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Notes to Self on Marathon Eve Eve

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I've run one marathon. It wasn't glorious. I reveled during the first 7 miles, started to go to work through the next 6, struggled through the next 5, and battled through the next 4. Total those numbers up and that's only 22.

It had taken me almost 3 hrs to cover 20 miles, and by then I was slowing down dramatically. With around 3 hrs and 20 mins gone by, and 4.2 miles left to go, my body began to revolt. My legs seized, leaving me stranded about 1/4 mile short of the aid station at the 22 mile point. I couldn't move, and as I watched the time tick away while waiting for the cramps to subside, I saw even my most modest of time goals slip away and I seriously considered dropping out.

I managed to limp my way around the final 4.2 miles, always on the verge of complete lock up, taking nearly another full hour to cross that remaining mental and physical wasteland.

I couldn't figure it out. What went wrong? It couldn't have been my training. It had to be the heat. Or maybe I ran low on electrolytes. It wasn't occurring to me that I ran the race wrong and made several all-too-common rookie mistakes. That collapse just short of M-22 was "The Wall." Actually, I had begun hitting the wall around M-16. I just didn't know it. And I had made it an inevitability early by not running the sort of race I had trained for (or, conversely, not training for the sort of race that I ultimately tried to run).

It was quite the learning experience. At the time, while trying to crawl my way through those final miles, I was at a loss as to why I ever wanted to do this marathon thing in the first place and couldn't imagine wanting to ever do it again. But just a day later, I was already puzzling over what went wrong and, as the answers began to unfold and the palpable memory of the race's last hour or so began to fade, I found myself thinking ahead to the next marathon opportunity.

Well, that next opportunity has arrived. I started training again in September -- this time with some coaching guidance -- and now stand at the threshold of my 2nd marathon. I don't know yet if it'll be my last or just the 2nd of many more. I'm not sure if I'm cut out to be a marathoner. I'm infatuated with the concept and the challenge; but there's oftentimes a disparity between the ideal and reality. It's a fact of life that, at 50, those training miles put a lot of stress and strain on these bones, joints and connecting tissues. I don't know how much more adaptation my body will endure before it starts to collapse from the strain.

I haven't done this for fitness. I can be fit and conditioned without running marathons. This has been for sport. For recreation. Maybe even a little for vanity? A defying stand against the onslaught of age? Who knows? All I know is that, despite the aches and pains, it's fun. And I never thought I'd ever think of running as fun. But I do.

I just don't need to run marathons. I could have fun running halves...or 5Ks. But there's just something about going beyond 20; it's hard to explain. There's something out there at that distance and beyond that you don't find at the shorter distances. I don't know if my appetite for it will be sated after Sunday's race or not.

I've put in the training. Now I just have to trust that it's done it's work. Now, I just need to stick to the race plan that I've trained for. I need to calm myself and not let the euphoria and anticipation sweep me off my feet and make me giddy or enticed by fool's gold. This is not going to be a Boston qualifying race for me. I'm not even going to entertain the sort of time goal I was supposed to avoid setting (but did anyway) in my rookie race. I do want to finish in under 4 hours, but any time goal is of secondary importance. My main goal is to finish strong and not suffer the sort of physical collapse I experienced the first time through. If I can stick to the plan, I should be able to do that...AND meet the sub-4 hour time goal as well.

So, here are some simple rules to remember...from me...to me:

Rule #1: Do the 30 second walk break every mile through the first 20, even when you feel like you don't need to.

Rule #2: Stick to the pace plan. Don't be lulled into thinking you're "banking" time by getting a little ahead of the pace schedule.

Rule #3: Don't get behind your water curve.

Rule #4: Stay out of race mode. The first 20 miles is the 3-hour warmup just to get to the last 10Km. That's when the "race" begins, and by then it's a different sort of race. Try to concentrate on just enjoying those first 3 hours.

Rule #5: Eat on schedule. Don't wait until your glycogen is running low.

Rule #6: There is NOOOO....rule 6 (grin).

Rule #7: If the magic elixer protein drink stashes have been pinched and aren't at their hidden spots on race day, don't panic. They're probably just placebos anyway. (But if they are there, drink up and believe.)

Rule #8: Keep an eye on heart rate. Adjust pace and water intake right away if HR starts pushing close to 85% before the final 10k.

Rule #9: Don't obsess about the numbers (time, mileage, pace, heart rate, fluid ounces, etc.). If necessary, put in the headphones and listen to a few chapters of "Born to Run." (Just don't get carried away and drop your scan.)

Rule #10: Remember to enjoy the journey. Look around. Soak in the atmosphere, the crowd, the scene. Above all, don't fear "The Beast." It'll be waiting for you somewhere between miles 16 and 20. Embrace it. Hoist it on your back and take it for a ride when you meet it. If you follow rules 1-9, it won't be miserable. Instead, it'll enhance the experience and sense of satisfaction.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    "Hoist it on your back and take it for a ride when you meet it."

    Take the beast out for a spin; show him the sights and leave 'em wanting more.


    I want you to enjoy your event, no matter how closely you observe or break your rules. Have a strong run and be happy. I'm going to be cheering for you in the Frozen North.

    3686 days ago
  • no profile photo CD2420986
    I have heard of running walking as many miles as they run. Maybe you can try that.
    Have you done any half maratons? That is what I plan for this year then maybe next year (if I can find one close enough that allows walkers) I play to walk the big one. IF not Ill walk one that I route out myself and hope to mix walkign with power walking.
    Good luck
    3687 days ago
    You have a fantastic plan! I have no doubt that this marathon will be a wonderful experience for you!

    3687 days ago
  • SCOUT1222
    I love this entry. There IS something about that distance, and those that have done the marathon likely don't need an explanation for it!

    You sound very prepared for Sunday. Enjoy the ride.
    3687 days ago
    Yes, you've learned your lesson. Three hours for the first 20? Wow, I can't even imagine! You can do this.
    3687 days ago
    Love these rules, man! Love love love. I think I might visit them on my marathon eve eve. And there is something magical about distance, isn't there? There's something that just makes me shine about running over 30k. People look at me like I'm mad when I say "Yeah, but it was only 24k" or whatever. Not to belittle the distance, but it's not at that mark. You know the one. I've got 29k tomorrow, and this is a run that I perhaps made a little light of last time and probably shouldn't have. So I'm preparing properly this time!

    I have complete faith in you. I'm sure you'll finish strong!
    3687 days ago
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