The day had finally come where all of the training over the past couple of months was ready to pay off. All of the hot days running through the forest preserve and around and around the campus at work was going to be all worth it. 10-10-10 was here and I was all ready to kick its ass…or was I?
Yes I may have followed most of the Higdon training. When I say most, I did all but one of the weekend longs runs (missed one of the 10 milers) including the 20 mile run which completed in the rain. I will admit I did not get all of the runs during the week in. I normally got two of the runs in, sometimes including the longer run in the middle, sometimes not. Whenever I hit a new distance during the long run on Saturday morning at Old School Forest Preserve, I was able to own it. I was able to confidently start, push through, and finish each distance. So what happened at 10-10-10? It was too much. I am looking back at how I felt in the morning, and I lost all confidence. I started sweating pretty bad by mile 1, and it was downhill from there! I quickly started thinking of my sodium levels, and how hot it was going to get. I wondered if I started out too fast. I wondered if I could keep up with my pace group. I wondered if there was going to be enough water and gatorade. I wondered if my friends and family would be enough to support me. In all of this wondering, it’s like I forgot how to run and what I had learned in training. The event was simply bigger than I had imagined. 45,000 people registered for the event, most of them showed up all ready to do the crazy thing I was going to do. Probably in better shape, better trained, and better mindset than me. I took myself out of the game before it even started!
I kept up with my pace group (Michele, Kim, Dani, and Bob) for the first 6 or so miles. At that point something just didn’t feel “right”. I just was not my normal running self. I was hardly enjoying myself or the scenery, I was too wound up in the race. Making sure I get to each aid station and properly hydrate. From the sounds of the weather report, it was definitely going to get hot later on in the race, so I made sure to get enough hydration at every stop. And so I did. With each stop I just felt like I was getting heavier and heavier. And to be honest, I was also feeling a little sick from it. I had trained with these two things all summer, why pick a day like today to make me feel like this? Must have been the nerves!
I saw Potter and Tina early, and was glad to see my first familiar faces. I was hoping if I would see these types of faces throughout the day, I would be good to go through the next stop. Soon after I saw Alicia and Barb, which I was happy to see. Gave them a couple of high fives on the side and moved on. I had lost my pace group by then. Then I saw Diana and Noel, and even gave them a big sweaty hug before moving on from them. Somewhere there I somehow passed my pace group and they caught up to me. I was shocked as I thought they left me behind which I was totally ok with. I hit the 10.5 mile aid station, and I was already tired. I even texted Jaz that hoping she would relay it to my friends and they would give me an extra boost when I saw them.
Seeing Alicia at around mile 6
13.1 could not come soon enough. I actually got there in 2:50, which was about what I had hoped. If I could keep this type of pace the remainder of the race, I would be in good shape. I saw my two brothers and nephew first. I was so happy to see them and glad they came down to support me. I told them it was hard and I was getting tired, but like good supporters do, they pushed me forward. Then I saw my friends Erick, Abby, Mike, Tracy, and Joe who had signs and their kids along with my wife and her parents. I had my two godchildren there and I was so happy to see them. I always said part of the reason I want to get more healthy is so that I could be a good example for them, and there they were witnessing it! I stopped and talked a little bit dried off what I could and put on some sunscreen. I heard the second half of the race was less in the shade than the first half, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared. I kissed my wife a few times. At this point, I honestly wasn’t sure if I would see her again. That is how crappy I felt. Erick and Joe ran a little bit with me to get my momentum up again. It did help as it carried me through the next couple of miles.
Sunscreen at 13.1
My goddaughter Haley and her brother Aiden sporting Team Jao bibs – CUTE!
Mile 15…oh man. It was like a brick wall hit me. I had taken all the aid station stops and endurolytes and shot bloks that I had used all summer, and for some reason it just was NOT sitting right. It basically felt like I had to vomit. I knew if I threw up, I would be out, so I just tried going with more water than gatorade for a little bit.
Mile 17 came and yet another person from my pace group comes from behind me. I was shocked as I figured they were all ahead of me. By this time I was walking and he asked me what was up. I totally didn’t feel right and I told him that I was feeling a little sick. My brothers pop up again with my nephew. Tony is first and says he wanted to pray with me, and I told him please do! I needed his spiritual guidance to push me through. He said his prayer which I thought at the moment was very heartfelt I even heard a quiver in his voice because he knew I was having a hard time. Jun was there next and I wanted to collapse right there and have them take me home. I looked at my nephew Eli, and knew I could not and would not let him down. Jun asked me, “you got this?” I told him “I WILL get this” We turned the corner to find nothing but sunshine. Not an ounce of shade in sight. The guy from my pace group ended up losing me, I was a snail. One of the things he did tell me was if I needed to stop, go to the aid station and they can drive me back to the finish. It was the first time I thought that this journey would end on the sourest of endings. With a DNF next to my name. I could not let that happen. I needed something to push me.
MIle 18 came, and there was my college friend Christine. Without going into all the details, Christine has shown me an incredible amount of courage and strength in the time I have known her. Somehow she always is able to have a smile on her face when life sometimes gives her a crappy hand. Clearly, today I (and 45,000 other people) were dealt a crappy hand with the weather, which was at this point was considered threat level red (one level away from canceling the race). She yelled out “There’s Tito Joey!” and then echoed by her son “Go Tito Joey!” I told her I didn’t know how I could finish this race, but she kept insisting that I finish it. She had the accel gel that we had talked about before and I took it there on the spot. Downed some water with it, and knew in about 3 minutes I was going to get going again. I hugged her for her support and started off on my way again.
3 minutes came and I felt a slight burst in energy, so I was ready to run again. Mile 19 came and oh no…my feet start cramping. With every step it feels like I’m getting stabbed on the balls of my feet. I have to walk. I was closing in on 10K left. I am just so close and I am already at my goal time of 5:30. Dear God…I am still so far away to start walking now. I gather up the courage to try to run…cramp again. It’s a cruel cycle. Here’s when things get a little fuzzy…
Mile 20 comes, pain is still there. I am thinking of quitting, but I know it’s not an option at some point I run across Abby’s sister Donna, who had a sign for me. And even had me hold it up for a picture as I rested for a bit by her. I told her I was having a rough time and I just don’t know how to finish this thing. She pushed me back out there to finish it because I was just so close.
Donna finds me, and asks me to hold up her sign. At that point, it felt heavy! LOL
Christine somehow found me again. Had I been that slow that she was able to catch me with a stroller? Yelling “Go Tito Joey!” With her son. I don’t remember if I stopped, but I definitely made sure he saw me because he was clearly excited to look for me, even though he wasn’t 100% sure of what I looked like. I had only met him once before as a baby. That gave me a quick smile.
Chinatown. I don’t know which mile this is, but I always hear that this was the homestretch for the marathon. I had almost all but given up on running the remainder of the distance. I was exhausted both mentally and physically, felt sick to my stomach, and I doubted every step. But then something even worse happened. Police cars were coming from behind telling all walkers to move to the sidewalks so runners could get through. And runners should maintain a 14min/mi pace. This scared me more than injuries or threats of dehydration could not compare to. I ran the risk of getting swept off the course?! Hell no I’m not! I HAD to finish! I did something desperate that I never tried before and asked for a pain reliever at an aid station. At this point, what more could I do to my body that would make it worse? I started negotiating with my body with a run 6min/walk 2min pace. Soon enough the pain started to go away and I was actually running nicely. Miles 22-24 just felt like forever, but I knew I was almost there. I needed one more push…Mylene.
Pretty much everyone knows I ran the marathon for my dad. He died in 1997 of a heartattack. I decided to run the marathon and raise funds for the American Heart Association in his honor. This week, my cousin who is not that much older than me had been diagnosed a heartattack. When I heard news of it, I went to go see her as soon as I was allowed. We cried together with her husband in the hospital room when I realized that everything had come together for me for this marathon. For her. And she told me she would be at mile 26 waiting for me.
Mile 25 ended and I was waiting to see my cousin. But first Erick and Joe popped up to finish the race with me. I was so relieved. I needed someone to take away this pain. I hear my name “JOEY!” from the left, and there is Mylene. With her camera and open arms. I hugged her so tight and told her I loved her. It was that moment of the race that made the whole day for me. It didn’t matter that I was about to come in pretty close to last in this whole race. What mattered is that I was about to cross the finish line at 26.2 miles to prove to my friends, family, and father that I care about them. So much in fact I would put my body through sweaty, bloody, close to dehydration hell to prove to them that I want to be healthy enough for them. It was at THAT moment I knew that somehow, I had already crossed the finish line when I lined up at the start. I felt right. I was ready and to end it off, I had my two boys to guide me home.
Finding my cousin Mylene. The most memorable moment of the race
The medicine had worn off and the pain in my feet returned. I was so close. I stayed with Erick and Joe’s pace. I just wanted to finish this race the way I started it…running. We turned the last corner, and they exited stage left because spectators were not allowed through the finish line. I saw it. I looked to the left and saw Abby with my godson. I knew it was time to finish this thing.
I stepped on the finish line, and instantly looked up to my dad. I told him, “sorry it took so long Pa…I had to remember why I was doing this.” The reason was right there on the course the whole time. Some people run for fun, some people run for a cause, others run to win. On 10-10-10 I ran for my right to live a dream. It didn’t matter what place I came in, I made a statement. If you have a dream, you have to work hard to get it. I wanted to finish a marathon. This 270 pound non-typical runner body finished a marathon in 6 hours and 49 minutes, and yes since you asked, it was a personal record. It is definitely a distant second to being the most difficult thing I had to endure, but I hope that it will open just as many eyes.
Thank you for everyone who has supported me this year. It has been an unbelievable journey but it was only unbelievable because you were there with me.
Pa…that was for you!