Sunday, May 25, 2008

You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

Chip Time: 4:04:39 for a total distance of 27.22 according to my Garmin (yes, that's 27--not a typo). We'll just cut to the chase if that's all you want to know. But, there is a story here, and honestly, at this moment, I'm not even disappointed that I didn't reach my goal time(s). This was not easy--but, of course, marathons never are.

I didn't sleep much after about 2 AM. I tried, dozed here and there, but by 4:45, I turned off all my alarms, realizing I didn't need them. Starbucks was a little late opening due to computer problems, but by 5:15 AM, I was back up in my room, with coffee and a croissant happily munching and trying to figure out the best time to head over. I hit the lobby about 6 AM, and waited for more runners to appear.

The Kenyans arrived a bit after this, and when they headed out the door, I did too. I figured (a) they knew when to leave, and (b) they knew where to go. This was a 15 minute walk. But, shortly into the walk they went straight when the map said turn right, and although all the other athletes followed them, I turned right. A good decision on my part, I made it directly to Athletes Village in about 15 minutes and didn't see the elites until I was back at the hotel several hours later.

There were corrals, one for the elites (empty), one for the sub-3:00 with a few folks. I stood by the corral and was sure to take them all in. They certainly looked fast and hopeful. I peered into the next corral, for those targeting a 3:00 to 3:30 finishing time. Same thing, but some more normal looking people, still mostly men. 3:30 to 4:00 was my corral, yellow, and I slipped in. It was the first crowded corral, and I took a spot towards the back and waited. The Canadian National Anthem was played, the wheelchair race began, and then it was time for us. The sunshine was indeed brilliant, and I was secretly glad I slathered myself with sunscreen before 5 AM. No gun, but it was time to move, and I mostly walked to the starting line and eased into a comfortable jog.

My first mile was in 8:49, perfect. I had a pace band (in Km) that I picked up during the expo, as the markings on the course were all in Km. So, I didn't have a good reference on distance elapsed in terms of miles. I felt great, the run was easy. I told myself repeatedly to slow down and relax, and I did. I wanted to be as close to 1:55 at the half as possible. Things went well, and the miles flew by. I ingested three rounds of fuel by the half, which was right on schedule at 1:54 and change. I couldn't believe how great I felt, how easy the pace was, and how much different this was than my last marathon at Lewis and Clark, when I knew I was done at the half. I told myself before the race, I'd know at the half if I could pull off the 3:50 or not.

I told myself here, now, yes, I was going to make it. I'd sailed through the hills of Gatineau, and was none the worse for wear. There was a bit of an incline for the bridge at the halfway point, and I did realize that my miles were much higher than the Km translated. I was already a half mile more than 13.1 miles at the halfway point.

The morning, which started off at 50 degrees F and bright, was heating up quickly and I could feel it. Although I was perfectly on target, even a few seconds ahead by 25K, here was my first inkling that I was in trouble. Right past the 25K sign, intense nausea seized me firmly, and never let go for the rest of the race. I felt a bolus rise to my throat, and although I never gave in, I couldn't shake it. I walked a bit, tried to soothe myself, and by 30K, although still within reach of 3:50:59 if I'd been feeling well, I realized it was game over for me today.

By this point, there were two serious problems in addition to the nausea. I was very hot and very thirsty. Although I'd downed two cups of Gatorade at the previous stop (whenever that was), it wasn't enough. I knew it then, and I definitely knew it now. And a new pain had begun, my diaphragm was cramping very severely. I was fighting it, but each breath was a struggle, and felt like a knife was hitting me below the solar plexus. I let go of even the 3:55:59 goal at this point, even though it was technically within reach.

I did try to jog in most of the rest, stopping for a walk at each water station, and a few more walks, trying to do things like, walk for a count of 15, run for 30 at least... but I was slowing down and caring less, even with single digit K's left. It was hard when I knew by the K's (but, interestingly not by my Garmin) that even 4:00:59 was out of reach. I tried hard with 4K to go, but it was all I could do to not to be sick. And as the crowds thickened (as the half marathon joined the marathoners), more and more people would dash across the runners, and more runners would come to an abrupt halt in front of me and it was all I could do not to have an unintended collision. (Note to myself and all other runners: please look behind you or move to the side before you decide to walk.)

I hit 26.2 miles on my Garmin with 3:56 and change elapsed. But, there was almost 2K left to go. I realized the circuitous route had also taken its toll, and with several dozen turns and twists and snakelike paths, my actual distance would be considerably longer than 27 miles. I did at least smile to myself and think, "Wow, had this been a normal route, maybe I could have even broken 4 hours even feeling like crap." And at that thought, in spite of the ongoing struggle, I smiled.

My hamstrings were hurting, my feet were sore, my quads had begun talking to me, but this was all normal marathon misery and expected. I'd hoped to take some Ibuprofen at 16 miles, but with my stomach the way it was, I never did. My energy was depleted, my nausea wouldn't stop and the cramping of the diaphragm wouldn't let up, and then I saw the 750m to go. I thought about the 800m repeats, even the 200m repeats I'd done in training, and I figured I could at least pick it up and run for show to the finish. And that's exactly what I did. I pasted on a grin as I crossed the finish line (gotta look good for the picture!). I knew many miles before it wasn't going to be close to my goal, and I was already over that by now. I was finished, and it was over. And now, to find my way back to the hotel.

What was a brisk 15 minute walk to the starting line was a 45 minute journey back. Never was I so glad to be handed my hotel key at a front desk, and never did a shower feel better. And now, having had my first Ibuprofen, a monstrous burger, a cold beer, I don't really feel too bad. And my kidneys are back online. Yeah, I'm sore, but I felt worse after my first two marathons.

I've already talked to several of you--thanks for the texts, phone calls and emails! Funny, some of you sound much more disappointed than I am at the moment. My oldest son especially sounded really crushed. Please know that I am not crushed; I had a great race, and a great time here in Ottawa. There are no regrets. I love the city and the people, and I learned a lot about myself and the marathon in my time here. And all of that can be leveraged for a better marathon next time. And, for the record, I did cut 12 minutes, 13 seconds off my previous best for a new PR (on an arguably more difficult course and race day).

I do reserve the right to make up my mind on whether to do another marathon. It never sounds like a good idea right after you just finished one. But, I'm signed up for Chicago, and I'm pretty sure I'll forget the marathon misery in a few short days and be ready to train even harder. Ciao for now, and thanks everyone!

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