Marathon Stories, by Pat Burch

By Pat Burch

Do you remember the first time you ran a marathon? The nervousness the week prior? The excitement of anticipating the run? The agony of hitting the wall? The thrill of finishing? When it's your first time and your energy has left you, support groups are asking if you are okay and there just isn't enough gu, advil or water left to give you that spark you need, what keeps you moving to where you just have to finish? What makes you get on a starting line when a doctor says you might want to wait a year? When the elite athletes have long finished and even the top half of the runners are done, and the minutes slowly go by. 4 hours, 5 hours, 6 hours, even 7 hours. The true marathoners are still out on the road waiting to capture that moment in time where it stops and you feel the thrill of just finishing.

Being a coach in Austin Fit has given me the pleasure of receiving 45 letters from runners who did the Motorola Marathon. The majority of the letters were from first time marathoners. Their stories, for me, renewed the enthusiasm of that first time. All were special in one form or another but I've picked five whose comments spark that feeling of joy of just running. Ricky Green's brother would tell him that he isn't a normal Green because a normal Green does sprints, not marathons. Ricky and his brother both played college football. Lisa Railsback and Tam Hoang overcame major knee surgery a few years prior to attempting this. Tam's friend, Paul Ivory, told his story. Abraham Prassad was expecting his first child before the run. Marie Mahoney, another coach in Austin Fit, wrote about the lady who was the last person to finish the marathon. These are their stories in their words.


Ricky: To know that I was not 'built' to run a marathon and to realize that everyone I knew questioned my sanity when I first told what I was going to do made it especially sweet.

Lisa: The anticipation grew. We could barely hear what was happening in front we just waited to see some movement forward. Then it came. The group began to move and we were off. Our first requirement was filled. . We started the marathon.

Tam: Tam was a soccer player for many years. 3 years ago he had serious knee surgery on his right knee, removal of cartilage and all that. . . . . We met Tam at 6:15 am . . .He was ready. He had warmed up carefully. He was quite confident.

Abraham: As I lay awake in bed at 4:45 on race day, I could sense the rhythm of my pulse. I felt like a death row inmate, whose time had come, except in this case I had volunteered for it. (Also) the excitement was electrifying. . . here was one moment in time when I bonded instantly with total strangers, even before the crack of dawn. Finally, I sensed feet shuffling all around me, and the entire mob began inching forward. I started my stopwatch, threw my hands in the air, and joined the crowd in one final cheer as we slowly passed the official starting line

Marie: wanted to share a marathon story from one of the Penguins that gave me a new perspective on the marathon. This person finished in 7 hours so she may have been the last person to finish, I'm not sure. From pretty close to the beginning she had the end of the race truck right behind her.


Ricky: What was most memorable about the race? There were so many notable things that I could write days and days about. I had a friend who helped me out so much that I don't know what I would've done without her. Erin, who convinced me run the marathon this year, ran with me for about 8 miles! She met me at about mile 14 and ran to about mile 16, and then met me at mile 21 and ran to about mile 25. While I was cramping, she grabbed a lot of pretzels, powerade, gu, water, whatever I needed to get rid of the cramps and finish the race.

Lisa: It was so wonderful to have all that support along the route, family, friends and strangers...all were out to cheer us on towards the finish. We were all doing great, mile after mile we keep each other company, told a few jokes, had lots of water and GU and then....

Tam: He started out at about a 9:15 pace for the first 6 miles and felt great, in fact he was outwardly relieved that his knee felt so good!! By mile 12 he was running at about a 9:25 pace and still felt very good, lots of smiles and high-5's for the crowd.

Abraham: My first few minutes were consumed paying attention to my body's every move, all the while urging caution to keep a slow and relaxed pace. I felt great, cruising along in the initial miles, and walking through the water stops. By mile 12, I felt I had the power of the Space Shuttle, awaiting lift off. The route on Shoal Creek was great in the residential areas, where folks cheered us from their front lawns, especially the kids waving flags. These were moments when I truly felt like a world class athlete, leading the pack of elite runners in the New York Marathon, and the trees appeared as though hundreds of cheering onlookers were lining the streets. Believe me, I felt like I was on top of the world here!

Marie: I don't know if anyone else has had this experience but I did my first year. Even though you know you are slow it is amazing how fast the huge crowd clears out and you find yourself among only a very few people at the back of the race and feeling kind of weird and lonely. Then the end of the race truck gets behind you and slowly and with a monotonous grinding sound stays there plaguing you the whole way. You wonder if it is going to stall because you are going so slow and you keep thinking about it being there. It was there behind her for a long, long time but she just kept going her usual slow steady pace. Finally at some point the people in the truck told her they were leaving her and she said OK


Ricky: I kept hearing about this mythical "wall" at or around mile 20 or mile 21. I patiently waited, and waited, and waited to face the demons that would devour my spirit and ravage my soul. I'm happy to say that I didn't hit the "wall" at mile 20 or mile 21. Oh, I forgot to mention that I hit it at mile 17!!!!! I struggled, really struggled from mile 19 to the finish line. My legs cramped from mile 19 to the finish that I had to run-walk, but there was nothing that would keep me from finishing. And I mean nothing.

Lisa: and then Mile 18... the left IT band began to ache, I kept with Leslie and Chris for the next two miles, around mile 20 I told them to go ahead and I would see them at the finish line. Around mile 22 I was wondering what I could have done to counteract this problem. Do I stop and try to stretch it out or walk for a while and let it rest or just keep shuffling along? I choose to walk awhile and see if that helped then began running again slowly but getting closer to the finish line with each step.

Tam: Somewhere between mile 21 and 22 an invisible ball and chain attached itself to Tam's legs. His pace dramatically slowed, his smile went away, he wouldn't even high-5 the crowd. We offered encouragement but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. By mile 25 both of his legs cramped on him and he stopped for a couple of minutes to press the cramps out.

Abraham: By the time I reached Caesar Chavez ∓ Congress (mile 17), now almost 3 hours and 15 minutes into the race, I was starting to feel more like a 60's Chevy, than a space bird. Silly me, I was human after all, and I began to sense a dull ache in my legs. No way, I refused to believe the distance was getting the better of me. But by now, I noticed more runners passing me. By mile 18, I decided to slow down my pace, and shorten my strides. My upper body felt great, but my legs were feeling heavy. I distracted myself from the discomfort by waving to the support staff, cheering the other runners beside me, and enjoying the scenery. By mile 19, the neurons in my brains began to sense what I feared most -- muscle cramps in my quads. Yes, mission control was now on high alert. I was furious that my legs decided to behave irrationally, just when I need them most. By now, I had just crossed onto Robert Martinez Rd., and my engine had been running for almost 3 1/2 hours. Several runners were now walking. I could feel the cramps pulsing in my legs, and it began to hurt. Here was when I began to see the human drama unfold. I passed an elderly man, and his distress was obvious. His jersey was bloodied around his nipples. Another lady lay in the grassy area on the side of the road, clutching her foot in hand.

Marie: So now she really was all alone. Then she was in east Austin where she didn't know her way around and all of the cones marking the course had been taken down. People were packing up the water stop. She didn't know what to do or where to go and then one of the volunteers ran to their car and got her a map. She continued on her slow steady torturous way...alone, with no water, no mile markers and no course markers. She finally bummed some water off a guy in a passing car. Her husband was on his bike and finally found her around Lakeshore drive and tried to convince her that this was ridiculous and she should just stop. She said something like, "if that's what you came here for, you can just go home."


Ricky: Because once the race becomes the physical beast that it is, only you can make yourself cross the finish line. When I crossed the finish line, I had to hold back the tears! Since this race was by far the most physically difficult venture I've ever had, it became an emotional triumph to know that I conquered a marathon.

Lisa: I was finally entering the last quarter mile where only runners could enter. I remember how much pain I was feeling and then saw the sign about PICTURES AHEAD!!! I remembered to lift my head high, smile and raise my arms in triumph!!! I was almost done. I began to pick up my pace from there and rounded that last corner to the finish line...I was almost home....I remember everyone clapping and the rush of accomplishment when I crossed that line. My husband was there waiting for me with a dozen roses.

Tam: We expected Tam to walk the last 1.2 miles of the marathon, but to our surprise he pushed ahead, mentally focused on only the path ahead, ignoring the encouragement we offered, but inspired by the crowd that joined us in chanting, "Go Tam, go!! Go Tam go!!" When we finally turned into the park for the last leg of the run he begrudgingly raised his arms to the cameras and forced one more smile. He told us later that the last 200 yards were the worst steps of the run. I was talking to him asking him to remember just how he felt at the moment, to treasure it inside his mind, because he only gets to run his first marathon once. Later he told me he was ready to tell me to shut up so he could focus on the last 200 yards. Finally at 4 hrs 30 min he crossed the finish line, totally exhausted.

Abraham: Finally, 5 hours, and 27 minutes since the dawn of civilization (yes, it was a long time!) I crawled, er, I mean sprinted across the finish line. What a glorious feeling! I've been both humbled by the marathon's distance, and at the same time it has given me a feeling of celebration for this achievement. Quite simply, I'm amazed at the fact that I did it! Where do I go from here? Ever since the marathon, my running shoes have been in the storage closet. For now, I'm looking forward to my new job description that includes speedy-diaper-changing, and prolonged-sleep-deprivation. Yes, that's right, I'm hoping to be a dad pretty soon. Now that's one marathon without a finish line, and so I'll be running for a long time to come :-)

Marie: She just kept going and finally at 7 hours crossed the finish line with a few family members waiting and not too many other people. A volunteer had to dig a metal out of a box for her. While I have known what it is like to be slow and have had the end of the race truck behind me for parts of some races, I have never finished all alone and last. I think this woman deserves a tremendous amount of credit for not only sticking with the training for the long tough 6 months but especially for finishing the marathon under much more difficult and lonely conditions than most of us will ever experience. It is easy to admire and look up to the fast runners but to me this 'marathoner' deserves more credit and admiration than anyone else who was out on the course that day.

For their complete story and stories of others. E-mail me at, Pat Burch