When I signed up on Monday to run the Pilgrim Pacer Marathon, my only goal was to finish. Thank goodness I didn’t set the bar any higher than that, because I would have been supremely disappointed.
I hadn’t done any marathon-specific training, only doing my regular weekly runs on the Shawnee Mission Park trails with the group, no more than eight or nine miles at a time at most during the past two months. Still, I wanted to run my first marathon before the end of the year, and this was my last good option. Plus, considering I ran the Pikes Peak Ascent in August and then paced Nick Lang for a quarter of the Bear 100 early this fall, my mileage base was sufficient to get me through. I figured a 4:20 or 4:30 finishing time was realistic.
What I didn’t count on was a bout with the stomach flu the day before the race. I woke up for work Friday morning not feeling good. Then I spent a total of 10 minutes at work, half of it throwing up, before heading back home. Most of the remainder of the day was spent napping on the couch and trying to down Rice Krispies and Sprite — the only food and drink that didn’t aggravate my stomach.
I woke up from a nap at 10:30 p.m., and my stomach finally felt calm enough to eat a full bowl of cereal and down some water with Nuun electrolyte solution mixed in. I downed a liter, but it didn’t seem to make much difference for my fatigued and dehydrated body.
As I headed back to bed, I was concerned about my poor hydration. I’ve had problems with hydration before, and I was worried this could become serious if I wasn’t attentive to it. Still, I planned to run and planned to finish.
I awoke at 6:15 a.m. feeling much healthier. I body felt sluggish and I could tell I was still dehydrated, but other than that my condition was improved. I’d had more than enough sleep, and my stomach was calm. I showed, got dressed, downed another bowl of Rice Krispies and drank a liter of water with Nuun. Then it was time to head to Shawnee Mission Park.
Upon arrival, I ran into Pat O’Bryan. He ran the ING New York City Marathon the week before, and he was running the half marathon today. After hearing a bit about his race, it was almost time to start. I met up with Danny Miller, Brian Brooks and Travis Kierre. The four of us started together, but their warm-up pace was my race pace so they pulled away after seven minutes.
I felt surprisingly good early, though. I never felt like I was pushing the pace and going too fast, but I coasted into the turnaround point of the first loop in 1:03.38. I was constantly sipping on my hydrapack, and I walked through every aid station while taking water or Gatorade. I maintained a steady, relaxed pace while heading back toward the starting line to finish the first loop. My energy levels sagged after 10 miles, but I kept going. After 12 miles, I crossed paths with Danny and Brian. Wael Sammur was with them. He was going to pace Danny for the second loop, but hopped in with me instead and took me to the start/turnaround point.
I rolled through the turnaround point in 2:07. It was an even pace for the first half of the race, and I felt pretty good.
That was about to change.
Wael and I coasted for the first few miles of the second loop, but once I reached 16 miles the last of my energy reserves crashed out. My knees didn’t hurt — the pounding on the pavement made my knees go numb after nine miles — but everything else did. In particular, my hips and my back. So did the bottom of my right foot, which was bearing the brunt from my toe spacer (I had a bone spur taken out of my big toe joint in 2002 and have had to wear a spacer since to make the joint work fluidly without doing more damage. In fact, when I had the surgery I was told I’d probably never be able to do a marathon).
After 18 miles, I pulled the spacer out of my shoe to alleviate the pain on the bottom of my foot, knowing I’d feel it in the inflamed joint later. After 20 miles, my stomach began churning thanks in part to a banana I ate at an aid station.
The final 6.2 miles were a mixture of jogging and power-hiking as leg cramps tried to set in. Dehydration caught up with me. I barely sweat the entire race, and I was feeling it now. Wael tried to push me to run more, but my body wasn’t having it. We’d jog in spurts for a quarter of a mile to a half-mile, and then I’d have to power-hike again. I was actually faster power-hiking than running thanks to my experience on Pikes Peak and at Bear 100.
With 3 1/2 miles to go, Wael and I ran into Shelley Flones. She, her 8-year-old daughter Annika — who ran her first 5K in 29:08 earlier in the day! — and Erin Martinez had been there cheering on the way out. Erin and Annika had headed to the finish, but Shelley was waiting to run with us the rest of the way. It was a nice pick-me-up to have another friendly face to run with and help drag me along. Shelley’s been battling breast cancer, and during her chemo treatments she has crewed for two 100-mile trail races and paced at a few of them. What better inspiration to keep going when your body’s aching than to have her wanting to run alongside you?
Finally, with two miles to go, Danny joined us. He’d finished a while earlier and jogged back to meet me and help me finish. He joked that he was running the Inaugural Chris Wristen 50K since the extra distance put him up to 30 miles for the day. I spent a bulk of the final two miles power-hiking uphill toward the finish. It hurt less to power-hike than to run, and I was moving faster.
Finally, we reached the road to the finish line. It was a long, gradual uphill climb. Wael and Danny encouraged me to pick up the pace and finish strong. My body simply didn’t have it until the final 200 meters or so when I sped up to a steady trot all the way through the finish line.
With that, it was done. I finished 25th overall in 4:55.07.
I keeled over with my hands on my knees as Bad Ben Holmes draped a massive marathon finisher medal around my neck. The thing is about five inches tall and almost the width of a dollar bill. That’s some serious bling!
The moral of the story: Marathons are hard, or at least this one was. Nothing went as I expected, except for the fact that I finished. That was my goal, and I’m happy with it.