Leading up to marathon #4
I finished marathon #4 this past weekend. I have to pinch myself when I say that because I worked really hard just to finish #1. Years actually. To this day I have still failed more often than I have succeeded (although I’m catching up fast).
I first set out to run a marathon in the early 90’s with my dad. I fell off the training plan pretty quickly. He kept training but eventually had an injury that prevented him from getting to the starting line. He determined that half marathons were a better distance and has an impressive number of post 60 year old (and into his 70’s) Baltimore half marathons to show for it.
I tried again in 2001, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and finally ran my first marathon in 2011. I was a serial dreamer before that. I could never quite make the commitment turn into a reality. I would inevitably downgrade and run a half marathon instead.
So to look back now and realize I have a fair amount of experience running marathons still surprises me.
I always thought this was a bucket list thing and never expected that I would run in multiple races. But I did. I finished Baltimore in October 2011 (4:59), Baltimore (3:59) & Marine Corp (3:49) in October 2012, and Rock N Roll USA 2013 last week.
On the bike or running I love to compete with friends that I spend so much time training with. These are my fellow obsessors. They get the “it” behind questions like “why are you doing all of this?” and “how do you spend so much time running & riding?” I don’t need to explain it to them. They are obsessed also.
Rock N Roll USA Marathon 2013 was especially fun for two reasons:
- I was able to race with Greg Garvin who is one of my closest and longest lasting friends in life.
- Greg and I were both able to train with Jeff Dudley one of our friends and an experienced athlete and very strong runner.
Both Greg and Jeff are superb athletes and are a blast to be around. We ran 80% of the long runs needed to get ready for Rock N Roll USA Marathon 2013 together.
I love being alone. I’m an introvert by nature. But when I am heading out for three hours of pavement pounding I am very happy to have good company.
I was concerned about this race going into 2013 because I was intentionally taking it easy in December & January. My coach had suggested that I needed two months to focus on taking weight off to get ready for this year and so I had cut back to very little exercise and a very low calorie diet. It worked. I dropped twenty pounds in two months. But I was under trained by conventional standards.
I trained for all of Rock N Roll USA on one run per week. I wouldn’t recommend this plan for anyone else but it was working for me and I was getting faster. I kept thinking that I should add two more runs a week as the race was getting closer but I was feeling good and riding a lot by that point so I never did.
I didn’t sleep much the night before the race. We were meeting at 5:30 to drive and take the Metro to the race with my friend Sissy who was running the half marathon so I was up at 4am for normal race morning prep. I miscalculated travel time a little so we ended up getting to the start line just in time but it worked out fine and we weren’t sitting around waiting to start which I like.
I felt good getting to the starting line. I was rested and my body was fresh. The weather was questionable going into the race. There was a chance of rain but so far so good (it ended up not raining and just getting better and brighter as the race went on).
Because we were tight on time we started in a wave that was back further than we were slotted for. This turned out to be great because we passed people the entire race which is a big psychological boost. Note to self for future races.
Greg is a stronger runner than I am so I was expecting to let him get out in front of me early on but I stayed with him for most of the first half. We both felt good and although he was pulling me along a little faster than I would have gone out otherwise I felt good and didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard.
It might have been the two French presses I drank prior to the race (I always drink a lot of coffee before events) but I had to go to the bathroom 4 times during this race. That’s unusual and I took it as a sign that I was staying well hydrated. I drink at every water station (usually gatorade and water at each).
Just before halfway I ducked into a spot a pot and Greg kept going ahead of me. By the time I was done he was out of sight and although I saw him a time or two from a distance after that we didn’t meet again until the finish. I thought about trying to catch him and I’m sure I could have but I would have paid dearly the second half if I had.
Rock n Roll USA is both a half and a full marathon and both start at the same time. As a result around mile eleven you start hearing people saying “we are almost there” and “keep going it’s almost over.” For full marathoners halfway is just the beginning. We’ve all trained at longer than 13.1 distances for quite a while so getting to halfway is great but we know the real work is still ahead.
For the first time in this race I ran without music or food. I wanted to be light and not carry anything extra so even though I love running with music and having food when I want it I skipped those. Big mistake on the food front. I’d really like to have 3-4 gels during a race around miles 7, 14, 20, and 25 if I need it. I would rather stay ahead of my nutrition than get behind. In this race there were only two food stations at miles ten and twenty roughly.
I was hungry miles 16-20. I don’t ever want to feel hungry during a marathon. I also realized that because we had arrived later than we expected and rushed to get our gear checked I had forgotten to eat a cliff bar which is my pre race food of choice that I eat a few minutes before the start (I have a huge breakfast hours before the race).
My pattern has been roughly this: feel good for the first 16 miles or so, 17-21 are tough, 22-24 are brutal, and 25-finish I usually get a little psychological pick me up as we are approaching the finish (Baltimore 2012 was different because I went VERY easy the first 18 miles and then increased my pace so I really felt strong the whole time).
This race was similar. During miles 22-24 I say “I am NEVER doing this again.” I get grumpy and angry. I’m not sure how to keep going but I do. Little tiny hills seem like mountains and flat sections feel like hills.
I can’t do any math in my head at this point. I try to calculate my finish time based on distance left and pace and I can’t do it. I can calculate pace/miles/time/distance all day long on a normal run. But when I’m 3 hours into a marathon my brain simply doesn’t do math.
So I gave up and just ran and tried to enjoy myself. And I did for the most part. One of the benefits of having a little bit of experience is that I know a few things you don’t know the first time around:
- The pain is temporary and will be over soon. I know this is cliche but it is true. I know in my head it’s going to hurt like hell for about 45 minutes to an hour in any marathon. But this time passes quickly if you just keep going. The benefit of learning to push through the pain is priceless in so many areas of life.
- I’ve never finished a race (running, biking, etc) that I have regretted doing. I’ve wished I was faster. I recount some mistakes and things I’ll do better next time. But the feeling of finishing and the legitimate joy that comes with it is always worth the pain. You’ve just crushed a huge accomplishment no matter how fast or slow you are. You are part of a very small percentage of people that have taken on a challenge that is incredibly difficult.
- I’ll say in the middle of the race I will NEVER do this again and then promptly plan my next race before the car ride home. I broke my previous best by 3 minutes for this race and I’ll try to do that again by the end of the year. It’s not that I left anything out there. It’s just that I know I can continue to improve. This is about a lifestyle not a single event.
I crossed the finish line in 3:46. A year ago I thought breaking four hours would be my running lifetime accomplishment. I’ve done that three times now and I think I might have another big leap in me. I might not. But I’m going to try.
Greg finished in 3:37, an impressive nine minute personal best for him 12 years after his last marathon. Sissy had a great day (although she had to wait for us for a while to finish).
Marathons are brutal. There is no way around that. Rock n Roll USA was no exception. But every time I cross the finish it is a gift. After all it took me a long time and a lot of failures to get here. It hasn’t come easy but it has been worth every mile.
Keep moving forward (and if you need to keep failing forward),