10.21.2007

MY FIRST MARATHON EVER

Apologies for the delay folks...apparently running MY FIRST MARATHON EVER has zapped my sense of timeliness. But here is the post-race report; a week late, but still a nice long read. I'm not ging to lie: the process of writing this has been a little bit like giving birth--long and painful.

I did it. I went up against the juggernaut and I won.

It was not the run I had hoped for, not by a long shot. There were things I should have been prepared for that I wasn't, and things that I was prepared for, but never encountered. But here I am a week later--fully convinced I have achieved something super human--having run MY FIRST MARATHON EVER.

Ah, it feels so good to refer to it in the past tense.

I don't know where to begin with a race recap. I guess the beginning is the best place to start. I got to the starting corrals two minutes before the gun (poor planning on my part), so I had 120 seconds to find the 4-hour group and untangle my headphones before 2500 runners started pushing me forward. I didn't have a second to gauge my surroundings or get into the mood or give myself the pre-race pep talk. You know, that time when you go over the course in your head 1000 times, try to feebly develop a game plan, and stand there, like a horse at the gate, pumping your legs and feeding off the other people's energy. None of that, the second I plugged in my headphones I was crossing the starting line.

The course started on an incline, but I didn't even notice. The first seven miles I was on air. According to my splits I was doing an 8:34 pace for the first quarter of the race--that's my tempo pace. Yeah, I really should have taken that as a sign to slow down. We were passing by lakes and parks and quaint neighborhoods, and I taking in as much as I could, not realizing that I was setting myself up for a fall.

Then I got the stitch. Mile eight was the mile of damnation. It hit me like a screwdriver lodged in my right side. I slowed down, I concentrated on my breathing, but this stitch was coming on strong. Two miles later, after perhaps the most painful run anyone has ever done around Ft. McHenry, the stitch weakened. Unfortunately, the stitch would hang around for the rest of the race.

Although I was feeling good stomach-wise I decided to made a potty break at mile 12. I figured it would be better to do this now then have to scramble for a bathroom later. It was a two-minute break, but it probably prevented a longer break down the road. Gold star for me for running smart.

Despite the stitch from hell, I was still going strong through the half way point. I past the 13.1 mile marker at just under 2 hours (gun time). There were big crowds at this point because the half-marathon started here, relay exchange #2 was here, and the marathon passed through the point twice. The crowds gave me a big swell of energy going through mile 13. But then I turned the corner and they were gone. And then came something that I was not prepared for: the loneliness.

With only 2,500 marathoners, by mile 13 the pack had thinned out significantly. This was the point where I could only see maybe 20 runners in the block ahead of me. And I thought, holy crap, I have only done half of this race and I feel like I am the only one out here. This was the part I wasn't prepared for. In NYC it's impossible to be by yourself while you're running--there is always someone else out there. But at this point in the race I felt isolated and weak. This compounded with the eternal stitch in my side was not good for morale until...

At mile 16, a geyser of half-marathoners joined with the marathon course and the field quadrupled in size. It was like two rivers mixing. Fortunately, the fine people at the Baltimore Marathon fenced off the marathon route through this section. Otherwise, this would have been a messy area.

Mile 16 also began a six-mile incline section. Yes, six miles. When were they going to tell us about that? I've done plenty of hills in training...but they were Central Park hills, they go up and down, not up and up. With the stitch going off and on I pretty much gave up goal #1 for the race (finish in 3:55 or less), but chugged along.

Then I got stung by a bee.

Yes, a honey-making, stinger-yielding, yellow and black bumble bee stung my leg while I was running the marathon. Who gets stung by a bee while they're running a marathon? I do...apparently. I still can't believe it. The fellow runner who saw this happen also could not believe it. At first it felt like someone had stuck a needle in my thigh. I slapped my leg and something fall out of my shorts. It was small and yellow and bug like. I just didn't know what to do--I've never been stung by a bee before, what if I was allergic? That would be spectacular:

Person: "How was your marathon?!"
sRod: "I didn't finish."
Person: "What happened? Did you tear a ligament? Did you collapse from fatigue? Were you attacked by a pack of wild boars?"
sRod: "No, I was stung by a bee"
Person: blinks
sRod: "No, really, I got stung by a bee and had to stop"

Yeah, that story wouldn't do. So I just kept on running, stopping every now and then to make sure there wasn't any massive swelling or other allergic reaction.

As the six-mile hill continued I caved into the stitch and started inserting walking breaks. I tried to only walk through the water stations, but that wasn't cutting it. Every time I would start running after a walking break the stitch would flare up within a few minutes. Damn it. With every walking break I got a little more disappointed with myself. I had the energy to keep going, my feet felt fine, I was well hydrated, my stomach was cooperating--but I had just run too hard in the first third of the race, and now I was paying for it.

Miles 20-25 are a bit hazy: at this point I had just plain lost track of where I was on the course. Then I came upon one of the little pockets of Baltimorians that went all out in support of the marathon. There were small pockets of people throughout the course, many of them had gummy bears (yum) or tootsie rolls (yuck), some had posters (one of which read: "how do stickers stick to non-stick pans?"), and some dressed up (there were two pirates, two women dressed in neon robes and boas, and one guy in a foam muscle suit)--all of them were great.

However, at this point in the race (mile 22.5?), the entire block, mostly John Hopkins students, had come out in full force. They were on a hill and knew that it was a difficult hill to climb. They were handing out all sorts of candy and water. They were also blasting music from somewhere. It was so loud that it overpowered the music in my earphones. They started to play "Cha Cha Slide" and someone came on the speakers and said "Good morning runners! We're gonna help you get over this hill!" So, seeing that I had nothing to lose and that these people were here supporting us, I started to dance along to the song while I was running up hill. I felt my calves cramp a little while I was trying to criss-cross--which, by the way, is a very difficult move when you're running, never mind running up a hill--but I made it through the hill and had a nice little burst of energy.

The last stretch of race was supposed to be all downhill, but let me tell you, there was nothing downhill about it. At this point I was trying to get my second (well, probably more like my 15th) wind, but once I would gather up momentum we'd run into a bridge or a tunnel. But I knew the end was near, so I would try to distract myself by looking at the scenery (of which there was none at this point) or talking to other runners. I came across someone else who was stuffing from a stitch--her hand in the tell-tale position against her left side--and offered her some encouragement.

During mile 25 I saw my #2 goal (finish under four hours) slip away. I looked down at my watch as we entered the downtown area that preceded the finish line. I saw the watch tick from 3:59:59 to 4:00:00. Instead of hurting, it inspired me to keep going. I knew I only had one goal left (finish in 4:12 or less) and that was fully within my reach.

We hit the baseball museum and I knew it was the final half mile. There were lots of crowds here and lots of energy. I reached down to my iPod and forwarded onto the last song: "Move Along" by the All-American Rejects. Something about that song always gets me. Maybe its the opening drums, maybe it's the uber-positive message, but when I hear this song I just want to run forever. And being so, I've permanently assigned it the last song position.

The song starts and suddenly, as if music was loaded with caffeine, I get an tremendous surge of energy and break out into sprint. As we turn the corner I see a runner that is walking, and for me, there is no such thing as walking during the final stretch of the race. If my hazy memory serves me correctly, I shouted something like "come on, you're almost there" and gave him a slight tap on the shoulder. Of course, I had runner's brain and didn't realize that he might be injured, but I turned around and saw him running behind me. So I think that was encouragement well spent.

At this point the course goes through Camden Yards (not the field, but the concession area next to it) and suddenly all the crowds disappear for about .1 miles since no one except the runners is allowed in the stadium. On the other side of the fence, however, I could see thick crowds.

I came out of Camden Yards flying into crowds that were probably three or four people deep (or maybe one person deep, damn runner's brain). I started singing and yelling...only .3 miles to go. I could see the finish line...only .2 miles to go. Since I had been running for four hours any change in movement--including sprinting--came as a relief...only .1 miles to go. I tried looking for my wife and mom in crowd, knowing that I've never had luck finding them...100 feet to go. Then, through the music, I heard my name called crystal clear through crowd. Twenty feet from the finish line I turned my head around mid-stride and in the one spot I can focus on I see my wife's blue hoodie and my mom's beige blazer.

I crossed the finish line in 4:09:39.

I grabbed a Mylar blanket and wrapped myself up and let out a few sobs of happiness. Then I realized that now I had to fight through a mess of very sweaty runners to get water, Gatorade, and food. This was probably the worst part of the race: the whole finish line area was squished into a parking lot no larger than your standard Macaroni Grill parking lot. I'm usually fine in tight spaces, but this was really uncomfortable, since I figured at any minute someone could barf on me. And since I wasn't moving anywhere I started to feel queasy and just needed a place to sit--although with so many people, clear space was rare real estate.

I made it out of the runner's area and couldn't find the family meet-up area (although apparently it was right next to me--remember, severe runner's brain). And tried to make it to the back-up location: the gigantic fiberglass cow in the staging area. I couldn't even make it to this spot without having to sit-down and take the weight off my feet for a minute. I got up again, plowed through the crowd to the cow, set my Mylar on the ground and finally got to lay down. Eventually my wife and mom found me by the cow udder. They were all happy for me and I was just all smiles (except for the bee sting).

And that's pretty much it. We went back to the hotel, washed up, and had lunch at P.F. Chang's. I ate my plate plus the left overs of everyone else's. We walked around the downtown area a bit before going back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening in the hotel room. Around 8pm I got hungry again--OK, well, I was hungry all day--and we did a Chipotle run to get delicious Mexican food (not the healthiest but I figured I could eat whatever I wanted).

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the BP across the street to get water. As we were paying for the water a guy comes up to us and asks: "Are you guys the POlice?" My wife and I laugh it off and tell him we're not. Then a second later he asks: "Have you ever tried ecstasy?" My wife and I get an even bigger laugh from that and then bolted out of there and hopped in the car. We drove across the street back to the hotel and parked in the gated parking lot--sans drugs.

So that was my experience in Baltimore. I got the marathon under my belt and can now call myself a marathoner (vs. a half-marathoner). The funny thing is that I'm not more excited about it. Maybe it's because it's been lost among the hours of work and tons of other things going on this month. Or maybe its because I didn't run the race I wanted to and my previous race (NJ) was such a great run. I am happy I did it, even though it wasn't the race I had hoped and dreamed for, but then again, they rarely are.

8 comments:

Road Warrior said...

Congratulations on getting through it. While it wasn't the time you wanted, it did give you plenty of good stories!

Moon said...

Congratulations!! The goal that you accomplished is certainly impressive to me! I'm glad that the bee didn't give you any crazy allergic reactions, too.

Great marathon report! So when's the next one? heehee...

Marcy said...

CONGRATS HOMIE!!!! AWESOME JOB!!!

Have you never been stung by a bee before? LOL Those little mo-foers!

Given the circumstances you did a MOST excellent job!! Where to now?

Non-Runner Nancy said...

GREAT JOB and FINALLY we get to read it here! :D I hate those damn side stitches. And maybe only hate bee stings more. UNBELIEVABLE. I'm glad you hung in there and got through it. Sounds fantastic to me (sans stitch and sting!)

CONGRATS!!!

Nitmos said...

Way to go! Nice job fighting through some unexpected adversity and staying strong. You battled hills, stitches, fatigue, and bees and came out on top. Congratulations.

J said...

LOL! What a great report! A few things. First, starting out too fast is not only relegated to the inexperienced. We ALL do it. And it sucks.

Second, when I read you were doing this, I said to my husband, "uhhh... this guy is doing Baltimore... isn't that the one that our friend Jim Adams gave me a shirt from and it had all these hills in it?" and he said, "the course changed and it's not that bad." And I said, "uh... maybe I should let this guy know?" and he said, "uh... hmmm... maybe you shouldn't." And so, I didn't. You are probably glad I didn't!

Third of all... I think that ecstacy could have helped with recovery given that you couldn't snag a bag of saline. LOL!

And last but not least, CONGRATULATIONS! A great run, a great time - in clock, net, and fun.

So, uh... which race you gonna do next? :o)

sRod said...

J--The course did change from 2006, but the hills were still there!

Amanda said...

It's amazing what your attitude does for perspective on a race. I mean you really just achieved an amazing accomplishment which soooo many others will never be able to say they've done, even if it wasn't the experience you hoped for.

I can say this because I've been upset and mopey about my recent race and some good RBF's have had the sense to point out that sometimes it doesn't go right, but it went and that counts for a lot.