I got into Baton Rouge by luck and I finished Baton Rouge by luck! It was an interesting journey from knee injury to finish line in less than a week.
“Are you running Baton Rouge next Sunday?” asked Cade a Maniac from Iowa at the start of the Mississippi Blues Marathon on Saturday, January 11th. We were making conversation as we waited in the lobby of the Museum of Arts in Jackson, Mississippi. It was the first of two back-to-back marathons I was running with First Light Marathon in Mobile, Alabama on following day. “No, why? I’m here for a double, that’s enough!” Enough financially, I thought, but if money were no object I’d run a marathon every weekend (at least that how I felt at the startline). Cade tells me, “they have runners from 49 states, Vermont is the only holdout!” He explains how sometimes races will give complimentary entries to runners in these cases. Apparently having all states represented is a big deal for races because it shows the kind of reach they have as a race. Cade’s guess was that Baton Rouge would be willing to do even more than an entry since it’s down to the wire for them. We talked about this for a while as we waited for the start of the Mississippi Blues Marathon. I let it roll around in my head during The Blues race too, but when I finished The Blues way off my target time and with a very painful left knee, I was more concerned about my chances the following day at the First Light Marathon than I was about the potential of squeezing in Louisiana with a last minute complimentary entry. Still, it never hurts to inquire, so I sent an email to the Baton Rouge Louisiana Marathon race director the night between the Blues and First Light marathons.
Within 30 seconds of pressing send my phone rang. I never get return calls that quickly! “We’re VERY interested in Vermont!” said Daniel, the marketing director of the race. He said he could give me 90% off the entry (it couldn’t be free to count towards registered states) and he’d get me vouchers to local restaurants for while I’m there. So I looked into flight prices with him on the phone, but tickets were pushing the $800 mark. I said I never spend that much; I generally limit flights for marathons to $250 round trip. I was looking online quickly and I can usually find something more affordable with time to search different airports. I told Daniel that I had this other race the next day and I’d look into more Baton Rouge flight options afterwards. However, I couldn’t get flights below $600 later the next day either no matter what airport. And when I finished First Light Marathon after 7+ hours of mostly walking on a painful knee, I wasn’t excited anymore about another one so soon. I sent an email to Daniel saying that flights were far out of my range, but I’d check on Tuesday or Wednesday as prices sometimes fall a little midweek. He replied with an offer of $300 towards my travel! Enticing, it was tough to not think about how much fun it would be to run Baton Rouge. But, I was feeling super worried about my knee questioning if I had done permanent damage, wondering how long this would take to heal. It felt stupid to consider another race in a week, discounted or not.
My first self-diagnosis was that it was a strain or sprain to my lower IT band right above the knee. I usually heal quickly and I’m good about taking care of my injuries. Beginning immediately after First Light Marathon, I iced my knee, used Biofreeze and Aspercreme, and compression with elevation. Soon as I got home I started using sports creams with Arnica (the key ingredient that heals wounds and muscle inflammation like magic). I focused on healing foods that reduce inflammation, like pineapple, turmeric, and ginger. I took Epsom salt baths a few nights, used an electric vibrating massager on my legs, and slept well each night. I boosted my vitamin and vegetable intake. I did everything I could; I did everything right. I pulled out all the stops to get my knee healed in time for another race, but I didn’t feel much improvement on Tuesday when I read another email from Daniel. He went up to $450 and a hotel room. It’s an offer I couldn’t refuse! So on Wednesday, still limping, still hurting, but in true Marathon Maniac form, I booked myself on the cheapest flights with the worst times from an inconvenient airport. I was locked into the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge on that coming Sunday, January 19th.
I really wish I could have enjoyed the week in between the races more, but the injury to my knee had me seriously worried. I was being optimistic about the race and hopeful about a finish, but I was also scared I’d end up running on a painful knee again and risking my joints. I wanted to be realistic and accept that finishing may not happen for me, but I was going to show up and try and have a good time exploring a new city either way.
Thursday was the first good day, the pain was subsiding, and by Friday I was walking normal and my knee was feeling fine. I didn’t run or workout at all the entire week. I felt total rest was my best option to be healed in time. So when I left for Baton Rouge early Saturday morning I was walking alright, but I really had no idea how it would feel to run. I was thinking this was likely a strain or sprain so any amount of running could bring it right back. Considering how the race went, I think my self-diagnosis was wrong.
At the start of the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, I was as prepared as I possibly could be. I left my comfy complimentary hotel room with a stomach full from a delicious southern home-style breakfast and I walked less than a half mile to the start with my knee in a compression wrap and Kinesio tape under it. I hoped for the best, was prepared for the worst, and was sure I’d have a fun day in the sun no matter what.
As the only Vermonter, I proudly represented my state from the far back of the start line coral well behind the 7000 total half and full marathoners. My plan was to start off walking and take it from there, I really had no idea what to expect. The day was beautiful, the forecast was for sunny skies in the mid-60s. I was looking forward to a lovely day no matter my running performance. As I waited for the race to begin I met Ray “The Gear Guy” who just finished the Savage Seven three weeks prior. Ray is a Marathon Maniac and he gets comped entry into lots of races for being the dude at the expo that sells Maniac gear. He sure could use comped entries as he has almost 200 marathons completed including seven in a row between Christmas and New Year’s in the Savage Seven Marathons in Oscal, FL. Ray said it took 4 days for the swelling in his ankles to go away! When I asked him what compels him to run so many marathons, he said he likes meeting people. “It’s a party between every start and finish line!” I agree! We talked about how it’s fun just to come out and meet folks on the course and without any other expectation of the race. Ray was a cool dude to talk to just before the race, he put me in the right attitude for running… be grateful to be there, everything else is a bonus. For sure!
Gratitude is an easy thing to have on a marathon course. Especially this one where in the early parts I was side-by-side with a very fit elder lady (early 60′s, maybe) pushing a wheel chair with a full grown disabled woman in it. Inspiring! Gratitude for my working legs! There were dozens of benefit shirts showing how people are running to cure cancer, lymphoma, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, other diseases, to feed the hungry, to educate the poor, to cloth the homeless. Gratitude for my healthy body and education! And, of course, gratitude for being in a race I wouldn’t otherwise be present at if not for my steeply discounted entry and travel. Gratitude for being from Vermont!
Running a marathon can sometimes feel a lot like running by myself and yet not alone at the same time. The Louisiana Marathon felt exactly like that the whole way through. For the first four miles I kept to a very brisk walk with the back-of-the-pack runners and walkers. I had no idea how much or how far, if at all, I’d be able to run this race so I felt an easy start was my best option. It worked to my advantage as I got a really nice walking tour of this charming, small capital city. I doubt I would have caught as much detail if I were running.
I walked fast, continuously wondering how my knee was doing. I wasn’t feeling any pain or even discomfort so it was tough to judge if running would be okay. I was back and forth between being in my head and making small-talk conversation with people around me. I spoke with a couple of overweight girls telling stories of losing weight by training for a half-ironman. I spoke with a young couple running together, one of them with a boom box blaring from in his backpack. I spoke with an elder lady with a lucky stuffed animal hanging from her Camelbak; “Bobo” has helped her cross many finish lines. And, I even chatted with a Marathon Maniac runner I first met from the back-of-the-pack at First Light Marathon. Off and on I chatted with people, so I wasn’t alone, but mostly I was in my head and I felt like I was running by myself.
Around mile 4, I saw the lead men running towards me on an out and back; they were around mile 10 at the time. The guys were working hard, running fast, dripping sweat; it made me antsy about wanting to run. My knee was feeling fine and I had energy so I started to run. I ran about a mile, then walked a little bit, then repeat through mile 8 when a dull ache returned to my knee and I felt I might have sabotaged the entire race by running so soon. I ran into Ray again! “How’s the knee?” he asked. “Not so good, Ray, I was feeling fine, but maybe I ran too much too soon,” I said. Ray said I shouldn’t be concerned yet, “give it more time, if you didn’t run for a week it will take some time to work out the aches and pains.” He was in a very good mood having recently stopped at an unofficial aid station serving up beer and liquor. “I’m feeling great!” Ray said with a huge smile, “I just did a shot of Jack! Like I said it’s a party between every start and finish line!” I can’t argue with that!
I pressed on with a walk-run strategy changing it up based on how I felt. Around mile 11, I ran into Frank on the course! He’s one of my Angel Runners from First Light. “It’s the sweetheart from Vermont! You are looking stronger this time. How are you doing?” He was running with this older guy (70s+), AL, who was taking it very slowly because he ran a 5K too fast the day before. I told Frank that at the moment I felt fine, but I really couldn’t tell. I walked till mile 4, ran till mile 8 feeling good, but it’s been a walk-run since then because it feels so achy. “Still though, Frank, I’m in much better shape today than last week. You really helped me through that race!” I stayed with Frank for just shy of a mile and he filled me up with encouragement, compliments, and enthusiasm. It was just before mile 12 and thanks to Frank, an Angel Runner for the second time, that I broke into a run and sustained it for most of the rest of the race. I saw Frank again on an out-and-back when I was at mile 21 and he was at mile 16, “You look like a superstar!” he called out as I passed him with a big ole smile on my face, “I’ve been running since I left you and the knee is fine!”
All the way through to the finish my knee really was fine, achy at worst, but no more so than any other muscle ache in a marathon. It was the strangest thing how I could barely walk just a few days ago, but now I’m fine running a marathon. I couldn’t believe it. My guess is that I didn’t have a sprain or strain, it must have been a contusion, which goes away quickly, though hurts like hell while it’s there. How strange and glorious this marathon journey can be. At the start I’m scared, overly concerned about my knee, and walking as everyone passed me. But, in the second half I’m confident, feeling strong, and passing runners left and right.
Most of the second half was an out and back and seeing runners coming at me is so exciting as we cheer each other on “You’re doing great!” “Looking strong!” “Wow, you’re fast!” I really love this part of running a marathon with an out and back. This race was especially fun because there were significantly more Maniacs here than at other races because it was a special Maniac reunion race. Whenever I saw a Maniac coming towards me we traded thumbs up and a “way to go, Maniac!” It’s worth wearing the Maniac gear if only for the recognition towards the end when the cheers are needed most. All the way through to the finish line, including the last point 2, I was still passing people keeping a very steady pace. Cheers from the sidelines powered me through to the end feeling better than ever and I crossed the finish in 5h7m, significantly faster than both races the weekend before. I was so happy about this finish! I feel back in the game and without hardly a setback. This race couldn’t have gone any better.
I walked to the special food tent for just Maniacs smiling and glowing in disbelief about my miraculously healed knee and ecstatic about the strong finish. I was enjoying my personal victory surrounded by Maniacs and recounting my story of how I got into the race at the last minute for being a Vermonter when I was approached by this tall and freshly showered man. I didn’t recognize him at first, but it was Cade from Iowa! He finished sub-4 and was already cleaned up. “Dude! Thanks for the info last week, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you!”
Running Baton Rouge was meant to be. By luck I meet this guy at the start of one race who tells me about this other race looking for a Vermonter. The price wasn’t right at first, but the offer to be there became very sweet. My knee wasn’t even letting me walk during the week, but by luck it let me pass runners in the second half of the race. Everything went so well. With luck I got into Baton Rouge and with luck I finished it. The best part: meeting people. It’s what got me there, it’s why I did well, it’s why I keep going to marathons, and it’s what makes them fun.