Becoming a marathon runner

In early 2012 I was introduced to an incredible veteran’s organization- Team X-T.R.E.M.E.  I was invited to participate with them in the Bataan Memorial Death March which takes place in New Mexico while wearing a full pack and gas mask complete with filter. (The gas masks represent the honor and sacrifice our nations heroes have paid for the freedom we share. The Avon Protection C50 gas mask is a symbol of overcoming insurmountable odds in the face of adversity) training in the mask is a must in order to better prepare for any race or challenge due to the filter’s restriction of airflow. Because I live several states away from any other team member we were only able to fit in one training hike as a complete team. It was a 20 mile hike through the extremely hilly terrain of Richmond,VA. The hike went well and I was told that it was much more difficult than the terrain we would face in New Mexico. Our 26.2 march was a success; our packs were weighed at the finish line averaging between 45 and 50lbs.

Team X-T.R.E.M.E.’s mission is to honor, empower and motivate wounded service members. My experience with them prior and during the march made their mission a reality for myself.  I soon decided that I wanted to not only march a marathon distance of 26.2 miles but, I wanted to run one as well. I reached out to a good friend of mine, Mandy Goff, and told her of my desire to run a marathon. I was not prepared for how excited she would be about the news. Mandy, who is an incredible runner not only encouraged my quest to run a marathon but she also asked if she could join me running her first marathon as well.  Mandy suggested we run the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) later on in the year, which, sounded to me like the perfect marathon. The race is held inWashington, DC and is very patriotic. We had months to prepare for the race and I was excited that it happened to fall on my Birthday.

After picking the race I called one of my closest friends, Ashley Liebig. Ashley was one of the medics that administered care on me shortly after I was injured. Ashley and I became closer after I was at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. She emailed me often to see how I was doing and informing me of how the rest of my company was doing while they were all still deployed to Iraq. Ashley was also on my team during my first Tough Mudder. She always expects the most out of me regardless of my injuries and that is why I wanted her to run the marathon with me. At that point, I realized that I had a team and therefore I had no way of backing out.

I took my idea to my long time sponsor Eric Eisenberg at Biotech Limb and Brace and he agreed to be my sponsor for this race and cover all of my travel, lodging and race fees. The only thing I had left to do was sign up. I became nervous since I had heard that in previous years the race sold out very quickly.

I had mentioned that the MCM was in my sights as a goal for the year on my Facebook page, Noah Galloway-Athlete, and received a message from a woman that shared my enthusiasm for fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Her Facebook page- The Workout Girl, is one that I truly enjoy keeping up with and reading about her journey. Tiffany Tefft,(Workout Girl) asked if I wanted her guaranteed spot for the MCM. I was floored by her generosity and knew that I could not back out from that race following what she did.

The months leading up to my first marathon became blurred by other events. Over the summer, I competed with Team X-T.R.E.M.E. in a Tough Mudder as well as a Spartan Race. In addition, I became involved with Combat Fitness Training Facility(CFTF), under the direction of Sean Dickson. Just two months after I began to work out there, I found myself competing in my first ever CrossFit event, Rumble By The River.

I trained carefully for each event but I was not focused on running as one would expect from a person planning to run a 26.2 mile marathon. To make matters worse, every event I participated in that included any running ended up destroying my running leg.  My great friends at Biotech Limb and Brace were constantly repairing and replacing different components of my running leg which also contributed to my lack of marathon training in the months leading up to the race.

3 weeks prior to the marathon (when I suffered a short panic attack) I decided that I had to start running. I took advantage of the opportunity to run a couple of 5k trail runs that were part of our training regime at CFTF. I was thankful for the short runs since I was struggling with any running at that time. Sean’s concept of training is that his workouts are not specific to any sport, but rather, designed to allow any of the athletes at his gym to take on anything that life throws at them, including a marathon. Because of that, he told me that I would do better than I thought possible and not to worry. Those words gave me a huge boost of confidence. With exactly one week left, I ran 5 miles and called it a day, nothing was left to do, there was nothing more I could do a week before the marathon.

Two days prior to the Marathon Mandy and I flew to Washington DC from Birmingham, AL while Ashley arrived from Texas and her husband Aaron from Afghanistan. The night before the race we had dinner with Mandy’s parents Bob and Gwen along with two of her friends, Catherine Hadfield and Heather Campbell, they were going not only be our moral support but were also recruited as my own personal pit crew. I gave Heather, Mandy’s friend, a backpack with complex carbohydrate loaded supplements, various items for me to use on the course to dry my stump as it accumulated sweat, and BC Powder since pain was imminent and I wanted to be ready. I was extremely happy to enjoy with them a delicious pasta dinner and thank them for their help before heading back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

I woke up at 4:30 am doubting my decision to run the marathon and thinking of ways to convince my friends to skip it. I quickly realized that they weren’t going to give me that option. The lobby was full of runners ready to take on the race, some stood out with their short running shorts or tight running pants, some were covered from head to toe in Goo packets, nutrition bars and water bottles hanging from vest and belts. I felt lucky that Heather was out there somewhere with my backpack waiting to meet us. I knew that I would rather hop the whole 26.2 miles on one leg before I lost my “cool factor” by wearing one of those vests. Everyone stepped out into the dark cold morning as we all moved like cattle through the streets to the subway. At that point we met up with another one of Mandy’s friends, Devon Holmes of Warrior Gateway, that wanted to run with us, as well as my good friend Ashley and her husband Aaron.

Right before the national anthem began, we had everyone together. There were 30,000 runners from every state and 54 countries; from where we stood we could not even see the starting line. Around 8am the race began but, we stood waiting for another 20 mins. When we started to move, it was a slow walk as we got closer and closer to the official starting line before we were able to begin running. I felt well rested and unusually fine with running as we started, but  I thought to myself “we still had 26 more miles to go”.

At mile 2 we stopped so I could empty the large amount of sweat out of my prosthetic leg. Inside the silicone liner I wear on my stump, sweat has nowhere to escape and becomes very uncomfortable, plus the rubbing caused by the shifting of the liner can quickly cause a blister. The quicker I get it dry, the better I am. Once wiped dry and everything back on, we were running. At mile 3 I thought to myself, “I feel incredible! The spectators cheering us on make this feel like it’s nothing!”  Of course I didn’t say it out loud because it was only mile 3.

Every few miles we stopped so I could drain the sweat and consume much needed carbs. The number of spectators on hand to cheer on the runners really did make a huge difference in blocking out what would normally be a, “Why am I running?!” type  of thought in one’s head. But, it was the mothers, fathers, family and friends of those killed in action wearing their loved-ones names and pictures on their backs as they ran that was a reminder of why so many are involved in this marathon. It was a reminder of why that person was willing to push through 26.2 grueling miles, it was a reminder of where I came from and those close to me that I lost and why I must not ever quit. Around mile 12 there were signs alongside the course with names of those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, needless to say, no one dared to quit there.
At mile 14 I announced that I was feeling extremely well and was enjoying the run . Sure, I had 12.2 miles to go, but I felt too good about the run not to share it with everyone else. I was thankful to have Mandy with me especially with my over enthusiasm. Whenever I started to pick up my pace without thinking about the distance I still had to go, she would reel me back to reality.

That worked perfectly until mile 25 when I decided I needed to go faster, much faster.
Shortly after mile 25 the road had a slight decline, I sped up, I heard Devon say, “Use it to your advantage”. I took his advice, but it felt too good to just speed up a little. So, I went faster and faster until I was in an all out sprint. I felt incredible and with each person I passed I felt stronger and stronger. A quarter mile later, it hit me like a Mack truck; I stopped dead in my tracks. I felt every muscle in my body screaming at me in disgust. Mandy was right behind me and immediately asked what I was thinking, truthfully, I had no logical excuse. It hurt to breathe, but I walked it out for a minute and was ready to run again.

Right before I returned to my steady pace, a guy with a flag on the side of the road said, “Do you want a beer?”  Now, normally I wouldn’t mix fitness and alcohol, or more importantly take a warm can of beer from a stranger on the streets of D.C. but at the time it sounded like a wonderful idea. I had numerous friends that had run marathons tell me they had a beer around mile 20 of a run and that it was so uplifting. Why should I be any different? I was just shy of being a “marathon runner” so in my mind I could handle one beer. I didn’t recognize the brand and it was definitely warm but it was the best thing I had ever tasted. I chugged it, thanked the man and carried on. Shortly after drinking the beer I got a serious “buzz” off the one beer which made me regret it as much as my mindless sprint moments beforehand.

I only had one mile to go so I choked down the urge to vomit and carried on. Before I knew it the run was over. I was so happy to finish with Mandy, Ashley and Devon. Our time was 5 hours 48 mins, a slow pace for Mandy and Devon. An incredible pace for Ashley, considering her busy work schedule prevented her from training at all, and not too bad for myself. But, I decided after the run was complete that I wanted to do another marathon and drastically improve my time. I went from just wanting to survive the run at the start to wanting to do another as soon as possible.

I rested for 3 days then realized that I wasn’t in too much pain so, I slowly ran a mile on Thursday following the race. On Friday I didn’t even get a mile before the knee in my prosthetic leg locked up, it had enough running. I was happy with it making it the entire 26.2 miles. Usually, it wouldn’t bother me that the leg was ruined after an event, but I foolishly signed up for a local 10K run earlier that morning and the race was the next day- 6 days after the marathon. Thankfully the guys at Biotech Limb and Brace loaned me a knee to use just for that one weekend. I put it to good use. Unlike the marathon, the 10K was faster in pace and I hurt from the minute we started until the second we stopped. It was Sean’s idea for me to run it and work myself off of the shock my body was in from the long distance I ran a few days earlier, it really did help. My body ached as we ran but with the support of a group of runners from Combat Fitness Training Facility with me, and Sean setting the pace, I pushed through it and finished in 58 minutes and 54 seconds, I placed 92nd out of 116 in my age group of 30-34 males, I was satisfied.

I have always hated running and all too often I did what I could to avoid it entirely. My new found love for it is a huge surprise. Truthfully, I can’t wait to run another race, I even dream about running. Whenever I’ve  heard runners talk about a “runners high”, I always thought they were crazy. I don’t know if I experienced a “high” during the marathon, but I certainly feel the lasting effects of something good and I want more of it. I’m not sure where this will take me next. Maybe, I’ll do a few more marathons; improve my time, and then move on to another type of event. It excites me to imagine the possibilities. I don’t expect those close to me to jump into marathon running, but I do hope they see the joy I find in knowing there are few things I won’t at least try. In my opinion most people have the ability to do all the same things, but allow fear to take over and prevent themselves from feeling the pride of knowing they are in control and hold the power to dictate to their body when enough is enough. You have to quit seeing yourself as weak, unable or beaten. Treating your body as a complex well-oiled machine is the only way you can ever conquer the weakness that spreads within your mind and takes over your life. You must set goals and ask those close to you to hold you to your word. You must train for anything, because anything can happen at any time. You should ask yourself, will you be physically prepared for it? Are you training to be average, or do you want more from life? If you want more, you must put in more. Remember that you can’t just train; you must TRAIN LIKE A MACHINE.


-Special thanks to Kevin High Photography for the incredible images from the Bataan Memorial Death March and Virginia Super Spartan Race.