Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Previous Marathons, pt. 2

After I finished Bay State in 2013 I wasn't terrifically pleased in my performance. Don't get me wrong, I was happy about having run my first marathon, but I had to stop towards mile 22 for some walk breaks. I really wanted to know, "How fast can I do this if I don't have to walk?"

I know some plans advocate using walk breaks. But to me the art of endurance means finding a way to stay in one set of movements for a specific period of time. I sort of feel like if I can't run the whole thing, then I'm not a marathoner. I want to minimize those times spent walking, stopping for aid stations, etc.

So I set a bunch of goals post-Bay State 2013. I wanted to run the Runner's World Heartbreak Hill Festival in June of the following year (5k/10k/13.1 in one weekend). I also figured I would enter the lottery for Marine Corps., which opens in March. I'd wanted to run Marine Corps. since hearing multiple accounts of the race in the running books I was reading at the time. Bart Yasso happens to tell some very good stories about it, as well.

There was also a family benefit to running Marine Corps. The race in held in Washington, D.C., and my paternal grandfather used to travel there for work quite a bit when I was a kid. He was a civilian engineer with the Navy, so Kings Bay, Seattle, and Washington were all in the regular rotation. I figured if I could go run Marine Corps., maybe he could come with me to spectate. It would be a good bonding exercise.

My wife and I traveled out of state in March to help some friends move. I remember the lottery closing, and then for days hearing nothing. I helped my friends load furniture into a U-Haul and told them, "I guess I didn't get through. That's life, there will be other races."

Days later I got an email in the early hours of the morning.

I got into the 39th Marine Corps. Marathon!

I was ecstatic. I bought a bunch of "in-training" gear and set out to pursue a training plan. I used another about.com plan, and tweaked it so I would have my long runs in a similar fashion as my first plan.

But life has a way of throwing curve balls at you. Mine came in the form of a house. My wife and I bought our first and current house in June of that year. The house came with projects, and a new neighborhood I hadn't run much in. I still managed to log a bunch of miles in July and August. Come September I was feeling pretty good, but my weekly mileage was starting to drop as we went back to work.

I think the lesson here, was that I had no clue how to taper. I understood the idea of dialing back the mileage, but not the idea of maintaining the intensity. I actually dialed up the intensity.

When I saw the results weren't working, I started trying to add supplemental workouts. I have no idea why I did that. That was pretty stupid.

The result was that I was burnt out. By the time we went to Marine Corps. all I wanted was to finish and enjoy the race. On race day I stood at the starting line and watched the American flag parachuted in overhead. The pagentry of that race was remarkable.

As I started running, I felt pretty good. I figured that I wasn't prepared to PR the distance on an unfamiliar course, so I may as well run strong and have fun. I came through the 10k in 51 minutes. That was a projected finish of 3:37. That was nuts, but I figured if I could hang there it would be really incredible.

At the half point I was at 1:47 on the clock. That's about 7 minutes slower than my current half PR. Mentally I knew this was too fast. But again, I figured if I needed to slow down, I would. I should have taken it easy at this point and tried to maintain some strength.

I hit the 30k mark in 2:35. That would still have had me finishing in 3:38. I felt pretty good at that point. Then I hit the bridge.

See, in the MCM you break the race down mentally into a couple of sections: Charge the district, beat the bridge, and "take the Iwo". I hadn't run many races where I was concerned about the cut-off time, but at Marine Corps. the cut off is on a highway bridge. For some reason, even though it was completely illogical, I felt like I had to power my way to that bridge or be trapped forever in front of the Capitol. When I saw the mile 20 sign on the bridge, I knew I was good. And then my mental game totally melted down.

Between the 30k and 40k marks, I had to start throwing in walk breaks. Partly I think this was the sun beating down on us (no cover on that bridge), partly it may have been the number of other participants walking at that point. A pack mentality can sometimes hurt you as much as it helps.

It isn't a great feeling to be walking at that point in a marathon. I mean, you have 10k left. You certainly can't stop, but my god did I want to.

I pushed through and into Crystal City. It was unbearably hot. Fortunately there were a couple of fire trucks set up with hoses for runners to run under, which was really nice. I came through the 40k mark in 3:38:38, projected finish of 3:50. The last couple of miles were mostly walk/run for me, and the spectators were very few along the stretches of highway. As we approached Arlington National Cemetary, I could see the Iwo Jima memorial and started to trot up the hill. I planned to end the race running, and I probably ran the last quarter mile of it.

MCM puts some fun decals on the ground at that hill. Arrows point your way and say "MARINE UP!" When you go past the stands and through the chute, you're facing a line of Marines handing out medals in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial. In my memory, it is the most beautiful place a long run has ever ended. I finished in 3:52:08.

Runners were fainting in front of me, being carried off by Marines. I shook the hand of a uniformed Marine. "How was your run?" he asked. "It wasn't what I wanted it to be," I said, "But I'll be back. You'll see me here again, for sure."

"Great! Glad to hear it." he replied.

The Marines are the most impressive force I have ever seen when it comes to logistical organization and execution. From the Marines I met at 4 am waiting for the shuttle to the guys right at the end of the line, every one of them was helpful, polite, and knowledgeable. There is nothing like a race where you hit an aid station, say "Thankyou Marines!" and receive an "Oo-rah!" in unison from 14 really enthusiastic volunteers. My performance at the race let me down but the experience I had still exceeded my wildest dreams. If MCM isn't on your bucket list, it needs to be. You owe it to yourself.

I felt pangs of karmic guilt when I didn't get through the lottery for the 40th MCM. I failed my sport in my lack of devotion to training. But I feel some level of redemption at my most recent performance at Baystate 2015. Overall I've evolved in terms of how I see endurance sport: maybe I don't have to be the fastest. My goal is to go farther, even if I never qualify for anything.

I want to run places I've never seen, see courses that everyone raves about. I want to live a strong life and set the example to my descendants that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, even if people tell you it isn't worth it.

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