Going into my third marathon, I had some self-imposed high expectations. I was looking to complete this race between 4:30 and 4:45. If for whatever reason I was unable to finish in that window, I would happily reach for a sub 5-hour marathon. Unfortunately, I would not meet either of those goals on a lovely Sunday in San Francisco — instead I would have what turned out to be one of the weirdest races in my short running career.
The day started off with a 4 a.m wake up call and a 6:15 a.m. start time. The morning was cold, but I was comfortable in my race day attire of shorts, t-shirt and gloves. With 26.2 miles to run, I wanted to start off nice and slow so that I could run the second half faster than the first (often called “negative splits”). I finished the first half of the marathon in 2:26 putting me on line for meeting my 4:30-4:45 goal if I ran the second half faster than the first. However, the “Running Gods” had something else in mind.
A little after the half way marker — my left calf cramped. Ouch! It was far too early for that to be happening and came unexpectedly. With over 13 miles to go, little did I realize this was one of several problems I would be facing. Around mile 16 a blister developed on my my right toe. Running in familiar socks and shoes and applying glide pre-race – this also was unexpected. I’m sure that has to be all the problems, right? Wrong. Ignoring my own advice of running in a familiar shirt that will not irritate you, I decided to run in my RunSF 2008 shirt that fit a little snug (I usually run in the shirts given to runners at the event and have never had problems before) and guess what happened… irritation. So here I am 16 miles into a 26.2 mile race with a cramping left calf that wont let up, a blistered toe, and an irritating shirt that is getting worse every mile. Should I give up?
It crossed my mind once for half a second, but I’m a marathon runner. I’ve been taught how to deal with these issues. First the cramping. I was staying up on my sodium level by eating sunflower seeds all during the race, but I needed to kick it into overdrive. Wifey was on location and I saw her at mile 16. I asked her to find me salt packets (to mix with my Gatorade) and meet me several miles later. Check! I stopped at mile 18, drained the fluid from the blister and applied Vaseline (at the water and medical stop) to prevent further friction. Check! I also applied some Vaseline to wear the shirt was irritating me. Check! But I still have over 9 miles to run on a body that is slowly calling it quits.
Here is the difference… I feel great. The whole 26.2 miles, I never hit “the wall.” My energy level never dropped during the race from start to finish. Mentally, I’m still thinking that I can turn this thing around and finish with a good time. I’m still doing decent mile times but having to take more frequent walk breaks. My legs are just chugging along and I just kept passing mile markers.
I finished the race in 5:09. It was not what I expected to do, but never the less it was a PR (personal record) by about 10 minutes. And over a half-hour better than my time the previous year. (That year I was running on a severely sprained ankle that was about 80% healed) That was probably the dumbest running thing I have ever done — I could have permanently damaged myself and luckily the race god’s shined favorably on me that day. Perhaps this year’s race was the yang to that yin. I was in shape to post my goal time of 4:30 – 4:45 time, but it wasn’t meant to be. The funny thing is that I felt absolutely wonderful. It was a great race, my spirits were up the whole time and I just had some technical difficulties that slowed me down.
I’ll spend the next couple days evaluating my race and training schedule to to see where I can make improvements. I feel a little let down, but I can’t be disappointed with posting a PR and enjoying the race. When people ask me how it went, I sort of smile and say the race was “a bit weird.” For everything that happened during the run, I should have been filled with negative emotions, but I never really was. I guess a positive attitude can make all the difference.
I do have to say thank you to the Wifey for having an “Amazing Race” moment trying to find me salt packets and for locating me on the course as quickly as she did. Another thing to add to the reasons why I couldn’t run without her support. And also a thank you to Super Lori for being at the finish line (along with her Super Husband) to cheer me on. She was equipped with a yellow sign that had my name and screamed loud enough for me to hear her over my headphones. And she ran the first half-marathon that morning in an amazing time. She is pure running inspiration for me and a number of runners I know.