.  I took a round of steroids and antibiotics.   A week later, I felt great!  I knew I needed to go easy on my body, so I decided to wait one more week or so before attempting to run again (the clock was ticking quickly by this point).  And then it happened.

Relapse.  I found myself feeling far worse than I had all winter.  My lungs were pained, I was short of breath, I was still coughing, and I felt like the walking dead.  All I wanted to do was sleep.  This time, the doctor prescribed stronger steroids and antibiotics (treating me simultaneously for bronchitis and walking zombieism pneumonia), insisting I get lots and lots and lots and lots of rest.  Apparently my idea of taking it easy the first time was insufficient.

Around March I finally started to feel good again, but not so good that I wanted to run.  Then again, I never want to run.  I just want to feel like I finished running.  Now that is a good feeling!

With less than a month to go, I finally tied on my running shoes and went for a walk  run.  I made it two miles from home before I had to walk because my lungs were aching.  Not the usual I-avoid-cardio-like-the-plague ache, but the we’ve-been-traumatized-by-illness-ache.  I figured I would walk to the top of the hill, catch my breath, and resume running.  Only I didn’t catch my breath (until I’d been home for about an hour).

At the time of the 2012 Big Sur International Marathon, my statistics were:  Total training runs: 2.  Total mileage: 8 miles  Longest run: 4 miles

This weekend’s events were about a lot more than running an endurance race, though.  It was an opportunity to laugh, cry, and heal; it was a gathering of old and new friends and family.  The race itself didn’t matter that much to me.  I would have liked to have been prepared for it, but seeing those I’d served with and their families was far more important.

Joe and Marty and I hopped in the car (well, Joe hopped, Marty made me pick him up, and I calmly slid behind the wheel) and drove to Monterey.  After their trek across the sea, I am hesitant to put the poor guys on another plane ever again.  Besides, they have long outgrown their hard crates, and the next size up won’t fit in my car to transport them to the airport.  They are both excellent travelers, although Marty has a propensity toward carsickness (which is probably why he makes me pick him up to get in the car every time).  Luckily, dogs can have Dramamine, so we’ll probably try that on the next leg of our journey, and see if the little man does better.

The team hadn’t seen these guys since mid-October in Afghanistan and they’ve grown up quite a lot since then.  Marty immediately recognized his favorite team member and insisted on taking him for a walk.

Joe was the center of attention for much of the weekend (since this was a gathering to honor CPT Joe), and he handled all the extra attention like a champ.  He is usually so aloof toward humans, and very picky about who he gets close to; this weekend he was full of love and puppy kisses for all.  I think he knew this was a special group of people and that he was a special pup.

Joe Meets Joe's Sweet Mom


And Makes Himself Comfortable

Marty, bless his heart, always the center of his own universe, was gracious enough to let Joe have the limelight.  I think he sensed the special environment as well.  He didn’t behave jealously of the attention Joe received; he simply appreciated the situation.  True to form, he was always ready to give love and affection should anyone demonstrate the slightest inclination for it.

Marty Meets Marty's Beautiful Wife


And Grins with His Pearly Whites While Exposing His Belly for Love

Joe’s family wanted to have Joe and Marty at the finish line to help greet the runners, but the pups were a little overwhelmed by the crowd and other dogs in the vicinity.  Since Mom was running, they were a little off-balance with their handlers, and did better away from the noise.

Speaking of Mom…

The alarm went off at 0230 on the morning of the race.  The boys were confused by the change in routine, and were pleased not to be left behind.  They were deposited with Joe’s mom at her hotel, and I proceeded to meet the team for drop-off at the bus pick-up point.

The ride to Big Sur felt like a hundred miles (and like it was entirely downhill, making a solidly uphill marathon back to Carmel).  We arrived without incident, and stood in a small circle shivering in the cold.  I wondered what in the world I was doing and what possesses people to do this sort of thing to themselves.  We exchanged thoughts on running, “What is your plan?  One foot in front of the other?”  “I ran on some fresh asphalt the other day… ah-mazing!”  There was a lot of laughter.

Before we knew it, it was time to make our way to the starting line.  I smiled at the irony of wearing a shirt that said, “Lead From the Front” as I made my way to the rear of the pack where I would spend the entire race.  I knew if I could just finish half the race, I wouldn’t have to feel too pathetic.

The View From the Course

The first eight miles were great.  I had no problems and was making incredible time (for me).  At the ninth mile marker, I had cramps in my right foot, so I pushed through and ate a gel pack.  Ick.

Miles 10-12 are uphill.  They aren’t on a severe incline, but they culminate at Hurricane Point, which I discovered was aptly named.  Brrr… the wind was crazy.  One runner said they saw another get blown completely over.  I believe it.  I think I was running in place for a while.

I made it to 13.1, across Bixby Bridge and past the classical pianist.  I wasn’t feeling too shabby either, and I was still on course to make it to mile 22 by 5 hours (the requirement to finish the race).  Not that I had any expectation that I would make it that far.

Photo Courtesy of

At mile 19.5 I got a charley horse in my right quad.  OUCH!  I stopped at an orange cone to massage my leg for a minute and pushed through the pain.  I knew if I could just make it to mile 21, I would still qualify for a 21-miler medallion.  The thought of returning to Carmel with nothing to show for my effort was enough to keep me going through the pain.  My mantra at this point became “just two more miles, just two more miles.”

Amazingly, my lungs held up beautifully.  I felt no side effects from the bronchitis/pneumonia.  I guess my plan to rest them worked out.  Unfortunately, my plan of resting my legs simultaneously did not work as well.  My legs just did not have it in them to complete the race.

I passed the 21 mile mark doing an estimated 400-minute mile pace, and prayed the bus would pull up beside me and make me depart the course.  It didn’t.  I reached mile 22 only a few seconds past the noon deadline, but it was enough for them to direct me to the waiting school bus.  I have never felt more relief.  And disappointment.  I did run 5.5 times farther than any of my training runs.  But I didn’t complete the entire 26.2.  I’d have liked to do that.

Big Sur Finishers' Photo... not pictured: me, because I'm still dragging myself somewhere along the course

The Big Sur International Marathon is an amazingly beautiful course.  But it’s not for the faint of heart, and certainly isn’t for novices, or those without training.  I don’t recommend running without having several miles (recently) under your belt.  I do recommend it, though (2013 anyone?  I promise I’ll actually train this time).

The weekend wrapped up with a dinner honoring Joe with friends and family.  It was an incredible weekend, and I look forward to next year.  I value the new friendships I forged and appreciate more than ever the opportunity I had to know Joe, Marty, and Aaron.

Rest in peace, Gentlemen.  You are forever loved.

A very special thanks to the families of Joe, Marty, and Aaron.

And most especially to the Captain Joseph House Foundation for organizing such a wonderful, healing fundraising weekend.





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