First, I will summarize for those not too interested in all the gory details of running a long race, but please remember to scroll down to the thank you section. It was a glorious disaster ending with a 4:02:38 finish. That’s a mere 0:02:39 shy of my goal time. But it’s still a PR by over 20 minutes and I’m only disappointed because I’m a numbers guy and know that 3:59:59 is less than 4:02:38.
Most of this is written the day after the race, and then edited over the following week. This is a long write-up. As a friend said in her post-race blog, “It’s a marathon. Pace yourself.” In fact, her write up is better than mine and has pictures. Check it out here: http://runforliving.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/race-report-twin-cities-marathon/
From a health perspective, I have two sore ankles, and one small blister on each foot. The ankles are most likely due to either moving through the wheel ruts in the pavement, or the potholes. I know one of the holes got me good. But I went for a shakedown run the day after and felt pretty dang good all things considered.
When the horn went off (No gun?) I went out too fast. Because that’s what I do. I managed to get it reigned in after the first potty stop at 0.75 miles. Yes. You read that right. Overall, the first 5k was only a touch faster than it should have been. When I passed the Team In Training cheering section at mile 4.5 I was right at the pace I needed to be and managed to hold that until mile 8 or so.
Somewhere around mile 8 the 3:45:00 pace group caught me. They started in the wave behind me. This was a tight, aggressive knot of people. And they hit me right where the road narrowed to one lane. And I got stuck in the group. I couldn’t get out. So I ran with them for the next 10 miles or so. I felt good. I felt comfortable. My heart rate was right where it needed to be. But the pace was quicker than I had intended. There was a fair bit of stress running in that tight knot. There were elbows everywhere. Every step could have been the back of someone’s shoe. Every time I lifted a foot, someone may have been standing on the back of my shoe. If I tripped on a pothole I couldn’t see through the throng of people I would surely be stepped on- more than once. I was only able to separate from the group when the road opened up, stopped turning, and became a good two lane straight where people could spread out.
Hydration and nutrition went better than planned. Salt tabs every half hour. Gel every hour. Twizzler from some kids at mile 6 (There was no crying when I took it. I assume he was holding it out for me. Oh no. Did I take candy from a baby?). Half banana from the kids at mile 14. I was going through about ½ bottle of water every 2 miles and filled at the water stops about that time. I managed to avoid all of the things offered from the crowd as we ran through the St. Thomas campus. Call me paranoid, but I still remember enough about college to know better. Next time I will try harder to find something to eat in the last half. More banana maybe. That was really good.
There were a few people along the course who knew me. I had a cousin who told me where she was going to be. I had some friends from college who told me where they were going to be. There were several dedicated Team In Training cheering spots. While I appreciated all of those (especially the fresh socks!) it was an unexpected visitor that stuck with me. My roommate from college showed up. He wasn’t sure he would make it. But there he was. It was a familiar voice calling my name at an unexpected spot. I think it was about mile 15. I actually circled back to give him a high five. And the joy of that unexpected shout carried me until about mile 20 or so.
Mile 19 I stopped to change socks. At mile 15 I was going to skip the sock change, but then I started to hear my socks squishing as I ran. And the fresh socks felt sooooo nice for the next 3 miles. As I stopped for socks, I noticed some clouds building and could feel the temperature dropping.
The Hill between miles 20 and 23 was every bit as big as I had feared. (About 500 feet over three miles.) I managed. I was slow. I’m not ashamed to say I walked. My training runs had me walking for a couple minutes every half hour. For the race I managed to avoid walking for the first three hours. Even walking I managed to pass someone who was making an effort to not walk. I know this because one of the spectators commented on it loudly enough to make me look. Mile 22 it started to rain. And it was not warm. So much for the fresh socks.
Mile 24 the wheels fell off. I cramped. Everywhere. One foot, both calves, both hamstrings, both quads, both glutes, one hip flexor, something in my upper back, my stomach and my right forearm. The forearm was the one that hurt the worst because it was so unexpected and rather sudden. The rest just sort of crept in on me. This slowed me down. I fully stopped for a moment to see what the stomach cramp was going to do. Vomiting may have been a good idea, but I couldn’t do it. I stood there staring at a blue garbage can.
Before I left, A seasoned marathoner from work reminded me that at some point the race was going to suck. And I should embrace the suck. So I gave it a big, sweaty hug. And I stared at that trash can and I laughed. The spectators nearby started looking at me funny. Clearly I had lost it. I had fully embraced the suck.
Mostly flat with a touch up hill. Compared to my runs around home, it was a breeze. But I was hurting and moving slowly. But moving. Relentless forward progress. At this point I don’t know where the strength came from, but I’m glad it was there. Maybe it was from running hills in the snow, running hills in the blazing summer heat, early morning track workouts… It didn’t matter. The strength was there.
As the course slowly crested the hill I saw a giant American flag hanging from two cranes over the course. The flag emerged from the road slowly. Every step revealed a bit more of the red white and blue. I let gravity pull me downward focusing only on my posture, not over striding, not tripping on a pot hole, cadence, cadence, cadence… I was moving quickly (well, quick for having gone 20-some miles) when I hit the flag. And that’s when I looked down the road and noticed the flag was NOT the finish line. Someone hung the flag at mile 26. This might have been good to know beforehand. I had another .2 miles to go. And I was fried. But it was almost all downhill. So I kept on keeping on. This hill was steeper. My quads were screaming. I gained more speed. I kept going. I wasn’t running. I was falling down the hill and just managed to get my feet down in time to avoid taking a tumble. The last few yards flattened out. Without the aid of gravity I slowed. I kept my stride “proper” and consistent and focused on cadence and not falling. I crossed the line with no real sense of glory, just thankful that I didn’t have to keep running. There is a finish line video. The video shows I maintain a good, quick pace and cadence across the line. As I cross I raise my arms slightly higher than shoulder level. If this wasn’t on video, I would have never known any of it.
And the weather hit me. Reality hit me. The fact that I just ran 26.2 miles hit me. It was cold. It was windy. I was wet. The cramping started to creep in. Feet first. That’s when the adrenaline kicked in. I felt a rumble deep inside. And it grew with every staggering step. The rumble grew and escaped as a whoop of victory.
I made sure to stop at all the post-finish line spots. I devoured the fruit cup and chocolate milk immediately. The stomach cramps worked in tighter. I knew I needed to get things into my body, but I didn’t know if my body was going let them stay there. There were very few trash cans around. Those that were near were overflowing. That fact made me nervous. My stomach got tighter and tighter until I hit the warm soup station. The warm soup almost makes up for the flag at mile 26. Almost. I’m very thankful it wasn’t too hot to drink. Feeling the warmth unlock my stomach was the best feeling I had since the potty stop at the beginning. I worked over to the bag check and had to make the decision: Do I change clothes first, or get in line for a massage to ease the ever increasing pressure? I decided standing in the line for the massage while wearing wet clothes sounded hellish.
The changing tent had no benches or chairs. But it was warm. And smelly. But it was warm! I managed to not fall. Being surrounded by naked strangers, this is a pretty big victory. And I almost sold my towel to someone wishing they had one. Things were looking up. There were jokes. The warmth was unlocking things. But I was finally dressed, and it just isn’t cool to hang out in the changing tent longer than needed. So I ventured out into the cold, moist October day and got in line for the massages. The line was moving fast, and volunteers were handing out more soup and power aid.
The massage was good. Nowhere near as aggressive as I was used to or expected, but good enough. I’m convinced that five minutes on the table is why I was able to function so well the day after and even run a bit. And the massage tent was warm. Nowhere near as smelly as the changing tent. I don’t remember seeing a heater in there, but there must have been one. I really didn’t want to leave.
The finishing area was a blur to me. I was shutting down. I really don’t remember much of the detail. I do remember making a choice to fend off a feeling of panic. I never panic. The fact that feeling was there is a really bad sign. I managed to meet my friends despite the best efforts of the cell network to shut everything down. If my goal was anything more complicated than “Find the purple Team In Training Tent” I probably wouldn’t have made it. The unilateral decision was to get me back to the hotel, and warm as soon as possible. Believe it or not, that decision was a tough one for me to accept.
I showed up to run with a team. If there’s anything I have learned over the years it is how to support a team. That support is ingrained in the fibers of my being. And in this case, the right thing to do was to abandon my team and take care of myself. The decision hurt. But it was right.
“I do not run for the medals, tee shirts, for accolades from friends, or because I’m addicted to competition. I run marathons because of what is forged in the crucible of those last painful miles of the marathon: when I fear that there is nothing left, there is more.”
Running with Team in Training
This was my first event run with an organization known as Team in Training. This is a fundraising arm for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I hope this is not my last experience with that organization.
First, my local Colorado team is full of good people. It was awesome training with them and getting to know them.
Second, my fundraising showed me just how pervasive cancer is in our world. Everyone had a connection to the cause. Everyone who donated gave more than I thought they were going to. Some gave a LOT more than I expected. Even people I was sure I would never hear back from gave to the cause.
Then there was running the race wearing the Team in Training jersey… That was an experience I will not soon forget. The experience started to dawn on me while climbing the small hill at mile 2. A perfect stranger and fellow runner sped up his pace dramatically to get a few minutes by my side. (Those who have run with me know I devour small hills when I’m fresh, and as you’ll recall, I was still moving too quickly.) This gentleman confirmed I was with TnT, extended his hand and said “Thank you. I am a survivor.” From that point on, excluding the expected TnT cheering sections, about every other mile someone seeming at random would give out a “Go Team!” or a “come on purple!” These people had no visible connection to the team, no TnT logo showing, no purple, but seemed to know what the team stood for.
Last, but not least, the Minnesota crew of TnT was great. They welcomed me to the team dinner and into the team running atmosphere without hesitation, and with a friendly smile. I’m still bummed I wasn’t able to help cheer them across the finish. It was great running a bit with Ed. I probably should have stuck closer to him. It may have lead to a stronger finish.
Running in Minneapolis and St. Paul
These people know how to throw a marathon. There isn’t really a better way to put it. There were people EVERYWHERE. On a simple spectator per linear foot of course basis, I think there were more people cheering on this race than the Bolder Boulder. I’m trying to remember the quiet sections of the course. Only two come to mind. And they were short lived. Much of the course had people not only shoulder to shoulder, but jostling for position.
There were signs, cowbells, horns, marching bands, drum lines, unofficial aid stations with useful offerings to distance runners. The Bolder Boulder will offer beer, bacon, and jell-o shots, but not much useful. When I ran the Denver half I don’t remember the spectators offering any aid whatsoever. I’ll forgive the American Discovery Trail marathon for being quiet. It was a trail. There were many miles where access to the route was simply difficult. That one is designed to be quiet.
All of this commotion builds on the race day excitement. It is nearly impossible to slow, walk, or stop in front of all these enthusiastic people.
Dedications & Thanks
I feel the need to dedicate part of my race to the honor of my father in law Ernie Whitehouse for beating Leukemia, and to the memory of Becky Conner, the sister-in-law of a close friend. To these two (all the survivors, those who didn’t make it, and their families, really) I dedicate mile 24. I do not dedicate this mile because it was the easiest, fastest, or felt the best. I dedicate it because it sucked. It was the worst mile I’ve run in a long, long time, and yet it was nothing compared to what they have endured.
And I owe thanks. Thanks to my coaches. Thanks to my acupuncture and massage guy. Thanks to my Chiropractor. A deep and heartfelt thank you to everyone who sent money to sponsor my run, as well as those who could only send their best wishes. A thank you to my friends in MN who acted as my local support staff and brought me socks. Thank you to my coworkers for being flexible with meeting times so I could work in a run.
I must thank McKesson for matching funds. A large part of my financial contribution to the cause is from this source.
A special thank you to my cousin DeNae for guilting me into signing up for the race, and then being all knocked up and not running it with me. And to Kristen for being an awesome virtual running buddy. The day didn’t quite finish as planned. Next time we’ll get some time together.
And most of all, a thank you to my family. You put up with my shit for many months while I spent many hours training, planning, injured, stressed, tired, traveling and just generally bitchy. But you know I want to do it again, right?
Until next time: Don’t let the fat man catch you.