Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First marathon story

Eugene marathon:
Beautiful course along the Willamette River and through parts of the University of Oregon. It had only one significant hill around 7.5 miles into the race so it’s a good race for a PR. I flew into Portland and got to see both the Pacific coast and the Cascades, both of which were amazing.
Race day: Because of a nerve-wracking traffic jam, I arrived at the starting line with only 5 minutes to spare. My plan was to go out no faster than 9:00 pace then run the final 10K as fast as I could, which would bring me to the finish line in less than 4 hours. I had about 98% of my best stuff and took off slightly faster than I planned (8:45 pace) but I was actually holding back much of the time. Normally, I can tell very early in a run whether it will be a good one or not. Today was a good day. Even though I had never gone nonstop for more than 22 miles, I was sure that I could finish and almost sure that I could break 4 hours. I let out a yell and raised my arms whenever someone cheered for me. This was fun. I came through the halfway mark around 1:55 and actually was thinking about a sub-3:50. I still felt like the tank was about ¾ full at the time. If I had raced a half-marathon instead, I think I would have PRed. Miles 14-16 still were all near 8:45 and I talked with another runner who was also shooting for a sub-4 and had just missed on his first try. With 10 miles to go, the effort was just beginning to take its toll. My pace slowed to near 9:00/mile from mile 16-20. I could have maintained the 8:45 but wanted to remain fairly comfortable. It was the right decision. I focused on getting to that dreaded 20 mile marker in less than 2:58 (last 6.2 in 62 minutes) and according to my GPS, I was at 2:56 and change, still ahead of schedule. Barring disaster, I would break 4 hours with time to spare but the tank was now only a little more than ¼ full. 3:50 had slipped away but maybe I could still make 3:55. I took my last power gel and opened a bag of caffeinated jelly beans. Although I did not hit the wall all of a sudden, it was much harder by the 21st mile. I was now running the best I could and it was only good enough for 9:10-9:15 pace for the next 2.5 miles. Still, most runners on the course seemed to be in worse shape than I was. I probably passed about 3 runners for every one that passed me during this time. The cheering fans continued to give me a boost. By mile 22.5, my body was screaming at me to STOP and my pace dramatically slowed to the 9:50 range. I would have to run the final 4 miles in less than 44 minutes so I could not afford to slow down much beyond this pace. I started taking caffeinated jelly beans, which seemed to help a bit. At each mile marker, I looked down at my GPS and found to my relief that my pace was still fairly steady and just barely below 10:00. The final 2 miles in 24 minutes seemed a lot more manageable than 4 miles in 44 minutes. By mile 25, I started getting occasional stabbing pain in my calf. PLEASE don’t lock up on me now when I am so close. I heard a few people cuss when they literally could not run any more and had to walk it in. Some volunteers were making their way onto the course presumably to pull people off that appeared to be disoriented. They looked at me and said “That’s a good pace. Keep it up.” I basically held my position give or take a few places between miles 23-26. The stabbing pains in my calf continued to come but abated within a few steps. I thought about how far I had come and that I had overcome too much to quit now. I had developed a website and knew that it would be much more inspiring to title it Chronic Fatigue to Marathon Finish rather than Marathon Attempt. I am proud to say that except for the water stations, I did not walk at all and managed to hold onto that 9:50-10:00 pace through mile 26. My GPS had just turned 3:54 at the 26 mile marker so I could afford to walk it in and still make my goal. Pride swelled when I knew that I had a sub-4 in the bag and nothing could stop me now. A sub 3:55 was out of reach and I was running on fumes. Another mile beyond this and I would have bonked for sure. I did not push too hard in the last .2 and about 5 runners passed me but I just focused on maintaining that 10:00 pace to the finish line. One final turn and the FINISH banner was at last within view. I did make a weak effort to kick in the last 100 meters and thought I had a shot at finishing under 3:56. The camera caught me checking my GPS as I crossed the line to find that I came up short but I didn’t care. My official chip time was 3:56:03.
Will I do this again? I’m not going to say never but “not for a long time.” I will focus on shorter races for the remainder of the year.

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