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photo by Bert Jolley

So, I put in my time training for my first marathon.. all of the long runs, the late nights and early mornings out running, while my gracious and supportive (as well as very pregnant) wife managed our 3 kids so I could put in the miles..

All of the sudden, it was time to taper. The last three weeks were frustrating for me, as I’m sure they are for every first time marathoner. I still wanted to train, wanted to keep my routine.
Then, all of the sudden, again, it was race day.

I had put a couple of goals in front of myself throughout the training, and it was now time to tackle them. Here they are, in order of importance (to me)

  1. Finish 26.2 miles
  2. RUN 26.2 miles
  3. Finish in under 4 hours
  4. Finish in under 3:40 (yeah right)

I knew that I could finish it, one way or another and I’d been doing my long runs at a 8:30 pace, which would have gotten me in well under 4 hours (9:09 pace).
I’d done my 20 miler at 8:30 and felt great, so I thought I’d be good to RUN the entire thing at that pace.. maybe drop a little at the end, but still come in under 4 hours.
During the training, I’d been really consistent with timed refueling and measuring my liquid intake to keep my stomach from filling up and making me sick, etc. I had planned and prepared.. nothing could go wrong, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

On race day, I was well rested and prepped.. loaded to the gills with carbs. The temp was 52 degrees at the start line, just like the previous year, when I’d run a half marathon (in 1:42:43). Somehow I was put in corral 2, but that was ridiculous, so I dropped back to corral 4 to be close to the 3:40 pace group.

I started out strong, tried to ease into a 8:20-8:30 pace but came out around 8:06 in the first mile. That’s when I made my first and biggest mistake.
I SHOULD have immediately dropped my pace down to where I KNEW that it should have been. I SHOULD have been saying “NEGATIVE SPLITS, NEGATIVE SPLITS” and “start slow, finish strong” but I felt really good, and had a runners high, I guess.. so I kept up the 8:06 until around mile 14, when the hills started.

Until mile 14, I’d been consistently eating GU Chomps every 2 miles (how I’d trained) but I made another mistake. I drank too much, out of boredom. It wasn’t really warm, and I wasn’t really sweating much, but I just kept taking drinks. I carry 2 24oz bottles because I prefer to regulate my own liquid, rather than waiting on aid stations, but in this case, it worked against me. I drank too much, too often. The sweetness of the Cytomax and the Chomps together just made my stomach feel gross and full. That made me not want to eat the Chomps (for the rest of the race) so there went my energy source. I continued to drink on and off, but every gulp reminded me how gross my stomach felt.

I got a little boost by seeing my wife and kids cheering me on around 14/15. Then a mile later my friend Bert was yelling for me. Seeing all of them was more helpful than they’ll ever know.

Mile 15 was where things started getting tougher than I’d expected. I was starting to lose steam earlier than I had in training, so I think it was more surprising than anything else. I fought off fatigue for a mile or so, then all of the sudden, I stopped running.

It wasn’t a conscience decision, I just stopped.

I was still walking, still moving, but I was just internally going “What just happened? Why am I not running? NOOOOOOOOO” Goal #2 was dead.

Now, one of the reasons this was a big deal to me is because I found early in my training, that if I stop running once, I can justify walking again and again. And in this case, I did. I was able to start running again and get a couple more solid miles in, but around mile 18 my phone stopped playing music (a huge motivator for me) and that felt like a kick in the gut.
At this point I was still holding a 8:12-ish pace, which was great, still better than I’d expected.

Somewhere around this time, I remember trying to figure out how to take a mental snapshot of how awful I felt, so that after the race, I would remember “this is stupid.. there’s no reason a person should do this. remember NOT to do this again.”

Then a few minutes later, around 19.5, my phone died…
This meant, I had no pace info, no distance updates, no music. I know a lot of runners don’t have that stuff pushed into their ears, and they do just fine, but this has a been a staple of my training. On top of becoming more and more exhausted by the minute, I felt like I was flying blind in relation to meeting my time goals.

In mile 20, I started getting some bad cramps in my quads, things that I’d not run into before, which made the run/walk cycle necessary for the rest of the race. I grabbed some salt to help (which was new to me and burned the crap out of my tongue). The salt helped quite a bit and I was able to hold a decent pace while I was running, which I don’t think was ever more than a half mile at a time.

The last 6 miles were awful. It was a constant set of waves hitting me, exhaustion, then motivation, then exhaustion.
I kept moving, brisk walking or running, but I was disappointed in the fact that I wasn’t able to run it straight through.
At one point, a man in his 50’s ran past me and said “Come on, you can’t let this old man beat you!”. I took a second and then took off running after him, thinking that he’d be a good steady runner to follow, but I just couldn’t keep it going.

I fought the best fight I could fight from then on. I probably sounded crazy, I remember loudly yelling at myself “GO! RUN!” once, just to get my legs moving again.

Finally, I made it to the last turn, about .1 mile to go. This is where the crowd started to get thick again. Everyone was crammed in waiting to see their loved ones cross the finish line.
I was running around the corner, right behind 3 or 4 other guys that looked as awful as I felt. I don’t know where it came from, maybe just my body wanting it to be over with, but I went into a full sprint to the finish line. I’d love to know if I was actually going as fast as it felt like I was going. Regardless of the speed, I passed several people, and honestly felt like I finished with every ounce of strength that I had.

3:56:02

Goal #3 accomplished… somehow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve learned a ton from training and running a marathon, most of which is about ME, and not about running at all. I won’t bore you with that stuff. But here are some things I learned about running.

  1. Set goals.
  2. Running is not about time, pace, distance. It’s about discipline, and it’s about the individual. (unless you’re one of the elites, I guess)
  3. In a race, stick to your pacing plan, don’t assume that how great you feel at the beginning (or middle) is enough to carry you all of the way through.
  4. Remove every obstacle. If you get thirsty and want to quit, carry more water. If your knee bothers you, buy a brace.
  5. We can justify quitting much easier than continuing.
  6. Learn to be flexible, weather and equipment can fail you in a moments notice. All you need is shoes and a place to run.
  7. Find a group of people to support you while you train for anything. The benefit of accountability and support is IMMEASURABLE.
  8. Marathoners are insane. People aren’t meant to do that.
  9. Apparently I’m also a little insane, and am planning on doing a half, a Tough Mudder, and a full marathon in 2013.