I’m not entirely sure why I’m not ready to let this one go, but it’s been three weeks, so it’s time to post it. I’m still not sure whether I’m extremely happy or disappointed with this effort. It feels as if I now have a tool in my arsensal I didn’t before (running a marathon without stopping). However, the sacrifice there was time, it was a lot slower than I expected, especially without walk breaks.
Either way, I think I need more of my racing year to play out before I judge what was going on here, so, um, here you go – marathon #4 recap.
On February 28th, I ran my first marathon.
I’ve toed the line of 3 others. I’ve attempted 2 other failed training cycles before that. However, this is the first time I’ve ran every single fucking step. It was my second slowest, but I mostly don’t give a shit about that (edit: apparently I do a little more as time goes on).
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about fear. Being around various women on the cruise, I’ve found that so many of us let ourselves be held back by being scared of things. “Oh, I’m scared of the ocean, I could never scuba.” “Oh, I’m scared of swimming in open water or riding bikes, I could never do triathlon.” I am not a completely fearless person. Frankly, riding bikes in traffic scares the shit out of me. Getting in open water at the beginning of the year is usually a little squiggly (nature!). I was also really scared that maybe, for some reason, I’d never be able to actually run a full marathon. Maybe I just sucked at the distance.
But I do these things because conquering them makes me truly feel alive. And I prefer to be terrified than bored any day.
Let’s start a little further back than the end of the race though, even though I’ve spoiled the story. After my 10 miler 7 days out, I stuck to short runs with pickups on the treadmill because the weather sucked. I did an idiot thing and got drunk and stayed up real late on Wednesday night (intending to only have a few glasses of wine and then get good sleep), and I’m not sure why, maybe nerves, maybe my constant subconscious sandbagging attempts, but it was what it was. I didn’t get great day before-day before sleep since I was up late packing, but I had been REALLY rested so I wasn’t in bad shape.
Night before night before I did my normal big meal of seafood and salad and veggies. I did eat two rolls, which I’ll probably try to skip next time, and do more potato type things. The day before, I had soup for breakfast because it sounded good, we hit the road around noon and stopped for bbq for lunch (turkey, brisket, potato salad, creamed corn), and after arriving and getting packets, chicken, mashed potatoes, and veggies with a wedge salad for dinner. Early to bed around 9pm with sleepy juice, and fell asleep reading and slept pretty soundly. All in all, about a B for pre-race care.
Oh, maybe a B-. I totally forgot my garmin. Zliten was freaking the fuck out about it. I was really calm and at first was going to run with just my analog watch as I’d really sparingly used my garmin during training, but I realized I’d be sad not to be able to look at my splits later. So I borrowed his and he ran his 5k with the phone to track stuff.
Something wasn’t 100% right with my digestive system that morning, but you work with what you have, so I coconut watered, and ate a kind bar and a small lara bar, and drank purple stuff and tried to be as empty as possible. Oddly enough, I just kept having to empty. And empty. And empty. Not in any urgent problematic way, but it’s not a feeling you want to go into a long race with.
However, the weather was freakin’ perfect for marathon running. Finally! Upper 30s at race start and it wasn’t to get much hotter, cloudy, with very little chance for rain. I rolled with a very light long sleeve shirt, tights, coeur visor, and throwaway gloves and an old thermal to ditch along the way.
I finally said my farewells to Zliten who was running the 5k (his first outdoor run since November!!!) and got into the corral way in the back, behind all the pacers. I wanted NO pressure to start quickly. Between lining up and the gun going off, I acquired the need to pee REALLY bad. That was weird, because of all the emptying, but I hoped it would go away once I started running.
Not so much. Once I crossed the start line, I kept my eye out for a bathroom or porta, running easy 11-ish miles, whatever came naturally, and saw all the dudes swing into the woods to pee and cursed them. I passed mile 1, mile 2, and finally the aid station came up… and they had ONE porta with a huge line. They said there was more at the next at mile 4.
Well, I was not having that. I ran up a bit, ducked into a particularly dense part of the woods, and peed. Peeing in the woods during a road marathon – achievement unlocked. Mile 3 was just over 12 minutes so it was an incredibly quick stop. I ditched my throwaway stuff soon after that and settled in.
Right around mile 5 I had been pingponging with an older gentleman for miles and he was weaving all around. He started chatting with me and telling me about his injured leg, and this was probably his last marathon but he wanted to do it anyway, and all these marathon stories from the 80s about the Houston Marathon.
My first instinct was to freak out a little and try and speed up. He was going a touch slower than my easy pace (more like 11:40 than 11:20), and I had no experience of actually chatting with someone during a race, because usually I’m either hiding in my headphones or grunting antisocially due to my pace. However, it was kinda nice to have someone distract me for about 4 miles with stories. He decided to take a quick stretch break around mile 9 so I said I hoped to see him at the finish line (never saw him again though).
Also, the second thing I realized about that time was this course was NOT FLAT. The elevation profile and course preview really hid the fact that while there were no steep climbs, damned if we didn’t start going either up or down the whole time pretty early in the single digits, and didn’t really stop until late in the race.
All in all, I felt pretty great, the best I’ve felt in early a marathon. I tried never to focus on how far there was to go total, but break it into chunks. The first half, I was just going for a 2.5 hour jog, and it was x-miles until I could put on my headphones and listen to music. That was a nice carrot early in the race to keep my focus, but it was also lovely running the first half without anything blaring in my ears. I put down a gel about an hour and two hours in.
Zliten had promised me he’d try to see me at about the 30k mark, so I kept counting down the miles until that after the half. Marathon brain was starting to get me, so I kept mixing up 17.8 and 18.7, and feeling a little disappointed when I got the math straightened out. I put down a third gel around mile 15, and felt my first low. It was an out and back section, and my legs finally started to talk to me, and seeing everyone running at me for some reason made me just…ugh. I knew I had work to do to beat the 5 hour mark and I needed to pick it up soon and I just wasn’t feeling it.
Soon after we got out on the road, my stomach gurgled and I knew it was going to be bad juju if I didn’t stop. Shortly therafter, there was a water stop with one porta and no line. Score. I ducked in, took care of business, and was on my way quickly. Another 12 minute mile, but with 10 miles to go, it was totally worth it. I found the 303s (herbal muscle relaxers) in my handheld and popped them because my legs were starting to talk to me a bit and, well, why not?
At some point, it sprinkled for a while. Then, at another point, it dumped rain for another while. Neither bothered me in the slightest, especially after my 20 miler in the pouring rain. It was actually a nice change to have something different happening.
I tried to pick it up real hard after the potty break, but my legs just couldn’t find a faster pace than 11s. I tried a few times and my legs would just start to feel… unstable, so I backed off. The good news is… I kept running. 11:30s, 11:40s, maybe, but I wasn’t walking. I took down a fourth gel. I made a resolution that I wouldn’t walk at the very least until I saw Zliten. That would be a PR for me in the sense that I’ve never not walked before 30k in a race.
I saw him just after I hit the 30k split mat and I told him I hadn’t walked yet but I was going slower than expected. He tried to offer me his jacket and gloves but I was totally fine temp-wise. I handed off my handheld since I had the last one stored in my pocket, and the water stops every 1.5-2 miles were sufficient on a cold day. I was so done with carrying things. It felt like a great relief.
Those next miles were kind of a blur. I kept looking at my watch, thinking this was a running PR for the race, and then after we ticked over to 21.3, that it was just a running PR period. At that point, I was like, no fucking way am I walking. I have so little left. I can do anything for 5 miles. I never slowed way down, but I never could get that *kick* going on that I wanted.
I saw Zliten again at around 23 and told him that I hadn’t walked yet and he cheered me on and said that I might beat him to the finish with traffic. I told him that was my goal, I wasn’t planning on slowing down. Or maybe it was more like “murrf mahf argh google blap”, but that’s what I was thinking at least.
Pretty much from 16, I knew that 5 hours was going to be really tough that day. I wasn’t quite sure WHY it was so tough, but I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I didn’t keep trying, so I slammed my last gel and tried to kick one more time. It actually worked, I found some 10-minute mile pace for a while, but then my legs would feel like they wanted to come out from under me, and I’d ease up a bit.
We came back from the woods into the mall area. It’s sadly deceptive because you see the start line, which looks like it just maybe could be the finish line, but you still have like .75 of a mile to go. That just about broke me last year, but I was ready for it. I saw Zliten running around there, saying he would try to catch me at the finish but it was unlikely. My garmin was quite off the whole race (clocked almost 26.6), but right as I hit 26.2 and I knew I had a lot more course left, it ticked over to 5 hours exactly.
C’est la vie. I had run the whole fucking thing in 5:04:29 with almost completely even splits. However I feel about the race in time gone by, I KNOW there is a victory there.
I crossed the line, got my water and my medal, and at first I thought I was in really good shape… but then after a few more steps I had to stop and stretch, and then again, and then standing got hard, and I found myself sitting my ass on the grass in the beer tent because there was a place to sit, and then after that tiny little beer all I wanted was to gooooo, I was cold, so we did.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around how running a whole marathon in perfect conditions equals my second slowest time. Sure, this was definitely the hilliest one I’ve run. Maybe my capacity right now is actually better doing run/walk intervals.
However, there is one thing I know. Yeah, sub-5 may have eluded me this year on two attempts where both times I thought it was a no-brainer to achieve. However, my ultimate goal is not just sub-5. I also want sub 4:30. Then sub-4. Then maybe a BQ someday. I just want to keep getting better and better at this distance. And it’s pretty clear that I’m not going to BQ, like EVER, if I have to run/walk the last 10 miles.
It’s been a tough nut to crack, just like the half ironman. However, the fourth effort at each, I definitely feel like I made SIGNIFICANT progress towards future improvement. I was definitely feeling down about SpaceCoast 2014, and I think it’s because I made the same damn mistakes I did in 2013. I went out at a certain pace, let my head get the best of me around 15-16 miles in, and had severe low points in the last half.
This time, I made different mistakes. Maybe I went out too slow. Maybe I shouldn’t have run with that guy for 4 miles and let it drag my pace down a bit. Maybe I should have upped the pace at 10 miles. Maybe I should have tried a little harder to kick later, but I can tell you my knees still even feel a little unstable 10 days out (edit: better 3 weeks out though!), so it probably was for the best. I definitely wasted a few minutes on potty stops, but that was literally unavoidable unless I wanted to be in a very messy situation re: my tights. I know I fueled and hydrated better than I ever have in a race. I just didn’t have the speed I hoped I would.
However, speed is something I can build with work. I believe that getting over the hump of having the endurance to run a full marathon without stopping was a huge physical (and mental) barrier for me, and now I’ve got that feather in my cap. The ability to run for 5 hours without really slowing down at all is pretty key, and I did that. For someone 6 weeks out from the race who was considering dropping to the half, I will mother fucking take it.