What happened next can only be described as a complete and total meltdown. I was still feeling good - heart rate about 150, breathing well, still sweating. I still had plenty of calories (2 gel packs plus 200 more calories in Ultrafuel). But, I had this nagging feeling in my legs. That of exhaustion. My quads wer e starting to rebel. At the pace that I was at, they didn't want to work. All of a sudden, my heart rate started soaring and my legs just said no more. I slowed to a walk and tried to regroup. I struggled through miles 14 and 15 trying to figure out what to do to get my legs moving again.
At mile 16, I experienced something that I had never had happen to me before. I came up over the Claremont St. bridge and got my first view of Mission Bay. Shit! What was that little tower way over there? Sea World? What?!?! Those bridges? You mean I have to still go that far?!?! And even when I get to Sea World I'll still have 4 miles to go!?!?! I moved ahead slower and slower. Mile 17 passed. Hey - that's the 5 hour pace group that just ran past me!!!!!! My brain was now telling me that my body had had enough. I had never had emotions like I was going through at this point. Physically I still had enough in me to move forward, albeit at a numbingly slow rate, but now my brain was doubting my ability to do this. I tried to mentally regroup. I was ready to sit down and cry. Instead, I opted for the next best option. To hell with the bands, sights and experience. I popped the iPod into my ears, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.
The next 6 miles were the toughest thing I've ever mentally and physically had to do. At times I would try to jog, but it seemed that whenever I tried, the street gnomes would pop out of the pavement with their hammers and start pounding my calves. I was now suffering some pretty wicked muscle cramps. My quads were exhausted. My brain was saying quit. I don't remember a whole lot of this portion of the race. I do remember some more rolling hills through Pacific Beach. I remember a lot of the residents out cheering us on. I remember a point where a water station had run out of water - the residents were filling cups with their own garden hoses! What heroes! I remember a water station manned by a bunch of USC alums (Go Tro jans!) It was somewhere in here too that I fell back on my Biology degree and remembered that the issue with the cramps could be resolved by getting some water into those muscles. To do that I needed to change the salt concentration between my muscle cells and blood stream to start effective diffusion across the cell membranes. Now - don't ask me why I was thinking this. It didn't seem strange at the time. But looking back on it now, I have no idea why I would even remotely think about this. But, I started taking a salt packet or two and downing as much water as I could comfortably drink. I realized that I had not had to make a pit stop since back about mile 8 - dehydration had set in.
By mile 23 I was starting to feel a little better. Since mile 20 I had been reduced to a walk. The moment I would start jogging, the street gnomes were waiting for me with their hammers. I hit the out and back at mile 22 and 23. This was the next point I was going to meet my family. I was running an hour behind. I was hoping to see them, but I also knew that it might be unlikely that they would stick around. I was hoping that they would not start jumping to conclusions about my demise. Especially since at this point there were 4 paramedic teams with people on stretchers. One was puking and writhing in pain. One was a tall African American that had passed and been passed several times along the way. Whenever he passed me he would be sprinting. He was now on a stretcher with oxygen and a heart monitor. I anxiously looked for my family as I made the U-turn and headed through the Boy Scouts water stop. Being an Eagle Scout, I was proud to see the demonstration of many of the skills that I had learned so long ago.
Mile 24 was the slowest of my ordeal. Until this point, as much as I wanted to stop and rest, I had tried to avoid the temptation. Frankly, I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to stand. But, I finally had to give in. I went through a water station at mile 24, found a shady spot, and actually sat on the curb. For the first time I noticed a couple of other things. First, the soles of my feet were burning. That could only mean blisters. It felt as if there was something in my shoe. I took one off, found that there was nothing in the shoe, rearranged my sock and laced the shoe back up. This meant that my feet were not going to be pretty later on. Speaking about not being pretty - I noticed a steak of blood on my shirt. Hmm... Started at the nipple. Hmm... I checked for the nip guards that I had placed on each seven hours earlier when leaving the hotel. They were both gone! (I found one later stuck on the inside of my HRM strap). By poor planning I had pinned my number right at nipple level on my shirt. For god knows how long, the safety pin had been carving a little groove in my right nipple. The blood along with the sweat had mixed to create a modern art masterpiece on my shirt! After what seemed like a few minutes (actually closer to 30 seconds), I got up (now that was something exciting) and moved forward again.
At this point I realized I was in the home stretch. I turned right on Barnett. I had studied the map earlier and knew I was within a mile of finishing. I hunkered down and tried to jog again. Guess what? I was able to finally jog again without immediate cramps. I alternated between jogging and walking, and made the final steps on my death march to the finish line. Next thing I knew, we made a left turn and these guys in military clothes with sidearms were welcoming us! Woo hoo! I walked a little further and realized that I was coming into the final "tunnel". I wanted to make sure that I at least crossed the finish line running, so I dig down deep one last time, got my feet moving (more like shuffling), and crossed the finish line to cheers from the crowds. 5:44.20. Not the 4:30 I had hoped for, but I did it - I finished! Wow!
Now to be honest, I was expecting overwhelming waves of emotion. Tears. Hugs. Instead, all I was interested in was getting my gear bag, calling my family to relieve any anxiety they may be under (by now I was hoping in the reunion area), and getting out of my shoes. I hurried my way through the finish area. Iced towel (what a lifesaver by the way - worth the entry fee itself!). Bottle of water (I tried to choke some down. My body was not really interested). Medal (Wow, pretty heavy! Cool design!). Photo (eehh). I found UPS truck 10 and got my gear bag. I looked for somewhere to collapse. Ah! This piece of asphalt right here out in the hot sun looks good! I dropped to the ground. What happened next can only be described as heaven on earth. I took my shoes off and put my sandals on. I got out of my wet and bloodied shirt and got a nice dry shirt on. Got my phone out and found my family waiting in the finish area. Finally - I was done!
I shuffled out of the finish area to the hugs and congratulations of my family. Whew!