What an experience. I’m afraid I’m a little overwrought about the whole thing, but for today, to hell with self-consciousness and what others think. It was my first marathon and has been an emotional adventure. My thoughts are a jumble so I hope I can do my feelings justice here. I’m not really sure where to start so I’ll just dive in, ramble on and I’m sure this will be long, exhaustive and boring. Also, I’ve emailed a lot of you bits and pieces so some of that may reappear here. Oh well, here we go.
Ok, it was turning out waaaay long, so I’ve edited it down (believe it or not) and will post more later. For now, here’s the race recap.[/edit]
The Short Version
First half was uneventful, it got challenging at 13 miles, painful at 19, surreal at 22, transformative at 24, and beyond anything I could have imagined at 25. I pushed myself to my absolute limit and have been pretty emotional about it ever since. It sounds kind of corny but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and when I think about how I didn’t give up or give in, I feel a flood of joy, gratitude and amazement. When I finished I was in a daze and just wanted to let out a primal scream and then cry for joy. To push to a place you’ve never been, and to see yourself prevail is kind of life-affirming.
The Long Version
Final time: 2:58:25. 66th place out of 4000. Yes, I ran under three hours and I’m happy about that, but much more meaningful is that I can truly say I did my best. I gave every ounce of my being out there and that’s a special feeling. I get choked up when I think about it, about how much it hurt, and how I persevered and pushed through. Maybe everyone feels that way after a marathon, but usually after races I’m kind of hard on myself and think “I could have gone faster, I could have pushed harder.” Yesterday, I don’t think I could have gone faster or pushed harder. I took myself to the limit. Maybe someday I’ll run faster, but I don’t think I’ll ever run with more effort, desire or devotion.
Of course it’s all relative. I know random software developers who have run 30 minutes faster, and they still consider themselves rather slow. Shoot, there are 70 year olds who have run as fast as I did. So in the big scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal. But it’s a big deal to me, and this is my blog. So there.
I had been determined not to race out too fast at the gun, all amped up on adreneline. I think I did a fine job, although the GPS on the Garmin I had borrowed from a friend was no help at all. It read 6:17, 5:43 (12 minutes total) for the first two miles, even though we were nowhere near the two mile marker. In fact, by the finish it said I had run 29.67 miles. Whoops. Anyway, the first miles I kept looking around, wondering who I was going to run with. Who is shooting for sub-3? Who are the pretenders? I fell in with a couple of high school kids. I wasn’t sure if they were doing the relay or the full. One of them looked at me and said, “Oh man, high socks! Why didn’t I think of that?” I ended up getting A LOT of compliments on my socks throughout the race, both from spectators and fellow runners. Lots of “love the socks!” and “Go red socks!”
So those first few miles were pretty uneventful. I locked into 6:45ish pace almost right away and stayed there. The text/email splits say I went through 5 miles at 33:37 for a 6:43 pace. As I said, my garmin was waaay off, so I was kind of paranoid, thinking “oh no, this is too fast, it feels too hard …. is that a stitch …. my breathing is off …. ” But eventually I settled down. The mile markers were all kind of a blur, so I may get them all wrong here. Anyway, I tried to remember to have fun, to run with joy. There was a small group of college girls around mile 4 and I high-fived one of them, catching her of guard. Every “Go Gazelles!” and “Go Red Socks!” got a thumbs up from me. At one point a spectator said, “Go David!” I gave her a quick quizzical look, “do I know you?”, and she laughed. Then I remembered my name was on my bib.
I knew from the course map that the first 7 miles were uphill, so pre-race I had been thinking I would take it easy that first 7 then ramp it up if I felt strong. But the uphill never really felt like much of a hill, and my effort seemed nice and steady. Of all the advice I had received, one piece I really tried to adhere to was to remain patient. No need to get foolish so early.
Before the race I had put on two race bands: 3:00 and 3:10. I had the 3:10 covering up the 3:00 because I thought I was more likely to be on that pace. But at this point I finally made the decision: I tore off the 3:10 band and said fuck it, I’m going for sub-3. If the 3:10 group catches me I won’t need any damn pace band anyway.
Also around mile 7 I noticed a pack of about 8 guys had formed about 30 meters ahead of me. We were running the same pace, they were just in front of me. I really wished I was up there but I didn’t want to race to catch them. But I also knew this was a downhill portion, I had a lot of time to slowly catch up, and I decided it would be wise to have a pack to run with around the lake to block the wind and whatnot. So slowly I started to creep up. It was probably the only strategic racing I did all day, but I’m really glad I did it. I caught them at 9 miles just before we hit the lake. Some of the guys seemed to be jogging, and some seemed to be really working hard. One guy in particular seemed to be the “unofficial pace leader.” He was checking on others in the crew, “Where’s Jose? … How ya doin’ Tom?”
So I ran with these guys for a few miles. I tried to stay behind the pack to block the wind, but everyone was jockeying for position. I would trip on someone’s feet and feel boxed in so I would move up front and lead. Then I would move back again and repeat. Nobody said much and we ran as a pack to mile 13. I did point across the lake and say “there are the leaders”, but no one cared. Also, at one point I looked around and was really grateful that we were all running, living, doing what we loved. I said a little prayer and had a nice peaceful moment. My 10 mile split was 1:06:58 for a 6:41 pace. The downhill of miles 7-9 and speeding up to catch that pack accounts for my faster pace. But miles 5-10 was 33:21, compared to 33:37 for 0-5, so I was still really even paced.
I still hadn’t seen my family at all. They didn’t come to the start and I was supposed to see them at mile 8.5, but they didn’t make it in time. I did see B.J. and Sarah, two ex-Gazelles now living in Dallas, and B.J. gave me a gu and said Jessica wasn’t going to make it. I just remember how serious he looked. I knew he was going to be there and expected him to be really excited and cheering, but it was just funny to see him so matter-of-fact. Anyway, it was helpful to see him. And right around the corner I saw Ava. She too was very nonchalant, like, “oh, hey David. What’s going on? You running a marathon? OK, have fun. See ya later.” I guess I (and they) were just caught off guard.
Anyway, back at mile 13 my hip flexors started acting up. They had been a little sore for a couple of weeks, but nothing too bad. Same thing here, as I lost a little range of motion and stiffened up a little. My mantra throughout the race was “Glory be to God.” For some reason it kept coming to mind and I would say it when things got tough. I read that everyone was bound to hit rough stretches in a marathon, and you just had to run through them. So, each time I hit a rough stretch, I said my Glory Be and kept running.
I fell to the back of the pack I was with and it started to break up altogether. Three guys moved ahead, a couple fell off, me and two others kind of stayed near each other but didn’t run together. I dropped one of them, then the other, and from this point on I was solo the rest of the way. It was energizing to feel strong enough to drop your fellow runners. My half-marathon split was 1:28:36 for 6:45 overall pace. Mile 10-13 was 21:58 for 6:56 pace. Hmmm…. guess I felt the hip, and the wind. Stretches around the lake were pretty bad with the wind, but other stretches felt calm.
The rest of the way around the lake (to mile 19) was uneventful. I kept a pretty close eye on my pace band. I passed another guy and dropped him. A high school kid passed me but he had a relay bib on. Finally I saw Jessica and the boys at 16. I had no idea they would be there so it was a pleasing surprise. Jessica was going wild and my boys were cheering but not really that impressed. Jessica ran with me for a few yards, a pleasant boost. I still felt strong, and I was glad that she said I looked it. I saw one of the guys from that earlier pack on the side of the road getting a drink from a friend. He was one of the ones who had surged ahead, so again it felt energizing to catch him and pass him.
Something else I really concentrated on was nutrition and hydration. I knew I’ve had problems with dehydration and cramping and hitting the wall in long runs, so I really wanted to do everything by the book. I took gatorade at every aid station for the first half. I took my gu’s exactly at 45:00, 1:30 and 2:15. But by mile 14 I was sick of Gatorade and I could barely get it down. It would just slosh in my eye, I’d cough it up, I’d end up with barely any going down my throat. Water was a little better and I tried to force at least a couple of swallows.
So I knew the main hill was coming up after mile 19. Nineteen was also the “Hooter’s” aid station and it was kind of annoying. Loud, crowded, and I think they were cooking meat which made me gag. I looked for the best looking water volunteer (:o) and took her water. My mile 19 split was 2:08:36 for 6:46 overall. Miles 13.1 to 19 was 40:00 minutes even for 6:46 over that stretch.
The hill. Julie W. had told me a couple of weeks ago that “I didn’t even notice that hill. It was no big deal.” Ah, uh, ok. Well, it was a big deal to me. Up to now, the whole race had felt about like a training run: pretty hard but manageable. Nothing special. When I hit the hill I knew the race had begun. I didn’t worry about pace, just tried to maintain effort and make it to the top. Some guys moved ahead but I didn’t worry, there was no need to race up the damn thing. I didn’t think about what I’d do when I got to the top, I just concentrated on getting there. Once at the top I would run the race set before me, whatever that was. No thought for the future, remain in the present… But man did I ever want to get to the top. I snuck a look at the Garmin “current pace” while climbing and it read 7:34. Again, I didn’t worry. I still had my patience.
Finally, to the top and suddenly the race got hard. Jessica and the boys were at mile 21 and I don’t even remember seeing the boys and barely remember seeing Jessica. She said something. I took a gu somewhere and it barely went down, most of it smeared on my face, dribbling out of the corner of my mouth like a mental patient. I’m sure I looked scary to the volunteers. I was so sick of gu and Gatorade, my belly felt bloated, but my left hamstring started twitching somewhere around 21 or 22 so I knew I needed more Gatorade. Maybe it was too late, but I was going to force myself to drink it.
A couple of guys passed me right as we got on to the long straight of Swiss Avenue. I thought for sure they must be relay, because no marathoners had passed me for the last 15 miles. These guys both looked at least ten years older than me and both looked real strong. In the end, only one of them stayed ahead as I ended up passing the other. The one who stayed ahead became my beacon on that long straight into downtown. I just tried to keep him in sight and did a fair job at that.
The miles, the spectators, the scenery, everything was becoming a blur. Things moved in slow motion, people looked like still lifes, I couldn’t understand english. I concentrated on nothing but getting to the next mile marker, desperately searching for the next blue flag. I kept my head and eyes up, locked on the guys in front of me. My hamstring was twitching and aching, my feet were numb, my hips were hurting, and I was trying to hold it all together. I couldn’t remember what mile I was on. The garmin was all fucked up and said I was on mile 27 or something.
I kept running.
For a long time it seemed like I was running alone. I passed a cop directing traffic and I sware he was singing a Christmas tune. I hadn’t been able to drive the rest of the course the day before, so it was all unfamiliar and it felt like I was running wild. Every so often I would vaguely notice someone pointing or waving and I would go off that direction. The city seemed desolate, there were no spectators, no life anywhere. I was just running to run. Up to this point I had never thought of the finish, but finally I thought if I could just make it to mile 23, I had only 5K to go. Surely I could do that. I looked at my watch and tried to do the math but gave up shortly. I looked at my pace band but couldn’t read it.
I just kept running. I knew I had to just keep running.
Mile 23 to 24 took an eternity. I thought for sure I was running 8 minute pace, 9 minute pace. I couldn’t judge anything. Where was everyone? Where was the next fucking mile marker? Where do I go? I tried to look at the skyscrapers to get a sense of where I was but I just got confused. It felt like I was the only person in the whole damn race. It was so lonely and so hard, I was starting to panic. My 24 mile split was 2:45:03 for 6:52 pace overall. Remember that sub-3 is 6:51 pace, so I was losing it, and still two miles to go. The five miles from 19-24 were 36:27 for 7:17 pace.
Just keep running. Don’t give in. Run. Just. Run.
At mile 24 I merged with the half-marathoners. Most people said afterwards this was a nightmare, but for me it was a Godsend. I desperately needed other people. They were taking up the whole road, walking four abreast, oblivious to everything, and I had to jump curbs and throw elbows and have no mercy, but I was glad to be among them nonetheless. And at some point an angel came out from among them just for me. I don’t know why or how a two hour half-marathoner was running sub 7-minute pace, or why a dude would be named “Paige”, but there he was, suddenly running alongside me out of nowhere. Thank the lord, if I could just stay with him…. We were weaving in and out of the hordes. I was desperate, I was merciless. I wanted to scream, “I’m a fucking marathoner and I’m dying, you damn walkers, get out of my way!” But I didn’t have the energy and I knew my race was no more important than theirs, nor my effort more arduous than theirs.
Running. Still running. Lord, help me to keep running.
Finally I see a big sign that says “One Mile to Go!” and I think, that can’t be right, I didn’t see the 25 mile marker. I’m barely holding it together. I feel like a madman running. It didn’t hurt in any one place, it was just a cloud of pain. At mile 25.5 my left hamstring gave way completely. My angel ran off and I just kept going as best I could. I was dragging my leg, then limping. I knew if I fell it would be over, all over. It was either full go for full stop. There was no in between. I thought, if I collapse I’m going to beg and plead, “please someone help me up. Please, please, please, please…..” I prayed to have courage, to keep going, and soon I was running again.
Running. Always, just keep running. The body is immaterial now.
God, where was the finish? What street are we on? What street is the finish on? Another fucking turn? Surely it’s been a mile? Damnit, they said “one mile to go!! It’s not fair!” It was a race to see if I could beat the pain to the finish, to see if I could ward off the unstoppable thought that said, “no more”, before I collapsed. I kept searching for any sign of the finish, all I could see was a horde of jogging half-marathoners. I looked for the roof of the American Airlines center next to the finish. Surely I could see that, and it would tell me where I was, but I couldn’t. I wanted to cry. I kept looking at my watch … 2:55, 2:56 … oh Lord, please, please, how much farther… how much farther….?
Running, running, I just kept running. I ran forever. Just running and running and going nowhere, like in hell.
Running. No thinking, no feeling. Running.
At last, the 26 mile marker, and around the corner the finish in the distance. Those fuckers had lied. “One more mile” my ass. Dickheads! But I still wasn’t sure I would make it. I was running as fast as I could and it was taking an eternity. Was I even moving?
I saw the “unofficial leader” guy from the earlier pack. He had left me at mile 13 and now I had caught him at the finish. Then he disappeared. Suddenly all the half-marathoners were gone too and I was alone again. Everything was a tunnel. I couldn’t see straight, I couldn’t hear anything. Still running. Running as hard as I could. But I knew I was going to make it. With 100 yards to go I finally knew I was going to make it. I tried to remember to celebrate at the finish, but all I could manage was a weak arm raise to my shoulder. I couldn’t even lift my hands above my head. I hate how they have two mats at the finish. I never know which one is the actual timer. Why do they punish us with those last 5 feet to the second mat?
No more running.
I did it. I made it. I wanted to let out a primal scream and cry for joy. I was too tired and hurt for either. I was stunned, I was dead, I was alive, I hurt so bad and felt such elation. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it two days later. Final time: 2:58:25. 6:49 pace. And, if we are to believe the splits, I covered miles 24-26.2 in 13:21 for a 6:04 pace. Do you believe that? I don’t think I do. Maybe it really was an angel who carried me on his wings?
Looking back, I’m proud, I’m humbled, I’m grateful, I’m amazed, I’m sad, and I can barely walk. I’m truly happy for everyone that ran, regardless of outcome. As a first-timer, I certainly gained a new appreciation for all marathoners and I realize that finishing time is meaningless and not the measure of your desire and devotion. But damn, it sure is nice to run sub-3!