I have not always been a runner. But for as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to ‘be’ a runner. In middle school, I went out for track. They put me in the 100m. (Guys, I’m the worst sprinter around. And my reflexes are anything but cat-like.) I finished dead last every meet. Needless to say, I finished out the season and hung up my shoes and vowed to try another sport.
My freshman year of high school I went out for field hockey. (I’m still not sure why. I’d never played in my life. I knew no one playing. And, I grew up playing soccer – which most of my friends were playing.) After the month of July’s conditioning and way to many timed 2 milers, the coach put me on varsity. This certainly had nothing to do with my complete lack of talent and experience with the sport and everything to do with ‘Meghann can run!’ I still remember the shock of coming in 3rd in the timed two mile the first week of practice. I still didn’t like running. And, I definitely didn’t consider myself a runner. But, I will never forget that this was the first time in my life that I heard that I had some potential as a runner. I went on to also play lacrosse, which suited my 5’11” frame slightly more appropriately, and I was able to use my endurance a little better standing upright as opposed to bent over.
But….. I have always been an endorphin junkie. So, it was just a matter of time until I found my true calling: The grind of the distance runner. Ironically, running my first marathon was my new years resolution. This is the one and only resolution I have made – and tbh, I actually strongly detest new years resolutions. But, thank you 25-year-old-Meghann for making that one, sticking to it, and shaping me into a runner.
Marathon #1 : Cleveland 2009
GOAL: FINISH! But, secretly…. Sub 4 hours
My first marathon was everything short of conventional. The first race bib I ever pinned to my chest was the 2009 Cleveland Marathon bib. I do not recommend this btw. The furthest I had ever ran before training was 5 miles. I trained 99% by myself. I enlisted zero help. (Unless you consider Hal Higdon’s free marathon plan download help) I had no clue what I was doing. But, the marathon sounded prestigious and challenging and I was really up for a good challenge. Challenge accepted and mission completed. My outward goal was to finish. But that top secret goal I kept only to myself because I was afraid of telling people and ‘failing’ was to finish in less than 4 hours. By the skin of my teeth, and with the help of a Cincinnati-based science teacher who made me quit walking at mile 25 when I was seeing dead people, I met that goal!
I have zero photos of me running the race. (Obviously this was pre-social media days.) I do have a post marathon pic with mom and dad but this got me thinking….
Are there still race photos out there I could find? An extensive google search led me to ‘smugmug’ and this gem. (Yes, I gladly paid $1.99 for this and it was worth every penny!)
This unflattering photo doesn’t come close to depicting the pain I was in and sheer confusion of what just happened. (Why would anyone willingly put themselves through this?!) And I swear my neck wasn’t really as thick as my head in 2009. But, I do swear that was an iPod on my arm, not a phone.
What I did right: I had the courage to start.
What I did wrong: Nearly everything! Trained in secret because I was worried others would know I failed if I didn’t follow through. Fueled my body poorly on the daily. I refueled post long runs with M&M cookie bars because I would fuel so minimally before and during that the nausea would wreck me and this is the only thing that sounded appealing. I didn’t carry fluid on runs or come up with a hydration plan, ummmm ever. Zero cross training, stretching, and ab work. Whoopsie Poopsie!
Marathon #2: Columbus 2009
Goal: A Goal- Run Faster. B Goal- Boston Qualify.
I’m not sure what transpired between immediate post race Meghann and ‘I’m gonna run another marathon’ Meghann. But, I kept up my training. (Still on team Hal Higdon) But, I enlisted a local ART certified chiropractor, Tim Keyes, to help me with some hip issues and learned a ridiculous amount from this smart, ironman, beast of an athlete. Over the summer while I was training, I started talking to this guy (thank you match.com) who kept telling me he wanted to meet for a run. After a couple weeks of talking over the phone, he said he was going to meet me for my long run. At the time, I was doing my long runs after work on Friday through cleveland heights – shaker – downtown. (Wait, can we talk about this… Who does their long runs on Friday nights exhausted from the week!??! I did. Because then I could still go out with my friends all weekend. #priorities) So, he met me in a parking lot for a 14 miler mid summer heat run, shirtless, for our first blind date. Needless to say this stud hung around for awhile because this was an epic start.
This race felt significantly better. I had fun. It didn’t hurt as much. And, I officially had the I-love-marathons plague. I didn’t qualify for Boston, but I was so close I could taste it.
What I did right: Enlisted help. Communicated my goals with others. Found some running support. Carried water on runs. Started taking gels during long runs. Started stretching and foam rolling.
What I did wrong: Only carried water (no electrolytes or glucose) in a disposal water bottle. (what I would give for a photo of me running up Cedar Rd, Friday afternoon rush hour, carrying a Poland Springs bottle) Still under fueling on the daily and during runs.
Marathon #3: Cleveland 2010
Goal: Boston Qualify or BUST.
At this point, females under 35 had a 3:40 qualifying time for Boston. (After the 2011 Boston Marathon registration when the marathon filled in 17-ish minutes – they changed the qualifying times and registration process.) My previous marathon was less than 3 minutes off a BQ and that was far too close for comfort and I wanted to run Boston so badly. That shirtless runner named Matt was still in my life and training to run his first marathon in Cleveland. Unlike me, he had history with running in high school and college but had been much more focused on weight lifting than cardio until we met.
Do you like how I lined these up to make it look like I beat him? I didn’t. He was waiting for me at the finish line…….. with an engagement ring.
I said yes and ugly cried like a crazy person. Then, I started wheezing and couldn’t breathe. You know how hard it is to breathe and cry at the same time post marathon?!
BQ + Engaged = Crusty, Ugly Crying, Wheezy, Ecstatic Meghann
What I did right: I trained my tail off. I slept more. I started wearing a GPS watch. I started cross training. And, I had some competition in my then boyfriend – now fiance.
What I did wrong: Still only drinking water during races. Only taking 2 Gu’s (not nearly enough carbohydrate.) Still under fueling on the daily.
Marathon #4: Boston 2011
Goal: Soak up every second of running Boston. And, secretly, I wanted to PR.
It doesn’t take a veteran runner (which I was not!) to understand the magnitude and prestige of the Boston Marathon. The allure of the unicorn, heartbreak hill, and Boylston street hang over us all. I was told by many people that the course was tough and it wasn’t a place you PR-ed. So, my first goal was to enjoy it. Soak it all up. And I did.
Wedding planning made me nervous and training for the Boston marathon was the ying to my wedding planning yang. At the time, I lived 75 minutes from work, so between my commute, training, work, wedding planning, and moving into a new home it forced me to be very strategic with my time and training and this was, actually, exactly what I needed. I was more disciplined with my training than ever before.
I mean, look at that face at mile 22!!! I was pumped. In retrospect, I was trained to run faster than I did this day. But that meant the whole race was enjoyable. I never felt uncomfortable. And, I truly believe this experience is a huge part of why I love Boston so much.
What I did right: Nailed my training plan – deviated from Hal this time. Incorporated different types of runs (tempo, LT, etc) into my training, not just running the mileage. Started fueling more strategically throughout my days. Began looking at food as fuel for setting up my runs for success instead of a reward for running or ‘burning it off.’
What I did wrong: I still have such euphoria for this race that I do not think I would change a thing…. wait, i would have worn sunscreen. It got real sunny. And, I got some real sweet tan lines that escorted me down the aisle a month later. But, it was the experience of a lifetime.
Marathon #5: Columbus 2011
Goal: PR- See how fast I can go on a flat course.
At this point, I officially had the itch. The I can’t stop training and running marathons itch. I not only enjoyed the race but the process. I was running 5-6 days a week. I was logging the highest mileage ever. I felt strong yet out of control.
Out of control because the pain in my feet was becoming nearly unbearable. When I started training for my first marathon, my right big toe immediately gave me trouble. I saw a doctor after that marathon, was diagnosed with ‘turf toe’ (hallux rigidus) and chalked it up to my days on the field. He wanted to do surgery and told me to stop running and I was obviously completely non-compliant and never went back. But by this point- 2 years later- the pain was now in both big toes. Oddly enough, the pain was less when running (than walking) as I was severely compensating while running by rolling to the outside of my feet, altering my gait, and not engaging my glutes. But, before this marathon – every walking step I took was painful. My hips and back were constantly irritated and painful. And, all the sudden, something that I loved so much was causing me a significant about of pain and suffering.
I vowed to give this marathon everything I had in the tank and see where it got me. In my heart I knew I needed to intervene with these feet regardless of my running future.
What I did right: I got gritty. I believed in myself. I trusted my training. And when it got hard, and it felt impossible, I kept pushing.
What I did wrong: I was still under fueling during the runs. I might have taken 60 gm of carbohydrates this entire marathon. To put that in reference, Kipchoge just took 100 gm of carbohydrates per hour of his 2:01:39 PR. Now, he was covering a few more miles than me per hour, but if we equalize this – I was still significantly under fueling and should have been taking 60 gm of carbohydrates per hour – or over 3x the amount I took.
To make a long story short, it was more than just a turf toe injury. My toe joints are genetically square instead of round. This led to premature arthritis, bone spurs, and cartilage loss in the second joint of my big toes. The options were presented to me and I decided on joint salvation surgery now, knowing that this is a degenerative condition, it will come back, and something will need done again in the future.
I went to a new doctor, Mark Mendeszoon DPM, who specializes in athletes and was a collegiate and Olympic runner himself. We decided on a procedure to reshape the joints, remove the bone spurs, and drill some holes to help regrow cartilage.
Post surgery, I got some sweet photos and the news that they looked even worse than the x-rays. Pre-surgery, I was apparently the proud owner of big toe joints that looked like an 87 year old at the ripe old age of 27. Post-surgery the owner of some sweet booties and even sweeter scars. (Warning: slightly gross pictures ahead. Skip to Marathon #6 if you’re squeamish.)
If I haven’t lost you yet, here’s what they looked like all sewn up. This was about 10 days post-op.
Who wants to go grab lunch!?!? I get it – it’s a little graphic. But this is what I was working with 11 months out from my return to the Boston marathon in 2013.
Marathon #6: Boston 2013
Goal: To finish.
Little did I know at the time, my goal was the overarching most important goal for all the runners of the 2013 Boston Marathon. To finish safely. (The picture below is turning left onto Boylston St and seeing the finish line for the first time.)
Training for this marathon was the toughest – mentally and physically – yet. The first time they put me on the AlterG after surgery, I ran 5 miles at 80% of my body weight. Then, I went home and cried all night because I was in so much pain. Lesson learned: Meghann will run through a brick wall if you let her. I needed strict supervision and a plan. Through trial and error, we came up with a plan. That plan was no back-to-back days of running. My feet just couldn’t handle it. (TBH… my feet didn’t really handle training this soon after surgery at all. It was gruesomely painful.) So, my training plan consisted of 3 days of running – a long run, a tempo (or other speed work) run, and a medium long run with maybe some speed play. This left time to cross train, lift, and all the other things I ignored in marathons past.
This was the hardest marathon I’ve run to date. I was in pain the whole time. I was out of shape for the hills, training mostly on a treadmill. And, I almost stopped and walked more times than I can count. My mental game was in the toilet – and I wasn’t sure I even cared to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But something kept me running. Someone kept me moving. And, I thank god daily for this – as my parents were waiting at the finish line right below the flags where the first bomb went off less than 1 hour after I finished. If I had stopped. If I had walked. They would have been there. (In the picture below – the man in the orange hat by my left hand is my dad. Mom’s camera lens is under my hand.)
Thankfully, we were taking these lovely photos in a park when the bombs went off and we were back in our hotel room before we even knew what had happened. However, my heart is forever with all the victims, their families, and the city of Boston for this unthinkable event.
What I did right: I enlisted a LOT of support. Dr. M’s guidance, PT and AlterG. Dr. Keyes ART expertise. Kurt’s 6am spinning class two days a week at Lifetime Fitness for some serious cross training. I was fueling well and consistently on the daily.
What I did wrong: Trained mostly on the treadmill. Any uneven or slippery surface under my unsteady feet caused more pain (and worry) – so I found myself on the treadmill more often than not training through a very cold, icy, snowy winter. That hindsight’ll get ya – and I’m gonna say it. I rushed back too fast after surgery.
Goal: To have a couple kiddos.
This wasn’t the easiest process for us. It was filled with a lot of grief and sadness before we got these two adorable little rascals on this earth. For me and my feet, I knew I did not want to return to running full marathons until I was done having kids.
I stayed fit. I ran almost my entire pregnancies. But the only thing I was training for was my mental wellness, sanity, and those bambinos. I knew that staying active was the best way for me to mentally and physically stay healthy for these kiddos.
I also had the dream of this easy breezy delivery and beautiful birth story – where I barely broke a sweat, coughed and baby arrived (I kid on those last two …. you all know I break a sweat just walking briskly to my car) because I stayed in such great shape. Nothing was further from the truth when my mammoth 9 1/2 pound kid got stuck and after 36 hours of labor we had a c-section. Followed by some vascular issues with kid #2 and the fear that I’d get ‘stuck’ in the same situation as kid #1 again led to c-section #2.
On the left is 2 days before 9# 5oz Smith arrived and on the right is the morning 8# 2oz Sloane ‘arrived.’ Those planned c-sections allow for cute photo ops wearing the same clothes like this one.
Running post c-section, I’ll save that for another post, but it’s just as hard as it sounds. I enlisted an incredible chiropractor, Leo Kormanik, and his team to help me get all my muscles talking to each other again and regain strength, form, coordination, and function.
During this interlude, I started the long process to become a sports dietitian. I had seen first hand the difference that fueling can have on athletic performance. And, quite frankly, I wanted to learn everything I could about it to help others smash their training and goals. Becoming a sports dietitian requires 2000 hours working with athletes’ nutrition, studying like I was back in college (hellllllloo Krebs Cycle and all things energy metabolism), and taking a board certification exam. I had an absolute BLAST. (And, shout out to everyone who let me work with them during this time!) I took the exam 6 months pregnant and passed that bad boy. I got to add 4 more letters to my name – CSSD: Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.
Marathon #7: Columbus 2018
Goal: Sub 3:10 (But really want to get close to 3:05!)
So here we are, onto marathon #7. Over 5 years since my last marathon and life is barely a glimmer of what it was back then.
As some of you may have noticed, two things were constant in my first 6 marathons: the white hat and my wide arms. Really… look back at the pictures. That white hat made it to every starting line. I’m terribly superstitious and this hat was the one thing that carried me, connected me, and reminded me of the grind that got me to that line. Five years wiser, and that hat has been retired. I haven’t worn it once in this training cycle. I’m hanging it up. Because this is a new start, a reintroduction, with bigger and badder goals than old Meghann would have ever felt she was capable of achieving. And, I can promise you all one thing – no matter the time I step across that finish line, I will have given that race absolutely everything I have to give.
And as for the wide arms, old habits die hard – and I apparently still think I’m carrying a lacrosse stick- and they will undoubtedly be making an appearance!