Hey! I ran another marathon! Training started in earnest in January. It got me out the door in cold and ice and snow and made me a happier person through the dark days of winter. My long runs mostly happened on Tuesday mornings, and almost all were in temperatures in the 20s and 30s, though there were a few in the 40s. So I wasn’t well prepared for the weather for Saturday’s Garden Spot Marathon, where it was nearly 60 at the 8am start and above 80 by the end.
Miles 1-5: 6:54, 7:02, 7:22, 7:09, 7:39; elapsed time 36:05 at 5 miles (7:13 pace)
In the early miles of a marathon you mainly try hard not to put out too much effort. We started out with the half-marathoners, so I couldn’t tell who the other marathoners were. These miles did feel easy, and the variation in mile times comes from the rolling hills. Mile 5 is the slow one there, as we headed up a long gradual hill. Even this early, I noticed sweat running down my face. Not good!
Miles 6-10: 7:11, 7:01, 7:15, 7:21, 7:28; elapsed time 1:12:22 at 10 miles (7:14 pace)
We had a few mostly downhill miles, and at the 7-mile mark the half marathoners turned around. The volunteer in the cow costume yelled “We’ll see you in 13 miles!” and then it got lonely. I realized quickly that I hadn’t been around other marathoners in several miles, and none were around me now. Far ahead I could see another runner, and I could tell it was an Amish guy – they were the only ones wearing long black pants. The water stations came every 2 miles, and they were like oases of human contact as well as water. After mile 8 I made a conscious effort to ease off the pace a little. Bad sign!
Miles 11-15: 7:31, 7:18, 7:17, 7:24, 7:22; elapsed time 1:49:14 at 15 miles (7:17 pace)
The hills continued to roll, the sun continued to shine, the day continued to get warmer, and I continued to sweat. Halfway went by in 1:35:07; there was no hope of running the second half that fast. I thought I would be happy with a 1:45 second half and a 3:20 finish. For miles I continued to see the Amish guy ahead when the road was straight (or one of us was on a hill). When I finally caught him it was just after the 14-mile water stop, and he was walking. I had gone 7 miles without encountering another runner, and I was hoping for some company, but I was feeling better than he was, so on I went.
Miles 16-20: 7:22, 7:23, 7:35, 7:42, 7:52; elapsed time 2:27:26 at 20 miles (7:22 pace)
In the 15th mile the course doubled back on itself, and I was now passing runners going in the opposite direction. I learned I was in 8th place, and I enjoyed the encouragement passed back and forth, as well as the knowledge that, however badly I was suffering, at least I wasn’t 6 (or more) miles farther back on the course. Around mile 20 at a water stop they were calling out “water! gatorade! bananas!” and I asked for water and a banana. Got the water, didn’t manage to get the banana, kept running. A few second later I heard yelling, and turned around to see a heavy-set teenage kid sprinting after me. “Did you want a banana?” he was yelling. So I slowed down and ran backwards for a little bit until he caught me; I thanked him, took the banana, and headed on. Unfortunately the banana wasn’t yet ripe and felt hard and chalky in my mouth. I held onto it until I was out of sight, then chucked it in the ditch. Still, this seems a good moment to note how friendly and how helpful volunteers were all day.
By now I had passed at least two more people. One was a guy that I had been slowly reeling in for a few miles, but he denied me the satisfaction of passing him by ducking into a portapot when he was still 50 yards ahead of me. Another was the guy that had been leading the race at halfway, 15 minutes ahead of me. “At least I’m still running,” I could tell myself.
Miles 21-26.2: 8:29, 9:49, 9:11, 7:42, 9:something, 8:something; finish time 3:22:44 (7:44 pace)
What happened? Well, those hills that we came down in miles 6 and 7 were now much bigger. And it was hot. Did I mention it was hot? I started taking walking breaks, passing a guy and moving into 4th or 5th place while walking. This part was surreal: the feeling that I was falling apart, slowing down terribly, trying not to overheat, and yet moving into the top 5 overall. Everyone I passed was moving much slower than I was, and soon I was passing lots of half marathoners who were still out on the course. My walking breaks were a minute long; every time I would stop to walk my breathing would get really heavy, and usually wasn’t calmed down by the time I started running again. That 7:42 24th mile was downhill, and I ran almost the whole thing. Shortly after that, my Garmin watch ran out of juice, and I shut it off to save the splits that were already there. I tried to start it again, but it didn’t have enough power to get the signal. Now I was passing lots of walking half-marathoners. Still, I was hot, and though I had told myself that surely I could run the last two miles, I couldn’t, and I took walking breaks, even in the last mile. I knew that last year one needed to beat their Boston qualifying time by 3 to 4 minutes to get in, and I knew that that was slipping away. (As it was, I ran a BQ by 2:16, which most likely won’t be quick enough.) But it was hot, and I walked. I did manage to run the last half mile or so, and I finished 4th of 192 finishers, about 50 seconds behind 3rd. First and second were only 6 and 7 minutes ahead, much slower than winning times in past years. Second place was another Amish guy in long black pants – totally impressive, that. I later learned that on the same day the guy who was leading the Commonwealth Games in Australia collapsed from heat exhaustion in the last mile of the race, and I felt reassured in my conservative approach. Goal One, I have often told myself, is Don’t Be the Guy Who Gets Taken to the Hospital. Goal Two is Finish. All told, this went as well as it could have, given the weather.
As if to add insult to injury (well, there was no injury, just sunburn), three days later I’m running in weather 40 degrees colder, wearing tights, two long-sleeve shirts, and a stocking cap, as snow flurries swirl around me. It’s a funny world.