Marathons are one of those things that you sign up for never quite understanding what you are facing, and it does not truly hit you until just before the big day. Well, for me that was about three weeks before the Marathon when I had to run twenty miles for my training. It meant running around White Rock Lake in Dallas twice plus two miles. That in itself sounded daunting enough but I was not feeling cheery since two weeks earlier I tried to run eighteen and burned out at about mile fifteen.
That day, I gave my wife the call to pick me up. She was sitting and reading across the other side of the lake. While I waited and let my decision to stop sink in, I wondered what my Father might have said if he saw me in my current state. I figured he might have said “Oh is this the slain hero?” in Swedish to me. Now this might have sounded like an awful thing to say but the way he said it was always with a chipper you-will-rise-again-and-do-better tone that somehow always made you feel better inside.
As I started running the twenty miles I felt really good. After a lap and a bit around the lake I really felt like I had improved. By the time I reached the end, where my car was parked, I was really tired, my ITB was killing me and my foot had developed a painful dislike to continued running. twenty miles however, had been completed, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
My training for the last couple of months had been marked by super hot weather, as anybody living in north Texas will attest to. I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat. I think most of McKinney now thinks I wet myself when I run because that is pretty much what it looked like. Thankfully, my longer runs didn’t occur until the cooler months.
Fast forward to the day of the race, and I’m feeling slightly nervous. Mainly because I was wondering if I had brought everything I needed, but also if I was truly ready for what I was about to do. We had booked a hotel within walking distance of the start line (a very smart decision) and as we are walking towards the start I see all the other runners moving in the same direction, wearing all sorts of technical gear, tights, and straps, and looking a lot more high tech than me. Despite going through all the preparation you can, its hard not to question your preparedness when you see skinnier people than you, limbering up, and doing “pre-run” warm-ups before the big race.
As for myself, I had done my own preparation for the race which started with a cup of coffee and my super-breakfast consisting of oatmeal mixed with peanut-butter and a banana. Amusingly, with long distance running you definitely have “lube-up” any high-friction areas otherwise you can get, amongst other things, the condition known as “bleeding nipples”. Feel free to Google it (but maybe not at work). After liberally applying Body-Glide, I wear my Under Armour Shorts and Shirt along with head-band of the same brand. Since I started my training I had decided to let my hair grow so the headband definitely succeeded in accentuating the pseudo-Afro I had cultivated. I had my own watch/timer on so that I could check my 9:1 schedule, along with my Iron man Sunglasses (the triathlon series, not the comic book character). I was going to use my extra Gel-pack clip on pocket, but carrying five of those bags was impossible so I had to purchase a utility belt for runners. Batman would have been proud.
To get to my corral we had to walk behind the 50+ porta-potties lined up besides the start line. It pretty much smelled like you would expect it to smell. Everybody is going through the same motions as the clock counts down and the national anthem is sung to 34,000 Marathoners and Half-Marathoners, eager to get going before the weather gets too hot. I kiss my wife farewell, and move towards the center of my corral and as I stand there I make a couple of observations.
34000 is a lot of people…
The race kicks off quickly, and I cross the start line ten minutes after the front-runners go. It is hard to not want to run faster than what you are used to because of everybody else around you. Unless you are the seasoned pro attaining two hour marathons, this is still a race against yourself. Running by yourself on a trail during the week-days presents its own challenges, such as boredom and traffic, but as the longer distances grew, I used the 9:1 system to complete the longer runs. What this means is you run for nine minutes and walk for one and repeat. During the race, sticking to my training ended up being a bigger challenge than expected for that reason too, as stopping to walk after nine minutes seemed very counter-intuitive when everybody else is at full-bore. I will admit at times that I forgot to check my watch and forgot one or two walks. However sticking to this plan would of course pay back dividends as the race progresses.
Six miles into the race my foot starts to flare up again. I debated in my mind how much a problem this would be, but reasoned that as long as the pain is manageable, I would carry on running. I was too determined to stop. The first thirteen miles overall were successful, and from what I could see on my watch, I was keeping pace with my time when I ran the White Rock Half Marathon.
Teasingly, the Half marathoners split off about mile twelve, and the marathoners were left to run south of San Antonio. The weather had been overcast and cool… pleasant weather for running in other words. The back thirteen subjected us to clear blue sky and glaring sun. I’m a cooler climate kind of guy, so the heat would continue to beat me down as the miles grew. Morbidly, mile fourteen brings us past a graveyard. By mile eighteen I am really starting to struggle, and I can feel the crusty salt build up on my face. Amusingly to pass the time, runners will start chatting to others, sharing training tips, snacks, and commiserating with each other about how crazy it is to run this distance. One particular runner offered me a Nutrigrain bar as I was taking one of my one minute walk sessions.
Mile 22 rolls around and all of a sudden I feel my quads cramp up. lactic acid is starting to take over and I still have five miles to go. I manage to push through the first wave of cramps. I could finally see the Alamodome in the distance. By about mile twenty-four I had to stop but realized that stopping made it worse. my 9:1 had become 4.5:1 and I had cramps in my chest and in my quads while my flared up foot kept delivering a constant flow of pain. My wife was waiting by mile twenty four and a half and cheered me on.
The crowds are getting bigger, and people are holding signs not only for who they knew who was running, but for everybody. In the last quarter mile that wrapped round the stadium I was passed by an very old man with a full beard. Despite my raging desire to stop, the salt in the wound would be having him pass me. Why? I don’t really know, with all the thousands before and after me one more person passing me seems moot on hindsight. nonetheless, I ran past him and carried on to the finish line and tried to race another individual to the finish. At 4:08 I passed the finish line.
This is a truly emotional as well as physical undertaking. I didn’t start tearing up but the fact that I had privately done this in honor my father was heavy on my mind. Beyond that, I was relieved to have finished it as any further would have resulted, I imagine, in serious injury. I hobble through the photography line, pick up bagels and other snacks, and start looking for my wife. My legs are in excruciating pain and after I find her we head to the inscriber stand to get my time etched on my medal and then to the First aid tent to get my quads iced up.
We tried to find some shade but the runners who finished before me had domineered all the shade available in the finishing area. Dodge was sponsoring the event and we eventually found shade behind a shiny new Charger.
Ultimately, the beer tent was calling my name and we hobbled over to the beer tent to taste some Miller sponsored Manna.
So, after all is said and done, how did I do? Even though I did come here to hopefully just complete it safely, regardless of place or allowed method, how did I place?
Better than I ever expected. I’m actually amazed that I was in the top thousand. Would I do it again? Now that my pain has receded I feel interested in not only trying again, but doing better. Crossing the four hour threshold would be the next achievable goal in my mind, and something to keep in mind for next year. For now, I will use it as a reminder to keep in shape. Having ran this distance not only is tremendously empowering but it creates an indescribable drive to achieve more in anything, physical and mental. Finally I couldn’t have done this without the unending support of my wife. From our very first 10k we ran together (the inaugural Nike 10k in Austin) to where we are today, none of these events would have taken place in my life if it wasn’t for her.
Back to drawing, photography….and training…