It is done. I can barely walk today, but it is done. After over 6 months of training and nearly 30 blog entries about this marathon, it is done. After encountering and surviving the infamous mental and physical hell known as “the wall,” it is done. Most importantly, though, my team members and I raised over $60,000 for our group, Kitten Rescue, and I know that will have a dramatic effect on the lives of many animals in need.
And once again, for all of you who have supported my efforts along the way, I really appreciate it. As I’ve always said, I have the greatest friends, fans and family on earth.
So… how was the run?
The Game Plan
As I alluded to during my last post, I did have a goal time in mind, and that was to come in under 4 hours. I didn’t really believe I could do it, but my coach did, so I just went with it. Of course, as my training journals show, all of my long runs were generally paced at over 10:00 minutes. But everyone always says you run faster on race day due to the screaming spectators, the adrenaline, the leave-it-all-on-the-street mindset, the taper down recovery period you go through a couple of weeks prior, etc. Therefore, if you train long at a 10:00 or even 10:30-ish pace, then a 9:07 range should be doable.
So honestly, I had no doubt I would finish (barring some unforeseen injury that would prevent me from even limping across the line). Instead, it was all about trying to hit that time… to stay in the ballpark of a 4:00 hour pace for the first 18 to 20 miles, then hopefully find a reserve during the last 6 miles and sneak in under 4:00. However, if at that point the brisker pace wasn’t going to happen, or if I encountered the infamous “wall,” then I would abort the sub-4:00 concept and step into survival mode, just to get across the line. And – as is obvious by my 4:22:42 finish time – that’s exactly what wound up happening…
The Big Day
After a brief 3 1/2 hours of sleep on Saturday eve, I had to wake up at 3:00 AM Sunday morning to grab a smoothie and get a lift over to the starting line at Dodger Stadium. Once you have at least one marathon under your belt, you can jump ahead in the starting line into your corral, which is a reserved area near the front for the group of runners who share a similar pace with you. For me, as a newbie, I knew I was going to get stuck in the back, so I waited a bit before stepping out into the cold and into the mass exodus. Of course, for the first mile or two, you’re kind of boxed in since there are so many folks around you. And I knew my pace would be slower for the first mile or two because of this. But I didn’t mind. If I try to go under 10:00 too soon, I never seem to warm up properly. So I was cool with it.
The weather turned out to be beautiful, despite constant rain on Friday and Saturday and a similar prediction for Sunday. It was cool and crisp, in the 50s. LA Marathon protocol is for you to wear layers at the beginning of the race if you like, then gradually discard them, as needed, along the way… just throw your jackets, sweatshirts and gloves to the side of the road. Later, these items are to be picked up, laundered and given away to the underprivileged. It’s a good deal.
Regarding my time…. the Clif Bar folks were handing out these wristband things at the pre-run expo that showed what your time needed to be at each mile, if you wanted to be on pace to hit a time goal. So I grabbed the 4:00 one and used it as a reference guide throughout the run. This, along with my trusty Garmin watch tallying miles, pace and overall time, would prove invaluable.
I should point out that the actual experience of the marathon is quite exhilarating. And unless you’re one of a few select Kenyans at the front of the line, there is zero sense of competition out on the course. Clearly, the competition is with yourself… with finishing, or hitting a certain time, or beating your last time, or surviving the wall, etc. And you really get a strong sense of camaraderie out there, from both your fellow runners and the spectators. Everybody wants everybody to finish!
That said – the first thing I noticed was, for me, there was really no special lift that happened as a result of the hollering crowds, or tons of other runners, or adrenalized anticipation of the race. My pace seemed to want to settle where it always did on my regular runs. So, I probably played it a bit conservative for the first 6 or so miles. All my wristband time projections were coming in a few minutes slower than the mark. But I wasn’t worried about it. I felt like if I tried to start shaving more seconds off my pace too soon, I might burn out too early. So my strategy was to leave a bit in the tank for once I got past the danger zone of 18 to 22 miles, then kick it hard at the end.
As the race progressed, all was going as planned. I had a few sub-9:00s in there, including an 8:25 at mile 15. I felt strong. The only thing is, I felt a little something after 10 miles that I haven’t felt before: nausea. Not sure why. Perhaps the extra exertion? All of my pre-race prep was like it always had been, and I had already eaten one Clif bar starting at mile 6. But when I felt the nausea, I really didn’t want to eat or drink much. I wasn’t really thirsty, but I felt like even taking a few sips of water might make me hurl. So I was probably a bit light on the hydrating throughout…
…and that might have been what got me at mile 22.
Friends, I’ve heard about “the wall,” but was not expecting to hit it, since my long runs always included a sort of second wind at 18. And I’m not sure if what I actually hit was the wall. I had been feeling some of the expected heavy-legs fatigue for a few miles, but then somewhere during 22, an excruciating Charlie horse-type cramp grabbed hold of my right leg and would not let go! I hobbled off the course and dug my knuckles into my quads to get it to release. It was insane! I had not had one single experience of cramping throughout my entire training season. Not one. And now this? I had also been feeling some tightness in my right bicep, which make me think that perhaps I had let myself get a bit dehydrated.
But whatever it was, it was not going away. Once the cramp released, I started trying to jog again, but found that my knees were locking up slightly (which is what happens when you stop running toward the end of a long run). So I did a slow, “mummy” jog for a bit, until another one of the Charlie horses kicked in – this time in my left hamstring – and I had to step off the course again. Fuck! It was so aggravating… grinding away on these leg muscles, watching my pace evaporate on my watch. I quickly figured out that 4:00 was not going to happen. So now, I had to step into “just-drag-your-ass-across-the-finish-line” desperation mode.
And that was the way of it for the last 4 miles. I would jog slow, sip water (although I’m sure if it was dehydration, it was too little too late), and grab ahold of any spasms as they were going down. Paces for these last few miles were ridiculous: mile 22 was 11:24, 23 was a 12:47, 24 was 13:50, 25 was 11:57. It was brutal. As I got near the end, I believe I finally got to the other side of all the cramping. And I wanted the run to be over so bad, I found another gear and ended up with an 8:46 pace for the last half-mile. Was never so glad to see the end of something!
I’m still not exactly sure what happened. But given that I did not take a piss during the entire run – and don’t recall taking one anytime soon after the run – I’m guessing my monkey ass got dehydrated. The other possibility is that I was low on salt. I strategically had a big Mexican dinner 12 hours prior, with lots of salty chips. But I didn’t have a notable amount of sodium on race day.
Yet another factor could’ve been simple overexertion. Even when we did those 20 or 22-mile runs in training, you’re taking it easy; you’re stopping for water here and there, going at an extra slow pace, etc. On marathon day, there are no breaks, you are running faster, and you are going considerable farther. So, it could be any combination of these factors, or maybe something else.
I’ll tell ya, just like with weight training, there’s a whole lotta science behind this running shit… so much to know… so many variables… so much that can go wrong! I’ve really enjoyed it, though, and plan on continuing with it.
As for my big reflection on my first marathon, corny as it may sound, here it is: it really has got to be about the journey, rather than the destination. There is a whole process that you go through to prepare; the discipline of sticking to a training regimen, getting your ass out of bed at a certain time on certain training days (which in itself is a foreign concept to me!); the strategic way you navigate through recovery, push through barriers, and sustain the intensity over many months. And there really is something to the mental aspect of getting through the high-mile runs in training and especially getting across the finish line the day of. I think your body shuts down toward the end of a marathon and you have to find another gear, somewhere in your head. It’s pretty trippy, what the mind is capable of, and running a marathon is just another first-hand experience of this. For that reason alone, I would highly recommend it.
What I might not recommend, however, is getting too hung up on a finish time for your first one. Honestly, my initial feeling of crossing the finish line was not one of elation, but rather disappointment. “Fucking hell! 22 minutes later than my goal! What happened?” was all I could think about. I was glad I got across when I did, given what I had gone through the last 4 miles, but still.
Then later, a good friend reminded me that just finishing is an accomplishment, and I needed to get over myself. So I’ve been trying to focus on that. Plus, again, this running thing has so many unexpected variables. Even experienced runners have disastrous days out there where they get injured, or encounter unexpected things, etc., and their goal time goes out the window. This is one of the frustrating things about distance running. You only have a shot at redemption every 6 months or a year, it seems. But if you play a rough show on the road, you can make up for it the next night! So this is why I say, you must embrace the journey and don’t worry too much about what the destination looks like… although the destination does look pretty damn good from a couple hundred yards away!
Thanks again for taking this journey with me.