"Perhaps the genius of ultra-running is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."
Several times during the course of yesterday's race, this came to mind.
How does one completely and fully train for his/her first marathon? How does one completely prepare for the unexpected? What could I have done different? What could I have done better? Did I do to much? Did I do to little? Did I do it just right?
First off, physically and mentally I came well prepared...or so I thought. When the gun went off several minutes after 7am on Saturday, April 25th I felt good...really, really good. I was ready for whatever the course could throw my way...or so I thought.
Leading up to the big day I had my plan; I had worked my plan. Only set back was the few days after the IT Band issue hit me. Immediately prior to the marathon I had worked hard at getting this resolved. I felt good. At the expo on Friday I had my knees Kineseo taped. I was hopeful.
On Monday the weather man predicted heat, lots and lots of heat for the race. Hydration was the order of the day and the week. I kept a close eye not to over-hydrate. I did good.
The race directors had thought it a good idea to redo the course for this year's race, something about taking the runners through the sights of Nashville. I had heard that this change, which was mostly in the first few miles, would make the course more hilly and challenging. I really had no opinion on the matter because I really didn't know what to expect.
On the corner of Demonbreun and Fifth, right after mile 2, I saw the paramedics tending to a runner that had collapsed. They were trying to keep her alert. At this point I realized it was going to be a very busy day for the medical staff.
All the water stations were busy, very busy. As time passed we could feel the temperatures slowly rise. I grabbed either water or sport drink as I saw fit... still I was feeling good. I took my Hammer gel every 4.5 miles as I had planned.
Up until mile 11 and change, at the half/full split it was business as usual. My pace was steady and was going as planned. Did a quick body check and everything was still feeling good. I was encouraged. At the split point as I saw many runners veer to the right to take them to the finish of the half marathon, I briefly wondered if I was doing the right thing. Briefly because the excitement of finishing my first full was strong. "This IS what I've worked so hard for... now let's roll" was what I quickly thought. All was still good.
I continued on but was feeling my pace slip. My oldest daughter was volunteering at water station 10, between miles 14 and 15. The idea of seeing her there, cheering me on was a picture that kept me going. I must admit at this point it was getting tough.
Then somewhere around mile 15 it all went downhill. I started aching in places I had never ached before. The knees were getting sore, the ankles were beginning to hurt. The calves and hamstrings tried to cramp, so I stopped often to stretch hoping this would prevent a full blown episode. At every medical station that I passed I had seen at least one runner getting help, even the back of ambulances had runners in the stretchers. I was sure hoping everyone was alright and thanking at the same time that I had done the training I did.
I consciously decided to give up my goal time of 4:30-4:45 in lieu of a "finish". I knew that a decision to push to meet my goal would be a decision I would regret for the rest of my life. The idea of "not finishing" my first marathon was not something I was willing to even consider. At one point every runner within my sight was walking, every runner was feeling the heat and the pain. Along the course I saw a minimum of 6 folks down, getting medical help. It was turning out to be a very tough day for all. It became mind over matter and in the long run, mind won.
Just after I left Metro Center I thought it would all be downhill from there. I had also heard that this was the toughest part of the course. I sputtered along all the way past downtown Nashville, over Woodland St bridge and soon found myself at the gate of Shelby Park. By my own estimate, miles 22-25 were the hardest. Each mile seemed to get longer and tougher. I don't think I was able to run further than a tenth of a mile without having to walk another tenth. I saw mile marker 25 but I was going in the other direction. Still gave me hope.
I heard a volunteer say: "right over the curve, past the bridge is mile 26... and you're home"! WOW! I was almost there. I had run and walked over 25 miles and I was soon going to complete my goal of finishing a marathon. I got goose bumps!
But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw just as I approached the last bend prior to the finish line. My wife Monica, was waiting for me. She ran those last few steps alongside with me, we crossed the finish line together. That, my friends... made it all worth while.
On the way to the car my calves could not take it any longer and cramped, big time. Knocked me down and wouldn't let go. I can't remember the last time I hurt so bad. Today, they're sore, very sore.
Later on in the afternoon we heard that a 26 year old male collapsed and died after crossing the half marathon finish line. Cardiac issues were reported by the media, but not confirmed. Over 40 people found their way to local emergency rooms. Yeah, it was a tough, tough day.
Would I do this over again? Not sure. I have registered for the Goofy Challenge in Disney World. That will take place January 9-10, 2010. This I will do. As it stand right now, I will concentrate my efforts on finishing an Ironman 70.3