Quote of the Day: “It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.”
- Peter Ustinov
Rock and Roll Marathon, Arizona. Number 17 overall.
I set four alarms. I thought my watch and cell phone would be enough but Joe wanted me to use his father’s old clock radio and his “progressive” alarm which is another way of saying “gets louder until you want to stab yourself in the eyeballs to make it stop.”
The morning had a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for me in the form of a cold front, dropping temperatures to, oh, let’s say, freezing. I mean that literally; it was 32 degrees outside and shrinkage was a given.
One of the worst things about a marathon is the morning is usually cold (not usually this cold though) and you have to get to the start line along with ~30,000 of your closest friends which in turn means that what you bring with you is what you run with or discard along the way.
But it’s always cold so you want to bundle up. I normally get around this by buying a $5 sweatshirt at Goodwill and chucking it after about a mile.
This time Joe was going to accompany me so not only did I not have to worry about getting to the start line but I also had someone to grab any excess clothing at the last minute.
Like a mother hen, Joe insisted I bundle up and got me a matching sweat shirt and bottom. The only drawback was that it was Raider-Gear so if course, I felt like a loser from the get-go (sorry, Joe, I couldn’t help myself).
Oh, and it made me look like I had spontaneously gained around 75 pounds. Yeah, this is what I want to look like when I’m playing the role of marathoner:
After about 5 visits to the port-a-potty (another golden adventure enjoyed at EVERY marathon pre-staging area) and a lot of chatting with Joe who had never been in the buzz of a marathon starting area, I was ready for the fun to begin.
Just like they promised, they issued my number at the tent but the junior high Einstein didn’t inform me that I needed to get a chip from the next tent over. It occurred to my frozen-numb mind about 15 minutes before start time after standing around willing my blood not to freeze completely solid.
Joe snapped a couple of pics after I shed the warming gear and I was ready for the race.
Her was my goal: I was going to phone this one in.
I thought a sub-4 ½ hour run was doable and had no aspirations to bang out a sub 4. I had only done that 3 times in my life (out of 16 up to now) and those were after epic training accomplishments.
I was less than stellar in that department this time mainly because I got sick over Christmas and missed the most important long runs you need leading up to a marathon. To make matters worse, I gained some pounds due to being on vacation and not being able to run in the cold Seattle weather after I got sick. This took its toll not only on my prep but also on my psyche.
Throw in the fact that it was as cold as Kramer’s reception at an NAACP rally and you have the makings of a phoned-in performance.
Everything proceeded as expected for the first few miles. I did note that I was feeling pretty damn good and there was a definite lack of fatigue. I think not doing any exercise on Friday and Saturday was a good move but the cold was definitely getting my attention.
Then at mile 8, just as I was bringing sexy back with Justin Timberlake, my iPod decided it was just about done.
This was VERY unsexy.
I yanked my iPod off my shorts, looked at it, and it said I was out of power.
Out of power?
You little bastard, what do you mean? I left you charging ALL NIGHT. BRING THE SEXY BACK, YOU LITTLE SON-OF-A-BITCH!
Nope. Either the cold got to it or the charge didn’t take. I remembered that the outlets in the guest room were loose when I plugged in the charging adaptor but I thought it was showing the charge. Guess not.
Soooooo, OK, 18 miles without music. It WAS the Rock & Roll Marathon but come on! I had never run without music and had never trained without music. In fact, I had never run out of iPod power during ANY of my training runs. EVER!
Why, God? Was it stealing those lunch tickets in junior high?
Whatever, I had a race to run.
Four hours of sleep? Bite me!
Cold? Screw you.
No music? Suck it.
What else can you throw at me?
“Let’s just take these energy gel packets you have fastened on you, you know, the ones you have NEVER lost on the run EVER, and we’ll just lose those. Wait, I’ll leave you two to ration out over the last 16 miles, K?”
I kept running.
I took my breaks, I kept a pace, I didn’t time anything but the breaks. Just…. ran.
Next on tap: I have learned that you NEVER skip a water stop. When available, you drink like it’s your job on a marathon. This is one rule I adhere to without fail. Now, when you run a normal marathon, by which I mean I’m not pissing icicles, you do a lot of sweating. You intake a lot of liquid and you sweat. Simple.
But when it’s like-you-have-an-oversized-frozen-blowpop-shoved-up-your-ass cold, you don’t do a lot of sweating. So the gallons of water and sports drink you throw down your soup-cooler hit your bladder with extreme prejudice. End result: lots of stops for spicket-time.
I hadn’t figured this out and was utterly confused why I had to piss every few miles. Let’s just place this in the “never before in any training run has this happened” category. There, right there wedged between iPod dying and losing energy packs. Awww, look at them there all cute.
I kept running (when I wasn’t pissing). I knew I was mangling my time by taking so many breaks.
Screw it, I just hoped I could still break the 4 ½ hour mark.
You would think I would get all chatty since I didn’t have music but for some reason, I was all business. I didn’t talk to anyone and once I hit the halfway mark, I realized a couple of things.
1. I was not all that tired.
2. I had nailed a 1:52 half which put me almost at a 3:45 pace to finish.
This got my attention. Even with piss-filled first half (that just don’t sound right), I was banging out a record run (that sounds even worse.)
At 20 miles, I had a decision to make. The same decision I make every run I enter. That decision is do I put on my game face and step up to the plate or do I pull back and glide in?
This decision is based on the time it took to get there and how I feel at the time.
Today, I was under 3 hours which meant that I could crank out 10 minute miles and still break 4 hours. The possibility had begun to creep into my head as I ate up the miles at this point. Wait a minute, I’m really making good time here.
How I felt was the deciding factor. I was invincible. I had very little pain or fatigue and my running was still consistent at this distance when during most every other race in my history, I was starting to hate life at this point.
Then the thought entered my head: if I really double down and push for 9-minute miles, I might, I might ………. wait for it………dare I dream?………. I could get my PR!!!!!
This little debate was familiar territory I really only consciously knew about recently. I felt a familiar “here I am again” and realized THIS feeling, this decicive moment was what running was all about. When the chips are down and it comes to decision time, the pregnant moment when you are teetering on the cusp of a decision. Do I have it in me to push past the reasonable and leave it all out on the course?
Sprint 6.2 miles after enduring 20? And run them faster than any of the previous?
Do you have it in you? Not to DO it but to GO FOR IT?
I could almost hear a big churchbell clang in my head. One decisive, soul-trembling tone.
“Fuck it. I didn’t come all this way to come in with anyting less than everything I have.”
My pace picked up.
After the decision was made, the logic to get there kicked in.
“OK, here’s how we do this. Legs, just do what you’re told. We know you are shredded but you have to find it somewhere to keep pumping faster than you did the last three hours. Mind, you gotta push hard because legs are going to cramp at some point so we need to make up that time before they seize. Breathing, just keep the bellows going. Bladder, knock your shit off. You’re done. Stomach, you might get another shot of water but we don’t have the time to spare so it’ll be on the run. We have one Gu left so we’ll hit that at 23 for the final push. Oh, and mind, you need to recalculate every mile to see if we can get to that PR. We will beat the 4-hour mark, no problem, but we don’t want to miss the PR by seconds. Lastly, we’re committing everything to this so if any of you fuck this up, especially you, Mind, stand by for a long, unforgiving aftermath.”
In 16 races, I have never NOT cramped. It’s not “IF” but “WHEN.” The hope is that you push it off as late into the race as you can but in my wildest dreams, I never even entertained that I would NOT cramp.
Based on the conversation above, I found myself burning down the last 10K like a man possessed. I was leaving nothing in reserve and waiting for the cramps………. that never came.
Don’t ask, I can’t explain.
I can guess: maybe the cold had something to do with it. Or maybe because I didn’t sweat that much I didn’t become salt-deficient (the cause of cramps). I don’t know but what I do know is that I didn’t cramp and my speed actually increased as I became more and more enamored with the fact that I was going to have an epic run today.
People stared. I mean, people had been calling out “Marines!!!” all day due to my singlet I was wearing, provided to me by the base running club who had also paid my dues. But at this point, I was getting the most curious looks from people who were breaking down along the soul-stealing last 6 miles of any marathon.
And I knew what they were thinking because in all other races, I was one of their numbers.
“Who the hell does he think he is and where in the hell is he getting that strength?”
I don’t know the answer to either one of those questions. I just ran because Body was letting me.
I now know why they call it “hammering” out the miles. My feet were coming down like sledgehammers, colliding with the pavement without any hesitation. My body was being carried along for the ride as I came as close to flying as a human can. I was euphoric. I was unstoppable. I was a marathon runner.
At the end of the race, I was terrified to even look at my watch. The course took a few turns (which I hate because you can’t see the finish line and you think every turn you will be able to, only to see another turn up ahead.)
But the crowd was thickening and I had passed the 25 mile mark where, inevitably, they were shouting “One more mile” and I cursed them in my head.
One point two, people. The point two counts. It hurts. It matters.
Finally, I saw the finish line and I was in a 50 –yard-dash. I had been passing people constantly for the last 2 miles and now, I was literally at a dead sprint. I didn’t want to face the reality that I missed my PR because I brought a 26 mile run to a 26.2 mile race.
My arms and legs were flung forward and back almost horizontal. I was running as fast as humanly possible to the point of danger. It must have looked like I was running from a burning building and the crowd reacted. Who was this man with “Marines” emblazoned on his chest running at a dead sprint through the chute after almost 4 hours of running?
I crossed the finish line.
I stopped my watch.
I recalled my PR last October was 3:54:16.
Through blurred eyes, I saw my watch tell me 3:52:29.
The moment was luscious.
I donated everything I had, against all odds, for a 107 second improvement that means everything to me.
Or .76% faster.
And it was worth it.
Free Advice for Today: “Dress for the position you want, not the one you have.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.