The marathon distance is simply … tough. What a day it was at the 2012 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon for a lot of different reasons. Although it always seems like a long long ways with plenty of time to be out on the roads, the variety and range of emotions and physical demands seem to all run (no pun intended) together when looking back on a marathon experience. Not a great day, but it definitely could have been a lot worse. I failed on my two main goals – to win and run a PR. But we all know it’s more than that – it’s about HOW we ever got to that finish line … the journey … the run. Especially with the marathon, running a race is rarely pass / fail … if I had to give it a grade, I’d give the race overall a B-. Below are my random & strung-together thoughts that still stick out to me as I went through my day last Sunday…
Pre-Race – after a normal pre-race morning of bathroom, shower, small meal, gear check, and getting dressed, my college roommate Micah and I were on our way to the runner parking … waited for the next starting line shuttle … dang it’s chilly but GREAT marathon weather thus far. Sun isn’t really up but nothing terrible with the wind or cold or anything … gonna hit a good one! Set up camp in the high school and head out for a quick bathroom stop and 1 mile warmup … get the blood flowing and proceed to arm ourselves for battle – arm warmers, dry socks, dry singlet, gels, and Body Glide in ALL the right places. Another pee in the woods, strides, welcome speech by Olympian Nick Symmonds … and we’re all set … nothing like being at the starting line of a peak marathon and thinking of all the running / training, good workouts, and bad workouts that have all led to this – to put in a couple more hours doesn’t seem too bad!!!
First Half – BANG … the gun goes off and adrenaline flows as we run down the back roads of Grafton. Tempering instincts to get out hard, it feels like we’re jogging through the first couple splits … 5:35-ish for a bit … absolutely perfect. Settled into a group of 3-4 (chasing a lone runner going out hard) and just enjoyed the county roads. Nothing to get excited over … it’s Wisconsin back roads … feels like another Sunday long run … cake. Nothing too eventful really the whole first half except a tightening right hamstring beginning around mile 9ish … what? Don’t like this – I take some salt before planned … my breathing, legs, energy, stomach, rhythm are all feeling great – as good as they ever have in training at marathon pace … just keep it rolling. We reel in the leader around 10 miles at which point another fellow chaser picks it up to take a 20-30 second lead going into miles 12-14. I keep checking splits … all within 2-5 seconds of each other hovering in the mid 5:30’s … no need to go with him this early, I’m running even and comfortable. Half way in 1:12:53 – YES!!! Feels easier than 1:15:00 did 4 years ago when I negative split to a 2:28:37 in my marathon debut … I can feel a breakthrough race developing – the leader is coming back to me … but my right hamstring is tightening ever so slowly … more salt … keep running pace….
To 22 miles – What a blast I’m having!!!! Contending for the lead, staying comfortably on PR pace, seeing my family and friends at miles 14 and 18 … I’m encouraged and can’t believe we’re at THAT POINT in the race already … where things can change at the drop of a hat. Getting past 18 miles, eventual winner (and also fellow college teammate for a semester) Paul Zdroik put in a few surges that I just wasn’t comfortable responding to … now both of my hamstrings were tight as can be and the gentle rolling hills and 90 degree turns were getting the best of me. He dropped a couple 5:25’s at the same time I slowed to 5:50ish which led to losing contact fairly quickly by mile 20. I salvaged a 5:36 for mile 19 but still didn’t know if I was going to crack or not … the pain is creeping into the rest of my body. What once was an easy relaxed 5:3x / mile marathon pace stroll is now becoming a forced and rigid 5:50 – 6:00/mi plod towards the horizon … just waiting for the next turn / straight away / mile marker to appear. Still in 2nd but don’t know how long I’ve got until survival mode … more salt … more prayer for strength … more humbling …
To the finish – Screaming down hill at mile 23 I’m all wrecked … my quads and especially hamstrings are on fire and it is no question the most difficult part of the race for me. Still 15-20 minutes left to run, leg cramps, foot cramps, and I feel / hear 3rd place approaching me for the pass. I try to hang on but am twinging like crazy in the right hamstring … can’t afford to have it buckle this far out. Gatorade and more gel at every station … more salt … slowing to 6:10+/mile and still have a couple to go. This is it … this is why I’m out on the pavement … the pain, the suffering … THIS is as good a time as any to praise Him. Thank you Jesus for being the ultimate sufferer. Passed by eventual 2nd placer somewhere in there – patient & negative split runner. Time passes slowly … I pass the 25 mile mark … hobbling now and cramping more. It feels like I’ve run 3/4 of a mile since the marker – where’s that finish line … around the corner?? I check my watch and I’ve run 1min 13sec since the 25 mile mark … not there yet – head down, KEEP RUNNING!!!!! I see the 26 mile mark in 2:29:xx and find my pain start turning to disappointment but not 2 seconds later, the most incredible voice shouts at me to finish. My wife … my 34 weeks pregnant wife is running towards me … telling me to get to the finish line. Last time I saw her I worked my way up to lead the race at 18 miles … she knows I’m not doing well … she sees the pain … I can’t help but say what I felt – “I love you” I mutter through oncoming tears … and now I see the finish line. I’ve envisioned this finish line stretch for a long while in the past few months wanting to take it all in … scream through and raise my hands in victory. This is different … I’m stumbling & cramping … I look and feel like total crap as I cross the line. 2:30:42 for 4th.
Afterwards – Walking with some volunteers to get my legs a bit stretched out, get my bag, and food, and find my family / friends. My college roommate was hoping to run under 2:40 for a PR and I see the clock say 2:37 … I hope I can see him come in soon and start to head over to the finish. I look around and see my family with his family … and HIM … putting his warm clothes on. He’s on a runner’s high as he just ran a huge PR 2:31:xx for 5th!!!! My mind has been blown … I start to feel his runner’s high and am happier for his journey than I would have been for myself setting a new PR. He has his sons with him, his family … it’s something I’m glad I was there for … a great finish line celebration!!!
Afterthoughts – So there it is … that’s what I remember. And now looking back 8-9 days later I’m a lot happier with how things went than I initially thought. I’ve now run 6 marathons with these rolling hills in Milwaukee being the quickest course profile … all finishing times are within 5 minutes of each other (in chronological order):
2:27:xx & 2:29:xx (2011)
Measuring PRs is a great way to measure progression (I’ve set lifetime PRs in 5k, 8k, 10k, half marathon, marathon between 2011 & 2012), but also seeing how you perform on your off-days is critical. If a bad day in the marathon is loosing 2 places and running 2:30:xx, I feel like I’ve come a long way as I’ve never really completely fallen apart. My training is consistent and experience is more complete, but I’m most proud of how I never gave up and always fought through the pain. Everybody can run hard when they feel great … but to actually embrace not meeting your goal, hold your head high, and not throw in the towel when it’s tough out there is way more difficult. I absolutely have some things I need to work on – HAMSTRING STRENGTH!!! I’ve now dealt with cramping hamstrings in my last four marathons … lack of hill training, stretching, flexibility, pre-race / tapering methods, etc … I don’t know but I’ve got to figure it out. I’ve also been doing some of the same workouts / patterns / plans for the last 4+ years with the marathon. I feel called to get away from it, take a physical and mental break from my conventional training / racing of the last few years, and explore a different side of distance running for 2013 (first event – Run4Poverty rim-rim-rim Grand Canyon Run). If I do want to come back to marathon training / racing (which I feel I will) … I want it to have a new excitement and possibly some new training methods / coaching as I know I’m due for a breakthrough!
Running nerds – full splits on my running log entry here (click)
That’s it … all done. Wow, this was long … thanks for reading!