Well, it’s about time I got around to writing this, seeing as the race was already almost a month ago. Running a marathon – at least your first couple – is a pretty major life event and takes a while to process. But I’d hate to let this go without writing anything at all, so here we go.
As the name implies, the race is on Cape Cod, as was my first marathon earlier this year. The first was the Hyannis Marathon. This last one is officially called The Cape Cod Marathon and is in Falmouth. If you’re not familiar with the geography, you can imagine Cape Cod as an arm bent at the elbow with the forearm facing east. Hyannis is almost half way down the forearm, while Falmouth is at the very tip of the elbow.
Miranda, Kris and I, drove down on the Friday before the race. In order to get a hotel room, I had to book two nights. So when Kris got home from school, we hopped in the car and headed down. It’s maybe an hour / hour and a half to get down there. Not a bad drive. We checked in and headed over to the local school to pick up my bag and number, but found that they were only doing that for the half marathon (which was on Saturday). So we wandered down town and found some food, walked around a bit, and relaxed in the hotel for the rest of the night.
Saturday, we went to the school again and successfully got my stuff. Kris and I went out for a short 2 mile run, and a bit later we took a drive down to Woods Hole. Walked around, took some photos and watched the ferry head out. Later got some food at Betsy’s Diner, which I fell in love with. Some more driving around site seeing and another early evening.
For the few days before the race, I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold. Nose on the edge of getting stuffy, throat on the edge of getting scratchy, etc. I have not actually had a full blown cold in over two years, since I had to drop out of the Bay State Half Marathon. Once in a while I’ll get symptoms like this that have me convinced something is starting and then vanish. As it turned out, the same thing happened again. By Saturday, I felt fine. Well, at least as far as cold symptoms. Friday night though, strange bed, strange pillows resulted in a stiff neck and headache for most of Saturday. I guess I slept a little better Saturday night. Woke up Sunday feeling pretty much ready to go.
Woke up early, walked down to the corner store to get some Powerade to put in my four 8-oz bottles. This is how I did all my long runs, so not changing anything. The starting line was minutes from the hotel. I was infinitely more relaxed than my first marathon. That time I was a virtual nut case I was so nervous. I was pretty chill about everything this time. So without too much drama, I got into the starting corral and waited for the cannon (yes, cannon) to go off to start the race. And we were off!
I’d trained for my first marathon with Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Marathon plan. It was decent enough for a first marathon, but I felt it could have used a bit of speed work and a few more long runs. For this marathon I did one of the Pfitzinger plans from the Advanced Marathoning book. These are tough plans. I took the easiest one and cut it down from there. Lots of speed work, lots of long, long runs, with three 20 milers (as opposed to two the first time). I really pushed myself to the limit on this training cycle. Amazed that I did not get injured, but I was utterly worn out by the end. It took my full 3 week taper to feel anywhere back to normal.
I think this hard training had a lot to do with my lack of nervousness. I knew that I had trained 99.99% as hard as I could have without breaking something. After the taper, I felt strong and as ready as I could possibly be. I didn’t feel like I’d skimped or left anything out. Just needed to do that final long run to wrap things up.
My first 26.2 came in at 4:26:57. I really didn’t have any doubt at all that I was going to kick the crap out of that time. But how much? Dream time was 3:59:59 but that was a lot to ask. Possible, I thought, but I wouldn’t want to put money on it. Anyway, the plan was to run at around a 9:00 pace, which would put me just under 4:00, and see how it went.
Let’s jump to mile 16 then. Up to then, everything was rolling along just fantastically. I was on pace, maybe very slightly faster. Had some conversations with fellow runners. Not struggling at all. There were some hills, one biggish one in the first few miles, but nothing too bad. But 16 was the first hill that kicked me in the face. It wasn’t much of a kick, but I felt it. When I was over it, I took stock of myself. I still felt good, strong, not struggling, not hurting. The hill was tough, but I recovered well. (In retrospect, looking at the elevation profile below, there may have been more hills than I really noticed up through mile 12 or so. But 16 was the one that first made itself very obvious to me.)
OK, now take that little story and repeat it for mile 17, 18, 19 and 20. Each hill hurt, but I felt I was recovering well on the other side of them. But let’s be honest, the recovery was to a bit lower level. Going into 21 I felt a bit rough. But looking back to my first marathon, I felt a lot fresher at 21 this time than I did at mile 18 last time.
But guess what was at mile 21. Another big ass hill. It was my calves that killed me. They were on fire. I made it to about 21.5 and couldn’t run another step. I walked the rest of the way up the hill. Then started running again. But guess what came after that. Another hill. And another. They were coming faster and steeper now. At least it felt like that. Several more walk breaks followed. And eventually l was scheduling out a walk/run ratio. Sigh.
I thought that if the hills let up, I might get back into a steady run pace. Instead, somewhere in 22 or 23 I ran out of glycogen (blood sugar). Started feeling light-headed and dizzy. Vision started going a bit gray. In my first marathon, I had been using GU energy gels. I’d always been able to tolerate them pretty well, but at around mile 17 of that race, I took a mouthful of one and almost gagged. I didn’t touch another one for the rest of that race and never again since then either. In the Eastern States 20 miler I did 4 weeks later, I used Power Bar Energy Gel Blasts and those worked much better. So I used them a bit during training and on this marathon. The thing about them is you need to take a lot more of them than you do gels. A whole package of 9 chews has about the same calories as a single gel. I hadn’t been eating enough and my blood sugar got low. So I downed 2-3 really quickly. That helped the dizziness and vision, but made me nauseas. So the next few miles I also had the challenge of balancing getting enough calories with not making myself puke.
At mile 21.5 I was right on target for sub 4:00. When I hit mile 24 I was at about 3:40. Just 20 minutes to do a bit over 2 miles. PIECE OF CAKE! Right?? Sadly though, I knew I’d lost any hope of sub 4:00. I knew I could not even keep a 10:00 pace for 2 miles.
OK, salvage time. How about a 20 minute PR? I thought I could make it in by 4:06. Continued the walk / run until about 25.8. At that point, I took it home with as fast a run as I could muster. Final time: 4:06:21. So, 20 minute PR done. I’ll take it, that’s pretty impressive if I do say so myself.
Through the finish line, got my medal and foil blanket, met up with the family and walked around a bit. Oddly, I felt pretty damned good. After marathon number one, my legs hurt so badly for the first 15-20 minutes or so, I thought I was going to go out of my head. I was tired, a bit sore and stiff, but I’d been in far worse shape after many a training run over the past few months. Another score for good training.
After that, we walked over to the school again, where I could take a (cold) shower and change. That was good since we’d already checked out of our room. Then got to enjoy some hot soup and pasta before leaving for the ride home.
If you haven’t done one yet, I think it’s tough to understand what an epic event running a marathon is. My understanding now, after just two of these, is that it is far more mental than you might imagine. I guess one of the things I’ve been pondering since race day is what the physical / mental ratio really is. I mean, sure, my calves were screaming in more pain than I could imagine there on mile 21 and I didn’t feel like it was physically possible to run another step. But as soon as it’s all over, you start looking back on it and wondering. Could I have pushed through that??? I don’t know the answer to that, honestly. The only way to begin to answer it is… to do it again.
I spent over four months preparing for this race, and it was in over in just a few hours. But so much physical and mental struggle went into that few hours, and the vast majority of that struggle was in the last hour. It’s taken me a while to process all that occurred in my personal universe in that hour. It’s horribly physically and mentally anguishing, but it is a level of feeling alive and pushing yourself harder, again both mentally and physically, than I think I ever have in any other situation in my life. And I think people who don’t run marathons, ultras, triathlons, or similar mega-physical events, rarely if ever go through that kind of experience. Offhand, I can only imagine childbirth and maybe being in combat are things that you might be able to compare it to. (I imagine both of those things are far more intense than running a marathon, but are the only things I can think of anywhere close to the same level of intensity.)
It’s also a very addicting experience. Mostly due to that unanswered question – could I have pushed through that? I want to test myself again.