Marathon Race Report
took 17 years to start and only 2 hours & 43 minutes to finish
We arrived in DC late Friday afternoon. After picking up my number and planning dinner, there wasn't much to do to prepare for the race. This felt a bit unusual for me as I'm used to Ironman, which requires days of meetings, preparation and logistics.
Saturday was my daughter Rafaela's birthday and she was ready for an epic weekend! We stayed with our good friends Max and Paula and their 2-year old and 3-month old. Also in town for the celebration were Paula's sister and her son (13 months) as well as Rafaela's godfather, Will, his expecting wife Laura and their 2-year old. All this to say that there were a lot of kids under 2, all very excited to see each other (and watch me run in a marathon)!
Max and I headed out from his apartment around 5:30 am. We had a decent walk and metro ride to get to the start. It was a perfect 50 degrees as we talked and watched the sun rise. My mind was healthily not on the race. On the train ride, I took a few minutes to write "Rafa" in big letters on my leg, to represent for the birthday girl.
Max is in the Air Force and works at the Pentagon, with a focus on logistics and efficiencies. He has been to several of my races and always does his homework. A few minutes before the start he briefed me on his plan for the day. He also explained that there would be half marathon runners mixed in with us for the first 12 miles. Had I not known this, I might have tried to chase down a few guys running 5-minute miles off the start.
As planned, I did go out a bit hard. I wanted to put in a sub 6-min mile off the gun to establish fast in my legs. It felt a little bit like I was pushing but that was the point. This way, as I backed off and settled in, I'd feel very comfortable. This is not a strategy that works for everyone, but I have recognized what's right for me.
While having a pre Ultraman dinner with my coach, Brian, a few weeks ago (Brian raced UM) he explained to me that he'd never expect me to have a negative marathon split (2nd half faster than first). Some guys can do it and it's awesome when they can. I am going to hurt at some point after running for over two hours -- I'm simply too big. Establishing my pace with authority early on will allow me to find a really steady rhythm through 20 miles or so. Then I'll have to fight like hell.
I was happily running along with some half marathoners when I thought to myself "Wow, this first mile is taking a long time. It's really going to be a long day." I looked down at my watch and it was passing 10 minutes at a 5:51 pace. I was flying along and had not even noticed the first mile marker.
I spent the next four miles very comfortably trying to settle into my goal 6:15 pace. I ticked off mile after mile at around 6 minutes each. I had my music blasting, the weather was perfect and the half marathoners were creating some competitive packs for me to tag on to.
Typically, I race in Triathlon. I have not done an official running race in years. I didn't see any rule against listening to music and have never had the opportunity (it is strictly forbidden in triathlon). If it was in fact illegal in a marathon, as some have suggested, I'll happily return my medal. Listening to music proved to be a lot of fun though!
I smiled at people cheering, I chatted with a few half marathoners, I danced to some of the music that bands were playing and even dished out a few high fives. I thought about Brian running his Ultraman double marathon. Just as he had done, I needed to stay comfortable and positive. Any time doubt crept in, I'd take inventory of my pace, my stride, if I was feeling any pain, and if so, how important was it? I'd then smile and assure myself that everything was going according to plan.
At mile twelve we split from the half marathon. At this point Max seemed to start popping up around every corner to dish out advice and words of encouragement. As we split, there was one marathon runner right next to me who I had been with for about two miles. There was another a few blocks up the road and Max explained that there were about four more ahead of him.
I went through the 13 mile mark in 1:19.50 and had been steadily holding an average 6:05 pace since 6 miles in. I was feeling strong but not interested in making any moves. The guy I was running with (in front of) decided to take a turn leading and began to push the pace. It was windy, so I tagged along while trying to stay as relaxed as possible. The runner up the road started looking over his shoulder every chance he got. This was very attractive, but I knew better than to make a big move all at once. I let "my friend" go after him and I backed off. He opened a gap on me and quickly closed it on the next guy but stayed with him. Before I knew it, I was on both of their shoulders as we passed miles 15 and 16 together.
As we approached a long, industrial and boring out and back road, I turned up the "Biggie" in my headphones and took the lead. When we rounded the turn at mile 17 I noticed that I had opened up a couple hundred meter gap on them.
It occurred to me around mile 18 how important patience is in a marathon. If you're doing well and feeling good, many miles can go by without any decisions to be made. This started to weigh on me a bit. Bored isn't the right word but I was ready for some action. But I knew better than to wish anything upon myself.
The wall -- mile 20. Everyone talks about it and for some reason I convinced myself that if I could make it to mile 21 without hitting "the wall" I'd be home free. Mile 20 came and went without incident. Just after 21, I reached into my back pocket to grab a gel. As I did, my entire left leg decided to go into a full on cramp. I relaxed and steadied my stride and breathing. I stayed positive and carried on. I've certainly run more than five miles through crampy legs.
Until this point, the course was mostly flat and rolling hills with the exception of a steep climb at mile six. I didn't look much at a course map or elevation, so the steep climbing that came around mile 22 was a bit of surprise. The guy who had been looking over his shoulder earlier had dropped the other guy around mile 19 and we had spent a few miles taking turns leading. He was a good 4 inches shorter and at least 30 pounds lighter than me so I wasn’t getting much in terms of protection form the lead. It was nice to not be alone though. He took off up the hills and flew down their descents as I gingerly planned my every step, so as not to set off the cramp parade lying in wait.
With cramps and hills I knew my pace was going to slow down. I tried a few times to put in a "catch that guy" effort but was forced to back off by the familiar feeling of ankles stuck in plantar flexion or quad cramping all the way up into hip flexors. I stayed calm and steadied my pace and breathing. I made a very conscious decision to settle in and protect my very solid first marathon. I wasn't going to break 2:40but if I tried, I could risk losing my goal of breaking 2:45. I wasn't going to catch 4th place and even if I did, it wouldn't mean anything more than 5th (no prize money, podium for only top 3).
I took the headphones out of my ears and thought about Rafaela and her second birthday and my wife, Liane. I thought about all of the people who wished me good luck after reading my first blog. I thought about my friends and family who I knew would be following along on line or waiting for me at the finish line. I smiled.
I have a knack for running. Perhaps I was born with it. There was a time in my life though when I was very fit yet could not run a single mile in seven minutes, let alone 26 of them in just over six each. During that time I often said "I used to be a runner." It's taken a lot to get from there to where I am now. I know I have not reached my potential and will continue to put in the work to get better. But I will not do so at all costs – stressing, obsessing, over-training... Running is too important. I enjoy it too much, and success depends on me respecting that.
I laughed as Max popped up one last time and tried to get me to go after the guy who now had a 30 second lead. I enjoyed the last mile thoroughly. I crossed the finish line at 2:43, with a smile on my face that lasted for days.