Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Previous Marathons

I am planning to publish this post in about mid-October, 2015. If all goes well in my training that will mean you'll be reading this post around the time I will be tapering for and talking about my upcoming Bay State Marathon on October 18th.

I've also been toying with the idea of running a second marathon two weeks later on my birthday, and partly because it is very close to my home town. I'm thinking of this as a "last hurrah" for awhile, should I have a hard time getting in marathon races after the arrival of our first child. This is a long post but I hope will help readers get a sense of where I am in my development as a recreational runner.

So as I write about my experiences in physical endurance, I thought it may be useful to write a brief summary of my racing experience so far. To start with allow me to say that I am not a competitive runner. Actually, I am, but I'm only competitive with myself. I'm not ever going to be an elite athlete.

I started running (as it says many places on this site) a few years ago to get in shape. Racing was not a real part of my goal at that time. I thought of it as all-out competition. Now I see racing more as a chance to test one's self against the clock and past times. I see it as an opportunity to meet new people and experience new places. I love racing for those reasons.

As of my writing this I've run about 37 or so races. Multiple 5ks, a couple of 10ks, Half marathons, and two full marathons. There are also a couple of novelties in there – races of 4.3 miles, 10 miles. The marathons are the big deal to me, the races I am the most proud of.

37 isn't a ton of races. I mean, it is more than I thought I'd ever run. Whatever. I'm rambling now.

I first laced up my black Puma sneakers for the Amica 5k in Newport, RI. The date was October 13, 2012 and I had only been running for about six months. I had been reading Amby Burfoot's “Big Book of Running”. I'd been studying, and putting the stuff I was reading into action, and so I felt pretty confident that I could run 5k. I wasn't really sure what to expect for a finishing time, but it seemed reasonable to me to aim for sub-30. I crossed the line in 28:42.

That first race was a pretty interesting thing. It wasn't enjoyable in the slightest. I didn't warm up, and I pushed too hard. I wasn't in any kind of racing shape, and at the end I felt ready to puke because I had no idea how to cool down my aerobic system after such an effort. The people running the race weren't too chatty, or too friendly. I mean no one was outwardly mean, but certainly not there to start chatting mid-race.,

I felt a sense of accomplishment, though. I looked at my time at the end, printed on a sheet of paper and taped to the side of a trailer, and I felt a sense of ownership of my running and myself as an athlete.

Because what if I had been wrong about who I was up until that point? What if I was someone who actually COULD do those things? That would be amazing. “Hey,” this little voice in the back of my head whispered, “...do you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes?”

Hell yes, I do.

I started training more seriously. I started the Runner's world challege, and ran every day between thanksgiving and new year's day. I jumped in the Atlantic Ocean on New Year's Day. I trained on treadmills through the winter and spring, and decided to attempt my first half marathon in May of 2013. It was in my home state, running from the capital and into my home town before doubling back. I didn't know anything about race effort, or the mental toughness that you can bring to an effort on race day. I just knew it was raining, and I was concerned about how I was dressed. Still, by mile 3 I figured I may as well push it and see what happened. I surprised myself and ran a 1:41:23 with a pace of 7:45/mile. I had some conception of what it was to run that fast. But I had no idea I could run that fast for that sustained a time before. When my Aunt called me prior to a family trip to Colorado to ask, “There is a 10k in Leadville. You in?”

My response was of course, “Hell yes I'm in.”

Leadville is a tough place to race. At all. Anyone who has read Chris MacDougall's book Born to Run and the accounts of the Leadville Trail 100 knows that. Leadville's terrain is pretty pitchy, and the out and back for the 10k goes over some very well kept trails. But I wasn't used to running on trails, so that was tough. Even tougher still because of the elevation.

6.2 miles has never been my favorite distance, but I had to be able to say I ran in Leadville. I wanted to own that. I wanted – in some small way – a connection to that sacred place.

My lungs, on the other hand, had no idea what “12,800” feet of elevation would feel like. I tried to talk to them, but lungs are notoriously thick-headed. It is like they just don't want to cooperate unless they can have enough air. I slowed down to walk large sections of that 10k, and then because I foolishly didn't eat right after the race, I passed out in the bar – before even getting my beer – due to altitude sickness.

But training in the altitude did help me, I think, prepare for my effort in the marathon that fall. You see, while out in Colorado, I had a long talk with my Aunt and one of her friends. They convinced me that the marathon really was achievable for me, and that the Bay State Marathon in Lowell, MA would be a good starter marathon. Flat and fast, the Bay State helps one quarter of its entrants to achieve a Boston Marathon Qualifying time each year. I wasn't expecting that, but I wanted to cover the distance.

So I set out continuing my marathon plan, after Colorado. I've always been a person who needs hard data. Stuff has to be proven to me. So to race the distance without first running the distance seemed silly. Each week I would get up on Saturday morning and embark on a long run in increasing long distances. These started at about 10 miles, but went all the way to the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. At the end of each run I would come home – at the end of the 26.2 I actually had my wife pick me up down the street – and take a nice ice bath and a solid nap. I knew from training that I could cover the distance in about 4 hours. But that was running easy, so I didn't really know what to expect from race day.

On October 20th, in 2013 I toed the starting line at Bay State. It is a beautiful course, and to this day feels fondly of home in my memory. I went out to fast – a common refrain heard among beginning marathoners – and had to talk some walk breaks, only starting to run again when the 3:45 pace crew came up on me. They were some of the nicest guys I have met in a race. They talked to me, encouraged and cheered me on, and when I told them I had to hang back they didn't put any judgement on me. I finished two minutes behind them to complete my first marathon in 3 hours, 47 minutes and 53 seconds. In the finishing chute an organizer draped his arm around me and said “How are you?! You're still looking fresh!”

“I appreciate you saying that, but I feel like shit.” came my reply.

“Well, you'll be hooked after this race now. I'm sure we'll see you back.” came the ever optimistic reply. I went and found the 3:45 pacers to thank them and introduced my wife to them, “You guys saved my race. I really appreciate it.”

“You did a good job on your first marathon, man. You'll catch the bug now, I'm telling you.”

The thing is that they were all totally right. I'm on my way back this fall to run Bay State (after being somewhat disappointed in my performance at Marine Corps.) I can't wait to go home to the marathon of my memory, and put down on the course what I've learned in the intervening two years.

I'll continue this post in part 2, talking about the 39th Marine Corps. Marathon.

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