Everyone endures some kind of pain when running a marathon. It is not possible to run, walk or crawl 26.2 miles without some discomfort. And for many of us, that's the point beating the pain; running past the place you feel like quitting.
Sometimes, however, that pain is significant enough to make even the most determined runners question their sanity. John Bozung officially entered that group Saturday when he decided to finish the Top of Utah Marathon after falling less than a half mile into the race.
"I felt my face scraping across the pavement," said Bozung, a veteran marathon runner who once made the papers by running 52 marathons in 52 weeks. "I tried to stand up but I couldn't. ... There were no scratches on my hands. That's how fast I went down."
Bozung, 55, tripped over a speed bump about five minutes after starting the race Saturday morning, cutting a huge gash into his forehead, upper lip and breaking his nose. His wife, Marcy, his stepdaughter, Rachel, and some other friends they were running with carried him to the side of the road, while people he didn't know ran back to the start to get medical help.
"I was kind of mad," said Bozung. "I was embarrassed that I fell. They asked me if I knew who I was and where I was and determined I wasn't delirious. ... Although, when I said I wanted to finish the race, they might have questioned that."
They did indeed. Bozung listened to them discussing how to get him down the canyon while he thought about his reasons for being in the race that day. For the last 15 years, Bozung has run a marathon every month. That's 180 consecutive months running 26.2 miles in about four hours. It is an unofficial world record. Luckily, he'd run a marathon earlier in September, and one of his first thoughts was that at least his streak would be in tact.
But, if he quit, which everyone was encouraging him to do, another, almost more important streak, would come to an end.
"In 230 marathons, I'd never not finished," he said. "I wasn't going to start Saturday. ... I knew by about mile three or four that it was going to be okay."
Paramedics taped the gash on his forehead and his mouth as best they could, and off he went. His wife told him he looked like "Bozo the Mummy" as all that was visible through the white gauze was his swollen, broken nose. The first mile took him just under 30 minutes. He and his wife knew they couldn't continue at that pace if they wanted to finish.
"We did the second mile in 10:38," he said. "After that it was 10- or 11-minute miles until about mile 18 or so, and then we slowed to 12- or 13-minute miles. I finished in 5 hours and 25 minutes."
He had to re-apply bandages at one medical stop, and when he finished he went to the hospital, where he received 35 stitches in his battered wounds. He said there were many reasons he made it through the race that day the kindness of others, the support of his family, the constant care of the paramedics, a woman who told him she wanted to quit but, after talking with him at about mile 20, decided to keep going, and the men and women in the U.S. military.
"I thought to myself what I'm going through is nothing compared to what our troops are going through for us right now," he said. "My best (race) times are behind me...It's a lot more meaningful for me to help someone else finish."
He thanks those who helped him Saturday, both strangers and friends, because as most runners understand, he gained an experience that he will draw on for the rest of his life.
"Marathoners and ultra-marathoners have a real perverse definition of the word fun," said Bozung, who runs several of his own ultra-marthon races, including the Squaw Peak 50-mile run in June. "I know I'll get to the finish. I've done it before. This time it took more. I had to dig down a lot deeper. It's not about the time; it's about the people and the places. Running has opened up the world for me."
And as far as finishes go, Saturday's ranks up there with the very best."Proposing to my wife 20 feet before the finish line of the Walt Disney Marathon was the most memorable," he said. "But that was probably the most eventful finish. This was definitely emotional. I got welled up because there was a moment when I didn't think I'd see that finish line."
E-mail: [email protected]