Columbus, Ohio USA
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A Day at the Races
By Adam Gellings
November 2011 Issue

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Paul Palnik

Well, on Sunday at around 1:30 p.m. I finished my first marathon, the Columbus Marathon. I outran myself, I was much more sore than I thought I’d be, and I saw little nooks and crannies I never knew existed in the city that I love.

My goal was to run the first 9 miles and then walk/run the rest of the way. That did not happen with the amount of adrenaline I had flowing through my body.

I got off work Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. and drove down to German Village to Vinnie Cameron’s house on Washington Avenue, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get much sleep, and I was curious to see how it would affect me. Vinnie left the key for me in an envelope in his mailbox, his cat Poobah hissed at me when I came in through the door. Much to my surprise Vinnie was still awake.

We talked for a little bit about what the morning, only a few hours away, would be like and what our expectations of the race were going to be. I laid down on his couch at about midnight and sat there wide awake, I tossed and turned for most of the short night and got only a couple hours of sleep before I was waking up to coffee and cereal in Vince’s kitchen.

I had bought a long-sleeve shirt to wear for the race, but after stepping outside in the early hours I was relieved to discover it was a little warmer than expected. Vinnie’s friend Julie came by at around 6:30 a.m, and Vinnie rode with her as I followed them through the early morning streets of Columbus to a lot close to the starting line that Julie had access to. I was nervous, it was still pitch black and you could see hundreds of people starting to fill the sidewalks like migrating animals heading toward the ark. It was beautiful.

We got out and parked the cars in the lot, relieved ourselves in the cool early morning hours, pinned our numbers to our shirts and strapped on our iPods and began the short walk to the starting line. We walked quickly in the brisk morning, there was an aura of excitement with everyone you walked past, but I stayed quiet, still unaware of what I was getting into.

We got into the huge line, already close to the end; the race was to begin at 7 a.m. There was a lot of hoopla, and some fireworks, a band playing and the mayor waving from atop a stage. I heard the starting gun, but had to wait 10 minutes before I began to move, such a LARGE group. I remember pointing to Vinnie and saying “look at all of the people,” just a wave of people that seemed to show no end in sight ahead of us, it was amazing.

I began running at a very bouncy pace; there are a lot of people to avoid who are slower or just walking. The ground looked like a death march had come through with ominous pieces of clothing thrown about everywhere that people didn’t want to wear. Gloves, fleeces, socks somehow and anything long-sleeved in general.

Since I have a notoriously small bladder I was already looking for a port-a-potty shortly after the starting gun, the three of us were still relatively close to each other, and I tapped Vinnie on the shoulder to let him know I had to stop. We both went into one, and when Vinnie was coming out, the door hit him in the knee and gave him a really good gash that at once began to bleed. It looked bad. He thought nothing of it, and we rejoined the moving mass of people.

Remember how I told you my plan was to run the first 9 miles? Well I was just coasting past usual points that make me tired, mile 5, mile 6, mile 7. I didn’t want to stop. I thought I was going to run the entire race! The most I had ever ran consecutively was 8 miles, but when I hit mile 8, I felt better than I ever had running. I felt invincible. It’s amazing the effect that hundreds of complete strangers cheering you on can have on you. I didn’t want to quit.

My goal had now become running the half marathon 13.1, and I became programed to do just that. Once I hit mile 12 my body started to remind my mind that I was in fact human and that it wasn’t completely okay with what I was doing. My fingers began to tingle and I could feel my feet beginning to do the same thing. I still had my throwaway gloves and hat on. For the last few miles Vinnie was about 50 yards in front of me looking back, he told me later he kept saying to himself that I had probably begun walking and was surprised to see me running each time he looked back. I had to stop, just for a few seconds to calm down, I gathered up my strength and continued on past the 13.1 mile finish line; I had caught up with Vinnie and he high-fived me. He said he was so proud of me, and I told him to keep going, I would see him at the finish line.

This is where the soreness set in, this is the time when I would need all of my endurance. I had stopped right in the middle of the Short North. The amount of runners decreased drastically and the wind fittingly blew trash through the now desolate streets like an Old Western. At this point it was still only around 9:30 a.m. and it was chilly, I was drenched in sweat, there was no sun and the wind now picked up a bit. Did I mention I was sore?

Reality set in that I still had 13.1 more miles to walk/run, err, uh walk, I couldn’t imagine having to run anymore; my body wasn’t going to have it. The marathon playlist on my iPod was moving at a pace my mind could not keep up with. I walked through most of campus; mile 15, mile 16, mile 17. Miles had never before been so long! I figured I was going at roughly a 20-minute miles. But still, strangers and volunteers maintained their enthusiasm and support throughout and that goes an awfully long way. I was seeing beautiful neighborhoods in the fall season and the sun began to poke itself out in the early afternoon, it was breathtaking. It began to warm up a bit, and I had shed my throwaway gloves but still held on to them to wipe the sweat or the errant Gatorade drip away. I was doing it. It was a bit emotional at times, I was realizing that this was in fact the hardest thing physically I had ever done and it was very rewarding. There’s a lot of time for a man to think when he walks for 13-plus miles, and I began to realize how blessed I was and how lucky I felt seeing the heart of my city. Running a marathon is really the best way to get to know your city; she is so inviting.

I surprised myself on mile 22 through beautiful Grandview when I decided to run the entire mile, I had barely run 100 yards before that, but the sun was out and I was motivated to cross that finish line. It was a feeling of accomplishment in itself and I found that if I stretched every mile that that was the prescription I needed to keep on going. I would look for small stone fence lines or benches along the way to raise my leg up and stretch my hamstring and calves on. I’d do a good 30 seconds on each leg and that was generally enough to keep me going.

It was about this time I saw the city skyline peaking up confidently above the orange and red trees bathing in the welcoming sunlight. This was emotional; it seemed a long way from the cold dark morning that sheltered her beauty only a few hours before. That was the finish line, that was where I wanted to be and there was a sense of calmness that flowed through the pain in my legs.

As I came up on Front Street the crowds began to increase giving notice that the end was near and the final water and Gatorade stand would be my last fuel stop for the remainder of the marathon. I pulled over and gave one last stretch on a short black fence post and prepared myself to run the final 1.2 miles.

The run took me through familiar Goodale Park where Vinnie and I had trained every Monday, debating most of the time if there was a slight incline on a particular part of the sidewalk. It was funny to think of those debates as we ran 4 or 5 miles, and here I was on mile 26 of the Columbus Marathon not caring what was inclined, just wanting to finish.

The sun shot through the large skyscrapers as people sat in the shadows nestled in blankets and lawn chairs cheering on the remaining runners, their will just as impressive as those actually running in the race. I had to pause the music on my iPod to take in the sounds of their voices and to really get a grasp on the amount of people cheering you on toward the finish line. It was music to my ears.

Hundreds of people decorated the last leg of the race and the finish line. I even recognized some familiar faces that offered up some high fives in support. There was Vinnie who finished about an hour before me and his friend Jen ready to congratulate me at the finish line. My time was just over 5 hours 35 minutes. I could barely move.

I walked though the racers area where they handed me things like chocolate milk and a banana, but I was ready to eat a Vikings meal. The three of us stumbled over to Ted’s Montana Grill, and I ordered a cold Yuengling draft beer and a massive burger that I completely immersed myself in. It was like getting a gold medal.

One year ago I could hardly run a half a mile. I saw pictures on Facebook of friends that had run the marathon and I thought, “That’s what I want to do.” I had quit smoking, and I wanted to get back to doing something physical and this was the easiest exercise because you are the only person you have to rely on. I kept saying to myself during and after the race that this was the hardest thing I had ever done, and really it was, but what in life can you really enjoy that you haven’t worked hard for? It may have indeed been the most physically grueling thing I have done up to this point which in turn made it the most rewarding.

And now I have a time to beat for next year.

© 2011 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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