I’m Gonna Lose a Toenail, or My First Marathon
WRITTEN BY TRISTA KUNCE
Becki hates feet. So I knew when I brought her to my physical therapist to learn how to tape my foot that she would tape it quickly and efficiently, especially after she didn’t believe that I had never heard of a pedicure before.
My feet are faulty: I overpronate, my arches collapse, and I have supination of the feet and bone spurs on the back of my heels. Clearly I don’t have great runner’s feet. And the legs attached to my feet? I’m built more like a chicken than a gazelle.
Oh, and I have iliotibial band syndrome, which I developed a little over halfway into my marathon training. The IT band is a band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of your knee, starting at your hip and connecting just below the knee joint. It’s an overuse injury, but I was in enough pain to get a cortisone short directly into that band of tissue a month before the marathon. After that wore off in a week — it was supposed to last 6 to 8 weeks — I started physical therapy three times per week.
Despite my flawed feet and IT band issue, I ran my first marathon on Jan. 16, 2011, in Phoenix, Arizona. (This is the point in the story that you should picture me flashing the rock-n-roll sign with my fingers and making a goofy face, mouth wide open, eyes buggin’.) It was a Rock ‘n‘ Roll Marathon in Phoenix in January and it was below zero degrees when we left Omaha. Who wouldn’t want to go?
I have to arrive at races early. It’s tradition. We got there about two hours early. With time to spare, we wondered around in the chilly 50 degree weather and found a medical tent. Lucky for Becki, a physical therapist there taped my foot.
I don’t know what it is about my nerves before races, but I lose my short-term memory. After walking to the start line, I realized I had lost my SPIbelt. (Sounds cool, but it’s just a tiny fanny pack for runners.) The belt was my lifeline: It contained my nutrition for the race, my cell phone, and, most importantly, my driver’s license I needed to get a beer after the race.
We found my belt in the car.
And then things began to fast forward for me. We found our corral — lucky #6 — took pictures, and stood around freezing in our shorts and tank tops. I don’t remember hearing the gun, but then we were walking, and then running.
Before mile 2, I had to pee.
After that, things felt good. I felt good. The crowd was energizing, and Becki’s Team Nebraska tank top was getting us, well her, a lot of cheers. But Becki probably didn’t mind that those cheers were keeping my spirits up.
Becki said after the race that she wanted to remember what she said/thought at every mile. I remember what I was thinking at various points in the race, but mostly remember mile 6 and miles 24 and 25. Mile 6 I felt a twinge in my knee, and it started to get stiff. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe my knee was trying to sabotage this marathon for me at mile 6. I was mad — mad in a sense that I started to laugh to myself. “Mile 6? Really?”
So I tightened my knee strap, ran slower, and, sadly, Becki had to continue on by herself. We had been training together for months for this marathon. She was my support. Becki talks nonstop while running, which has always helped me keep my focus on something other than pain and running. But I couldn’t hold her back, so she ran ahead.
I created my own race monologue to make up for Becki’s absence.
“Keep it at a 10-minute mile pace.”
“Are those people dressed up as Christmas presents? I have to high-five the tree.”
“Shouldn’t those young cheerleaders be wearing more clothing?”
“Is that an ambulance? Oh man, I don’t think you’re leg is supposed to do that.”
“Under 11 isn’t bad.”
“Ah, the old guys in short, green shorts. I have to beat them!”
“Speed up Trista! Under 11!”
“Purple-shorts lady. I’ve seen her rear end for miles now. I need to pass her.”
I had fun. I took pictures of the desert landscape as I ran. I talked to other runners, one of who had complete reconstructive knee surgery and was running this marathon. And I thought I was crazy. I stopped to shake my butt with the bands along the race route. I flashed various “rock-on” fingers to people cheering and thanked them for their support. I gave numerous high-fives.
“Old guys. Pass them again. They are fit!”
My knee ached, but I felt strong enough mentally to finish.
“OUCH. Oh no you don’t knee!”
Mile 24 and 25 dragged on as I tried not to focus on my knee. I was running lopsided, it was getting hot, and I had already been running for more than 4 and half hours. My knee wouldn’t do what my mind was telling it to do. It was locked in a slightly bent position and I could only drag it while I ran. So my good leg had to do all of the work, which I paid for with blisters and a purple and blue, pus-filled toenail on that foot.
“That guy is gonna throw up on me. Run FASTER!”
And then I saw the finish line. I picked up my pace, or I thought I did, despite the now stabbing pain in my knee. I had to look good running through the finish line for that last picture they take of you before you finish the race.
As I crossed the finish line, I raised my arms, beat my fists in the air, and thanked the universe. I couldn’t believe I did it. My knee reminded me that I did do it, but all I felt was bliss, satisfaction, dazed, and relief.
Note from Jim – Congratulations on a great marathon Trista and Becki! Great job on a good race! Wish I had made the trip with you!