Friday, December 9, 2011

White Rock Marathon Race Report

It's hard to gather my thoughts and write something concise and cohesive about my experience of running my first marathon, but here goes my best try at it.

I guess the easiest way to approach this is to write about it as things unfolded.

Weeks Before

As I wrote in my last entry, the weeks leading up to my marathon were pretty challenging, to say the least. Not just because my training schedule had insane-sounding things on it like "8mi pace run" and "20mi long run," but also because I was dealing with what seemed like one injury after another. If it wasn't my ankle, it was my hamstring or my knee. I missed several runs trying to get healthy, and the combination of lingering injuries and missed training runs really zapped my confidence. During that time, there were several times when I thought the marathon may not happen. 

Marathon Week

Then marathon week arrived. The reduced running of my tapering period seemed to help with my injuries, so I was starting to feel more optimistic. But my optimism was dampened by the weather reports that began to appear during the days leading up to my marathon. Predicted temperatures bounced around between mid-30's and low 40's, and rain seemed imminent. I was okay with the cold, but mixing that with rain brought feelings of dread that got me back to doubting whether I really wanted to go through with this. I hadn't trained in those conditions, how would I handle being exposed to the combination of cold and rain for 4, 5, 6 hours? How do you dress for that? 

Oh, and also my Garmin died. Really bad news. The battery just would not charge at all. I didn't have time to get it repaired, or money to replace it, so I would just have to live without it. Not good, really not good. I'd been running with my Garmin for a year and a half, and missed not having the feedback on my distance and pace. I substituted my iphone for the Garmin, using the Runmeter app. It's okay, but not as convenient as my Garmin.

The Day Before

By Saturday (the day before the marathon), I had decided I would just roll with whatever weather came. I would trust my training and take comfort in the fact that I would be out there with thousands of others going through the same things. I knew this was also a well-run race, and I wouldn't be far from help if I needed it. So I headed out to the expo to pick up my race packet. I had a great time. By the end of the expo, I was ready to run! There's something about being at a big race expo that really gets me excited about running. But I decided not to stay too long; being on my feet wondering around an expo for hours seemed like it may not be the best idea the day before my marathon. So I went home and spent the rest of the day relaxing. I watched "Spirit of the Marathon" and "UltraMarathon Man" to get some extra motivation.

Marathon Day!

Rain, about 40 degrees. And it was only supposed to get colder and wetter as the morning went on. :/

Not good, but I knew it was coming and I was mentally prepared for it. Time to reach back to my Army days. As we used to say, time to suck it up and drive on.

I had set everything out the night before, and had just enough time to get dressed and get out the door. I do this on purpose, so that I don't have time to think too much about the race. Idle time on race morning usually isn't the best thing for my mental state. 

By 5:20am I was out the door and heading to pick up a friend. We rode over and met up with some other runners, and we all rode together to the race. Traffic was pretty bad close to the race, but we all managed to get to the starting line about 15min prior to gun time. I spent that time chatting with some other runners nearby. Before I knew it, there were fireworks and then we were off.

As I mentioned above, I didn't have my Garmin, so I was trying to use my Runmeter on my iphone. But I gave up on it about a 1/4 mile into the race for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn't getting a good gps signal in the downtown area where we were running. Second, it was raining, and I was concerned about using my iphone out in the rain, even though I had it in a zip-lock bag. Third, it's impossible to operate my iphone with my gloves on, and it wasn't easy to pull my glove on and off to work my iphone. So I decided I was just going to have to run by "feel" and live without the distance info. Because of this, I would later realize that I had erred too far on the side of slowing my pace. I tried to keep my pace slow, knowing from past experience that I tend to go too fast, especially at the start of a race. What feels like a 10min/mi pace during training becomes a 9:30min/mi pace on race day. So I made a conscious decision to hold back.

Speaking of holding back, I had to make a port-o-potty stop as soon as the race started. They had them at every water station, about every 1.5mi. When I got to the first one, the lines were pretty long, so I decided to wait until the next one. But apparently alot of people had the same idea, because when I got to the next water station the lines were long there too. I had no choice, I would have to stop and wait. I think I lost about 5-10min waiting in line.

Finally, after getting through the line, I hit the road and got going. The next several miles went by pretty fast and easily. The only down side was the constant rain that left alot of water running on the roads. By about mile 5 or 6 I was pretty much drenched, the water was completely soaked through my clothes, hat, gloves, shoes, etc. Every time I hit water deeper than the sole of my shoe I felt icy water on my toes! Also, during this time I generally had no idea how far I had run. Either the miles weren't marked or I kept missing the mile markers. I knew where the 8mi point was from running this same portion of the course last year while running the half marathon. So I knew I was still somewhere between miles 3 and 8. I also had to make another port-o-potty stop, and wait in another long line for it. Lost another 5-10min there. I guess I over-hydrated for the cold, damp conditions.

Finally I got to the 8mi spot, which was nice because for the first time I felt like I had my bearings. Still no idea how fast or slow I was going. It was around this time that I saw a guy running barefoot. Okay, I'm not into the minimalist thing, but to each his own. However, in that weather, I really think that foot-wear of some kind is really needed. This guys feet were beet red. I asked how he was doing, and he told me that his feet were numb. Well, it was near freezing and raining outside. He was running the half, so I guess at least he was almost done.

Around mile 9 we split off from the half-marathoners. Around this point we got a break from the rain, which was nice. I spent some time wringing out my gloves and hat while I ran. That was a nice lift, although I was still feeling pretty good. 

The first kind of low point in the race came around mile 11. If you've run White Rock Marathon, then you know that this is the point where you arrive at White Rock Lake. You then do a 10mi lap around the lake. Coming up to the lake you run through a sort of wooded area where the course dips then you have a small incline and at the crest the lake appears before you. The whole lake. The one you have to run all the way around. And at the moment I arrived at this point, it looked like I had to lap the Pacific Ocean. Sigh.

Oh, and the rain started again. Sigh.

Then I arrived at the half-way point, mile 13.1. Should that be a time to celebrate? I didn't feel like celebrating, as I looked across the lake and, in the far distance, saw runners on the other side of the lake. I had a long way to go, and it was getting to me. 

I focused on a bridge at the far side of the lake, sort of the half-way point of the lap around the lake. I would run to that bridge, and think about nothing else. And before I knew it, I was crossing the bridge and heading back along the other side of the lake. One good thing was I finally started seeing mile markers, so I was able to keep track of where I was at. I was finally at the bridge. I think it was around mile 17.

The next few miles I decided to listen to some music. A couple of songs got me through those tough miles from 17 to 21 as I finished my way around the lake. The first song was "Against the Wind" by Bob Seger. I just listened to it over and over, and it really helped me relax and settle into a nice run. It was so helpful to take my mind off of all of the miles that I still had ahead of me. The second song was "He Reigns" by News Boys. I listened to this song several times, probably from about mile 19 to mile 22. It reminded me of how powerful God is and how He can give me strength to get through so many things in life, including the miles ahead. 

Around mile 21 I was finally finished with the lap around the lake, and heading into the infamous incline towards mile 22. I really didn't think it was too bad, I was just grateful to be finished with the lap around the lake, and really happy to be in the final stretch of the race. By mile 22 I was cresting the hill and feeling amazing. I think at this point it really started to sink in that I was going to finish this thing. Doubt was fading. The end was less than 5 miles away! No way I would quit now. 

I was starting to feel some pain in my legs and some tightness in my hips. It felt kind of like my hydration belt had slipped down around my hips, but it hadn't. It was a strange feeling. I tried taking walking breaks a couple of times, but it was more comfortable to run than walk. If I walked, I felt the cold more and my legs started to tighten up. So I just kept running, ticking off the miles. Mile 23....mile 24.....mile 25.....

At mile 25, the first tears of joy welled in my eyes. I pulled out my phone and sent my wife, Melody, a simple text: mile 25 :) 

It was around mile 25.5, with less than a mile to go, that I passed an old man on the side of the road who looked like he could have been a runner too. He smiled at me and told me to enjoy it while it lasted, it was almost over.  My emotions really surprised me at this point. I was completing a goal I'd dreamed of for many years, and that until recently I never thought I would ever accomplish. It was overwhelming. 

Mile 26. The finish line was ahead, and I saw my wife, Melody, and my Mom cheering for me as I approached the finish. Yes, I shed a few tears. I couldn't help it, I was completely overwhelmed by the thrill of finishing a marathon. Crossing the finish line was a moment I hope I never forget. Suddenly all those months of training, long runs, lost sleep to get up early to run, it was all 100% worth it. I was cold, I was completely soaked, I was exhausted. And I was now a marathoner.

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