My wife and I drove up to steamboat the day before the race it was a beautiful drive. On much of the drive there was overcast and at times little sprinkles of rain. I hoped that these clouds would stick around for the race tomorrow. We checked into the hotel and had some time to kill so we went a saw a movie and then walked around town a little and then found some dinner. I actually slept decently much better than the night before the Denver marathon last year. I had a dream that I slept in and missed the race which woke me up and had me franticly checking the time. I got up at 5am and had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, banana and tea. There were a few other runners having breakfast also which was nice to have some company. I got on the bus at around 6am and got to the start around 6:45 well before the 7:30 start. It was cold but I could tell that it would be getting warm soon, I thought to myself “I wish I could start now”. I stretched a little and walk around a little before the start.
Start of the race
I think it was probably 60 F when the gun went off, I wasn’t cold anymore. I was thinking to myself “this is a bad sign if you’re comfortable at the start. Almost immediately my Achilles started hurting, I haven’t had any complaints from it in weeks. I think it was just stiff from sitting in the car yesterday and not running for the last few days. About 2-3 miles in there was a freaking giant hill which I ran all the way up, I passed lots of people who were walking. In retrospect maybe I should have walked up that hill with them. Once over the hill came the much advertised down hills. I remember seeing a classic green mile marker that said 18 I knew that when this highway ended we turn towards town and only had a few more miles left. It was really weird watching these markers come and go. A few miles in and my Achilles felt fine I was happy that things were looking up. The race markers were giant orange signs and I was looking for them too, I was recording my splits in my watch even thought I didn’t have a time goal. For the early part of the race I ran a conservative and pretty even 10 min pace.
I had to climb another really big hill to get to the half marathon line. I completed the first half in 2:14 (10:11 pace). By now the temperature had climbed up to 70’s add that last hill and I was really feeling tired. Most of the net drop in elevation was done and any downhill was now followed by an equal uphill. I began spending more time at aid stations and really looking for the next one. I was starting to question my ability. During this time (miles 13-18) my pace slowed considerably to almost 11 min miles. It wasn’t just me either I was easily keeping pace and even passing people around me. Every mile seemed farther and harder than the last mile but I kept at it. Not counting the aid stations I had run the entire first 18 miles.
The wheels fall off
I think it was just before the 19th mile the heat and exhaustion caught up to me and I finally walked. I wasn’t just tired I was mentally exhausted. Thinking back on it I was overheated but not that bad and my legs hurt but not that bad. But after 18 miles my mind was weak and the pain messages that where being sent finally overpowered my tired mind. I think that if my mind was still strong I would have kept on right to the finish. But that’s not how it works as your body gets tired from running so does your mind and it dose weird things when it’s running out of energy just like when your muscles aren’t working properly. Of course walking didn’t help my mind, it was a crushing blow to my confidence and ego. Instantly the marathon changed from a race to survival. I think I was probably running 70% and walking 30% of the time but the closer I got to the finish like the closer this got to 50/50. I wasn’t just me that crashed out there it seemed like everyone around me was in the same walk run survival mode. At 20 miles there was an aid station with a shower constantly running water. Think I stood under it for 5 min until I was completely soaked. I don’t really remember much about miles 20-25 other than I was hot and miserable. I do remember calculating my time every mile and figuring out what kind of pace I needed to finish the race. There was a cutoff for the finish at 5:30:00, so my brain must have been functioning a little to be able to get these numbers. I remember seeing my time at 22 - 4:04 I only needed to do my last 4 miles in 20 min pace. It was then that I realized that I would finish the race even if I had to walk the rest of the way. There was a price to pay for all that downhill, tired quads. They hurt so much and now my Achilles was getting back into complaint mode.
Near the end I had decided that I could finish under 5hrs (a small victory). All I had to do was run the last two miles at 13 min pace and the previous mile I had just finished in 12 so it seemed doable. We turned off the highway into town. By now the temperature was about 80F and there wasn’t any shade in sight. I got a good sharp pain from my Achilles, time to walk. 13 min pace doesn’t leave much time for walking so a minute later I was running again. My Achilles was fine now but soon after I got a cramp in my left quad and had to stop again. The quad cramp stopped me in my tracks I couldn’t straighten out my leg. I walked again for a minute and then set off running this time quad and Achilles at the same time. #!@!%* forget 5hr lets just finish this thing. I walked a lot of the remaining 25th mile. The 26th wasn’t any better I was beyond survival mode I was now part of the walking wounded. I never even saw the 26th mile marker or recorded it on my watch. Once I could see that finish line my eyes were fixated on that orange banner. Every block felt like a mile a few people came nearly sprinting past me and finished. I was about 3 blocks from the finish when I decide that I could run the rest of the way, a block later my quad cramped hard and I hobbled a step or two on one foot. I could hear gaps from the crowd as I must have look done for only blocks from the finish. I took a few steps walking and then starting running with a small limp now but was able to make it the last block to the finish. 1 step past the finish and both quads were locking up again. I stopped and stayed where I was 2 feet across the finish line leaning on top of a construction sign. It took a lot to walk over to get my timing chip removed, pick up my metal and sit down in the aid tent with an ice cold rag over my quads. All this happened within 20ft of the finish. Soon after my wife found me and was very supportive and helpful, couldn’t stand to have another cup of water or Gatorade so she walked to the gas station and got me some chocolate milk. First time I had chocolate milk after a race and it was awesome. Steak dinner a few hours later was even more awesome.
After the dust settled
After the race I was feeling a little frustrated. I had trained much harder than I did for the Denver Marathon but the results had been similar. I wonder what those people had thought of me a few blocks from the finish. I would like to think that they were inspired by seeing someone injured but still being strong enough to continue on. Even now thinking about this I am getting a little chocked up. It took me some time to get past my time (5:02) and be proud of myself for finishing. The marathon is so physically and emotionally challenging that just to finish is a huge accomplishment regardless of how many you have completed. I will come back and do the steamboat marathon again someday.
Lessons Learned (Added August 2010)
I know that every marathon finished is a victory but a small part of me needs a good time as well. I had to write this a few months later after I had moved on from this failure. My first marathon was a failure mainly because of poor training so this time I had trained much harder but the result was almost the same (very frustrating). It would be easy to blame the warm weather and the hills and maybe those were small factors but the main reason for this poor time was poor energy strategy.
Let’s start with breakfast, I got up at 5 am and had a bowl of oatmeal a banana and a cup of tea. Sounds good right well then I got on a bus at 6 am and the race started at 7:30 am. I should have had some sort of snack about 15 min before the race started. To make matters worse I didn’t have my first gel until 10 miles into the race which would have been over 3½ hours since I had eaten last. What a rookie mistake, actually it’s worse because I remember eating a cliff shot 10 min before the start of the Denver marathon. Next time for sure I will be eating some sort of snack before the race. Strike 1!
Liquids, I have gotten much better at this over the last year. Before I would rarely drink anything because I thought it was a sign of weakness. During the race I drank at every water stop except for 1 the first one. I am not saying you have to drink at every water stop especially it they are spaced every mile. But this one was at mile 3 so that means that I didn’t have a drink until 6.5 miles. But what did I drink before that… a cup of tea at 5am are you kidding me I didn’t really do that to myself did I? Next time I am going to take a 16oz bottle of Gatorade to wash down my snack 15 min before go time. Strike 2!
As I mentioned before the first food I ate during the race was at 10 miles. So I was already way behind on fuel half way into the race. My plan was to eat the second cliff shot at mile 20 don’t ask me why it kind of seems weird to me know too. So by the time I was at mile 20 all I had eaten for the day was oatmeal, 1 banana and 2 cliff shots. At 20 miles it would have been about 11:00AM, almost lunch, this doesn’t sound like enough food for me on days that I don’t run. By the time I ate the last gel at mile 20 I had already hit the wall so it wasn’t going to help anyway. Strike 3 you’re out of there!!!
Once I hit the wall around mile 19 it was a death march to the finish. Had I done these thing right I think I could have survived the hills and warm weather. So let’s make a list of the good things I am going to do next marathon.
· Eat a decent breakfast (one thing I did right)
· Eat a snack of some sort about 15 min before the race
· Drink some liquids 15 min before the race
· Eat a gel or some snack every 45min or about 5 miles
· Drink at each of these 45 min snacks breaks especially the early stops