On October 19, 2013 I completed my first marathon. That’s 26.2 miles. I did it in 3:58:07. My goal was 4 hours, so not bad for me, though I really hoped to get closer to 3:45, but a couple of port-a-johns got in the way.
My wife, the kids, and I traveled to Overland Park on Friday, dropped off the kids at my mom’s, and then headed to the JC Nichols Country Club plaza to check in at the hotel. Though the marathon course went by our hotel, it was still three or four miles from the start/finish line. Once checked in, we went on over to Crown Center to pick up the race packet. I’ve completed several USAT triathlon events and check-in at those always requires an ID and a USAT card. Not so at the marathon, apparently. I gave my name and they handed me the packet. I could have been anyone. I thought that was interesting.
There’s a restaurant on the plaza that we had been wanting to try called The Melting Pot. It’s a fondue restaurant. It’s ten minutes till eight when we got seated and I wanted to be in bed at nine, but I thought we would be able to make it. I did not realize, however, the very slow service we would receive and the fact that you cook your own food at The Melting Pot. OK, I admit I’m bit of a rube, but I thought fondue involved sticking pieces of already cooked food into cheese and noshing on it. There was some of that, but they also brought us raw meat that we boiled in this broth. It was all very good, but it took so long that even though our selection included dessert (melted chocolate), we complained, skipped dessert, and asked the waitress to take it off the bill. She obliged and we finally got out of there.
We walked back to the hotel and hit the sack after ten. I slept well but woke up at 4:30 thanks to The Melting Pot after effects in my bowels. Not the greatest start to the day. The night before I realized I forgot to bring something for breakfast, but no biggie. The hotel had a pantry and I was able to get a couple of breakfast bars and a bag of trail mix. That’s similar to what I was going to bring, so I wasn’t too concerned.
After getting up, taking care of the remaining remnants of The Melting Pot, I ate a breakfast bar, the trail mix, drank one and half cups of coffee, got dressed, and then we headed over to Crown Center about 6:20. The race started at 7:05. We found a parking spot at Union Station for $5, and walked across the street to get in line for the race.
The race started and finished on Grand Street. I found a break in the gates and merged with the rest of the runners. It was quite crowded. Shoulder to shoulder. I saw that I was too far back. I wanted to start with the 4 hour pace setters and I was way back with the 4 and a half hour runners, so I started moving forward but never quite got up to where I wanted to be. From where I was I could hear nothing from the announcer, no one in my group could. We didn’t even hear when the race started, the crowd just started moving forward. At first we’re walking trying not to step on each other, but by the time I reached the actual starting line I was able to begin a slow jog. I hit start on my Garmin and I was off, my first marathon!
The temperature was in the mid thirties and the high was supposed to be the low sixties. The sky was clear, very little wind, so perfect running weather. I wore an old long sleeve shirt over my tech t-shirt. The plan was to ditch it if and when I got hot. I also wore my watch cap and thin knit gloves. My shorts weren’t the short-short running shorts, they come up above my knees two or three inches, but they’re not baggy. Great for running without exposing my thighs. I wore Saucony shoes. I usually wear Asics, but when it came time to replace my current pair I couldn’t find as good a deal on the Asics as the Sauconys were that day, so I got them. On a training run they did chafe a spot on the back of my achilles, but I switched to a sock that came up just a little higher and took care of that.
I was able to catch up with the 4 hour pace setters pretty quickly. If you’re not familiar with marathons there’s usually a group of pace setters that you can run with to help assure you meet your goal. For instance, my goal was 4 hours, so I figured if I hung with the 4 hour group I’d be doing OK. The pace setters at our race carried these little signs attached to thin dowels that listed the goal, so ours read, “4:00”.
So, I was doing well, staying patient, not pushing it at all, and found myself pulling away from the pace setters. I never let myself go too fast, so there were some times when I had to throttle back to an 8:45-8:50 pace. I was feeling good, but disheartened to see that there wasn’t nutrition at every aid station, just water and gatorade. During training runs I’d get a bite of an energy bar about every three and a half miles. But that’s OK, I’ll deal. However, the first aid station to offer nutrition, mile nine, only offered some kind of gel or gu, and I don’t deal well with that stuff, but I got one anyways. I also hit two little cups of fluid at each aid station.
I mentioned that it was cool that morning, probably the coolest weather I’d run in since the Spring, so I wasn’t sweating a lot. I believe that’s what led to me having to pee so badly starting at about mile six or so. I finally had to stop at a port-a-john at mile eight. There were three johns there, and I had to wait behind two people to get in. They seemed to be taking forever, but once inside I realized why. I think I released about a gallon of fluid.
I exit the john and get on my way, feeling much better, but see the pace group way up ahead now. I knew I’d catch them, so I didn’t rush it. I did finally catch them probably two and half miles later. My plan was to hang with them until mile 20, and then try to pull away again.
At some point we hit an aid station and I was able to get a banana. Way better for me than gu. But then there it was again, a full bladder! At mile seventeen I had to stop. Finding johns along the route is a little like finding gas stations on those long stretches out west. Once you find one you better use it. So again I had to wait just a little, and the pace setters again passed me. Catching up this time was more difficult, but I finally did. Actually, one of the pace setters had to stop when I did so we both were trying to get back up with the group. We came back by the aid station with the gu and I grabbed another. Ugh.
This is around mile 20 and I’m starting to feel it now. I don’t know if it was just exhaustion, glycogen depletion, or just being lazy, but it became a huge effort to keep my legs moving. It didn’t help that a couple miles before my Garmin crapped out so I didn’t really know what my pace was, though I know I was slowing with every step. At mile 23 my legs got even heavier. My thighs were burning and very much wanted to stop. The biggest challenge at this point, however, seemed psychological. There were signs marking each mile and I swear they were getting further and further apart. I tried to tell myself at 23, “Look, it’s just a 5K. You can do that any day of the week.” It didn’t help.
At mile 25 I felt confident I would meet my goal; the 4 hour group was behind me, but that last 1.2 miles is the longest 1.2 miles I’ve ever ran. When we finally made that turn back on Grand it looked like the finish line was down in Grandview or somewhere. I couldn’t believe how much farther it was. But I kept on running, crossed the line, heard the announcer say my name, and I was done, my first marathon.
My wife and kids greeted me at the finish line, quite proud of their old husband and dad. There were volunteers ready to remove the timing chip, but I sat down on the street and took mine off. I handed it to the volunteer, got back up, grabbed a water and went to sit with my family. With just a slight breeze I got chilly so my wife fetched me a mylar blanket. We took a few pics but then my wife said she didn’t want to rush me, but we needed to check out of the hotel. I agreed so I hobbled toward the van. On the way I picked up an apple. My legs were quite sore and spent. I couldn’t imagine running even another .10 miles.
I mentioned that I didn’t do well with gels and gu. My theory is that I can’t digest them. They seem to just sit in my gut, holding up all the works. Any fluid I take seems to just sit in there as well. So once in the van I get very nauseous. Back at the hotel I really wanted to throw up but couldn’t quite do it. On the way home the kids wanted to eat lunch at Chic-Fil-A, we stopped and got them lunch, but I couldn’t eat, I was way too sick. I was able to start sipping water and finally started feeling better after the hour ride home.
The next day, Sunday, my quads were still very sore. They especially hurt going down stairs. However, there are no major issues with any joints, and all my toenails are intact.
My advice for anyone running a marathon for the first time?
1. Expect it to hurt at some point, but just keep going. It’s supposed to hurt. If you know the pain is coming, you’ll deal with it better.
2. Plan your nutrition better than I did. Look at the website and make sure you know what they have and where. If that doesn’t fit with how you trained, make other arrangements, or, if you still have time, set up your training to mimic what you’ll have on race day.
3. Set a goal and then be patient. It’s a long race. I felt great for the first several miles, and if I had gone all out on those miles, there would have been nothing left for the last 6.2 miles.
After the race my daughter asked if I was going to do another one. I said don’t ask me that now, just give me a couple of days to recover and we’ll see. It’s been a couple of days and I gotta say, I’m not opposed to it. I know I’ll be running another marathon in August 2014 because about three weeks ago I signed up for the Ironman Louisville race and that…wait, what did I do?