Race Day Report ~ Pittsburgh Marathon

It felt as if all of humanity lined up for the race. 25,000 people all moving in the same direction.  Every race, creed and color stood side by side; what a privilege to be included. 

I stand in a sea of people as far as I can see in front of me and behind me a sea of runners, all waiting for the start.

I think about the passing of a little boy who will never get to run, I think about the people that I have visited in the hospital, I think of the e-mail conversations that I have had over the last year. I think about the adventure in service this journey has taken me on. 

I am wearing a t-shirt to represent my reason and my cause for being here.  The shirt was designed by a fellow NMO’er and custom-printed by another NMO’er.  In my pocket I carry a small Fairy stone for luck.  The stone was given to me also by an NMO’er.  The stone is for luck and blessing (both I would need as I would come to find out). Within the stone you can see the shape of a cross. I would hold this stone in my hand at the starting line rolling the rock between my fingers, it gave me comfort and helped to settle my nerves.

At this moment the NMO community is being pulled together for a common purpose, not pushed together for a common enemy (living with Neuromyelitis Optica). This is how I felt, I hoped others did as well.

My day started at 5:50 am being awoken by my alarm. I showered, had coffee, did yoga and then watched the morning news to get the weather report..no rain is all I hoped for. The Fairy stone is working already! A slice of toast with peanut butter and out the door I go. 

My father picks me up and drives me as close to the starting line as he could.  I jump out of the car on an off ramp from the highway.  Walked through a patch of grass separating the highway from the down street and there I was at the far back entrance to the starting line. 

It’s now 7:15 and the streets are filled with runners, spectators and race day volunteers.  The volunteers did everything; thank you is too small of a word. They kept us hydrated, updated on mileage and cheered us on the entire way….they made the run so much more fun.

7:30 am the Star Spangled Banner was sung, the crowd erupted.  Over my head a news helicopter flew low, in the upper sky I could see a jet flying between two buildings. It was a picturesque moment. A whistle blows in the far off distance.

The race has started...it would take me another 25 minutes of standing in line before I would even make it to the stating line.

Mile 1-2
This was more of fast walking then a jog.  Trying my best not to knock into anyone and trying my best to avoid the people who are acting like this is a shot gun start.  I ran straight through the middle of downtown Pittsburgh, a road I have driven thousands of times. Today I was in the strangest traffic jam of my life.  People walking, people sprinting, people jogging and me trying not to get stomped on.

In running, the hardest mile for me is always mile number two.  This is when mentally I think of all the bad stuff, I think “am I really doing anything for the NMO community? I could still be in bed, give up now, avoid the pain.” It’s awful.  Mile #2 is suffering. Suffering is the only cure for being human, somebody once told me. I run. There it is: the first hydration station. I did it...I ran the toughest mile of the day and it’s behind me now. I am greeted by a nice lady who hands me a cup of Gatorade and pats me on my back.

Mile 3 - 6
This is where I would run over 3 of the 5 bridges that I would cross.  Pittsburgh is a glorious city to see from a bridge.  If you are ever in this town give yourself a treat and walk the bridges and the riverfront sidewalks.  There is loads of beauty, history and architecture to been seen. Photographically I consider Pittsburgh to be my mistress of creativity, always there and never having to ask permission and she never let’s me down.

My left knee starts to burn, ache and stiffen up. Damn I think to myself, this is not good. I stop to adjust the patellar-tendon knee strap that I was wearing as a precaution (from an injury 3 weeks prior).  I ran a mock-marathon with a city-running-club to prepare myself for the road miles that would I have to put in.  I am a trail runner at heart.  I ran the 12.6 city run with much enjoyment.  After the run my knee had the same sensation that I am currently feeling now.  That day my run was over, today I have 10 more miles to go.

Pittsburgh is known for being the city of bridges, this day it was the city of fans.  The bridge sidewalks were filled with supporters and fans cheering us all on.  This is the part of the race running that I love.  Hundreds of strangers, supporters and families cheering the runners on; the ego inside of me eats it all up.  Plus the distraction is welcoming to get my mind off the growing pain.

Mile 7 - 10
Pain, ego and purpose is all I have left.  The knee is swelling, thoughts of quitting fill my head.  I think about the little boy with NMO who has passed away, I think about all the training I put in.  I grab the Fairy stone that is in my right pocket and place it into the left pocket, the side of pain.

I walk into the hydration station. I take two cups of Gatorade, readjust my knee strap, three deep breaths and I am off.
I run over the West End bridge thinking if I get over the bridge I will make it to the end.  The velcro on my patella strap gives away falling to my ankle. (insert curse words here) I limp over to the side of the road re-attaching the band.  I begin to repeat the mantra “heart of servant, strength of a fighter.” These are the words I would tell myself when this journey of running started a little under a year ago. Here I am the want-to-be-Lance-Armstrong of the  community thinking about giving up.

Endure more pain, chronic disease creates pain that is out of your control, today I am in control of the pain...I can do this. I run.

At the mile marker 10 I yell out “Hell Yea!” This was asked of me by a fellow NMO’er and it was also a great time to yell out load to let off some steam.  Surprisingly no one seemed to care or even take a second look at the limping runner yelling at the top of his lungs.

Mile 10 - 13
Last bridge of the day to cross, this is it the home stretch. I started over the Birmingham bridge leaving the South Side of Pittsburgh to my back.  Halfway over the bridge coming at me is a giant African American man (I do mean GIANT) riding a mythical-of-a-whopper of a mighty Unicycle.  I do mean mighty...this man had to be at least 340lbs with a smile on his face that you would only see in a Barnum & Bailey Circus….must be an illusion, possibly a mirage, a Pittsburgh 3 rivers mirage..it’s possible. I laugh, smile and he high 5’s me, actually he reaches low I reach high as he passes by me with his cackling laugh.

Mile marker 12, Gatorade and kind words from the volunteers cheering me on “1 mile to go, 1 mile to go, you can do it!” they yell out.  God bless these, people they made the day so much more enjoyable.

Run the last hill of the day, run the last down hill of the day and there it will be: the promise land.

Mile 13 -13.1 The Finish Line
This is it. I did it. I endured the pain.  I tell myself to enjoy the moment, take your time and take in all the sights. Then I notice how many people were running with purpose, effort and personal reason...running side by side with me. To my left was a group of ladies all dressed in pink matching t-shirts.  They are running for breast cancer.  To my right is a group of people running in purple for Autism research.  In front of me were four young ladies running arm-in-arm as they crossed the finish line all wearing matching white t-shirt with the words “I run to stop MS”.

I wear a green t-shirt with the letters NMO in large print.  The pain did not matter.  Nor did my time or miles matter...all that matters is the one thing I know for sure….

You do not need a cure to be healed. Today I became a POSSIBILITARIAN!

After the race ~
As soon as I cross the finish line they place a “runner of steel medal” around my neck.  I am going to give this to my daughter, she will love it.  Hopefully when she grows up she will know that her old dad did something that only %1 of the nation will every do, at least for this one day.

I limp over to the aid station and a kind elderly woman hands me a full glass of Gatorade and a banana. I say “God bless you” and give her hug.  Not sure if she appreciated the sweaty strange man hugging her but she was polite and said “on your way now honey”.

I find a patch of grass away from the crowd and sit down for the first time since my Father dropped me off hours ago. 

Sometimes only metaphors will do: “stay with the mystery” I say to myself... once again the earth shined.