Marathon Man

The marathon weekend kicked off on Friday with the start of Sup and my “carb” load.  For lunch, I made a large bowl of tortolini and noodles while Jet’s Thai friend (Jensen’s grandmother) brought over a large bowl of Pud See Eww for us to eat.  We had quite a bit left over, so I stuffed a plastic container of each for us to bring with us to Nashville for our dinner.  I had Jet snap a couple of pictures of me in my racing garb before we headed out for posterity.

We left for Nashville at around 12:00pm noon and it was a pretty quick drive to Nashville (about 3.5 hours) with no major traffic.  Sup was amazed when we passed the Talladega speedway just a few miles from the house as it is race weekend and there were about 30,000+ people camping and in campers sprawled across the grounds outside the track.  It is always an amazing sight to see.  As we reached Birmingham a short time later, the temperatures reached the 90’s and it stayed there all the way to Nashville, ultimately reaching a high of 92.  That was not good news as we knew it would be a tough, hot race on Saturday on the asphalt roadways.

When we arrived in Nashville, we needed to pick up our registration packets at the convention center in the downtown area.  There were thousands of people picking up their packets at the same time, and with no parking nearby, we just parked a little over a mile away (free street parking) and walked to the convention center.  It was hot and also concerning to us, it was very windy.  We had heard the weather forecast that there would also be wind on Saturday – thankfully there was not much wind during the race or it really would have been a long day.  After picking up our packets, we walked around downtown for a little bit and walked over to LP field (where the Tennessee Titans play) to walk the children’s marathon taking place.  I am not sure why they called it the children’s “marathon” because it seemed that they only ran somewhere between 1 mile and 5k – we did not see the whole route that they ran but the kids did not seem that exhausted when they finished.  Sup and I stood by the finish line and watched the kids pass through (they had multiple runnings by gender and by grade level) and were greeted by Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.

By around 6:30pm – 7:00pm, we moved my car to the LP field parking lot which is where we would spend the night and leave from right after completing the marathon.  We pulled out the packed pasta and Pud See Eww and they were just delicious and they really hit the spot.  We relaxed for the next couple of hours, Sup sleeping and me doing some reading for my classes in Thailand, and then walked over to a 24 hour gas station to wash up for the night.  Even though it was past 9:00pm, the temperatures were still in the 80’s and it was a very pleasant evening.  When we returned back to the car, I rolled down the windows a crack, Sup went to sleep in the passenger seat and I laid down in the back seat of the car.  Sup was recovering from a cold/allergies, so every couple of minutes he would cough and/or sneeze very loud.  This happened for much of the night so I did not get much sleep, maybe two hours at most.

At 4:00am we walked back over to the 24 hour gas station to wash up before taking the shuttle from LP field to the starting line at Centennial Park.  We got into our shuttle, which was a chartered bus, at 4:30am and on the way out of the parking lot, we saw an army (at least 50) of city buses and other chartered buses lined up waiting to bring people to the starting line.  By 5:00am we were sitting down by a water station and waited there for an hour and a half until we started to move towards the starting point.  I remember thinking to myself, “Why can’t we start the race now?” as it was cool out and about a half hour before the sunrise.  While waiting, we saw quite a few people of all types getting ready for the run.  There were large teams of runners with matching shirts and small groups of people with matching outfits.  There were runners dressed in costumes (e.g., Hawaiian theme, chicken outfit, etc.) and others with shirts with sayings on them – the one I liked best was “Why could’t Pheidippides die at mile 20?”

At 6:30am we started walking the short distance to our “corral”, which were broken-up into groups (of 1,000, perhaps) based on the projected finish time we stated when we registered for the marathon.  This way, we wouldn’t have too much of a problem having to run past slow runners for the first few miles.  The groups or corrals (at least 32) were simply separated by two people holding a rope.  Both Sup and I put as our projected finish time at 4 hours, which we felt was practical, but we knew was impossible given the high temperatures forecasted for the day.  We figured that if we finished under 5 hours that we would be happy with our run.  By our corral (number 10 or the first two digits of our race number) was a row of about 20 port-a-poties with a line of about 50 people deep at each one.  We decided to use them one last time, which took about 30 minutes to get to the start of the line.  I have never smelt port-a-poties any worse than those or any of the ones set-up along the race route.  These smelt so bad that I would run to the other side of the road during the race to avoid the terrible stench.

The race began at 7:00am and they let each corral go in about 1 minute intervals.  While waiting, Sup suggested that we go to the back of our corral so that we could start off at a slower pace with no one behind us.  Somehow that made sense to me at that point, so that is what we did.  At this point I brought out my iPod and was devastated to find out that there were no battery left in it.  This is the iPod I bought for my birthday but accidentally put it in the wash within the first week – it has run fine, but has trouble turning it off.  I charged the iPod before we left Alabama, but must have never turned it off.  When I told Sup what had happened, an older woman standing in front of us overhead me, grabbed my arm, and told me how bad she felt for me.  It was a disappointment for sure, but at least this was the “Country Music Marathon” and there were at least one live band playing at every mile.  Besides, not using my iPod allowed me hear all of the crowd along the way.

We inched up closer and closer to the starting point, and at about 7:15am, we were off.  We started off at the very back right of our grouping, and as I passed the starting line, I was watching the crowd right next to me, cheering us all on.  About a few feet from the starting line, I noticed former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist.  That was neat.  Just getting going it was amazing to see the huge mass of people already ahead of us and the even bigger mass of people waiting to get started behind us.  The first mile was slow because we started at the back of our corral and we had a lot of slow people to get passed.  In fact, that is how the first couple miles were.  I just wished that there was some universal way to have slow running people move to the side.  Not that I am the fastest – far from it.  It is just that there were small packs of slow people running together (all of them not running in the right corral as they had numbers higher than “10” at the start of race number).  

Despite dodging people left and right, I was happy with my 9 minute per mile pace at the 5K (3.1 mile) mark.  It was a pretty neat part of the course here because we started to run through Music Row and heard quite a few acts with some of the biggest crowds along the way.  By this point, I caught up with the 4 hour pace group, which is a person running with a “4:00” sign indicating that they will be running at a pace that would finish at 4 hours.  Within the next mile, I passed that group and felt in good shape.  Something that Sup and I did not account for in our training for the run by JSU were all of the hills we had to cover over the run.  Sup had said that there was 1 hill to cover in Milwaukee’s marathon, while here in Nashville, there were well over a dozen.  It was at this point that I started taking in water as I passed the first water station (looking back, that was a mistake) and when I also started to notice the heat.  There was not much shade anywhere on the course and I remembered a sensation that I was running nearby a warm grill, only to look around and see no grill in sight.  It was going to be a warm day.

By the time I got to the 10K (6.2 mile) mark, my pace started to slow down as the heat and hills were getting to me.  At this point, the 4 hour pace group had passed me and I was able to keep pace for another half mile, but they were just too fast for me so I slowed back down.  At this slow jogging pace, Sup had caught up to me and passed me without trouble.  Sup and I had run side-by-side for the first mile, but I ended up being better to “dodge” traffic and was able to put some distance on him.  At this point Sup asked if I wanted to cut the marathon short and just do the half marathon (13.1 miles instead of 26.2 miles) to which I replied “no way”.  We trained for three months to run a marathon, we slept in a parking lot overnight to run a marathon – I was going to run the marathon.  I told Sup that I didn’t care if I had to walk the last half of the marathon, but that I was going to finish.   Sup kept going at the same pace while I still ran at the same slow jogging pace.  I actually caught back up to the 4 hour pace group, which got me upset.  I suspect the person holding the sign actually was going too fast for the 4 hour pace and had to slow back down.  I didn’t know whether to be happy to be back with this group or to be upset for trying to stay at a faster pace earlier on.  This was at about the 9 or 10 mile mark or at the point where the half-marathoner’s split off towards the finish.  That was also the point where I noticed the heat really starting to get to me.

I took in a lot of water at the next station, which were spread out at about every 2 miles along the course.  I ended up walking the next mile, jogging for another two miles, then walking for the next 4 miles.  My heart rate was through the roof.  I was getting dizzy.  I was so very thirsty, but didn’t want to drink too much and just throw it back up.  And there were plenty of people throwing up along the way at this point – all men.  There were also a few people passed out, laying down on the side of the road getting medical help – almost all of them appearing to be in much better physical shape than me despite their current condition.  If they were suffering, it surely would not take much for me to be in a similar position.  And the worst of it was seeing all of the guys throw up tons of water along the side of the road because with every hoarse “bleach” I heard, I felt I was getting closer and closer to joining them.  It got to the point where I had to close my eyes and cover my ears as I walked briskly past.  I thought to myself at that point that it was a real mistake doing the marathon and that I would never run one again.  My main concern at this point, however, was that I had a 4 hour drive back to Alabama right after the run and I really did not want to put myself in a position where I could not do that.  Therefore, I was just fine taking it easy the rest of the way.

One thing that was fun about the marathon at this point were the spectators.  They were there all along the route cheering you on.  Many runners that belonged to different running groups/teams had their names printed on them.  If you noticed the shirt I wore, I wrote “Jet & Ben” on it.  Through the first couple of miles, people kept shouting to me “Go Jet!” or “Go Ben”.  It was a lot of fun and always brought a smile to my face.  Past the halfway point, however, I had dumped several glasses of water over myself and ran through half a dozen sprinklers so the “Jet & Ben” had started to blur and the “&” part nearly faded away all together.  Consequently, for the rest of the run, people we no longer cheering for “Jet” or “Ben”, they kept cheering “Go Jet-Ben” all the way to the finish line.  That really was a lot of fun.

So after walking for about 4 miles, I reached mile 19 or 20 and felt a lot better, so I figured that I start jogging again.  For some reason, the post that Neil Hanlon (former Milwaukee Bomber teammate) put on facebook before I left, “run your own race”, came to mind.  It was great advice because I did just that – I ran my own race.  I kept I nice, steady pace and something surprising happened – I was passing all of the people that were passing me 8 miles earlier.  When I had slowed down and was walking, I thought that I was going to come in last place.  I did not see anyone else slowing down (except for the people having real problems on the side of the road) and I figured that the run was a lost cause.  Passing everyone really did give me a big boost of momentum, and although I did stop to walk a little bit more at each water station, I basically jogged the rest of the way to the finish line.

While I was finishing those last 6 miles – the ending miles that everyone seemed to dread, I actually felt great and I enjoyed my run to the end.  I was quite a feeling and a wonderful experience.  Passing people left and right again.  The crowd cheering “Jet-Ben” on to the finish, and then something amazing happened.  With just over 1 mile to go, I caught up with Sup who was walking his way to the finish line.  I gave him a big hug, looked at him in the eyes, and told him “let’s jog it in”.  And that is how it happened.  We ended up running the first mile of the marathon together and we ended up running the last mile of the marathon together, passing the finish line at 5 hours, 24 minutes, and 26 seconds.  Not a great time by any means and much longer than I thought I would have been happy with before the run, but I was content and I felt good.  I believed that I could have run under 5 hours had I pushed myself a little harder (e.g., not walked as much), but I felt fine at the end of the run and was ready for the drive back home.  

If the weather had been a little cooler (it was 91 degrees at the end of the race at 12:30pm), if there hadn’t been as many hills, if my iPod had been working, or if I hadn’t had to drive back home right after the run (that’s a lot of “if’s”), perhaps I would have made that 4 hour “projected” time.  At least I feel comfortable having finished the marathon and think that I could do another one someday – perhaps in Milwaukee this time.  Maybe I could convince Sandy, Stephanie, Maggie, or someone else to join me.  Maybe not.

At the finish line we got our finisher medals placed around our necks and we were given an ice-cold soaked sponge, which absolutely felt great.  From there Sup and I walked back to my car and I quickly got changed into a separate/dry set of clothes.  I took off my running shoes and threw them away.  I had been jogging in those shoes for about two years now and they were soaking wet and very smelly after this run.  A fitting finish for such fine shoes.  I then drove Sup to a nearby Hertz rental-car location which closed at 2:00pm (we arrived at 1:30pm) where he rented a car and drove to Chicago to be with his aunt and uncle, while I drove back home to Oxford, Alabama.  And that was that.

I got home at around 5:30pm and met up with Jet and Ben.  Although Ben was going through another one of his “fever” stints again, Jet had off from work and it felt great to be back home after finishing a marathon.  Can I say that I have “run” a marathon even though I walked a big part of it?  My legs were a little stiff and the inside of my left knee was a little sore, but other than that, I feel just fine.  I got a call from Sup this morning (Sunday) and he told me that he arrived in Chicago last night at around 10:00pm to some bad rain, but he also did not feel too bad.  Even today, my legs are just a little stiff, but it is likely nothing that will slow me down at all in the coming days as we finish packing for Thailand.

Here are some final statistics:

Bib: 10135; Name: Andrew Ciganek; Age: 32; Time: 5:24:26; Place: 2931/3961

Bib: 10136; Name: Suprasith Jarupathirun; Age: 36; Time: 5:24:26; Place: 2932/3961


Before Marathon

Before Marathon

Shirt After Marathon

Shirt After Marathon


3 Responses to “Marathon Man”

  1. sweethomealabama Says:

    I am so pound of you Daddy.. Ben

    I am so glad to see him came home without pain and went out to eat at German house at that night. Then next day we also went to eat and hang out with Thai family for ribs and barbecue and finished with hamburger with Danny, Sarah, and Donald. Too bad Linda is sick and she has planned this evening night for us before we leave to Thailand.

  2. Kristin Says:

    Nice job Andy. This morning I taught Josh how to google your results. From the moment his eyes opened this morning all he wanted to know was how you did in your race. Of course you can say you ran a marathon, and no I will never run one with you. Alright off to buy Brewer tickets for Sat so we can see Renee ride the ball out on a Harley. Hopefully it won’t rain on us while we are at Miller Park today.

  3. Linda Says:

    Sorry I had to stay away from everyone the last couple of days. My fever has been 99.6 to 101.6, which is high for me. My normal temp is 97.6. All I have wanted to do is stay in bed and rest, no energy to move around. I went back to the doctor today and saw the nurse practioner. She did flu test, blood work and urine test. I have signs of infection, so she gave me a shot (big ouch!) and called in an antibiotic. Maybe I will be able to join the living in a day or two. I’ve missed you guys, but I don’t want anyone else feeling this bad!

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