Friday, November 1, 2013

BMW Frankfurt Marathon

Only July 23, 2012, I posted on Facebook

 "went running for the first time today (quite possibly the first time ever)... plan to make this a regular thing."

I remember the run that day.  I weighed 285 lbs.  I had just downloaded a "Run 5K" app on my iPod (best $2.99 I have ever spent).  The program called on me to run for 45 seconds.  I struggled.  The weather was scorching hot - mid 90s.  I sweated profusely.  I wore a XXL pair of basketball shorts, my everyday tennis shoes, and an old football t-shirt.  In a fortunate stroke of luck, I discovered the nearby Mount Vernon Trail on that first day.  I listened to the album Some Nights by Fun. on my iPod and laughed as the lyrics gained new meaning.  (Sample lyrics - "It gets better", "Carry On, Carry On", "Put one foot in front of the other").  I came home proud of myself and determined to go out running again.

Four hundred and sixty-one days later, I completed the Frankfurt marathon.

Just about to start the race

The marathon was a tale of two halves.  The first half went very well.  I ran naturally at a good pace - about 10:00-10:30 min/mile.  There were tons of people cheering us on downtown.  I saw Sara several times on the course, along with a few other friends.  I felt good.  I had no doubt I could finish the race.  The twenty minutes of rain felt refreshing rather than depressing.  The scenery was pretty.  My music was good.  I ran the entire first half of the marathon without stopping or walking.
Still smiling at the beginning of the race
Then the second half of the race happened.  Around mile 15, we crossed the bridge back to the north side of the Main river.  I remember running with the wind at my back - feeling tired but still good.  Then everything just started to fall apart.  The IT band on my right leg tightened up causing me to begin to have knee pain in my right knee.  Then, my feet became sore (possibly from me changing my gait to try to alleviate the knee pain).  At mile 17, I told myself I would run 2 miles, then walk .2 miles.  By mile 19, I wanted to run 1 mile and then walk .1.  By mile 20, I hoped to run 1 km at a time and couldn't even do that.  Every step hurt.  I stopped to stretch every 500 meters.  My running speed was barely more than a fast walk.  I dropped from a 10:30 min/mile pace in the first half of the race to 15 or 16 min/mile pace during the last half.  The 4 hour 59 minute pace runners - trained runners who run at a steady for a specific finish time - passed me by as I hobbled along.  I had no chance of keeping up and my goal of finishing in under five hours disappeared.

I wanted to quit.  I really, really wanted to just stop.  But I thought about how disappointed my friends and family would be; how disappointed I'd be in myself.  I chanted the slogan that everyone used in my support video over and over.  "Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run."  At mile 23, as we returned to downtown Frankfurt, I saw Sara again.  I practically started crying as I ran towards her for a big hug.  She whispered words of encouragement and I knew again that I could do it.  Those last 3 miles were a struggle - I think it took me close to an hour to finish those final 5 kilometers.

BUT...I did it.  As I turned the final corner and saw the "hammering man" in front of the Messe, I summoned my last bits of strength and endurance and "ran" to the end.  The finish line is actually inside the convention center with a red carpet, music, an MC calling out the names of the finishers and family and friends cheering on their loved ones.  As I entered the hall, I could hear Sara cheering and picked her out of the crowd in the bright lights.  I pushed through as hard as I could, arms raised above my head.  I was done.

I'd like to think of this smile as "relief"

Running itself is a solitary exercise.  Each day, you are out there by yourself.  Pushing yourself to run further or faster than the day before.  But the running community is a family.  I have had so much support over the last 461 days, that I cannot begin to express my gratitude to those who helped me accomplish this goal.  Notentirely,  an online blogger I have never actually met who first told me about couch to 5K.  All of those who ran my first 5k, the Dead Man's Run, with me.  Manish and the Crystal City Crew for suggesting the crazy idea of running a 10 miler.  All my facebook friends who gave me running tips and encouraging words.  My family, who all probably thought I was crazy, but kept encouraging me anyway.  Sara, whose presence and love kept me going more than she'll ever really understand.  Friends who began to seek out my advice about running and telling me their running stories.  Frankfurt, for being kind of boring this summer, pushing me to do something.

Random moments from the race:
  • Around mile 3, I witnessed a collapsed runner receiving CPR from paramedics.  Completely freaked me out.  Not that I thought I was at risk for a medical issue.  I couldn't imagine putting in all the effort to prepare for the race only to have it end tragically.  Reminded me of the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings.
  • Germans are not very creative or enthusiastic race supporters.  There were tons of people watching the marathon, but they weren't very loud.  There were almost no signs.  American races are full of fun and supportive signs and they really help pass the miles.  I missed having those here.
  • Speaking of signs.  After the race, a German apporached Sara and asked her how many "Al Caniglia:  You're Amazing" signs she had made.  He appeared astonished when she said it was just the one because he had seen here 5 or 6 different times on the race.  Another runner came up to her during the race and told her that SHE was amazing for getting around the marathon so much.  That guy was right, she was amazing and her support really helped me finish the race.
  • At my lowest point, I seriously thought about quitting the race, but I had no idea how I would get home from where I was.  I eventually decided if I had to keep walking, I might as well stay in the race.
  • I had some trouble with my GPS watch.  It couldn't connect to the satellite at the beginning of the race due to all of the skyscrapers.  It also ran out of battery about mile 23 or so - probably because I had already been running for almost 5 hours.
  • About 2 km from the end, a very old man - at least 80 years old - shuffled past me easily.  On the day, two 80+ year old men and one 75+ year old woman beat me in the marathon.
  • In addition to the regular marathon, there was also a marathon relay.  Teams of four could combine to cover the 26.2 miles.  The relay teams started about 10 minutes behind us, so there was constantly a stream of relay team members passing us by.  Nothing was more frustrating than seeing a fresh relay runner jog easily past you on mile 20.
  • People keep asking if I plan to run another marathon.  To make sure that I did not make this dumb mistake again, I made a video during the last three miles to remind myself how much I hurt.


  1. This makes me so happy! Congrats, you can feel super proud. Hope you had a wonderful time with Sara!

  2. Al, I'll have to tell you about my horrible first (and only) marathon sometime. You did great! Alissa