Running the Chicago Marathon with Susan

Versión en Español aquí.

Antonio Argüelles, good friend of ours, Swim4Good swimmer and double triple crown swimmer tells us about his new challenge.  And, as we can expect from him, his new challenge is within the reach of very few people.  Concretely, only 6 people in history so far. I’d like to thank Toño for his generous and emotional words and actions towards Susan.  

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Five years ago I swam the Triple Crown (Manhattan, Catalina and the English Channel) in a single season, a challenge for which I prepared during 3 years. As I finished, I had the recurring question: “What now?” The answer was that I wanted nothing to do that involved training–I took a sabbatical year from sports, and just did an hour of recreational physical activity per day. At the end of my break, I embarked on another adventure, this time away from water, rather closer to the heavens. I started training to attempt to climb Everest. It was a different experience, and I wound up not being able to achieve this goal. In the process, I broke my femur and struggled to run-ever again. Perhaps this was because during the 3 years that I took to prepare the Triple Crown, I never ran.

In one of the interviews I read on this blog, Damian Blaum quoted his coach: “he who does not run, cannot swim.”

Two years ago, I decided that before I went back to the water, I wanted to run a marathon under 6 minutes per km. Luckily Professor Tadeuss Kepka, the trainer of many great Mexican long distance runners, took me under his wing. Getting back into running form in these last two years was difficult. It took several months and several injuries to adjust my body after the fracture. I had to find the right speed and balance. Every time I ran faster than I should, I was getting injured. Last year I ran the New York Marathon in almost 4 hours 40 minutes and I thought I was one step closer on the road to recovery. In December I did 50 minutes on a 10K, but I tore my groin. Injuries became a recurrent theme, so I decided to combine running with swimming. Damian’s coach was right: Running helps swimming.

As my momentum was building, I started to think about my next swimming challenge. Gradually, the Ocean’s Seven challenge materialized- the ultimate swimming challenge. I was e-mailing Steven Munatones and researching online and gradually the challenge took shape in my mind. On Saturday August 30th, I met Nora Toledano at City Cafe Sport City and together we outlined how I’d attack this beast (it’s the right word if one takes into account that only six people have completed it in history). After meeting with Nora, I made a mental note to share the news with Mauricio–I was excited to have a project for Swim4Good.

This past April, Mauricio and Susan invited me to be part of Swim4Good swimmers. On top of being honored, I was happy to be part of an organization where my swimming could have a social impact. The Ocean’s Seven was the right project for Swim4Good.  Additionally, I wanted to share with him the news that the book that Nora and I wrote, Stroke by Stroke: The Endless Sea, was translated to english and close to going to print.

On September 1st, 2014, a new Swim4Good blog post showed up on my phone. I initially thought it was going to be Susan announcing that she was going to swim Catalina. I startled reading the content—I could not believe my eyes. Susan was the fourth person close to me affected by cancer in less that one year.

I thought of her two young daughters and of Mauricio. I was angry to see how life was playing a cruel trick on my friends. I quickly reacted and thought of my swimmer friends who have beaten cancer. They all have a “Never Give Up” in their DNA. Susan clearly is one of them.

I did not want to read Susan’s second post. I just did not know what to say. Just then, I received an email from Kate Bialas, Susan’s sister who invited me to participate in a book that we would make for her so that she could read it in her chemotherapy sessions. An excellent idea and a good opportunity for me to tell Susan what I felt.

At the same time, the Chicago Marathon was approaching. My injuries had continued throughout the year and I had not been able to do runs of more than 20 km. The years when I could do at least eight 30 km runs before a marathon were long gone. Some days I doubted if I could run the 42,195 kilometers. I thought of doing a half marathon instead. I would sure find a good excuse to justify this decision.

And then, Susan’s third post arrived. I gathered all my strength and I read it. Her post reflected her tremendous fortitude in the face of her disease. My fears were put aside: I was going to run the Chicago Marathon with Susan. From her, I was going to get the strength to endure the pain and achieve my goal of running 6 minutes per km, the goal that I had set for myself to find out if I was ready to start training for the Ocean’s Seven.

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I made a copy of Susan’s September 1st blog post. I carefully folded it and put it in my running short’s pocket along with my Accel Gel. This would be the source of energy for my mind and my heart. The marathon started at 7:30AM. The first kilometers would be the most complicated because in the previous two weeks I had problems with the left Achilles tendon and the right hamstring, so I didn’t want to make the mistake of starting too fast.

At the 5 km mark, I took 60 seconds to stretch my calves, and at the 10 km mark, I took another 60 seconds to stretch my hamstrings.

After 15 kilometers, I started having contractures in my right leg. Sign of trouble. My first reaction was to stop to stretch again, but if I continued stretching every 5 kilometers , I was going to add 8 minutes to my time. I thought of Susan. I had to find a way out of the crisis. I took a deep breath, I touched Susan’s words in my pocket, and concentrated on relaxing my muscle. It worked, I felt better.

At the halfway point, I started thinking if I should continue or not. My longest run in the last year had been 20 km. My pace had been 5:53 minutes per kilometer and I thought that I could continue if I ran a bit slower in the remaining half. The strategy worked, but at the 35th km, I dropped to 6:33 minutes / km. I had 7km left and I could not afford the luxury of losing 3:30 minutes at this point. Again, I thought of Susan, I relaxed, and I averted the crisis.

I gradually picked up speed , completing the 41st km in 5:25 min. It hurt but it sure did not hurt as much what I was imagining other people going through. I had to do something radical. With all my strength, I increased the pace and finished the last kilometer in 4.25 min / km. When I crossed the finish line, I held the printout of Susan’s blog post. It was disintegrated from the water and sweat– my legs were in a similar shape as the por piece of paper! For me it was the beginning of a new journey, and I am sure that for Susan too, We will soon be swimming together again under the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Related Articles:
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 1)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 2)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 3)
Antonio Argüelles, Triple Crowner in a League of His Own



Categories: Swim4Good Swimmers

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1 reply

  1. Amazing. An inspiration. Xoxo. Dana

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