Rookie Marathon

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I have only run this distance once, in a training run a couple of weeks ago, and that took me almost four hours and forty-five minutes. My original goal when I started training a few months ago was to finish fast enough to qualify for Boston -- though I have two additional marathons this year for that attempt -- which would require finishing in 3:15.

When we arrived at the hotel last night, I made sure to prepare everything for the morning -- Laid out the clothes I was going to run in, pinned my number to my shirt, attached my timing chip to my shoe, set my alarm, etc. The one thing I forgot was to plug in the charger for my gps/timing watch -- what Christopher calls my "running watch". I discovered this shortly after waking this morning, and of course, the watch was completely dead. I immediately put it on the charger, but by the time we were ready to head to the race, it had only been on the charger for 20 minutes. I have an adapter for the car, so I moved the charger with the watch into the car for the 30 minute drive to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from our hotel. At home, the watch stays on its charger pretty much all the time except when I'm running, so I actually have no idea how long it takes to get a full charge.

As I walked to the starting corral, they had pace teams holding up signs (that they would hold for the entire length of the race) for paces starting at a five hour finish time, in ten minute increments down to three hours -- I guess they figure if you're fast enough to finish under three hours, you don't need a pacer -- or maybe they just couldn't find anyone willing to hold up a sign for three hours and guarantee that they'll stay on pace for a sub-three hour finish. Since my original goal was 3:15, but my training had been nowhere near that, after much internal debate, I decided to start with the 3:30 group (8 minutes/mile). I figured that was close enough to my goal that if I still felt good at the halfway mark I could increase my pace enough to take a shot at 3:15, but it was slow enough that even if I couldn't keep up that pace all the way, at least I wouldn't burn myself out and have to walk or stop.

That pace felt remarkably comfortable, and I actually stayed out a little in front of the pace group. Scattered periodically around the course was the occasional band or recorded music playing. Shortly after mile 2, there was a polka band performing "Roll Out the Barrel". I heard numerous runners around me making comments about how that would be more appropriate at the end instead of the beginning. Less than a mile later was a group blasting the original theme from Gilligan's Island -- not sure what it had to do with running a marathon (3-hour tour, maybe?), but many of the folks at that hydration station were even dressed as characters from Gilligan's Island. Most races have water or Gatorade stations spread throughout their course, but I must say the Air Force Marathon does an exceptional job with their "Hydration Stations". There was a hydration station almost every mile, and every station had at least these four things: Water, Gatorade, Porta-Potties, and a Cheering Crowd. Many of them had additional items, like fruit, or sport gel, or water soaked sponges. If anyone had any medical problems as a result of lack of hydration, it would certainly be their own fault.

Between mile 4 and mile 5, my watch beeped a "Low Battery" warning on me. Great, if I'm getting the warning this early in the race, I'll be lucky if it lasts to the halfway point. After mile 7 or so, the course takes a turn off of the Base and into the small town of Fairborne, which hosts its own official Marathon Party, and much of the town comes out to cheer on the runners. Some people hold up hand-made posters to cheer on friends or family members who are running; I saw two in Fairborne that stuck with me, the first because it brought tears to my eyes, the second because it made me laugh out loud. The first one said "Good Luck Captain Jeffries! Son - Dad - Husband - Brother - Runner - Cancer Survivor - HERO", with the word "Hero" taking up over a third of the sign. The second sign said "The reason that your feet are hurting so bad is because you are kicking so much ass!" I particularly liked that sign because when it comes to the most of the signs you see along the way, they are usually motivational but cheesy, or funny but de-motivational, like the signs I saw later on the course "Running Won't Kill You, You'll Pass Out First", and "My Mascara Runs Faster Than You". Apparently its not easy to put humor and motivation in the same phrase.

btw, I didn't realize when I started typing that this post was going to be so long -- if you're seriously still reading this at this point, take a break and get some water!

We left the town and back onto the Air Force Base around mile 10, and by this point it was becoming clear that I was not going to be able to keep up my sub-3:30 pace. The pace was beginning to feel much less comfortable that it had earlier. By mile 13, I was no longer out in front of the 8 minute pace group, I was right in the thick of them, by mile 14, I was distinctly behind the 8 minute pace group, and by mile 15 I could no longer see the 8 minute pace group.

My watch was still working, and it showed my average pace as only being a little slower than 8, around 8:06 -- but of course, it was averaging my current pace with about 14 miles of running sub-8. At each mile marker I looked down at my watch to notice another 4-5 seconds had gotten tagged on to my average pace. Around mile 19, just past the hydration station calling themselves the "rock 'n roll station", the 3:40 pace team (8:24/mile) passed me like I was standing still. I forced myself to pick up my pace a bit, but couldn't catch up with them, and they eventually continued out of view.

As I approached mile 20, I began to worry that perhaps my sub-8 minute pace for the first half had been a little too aggressive -- my average pace was slowly creeping towards the 9 min/mile mark. Somewhere around here, we joined up with the folks running the half marathon. They had designed the courses so that both the full and half marathons finished their last several miles together. Now the Half started about an hour after the Full, but that meant that folks that were at this point in their half marathon were on pace to take somewhere around 3.5 to 4 hours to complete, which basically means the half marathoners who were running as fast as we were were already done, and we were now running amongst those walking the Half. Trying to dodge walkers after running more than 20 miles was not particularly pleasant -- although this task took my mind off of the pain and discomfort, and I discovered that my pace had actually improved a little -- until somewhere around mile 23, when both of my calf muscles started to cramp up. Of all the aches and fatigues I've experienced in various races and training, I've never had a muscle cramp up while I was still running. My legs almost completely locked up, and I had no choice but to shuffle to the side of the road. I did several painful stretches, and got my muscles to calm back down. I started back off walking, and finally broke back into a slow run. About this time, the 3:50 (8:45/mile) pace team passed me. At least this group didn't pass by as fast as the 3:40 team did, but it was clear that 3:50 was not going to be within my grasp. For the next mile or so I had to alternate running and walking until my legs finally loosened up enough for me to stay at a full run. I was able to stay at a full run for the last couple of miles, and then as we approached the Air Force Museum, I pushed my pace as fast as I thought I could without collapsing, and ran through the finish line with 4:00:44 on the official clock, giving me a chip time of 4:00:21 and a final pace of 9:11/mile. I haven't run a race with that slow of an average pace in 18 months -- but for my first full marathon, I'll take it.

My watch died during the drive back to the hotel.

Four weeks now to recover and prepare for my second marathon.


Eric said...

When you rounded the corner, and you weren't limping, you were ahead of your test pace, and still running, I couldn't have been Prouder. You just did something that I will Never be able to do, and you did it Well! Great in fact.It brought tears to my eyes.

Eric said...

That was actually me-Cathy. Apparently I'm signed on as you. :)

amypfan said...

Way to go!!

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