Almost exactly 2 1/2 years after I started running, I finally am able to say I am a marathoner.
Within a few months of running, I knew that a marathon was in my future, but was in no real hurry. I figured I’d do some 5Ks and some halfs and enjoy the journey. I think too many people start running, dive straight into their first marathon, maybe make it to the finish line, but then never run another one, and maybe stop running altogether. I’m in this for the long term, so didn’t mind building up for a couple of years before doing 26.2. Last year I decided that if I broke two hours in my fall half marathon, I’d start doing marathons. I did 1:49, so it was on. I’d like to do at least two full marathons in 2012 so started looking for one early in the year. Hyannis is just an hour and a half from home and in late February, one of the earliest ones out there.
Running a marathon in February, on Cape Cod, past open water several times, is obviously an experience that can be quite affected by the weather. Last year I heard they had snow and freezing rain. So I was checking my weather app several times daily as soon as Feb. 26 showed up on the 10 day extended forecast. Luckily, this has been the mildest winter I have experienced in my life, so things bode well. My weather app showed sunny, high 30’s / low 40’s and that held right up to just before race day. A couple of days before it was very rainy, and Saturday it was extremely windy. But the wind was supposed to subside a bit on Sunday.
We got down to Hyannis on Saturday, hit up the race expo, had lunch, and went down to a couple of beaches – the same beaches I’d be running past. It was brutally cold and windy at the first one. Kris picked up some shells and we went back to the car after a short while. The next beach was so windy that we were painfully pelted by sand and had to run back to the safety of the car. I was afraid my car was going to be sandblasted down to bare metal. Checked into the hotel, which had an indoor pool. Kris spent a few hours swimming. Great time for her. Miranda and I relaxed poolside and read. Had dinner and got in for an early night’s sleep.
Woke up Sunday, had some breakfast, checked out and headed over to the race. Got there an hour early to be sure we could get parking, and hung out inside near the expo. Outside, it was still VERY cold and windy. Or at least felt that way. But by the time the race started, it was actually bearable. I was wearing compression tights and RaceReady shorts packed with gels and a pair of long and short sleeved tech shirts. I was hoping that would be enough, but had to add my Saucony running jacket and gloves and a hat. I carried a handheld 10 oz bottle of Gatorade to supplement water stops. And then we were off!
A bit about the course. It’s a 13.1 mile loop. There were around 3300 half marathoners, and 400 full marathoners. Everyone does the same course. The half marathoners turn off at the same point we started, and us stupid marathoners keep on going for another full loop. There were also a bunch of marathon relay teams. Not sure on the details of that, but there was a relay point around mile 7.
The first loop was pretty uneventful. I had at least 4 possible goals for the race. Overall, I just wanted to finish under my own power. Then, I felt if I could get in under 4:30, I could go home proud of myself. Under 4:20 I’d be happy. And if all the stars lined up just right, a sub-4:00 would be awesome. I figured out the math for the sub-4:00 as follows: I knew I could run at just under 9 minutes per mile for at least the first half, probably even 15 miles. If I could go all the way to 20 miles and be just under 9:00 per mile, that’d give me a full hour to do the last 6.2. I was pretty much able to stick to that plan for the first half. While a couple of miles popped over 9:00, the average was definitely well below. And I kept pretty good control of myself – if I found myself in the 8:40’s I’d slow down to try to get into mid 8:50’s. That’s where I wanted to be.
At the end of the first loop, I was feeling pretty warm. Miranda and Kris were waiting for me and I tore off my jacket. I’d already taken off my gloves and hat and stuffed them in my jacket pocket. Gave them the jacket, grabbed a new 10 oz Gatorade bottle and off I went. In mile 14 I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner. He was on his 49th marathon, done in 41 different states. He was from Atlanta. Just flew in for the marathon. We ran together through miles 14-15 and then I said goodbye as I spied an open porta-potty and decided to take advantage of it. I was still feeling pretty good at the end of 15, and most of the way through 16, but by the end of 16 I noticed that my pace was slowing, and the effort to keep it up was increasing. My legs had felt good up until 13, then started a bit of fatigue, but nothing horrible. What was hurting at mile 16 was mostly my abs. All my core muscles were painfully clenched. Although I wasn’t having any GI problems, the tension there was causing me to start feeling a bit nauseous. I was also getting a slight headache. I thought I might need to take in more electrolytes/Gatorade, but it was a bit of a catch 22 as I didn’t really feel I could put a lot in my stomach.
Miles 17 and 18 slowed even more. My the end of 18 I had to take my first walk break. Just a short one, up a hill, but once you give in and take that first one, I find it’s virtually impossible to not keep taking them. As I said, I’d packed myself with a bunch of energy gels. Took one at around 4 miles, another around 8 or 9, and another after the half way point. Around mile 19 I tried to take another one. I got one mouthful in and it very nearly came back up. That was the end of the gels for me. Another thing I’ve learned about walk breaks is that if you’re going to take them, you need to be in control of them. You need to set some kind of schedule for them and stick to it, otherwise you’re just walking every time you feel tired, which is all the time anyway, and you spin out of control. So in mile 18 I tried to say 1/10 of a mile walking, then 4/10 running. That was overenthusiastic. I wound up going with 1/10 walking 2/10 running. Even then, I was just hoping I could make it through without throwing up. As bad as I felt though, I knew at that point that I was going to finish the race. I just needed to stay in control.
After a couple of miles of 1/10 – 2/10 walk / run, I started feeling better. I was able to up it to 0.1 walk, 0.25 run by mile 20, and in another mile was able to push it to 0.1 and 0.3. I held that ratio pretty much for the rest of the race. It was just about that point that I struck up a conversation with another runner, who looked about as bad as I felt. He was also doing a walk / run at that point. He was maybe 19-20 years old, also his first marathon. He’d gone out at something like 7:40 in the start and burned out quickly. Felt he was about to pull hamstring. We ran for a couple of miles together at my ratio. At one point, we caught up to a friend of his and he kept running when I took my next break. But a bit later, he was back to walking and I ran past him. We leap-frogged each other a few more times in those last couple of miles, but at some point, I guess he found his wind and he took off and I never saw him again.
As for my goals, I had given up on the sub-4:00 by the end of mile 16. That was pretty much a pipe dream anyway, but I thought I could still come in below 4:20. I wasn’t so sure about that as I got into the 20’s but at mile 24 I was still below 4:00. Two sub-10:00 miles and I could do it. I summoned up everything I had and went for it. That lasted about 2/10 of a mile. It just wasn’t happening. Went back to my 0.1 / 0.3 walk run. At that point, I wasn’t even sure about 4:30. Just praying for this thing to be over.
A funny time stretching thing happens during a marathon. At least for me in this marathon. It’s kind of like the course has a half life. The first 13.1 took a certain amount of perceived time and physical effort. The next 6.5 miles or so up to the middle of mile 19 mentally seemed to take about the same amount of time and effort. And it seemed to take about the same time and physical exertion to make it to that 23 mile mark. Those last 3 miles all stretched out like some kind of crazy funhouse hallway, each mile becoming exponentially longer than the previous one. The spell didn’t break until I saw the mile 26 marker. Just 0.2 to go! And I was well below 4:30.
I’ve read so many times that when you think you’ve given it your all and have absolutely nothing left, you can still reach down deep and find something. That last 0.2 miles I did at a sub 8:00 pace. Really??? Yeah, I was almost sprinting. I don’t know where that came from. People were remarking on it as I went by. And then I was through the finish line. There was a brief instant of choked up emotion, but the tiredness and pain squelched it pretty quickly.
Got inside the expo center and got a cup of hot soup. Which I couldn’t eat because my legs were in more pain than I ever recall. It was the kind of pain that drives you insane. I’d sit, stretch, walk around, massage. And the pain was just louder than anything. After a half hour or so, though, it finally subsided a bit. Ate, got a massage, Miranda drove us home. Crashed by 7:30 or so. Had a good night sleep and back to work on Monday. I can go up and down stairs, albeit slowly, so not too bad. All toenails present and accounted for. And it only took about 2 hours to go from, “That was stupid. I’m never doing that again!” to “So next time…”