Melissa Wheat continues racing for a cure

Published 12:14 am Thursday, May 21, 2009

Melissa Wheat continues racing for a cure

Editors Note: On February 15, Picayune Item published a story, “Local woman enters Boston Marathon.” Melissa Wheat of Carriere took on her first full length marathon in April as a fundraising effort in memory of her stepfather, Durwood Barber, who was diagnosed with a plasma cell, or blood cancer, known as Multiple Myeloma — he passed away nine short months later. Here is the follow up story on Wheat’s experience running her first marathon in Boston, Mass. — in her own words.

By Melissa Wheat

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I woke up much earlier than the alarm was set. I was in silent shock, I guess. Normally when I’m anxious about something, I can at least talk about it, but I couldn’t talk about this. I got up and quickly dressed and was ready to go. I put on plenty of layers because were able to throw off any extra clothes on the side of the road as donations for homeless people of Boston.

I was dropped off at Boston Commons, so I could get on a bus that would drive the marathoners to the start of the race in Hopkinton, Mass. The Boston Athletic Association sure did have their act together. There were about 20,000 people waiting to get on the buses and there were enough buses waiting in line to put all of us in.

I got on the bus and sat by another runner that provided me with some advice. “Don’t let the other runners make you go faster than your planned time” and “Be careful on the first four miles, they are downhill and if you go too fast, you’ll tear up your quads.” Good advice. The drive from Boston Commons to Hopkinton was LONG! It took 45 minutes by bus, and I started wondering what I had gotten myself in to. Of course, I’ve driven 26 miles, but never thought about how long it really was. Luckily, the bus route was not the race route, so it took longer.

They dropped us off at Hopkinton High School. Thousands of runners were everywhere. I ran around trying to get some last minute carbs and energy. Then, waiting in the bathroom line, I met a few other runners that were doing the run for charity. I also met another lady that had previously run a marathon, but had taken a 12 year sabbatical. Congrats to her for getting out there after 12 years!

By the time I got out of the restroom line, it was time to walk to the race start and I was hyped up on energy bars. It was a good .7 mile warmup prior to the start of my wave. They organize the waves so that you are running with people about your same speed. All of the charity runners are in wave two, my assigned wave. I was allocated to corral number 26 — my number was 26155. I was still awestruck while I was walking to my corral. I got in the back of the corral and started wondering what would happen if we all started running at the same time, I was sure to get run over but they walked us up to the starting line, then we were free to run/walk.

So, I passed the starting line about 25 minutes after the beginning of wave two. My runners’ chip beeped as I crossed the starting line, allowing me to have an official time. I used my GPS watch to help keep track of my pace and mileage. They had mile markers at every mile, so I was able to keep good track of my progress. It felt great to be running on a course that had been used for 113 years, one where so many great athletes broke records and made history. The fans of the marathon were also amazing! They lined the streets of the course to cheer all of the runners on. What an experience!

My coach had told me to run for five minutes and walk for one to help with my IT band (thick fibrous tissue that runs along the outside of the leg) which was causing me some problems. So I did. At mile two, my IT band started giving me a bit of pain, but I continued the run/walk method anyway. I felt great. I was taking in the scenery, enjoying the experience, and watching the other runners and fans. It was chilly, but not too bad. At about mile four, I threw my sweatshirt on the side of the road for the volunteers to pick up for the homeless people.

At mile 8, my IT band was hurting pretty bad. So I decided to walk from miles 8 to 10 to give it a break. I was still walking at a pretty good pace, so I was still in line to finish the race within a decent timeframe. At mile 10, I tried to run again and my IT band said absolutely not. I couldn’t even make a half run step without having piercing pain. So I decided to walk the rest of the marathon. At the pace I was going, I still was going to make it.

The fans were great along the whole route, cheering people on, providing great motivation to keep going. My mental frame of mind was spot on, I was enjoying the experience. My IT band was the only thing hurting and when walking it wasn’t that bad. My muscles were doing great, my breathing was fine, my pace was great. Everything was wonderful.

Then came mile 15. My pace had slowed down quite a bit, but I was still fine with the speed. I met up with another runner that was also having knee issues, so we decided to walk it together, until she met up with her family at mile 17.

I was waiting to see my family between miles 20 and 21. I only had four miles to go and I was still doing great!

Then came mile 18. I don’t know what happened because it came out of no where. My mental game went out the window and I was in a bad state. My IT band was hurting even more and my pace had slowed down too much. I still had three more miles to go to see my family but I was all alone, the crowds were getting smaller, and the weather had turned sour. I was freezing because I didn’t have my sweatshirt anymore and I had dropped my long pants off about 10 miles earlier. I was only wearing a long sleeve shirt and shorts. Since my pace was slow, I wasn’t creating that much heat.

Furthermore, the marathon was officially over at that point. At six hours in to it, they start picking up everything along the course. No more water/Gatorade stands, fewer crowds, no mile markers, no barricades. The road was opened back up to cars. A red cross bus, pulled up to see if I was OK and if I wanted to continue. I did, but I was freezing so they gave me a piece of mylar to wrap up with, it didn’t help too much but it was better than nothing.

Wow, I went on a roller coaster ride of emotion, which lasted from mile 18 to mile 20. I was going to see my family within the next mile, but in one of my down times, I started wondering if maybe they weren’t waiting anymore.

In fact, I did not see my family between miles 20 and 21, but I did see a Red Cross bus.

I called it quits at mile 21, 5.2 miles away from the finish line. I have no regrets for not finishing. It was an incredible experience and I did it for a wonderful cause. I do intend on finishing a marathon one day, very soon.

I do feel bad that I wasn’t able to finish the marathon for my charity. The MMRF bought my bib in to the race and expected me to finish the race and raise $5,000 for them. I did not finish the race, and so far I have not raised the $5,000. They have graciously given me an extension on raising the money.

For those of you that have donated, I sincerely appreciate your donation. You helped me through each step of the marathon. I thought about the charity quite a bit during those 21 miles. I thought about my stepfather and my coworker. My stepfather struggled with the disease and my co-worker is getting treatments and doing very well. I thought about my mom and my coworkers’ wife, how they were able to deal with the diagnosis, treatments, and everything that happened.

If you haven’t had a chance to donate, it’s still not too late. Visit my Web site,