Saturday, November 21, 2015

My First Marathon

I'd been training for this marathon since April. I'd filled in that grid day by day with orange highlighter, and eventually the whole thing was orange. The morning of November 15th had arrived.

Grace drove us into Brooklyn while I was taping my feet and not driving into Brooklyn. Thanks, Grace.

These next few shots give you a sense of what a beautiful morning it was: chilly, with brilliant sunlight radiating through the lovely autumn foliage.

I was lucky to have not only Grace, but also some of our Brooklyn friends, cheering me on.

After my warm-up jog, I knew I'd be too hot with my second layer, so I stripped down to my base layer, pinned my bib back on and took my place at the rear of the small crowd of runners

The starting signal sounded, and I took my time approaching the timing mat. No use cramming myself into the crowd at the beginning.

50 minutes into the race. I was averaging somewhere around 8:10, which felt good but was also worrisome. I wondered if I was setting myself up for an early burnout.

1 hour and 15 minutes into the race. At this point I'd maintained an average pace of around 8:15, and was feeling strong and hopeful. My training pace indicated that I should have been capable of running a marathon in under four hours, and I had every hope of doing so.

At 2 hours and 15 minutes into the race, I was still feeling strong. I'd finished the first half in about 1:50, and at this point I still hoped to complete the marathon in under four hours, though my pace had begun to drop.

At 2 hours and 50 minutes into the race, my pace was dropping more and more. I note with some chagrin that I didn't return Grace's enthusiasm. By this time I was deep in my head, focusing all my energy on the run. Thanks again for your support, Grace.

At 3 hours and 25 minutes into the race, I entered the final lap around Prospect Park. By this time I knew I wasn't going to finish in under four hours, but I didn't particularly care, because I was approaching the point where all my energy would be devoted to keeping running. From around the time I passed Grand Army Plaza, everything in me said "Stop. Just walk it." But I didn't. My pace wasn't great, but I kept running--with the exception of a few seconds of walking at the water stations.

Headed for the finish line! Oh man, I was hurtin'.

This shot comes from the video of me crossing the finish line, which you can see on the NYCRuns race results site.

I didn't finish in under four hours, but by golly, 4:06:03 is a solid time for a first marathon, as is finishing 33rd of 58 in my age group. I'm happy with my performance!

I hobbled over to the grass, laid down and attempted to stretch. My muscles took this as an opportunity to express their profound dissatisfaction with the current administration.

My muscles began spasming and trying to cramp, so I knew I had to get up... very carefully. Eventually I was able to complete that civil engineering project and lurch woozily back to the car.

I stopped to do a bit of stretching...

...which triggered more agonizing cramps...

...but I was able, slowly, to walk it off...

...and return home with some sweet swag!

After the race I was looking for ways to improve next time. I found an article on running a sub-four-hour marathon, which indicates that my pacing during the first half was spot on. So I'm wondering if the problem was related to the food I ate during the race. The article recommends eating at most 500 calories during the first twenty miles, but when I did the math I realized I took in around 800 calories! The article talks about runners who don't take in enough carbohydrates "hitting the wall", and the symptoms of lethargy it describes sure seem like what I experienced. But there's no way I at too little. And I suspect that, if I did eat too much, the symptoms would have been similar; digestive difficulties combined with high sugar levels were probably to blame.

Another problem I had (perhaps it stems from the tiredness I already mentioned, but let's assume for the sake of argument that it's a distinct problem) was psychological. The article talks about using positive imagery to psych yourself up, but boy, that's easier said than done. I tried to do fartlek, but I just couldn't. During those last few miles, it took everything I had not to stop running; that was absolutely the most I could do. I didn't feel particularly positive. I was just determined to finish without walking.

Speaking of psychology, the most fascinating thing about the whole experience was the altered state I felt. That run did not seem like four hours. It seems that, when the mind tells the body to do something unendurable, the body steps in and alters the brain chemistry so that it becomes endurable.

So... wow. I ran a marathon. I'm still telling myself what I told myself as I crossed the finish line: "I did it. It's no longer future tense. I did it. I ran a marathon."

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