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My Near Death Experience Running the DC Marine Corps Marathon (Really)

By October 29, 2013 11 Comments
dc-marine-corp-marathon

This is a story about how I almost died running the DC Marine Corps marathon.

Let’s start from the beginning. I’m an athletic dude that has run multiple half marathons, the Men’s Health Urbanathlon a couple of times, and even tried my hand at beating a WNBA player at a 3-point contest. Last summer my girlfriend (now wife) ran the Chicago Marathon, her first, and she loved it. She wanted me to run one with her, which would be my first, so I decided to oblige her by giving it to her as a Christmas present. We opted for the Washington, DC Marine Corps Marathon on October 27.

We trained for 3 months and did not miss a single long run. That’s right, every Saturday morning we were up in the 5 am’s to run anywhere between 10 and 20 miles. Fun, I know. We were both ready and excited for what was going to be a great accomplishment.

It’s race day on Sunday and I feel good, both mentally and physically. Even though this was my first marathon I had set the goal to break under 4 hours (which is a good accomplishment for runners). I’m very goal oriented and when I set my mind to something I do it.

rob-and-rach-marathon

Fast forward to the 13 mile mark of the race, where I’m still running with Rachael, and I notice that we are about 1.5 minutes behind a 4 hour pace. This isn’t ideal but by no means is hard to make up. I decide to break away from her, set on hitting my goal.

Throughout the race my body felt good. I didn’t hit “the wall” like so many talk about and my body wasn’t aching other than what you imagine you’d feel like after running 20+ miles. At the 21 mile mark I had more than made up the time I needed to break under 4 hours. Mentally I knew that I had run 5 miles more than a hundred times in my life so the thoughts running through my head were “stay positive”, “you’ve got this”, “do it for all your friends and family cheering you on”.

I’m now at the 25 mile mark and I’ve got 3 extra minutes to spare to break 4 hours. I’m going to do it! I want to finish strong and enjoy this momentous occasion.

The next thing I know I wake up and I’m laid out on a table staring at the top of a tent and there are tons of medics and doctors all around me (photo above). I’m completely packed in ice from head to toe and from what I can gather things aren’t good, as in I can die not good. I have no clue what is going on but they just keep on packing more ice on me. Apparently I’ve got a body temperature 107 degrees and I passed out on the course in between miles 25 and 26.

While I’m packed in all of this ice, which is less enjoyable than betting the under in an Oregon game, my legs are constantly cramping up. Nothing like adding in some extra pain to make this already unpleasant situation more difficult. Per the medics instructions I can’t move and all I can do is look straight up. This is my life.

I remember the medics saying to each other what my temperature was pretty often but I can’t comprehend this at all. I don’t know what a normal temperature is or even what the problem was. I’m trying to listen to the doctors when they talk to me, comprehend it, and do exactly as they say. They are asking me questions like “what were you doing today”, “what city are you in”, “what’s your name”, “where are you from”. I get all of these right except for “what is the date”. I have no clue (though I probably wouldn’t know this on most days). I assume this is to see if my brain is working.

Throughout all this they continually asked me how I was doing and offered me words of encouragement. Since I had to lay there motionless staring at the poles at the top of the tent I tried to listen for positive words when the medics talked to each other that would help give me an idea on my condition and if and when I might get out of this. Words like “good”, “great”, and “wonderful” were momentarily huge mental victories for me, even if I didn’t know what they were pertaining to.

At one point I saw that one of the medics was wearing something that was blue. I remember thinking, “that’s blue”. As simple as that sounds being able to recognize a color in this absolutely crazy reality helps you hold on for a few more minutes.

My goal through this was to not pass out/go to black as there is no guarantee that I’ll wake up. In order to try and stay awake and alert I went to what I know best, the Pittsburgh Steelers. I repeated out loud over and over again “I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. The Steelers are playing the Raiders”. I estimate that I said this 20 times but really I have no clue. You can take the yinzer out of Pittsburgh but you can never take Pittsburgh out of the yinzer. I was just trying to hold on to something. After that I said “I’m a fighter, I’m gonna live” over and over again. If I’m talking I’m alive.

I pride myself on being mentally strong. Life isn’t easy but if you can stay positive at all times then things will find a way to work out. That’s why I have “believe” tattooed on my left forearm as a constant reminder to believe in my dreams, goals, and anything that I set my mind to.

Amazingly I was never scared or panicked with fear during any of this. I was too focused on doing exactly as I was told and hanging on for another minute. As Sweet Brown said, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

In case you are wondering, no, I did not see a white light. I did, however, say to God that I loved him. I grew up in a religious household so faith has always been a part of my life (and not just after scoring a game winning bucket or winning a Grammy). This was my one and only moment going down this path during this ordeal as I had other things to worry about. I knew that I was good in this area.

All of this went on for about 20 minutes. Think about how long 20 minutes is. Now imagine you are completely packed in ice from head to toe trying to stay alive and there’s not much that you can do. If you’ve ever had an instance in which time seemed to be moving at the pace of a snail, perhaps during Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final with your team up 2-1 in the 3rd period, that’s what this was like, except you are trying not to die.

It’s obvious that no one wants to die, but when put into a situation that is dire and you are staring death right in the face you’ve got two options: give up or fight. I’ve got too many people that care about me and I’ve got too much awesome stuff going on that there was no way I was leaving this earth at the age of 33.

At some point, which felt like an eternity, I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. My view of the world was still laying on my back looking straight up, but new scenery was a good thing. I remember being on the stretcher on the way to the ambulance and there weren’t a ton of clouds in the sky but there were a few, including one smaller wispy one. I was elated to not be wrapped entirely in ice and staring straight up at tent poles so seeing a blue sky and being able to focus on something different was amazing. That’s progress.

It’s not often that you are happy to be in an ambulance, unless you are a Ghostbuster, but at that point I was. My legs were aching and my body was hurting and there was no Sportscreme in sight, but I was starting to get a better sense of reality and felt that the worst was over. I was on my way to the ER where a fantastic medical staff took care of me, had me hooked up to a bunch of machines like I was Drago in Rocky IV, and I was set to recover. I was gonna make it!

rob-post-hospital

This is me being wheeled out of the hospital after a few hours of observation and recovery. Naturally I’m repping a Bacon Sports shirt because you’ve always gotta be promoting, and a terrible towel because I ran with one and my sister Kelly brought it with us when we were in the ambulance. Freaking yinzers.

I can’t express enough my gratitude to the medics and doctors at the Marine Corps Marathon for taking care of me and keeping me alive. I am eternally grateful and hope that I can personally thank each and every one of them. They were selfless in helping someone that they did not know and that speaks volumes about them. I plan on continuing to pay it forward and helping others in a time of need.

I’m sorry to my family for putting them through this. I can’t imagine that this was easy on them. I want them to know that I felt their support the entire way and that I love them so much.

This week try and do something nice for someone that you don’t know. This can be as simple as paying for someone’s meal without telling them or donating your time at a local charity. Someone did it for me and it saved my life. You never know when a random act of kindness could make all the difference.

This story thankfully ends on a positive note. My sister Lindsay, who was also running, crushed it and finished in the top 100 of all females in her age bracket and my girlfriend and love of my life, Rachael, set a personal best time. I’m so proud of them both and am glad that I’m alive to let them know it.

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Rob Cressy

Rob Cressy

Sports loving free throw specialist and yinzer living in Chicago who is awesome most of the time, has run with the bulls in Spain, and is a graduate of Second City's Improv program.