Monday, May 21, 2012
When I first started running almost five years ago, I never had any intention of running a marathon. My focus was purely on health and well-being. I figured since I was starting later in life that I'd never be fast, and I never go far, but I've since learned differently.
But here I am, about to embark on my first marathon.
I woke up to the sound of the alarm at 3:30. I had a hard time getting to sleep, so I only got about 5 hours sleep. The race site said to be in City Park in Denver before 4:45 to avoid road closures which meant leaving the apartment by 4. I had packed everything the night before into a backpack, and had my running kit next to the bed. I got dressed, made some breakfast, and left. Sherry, ever the trooper, got up with me and got ready to go, too.
Since there was no traffic that early in the morning, we were at City Park, and parked just in front of the museum, at 4:30. I finished up my breakfast, went over my coach Janet's directions for the race a few more times (which I had already read a dozen times). I got out of my warm-up gear, put on my bib and watches, and realized the one thing I forgot were band-aids for my nipples, so I applied some Body Glide and hoped for the best.
I ran a 3/4 mile warm-up with some striders to shake everything out, took advantage of a porta-potty, and then Sherry and I walked to the starting corrals. She snapped a picture of me, wished me luck, and I went behind the barricades with the other runners.
It was in the high 40's at this point, but I started getting a little chilly—I had about 20 minutes until the start of the race. A few people asked me if I was running the whole marathon in my sandals, to which I replied that I was. Finally the national anthem, and the start of the race.
The few races that I've run up to this point, I know I can get really pumped up and start fast, but my goal was a 9:10-9:00 min/mile for the first couple of miles. I was checking my watch quite a bit, and having to slow myself down, but I was able to do it. I found myself hanging with the four hour pace group those first few miles.
The sun was just rising above the buildings behind us, and I was warming up quickly, which was nice. With some of my longer training runs this Spring I had gotten cold early on, and unable to shake it. But the forecast was for decent running weather, so I wasn't too worried.
The nice thing about the Colfax marathon for me, was it went past a lot of landmarks that had meaning to me during my early running. It started in City Park, where I had some memorable sunset runs. Then went past the Irish Snug where I had run with their running group on Thursday nights. Past the Capitol building which I used to ride my bike past on the way to work. And working our way along Cherry Creek, which I've run quite a few miles along. (There was a homeless guy, literally on the path where we were running, trying to sleep.)
About a half dozen people at this point have struck up conversations with me about my sandals. A couple of people I spent a few minutes running alongside talking about minimalist running. One lady said she had attended a workshop by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella (a great running form video of his), and was so inspired by what he had to say, that she was going to make the transition to minimalist running after the marathon.
Running along the infield at Mile High was a treat. I had been in the stadium a few times before, but never this close to the field. Then there was the hill out of the stadium, and back up Colfax, heading West. I had been a few seconds fast in my pace targets up to this point, but I wasn't too concerned—I was feeling good. The biggest problem I had was drinking on the run, and I had already dumped a few cups of Gatorade down the front of me. More got on me, than in me.
West of I-25 was new running territory for me. I had been to Sloans Lake before, just never run around it. It was here, though, that I got my first sign of a barefoot runner. Someone had left some wet footprints behind, and so I started to keep my eyes peeled. I had only seen people wearing Five Fingers—no one in sandals or completely bare. It was also about this point that I started to yell out the mile markers and cheer as I crossed them, "yeah, mile 13," etc. Every once in awhile someone would cheer with me. :)
Janet stressed the importance of staying fueled throughout the race, and to not fall behind in this regard. I had worn two SPI belts, one with my phone, and one with just gels, but I was having a hard time getting the gels out. And more so, having a hard time consuming them on the run. During my training runs, I would usually take a minute or two to stop and consume the gel. Trying to eat them while running though, I would only take very small portions, which meant it took me at least a mile to finish just one gel package. Also, I had a hard time coordinating the gels with the aid stations so that I could rinse the taste out of my mouth.
Shortly after the halfway point, there were people handing out leis, so I took one. I wasn't sure how long it was going to last—if I was going to get annoyed having it on while running—but it made it to the end of the race. And it was just after this point that I finally ran into the elusive barefoot runner I had seen signs of earlier.
Around mile 16, the course was just about to get back to Colfax heading East, which is when I saw a runner on some grass just ahead, and I noticed he was barefoot. I shouted, "hey, barefoot runner," and he looked up and smiled. We ran side-by-side for a couple of miles talking. Turns out he was Dave Robertson of the Naked Runners, and he had run a race the weekend before, Fear the Deer, that I volunteered at (I said something like, "I was the guy with the cowbell.") We talked about barefoot running, Invisible Shoes, and traveling. He even shot some video of me running. I had a good time talking with him.
A little further up Colfax, I ran into a DailyMile friend, Kelly. She noticed the sandals and knew who I was, and introduced herself—we talked for a bit. We both live and run in the same area, but have never actually met, so it was cool to finally meet her.
I was still feeling strong at this point, running at a low 8 min/mile. My instructions at this point were to treat the rest of the race like one of my midweek, long tempo runs. So I kept thinking to myself now it's just a Wednesday run. Just before running back through Mile High Stadium, I reached the farthest point I had ever run (over 19 miles), which had been a mental barrier for me leading into the marathon. My feet were feeling just fine, but I started to feel a little achy in the thighs.
Around mile 21, when crossing over the bridge to get back on to the Cherry Creek trail, I tripped on the step up, but didn't fall. As we crossed back under the bridge I realized that was the point I had first injured myself two years earlier. Feeling good during a run, I had jumped up to slap a sign on the bridge, and when I landed my left calf muscle "popped". A week later it would pop again, taking me out of running altogether for 3 months. (Which lead me to working with Janet on my running form, but more on that in another post.)
Now my thighs were starting to get to me. I was also starting to get emotional, holding back the tears. My pace started to drop, and I stopped looking at the watch altogether. I figured this was my first marathon, so I just wanted to finish. I called Sherry to let her know I was 3 miles out, and hearing her voice bolstered my spirits. The hill at Lincoln and 17th just about took it out of me, so I decided to start asking for high-fives from race watchers. I made a game of it, looking for people in the distance, and using them as a short term goal to run to. Other than an older couple that left me hanging, everyone I asked returned the favor.
When I finally got back to City Park, I knew I was going to make it. In the distance I could see the scaffolding of the finish line, so I made a push for it, but it turned out to be either the starting line (or the finish for the half marathon), and not the actual finish line. I slowed a bit, and asked for more high-fives. Finally, the last couple hundred of feet, I made my final push.
I finished my first marathon.
I was so glad to see Sherry at the finish line, and immediately went to her, and we embraced. Then it took me a long time to walk out of the chutes because my legs were aching, and there were so many runners. When we finally found an unoccupied space of grass, I very carefully got to the ground (a little worried I wouldn't be able to stand back up), and took some fluids and ate a bagel. Kelly and her family stopped by and said hi. She was in much better post-race condition than I was. :) Sherry helped me up, and let me lean on her as we walked back to the car. We made a quick stop to say hi to another DailyMile friend, Rob, before we left.
Overall, I'm happy with the race went. I met my goal of completing the race, and I did it in under four hours (3:49), which was icing on the cake. I was hoping to be progressively paced throughout the race, like I did in my first half-marathon last November, but considering I had never run this distance before, it's not a big deal.
On to my next goal—my first ultramarathon. :)
Thursday, March 1, 2012
I've been staring at my monthly mileage graph on Dailymile, again. I don't know if anybody else does this, but I find it mesmerizing. Regardless of the numbers, it has a shape that looks like a struggle. Some hills with huge cliffs. Everyone's mileage graph tells a unique story—I figured I would start things off by sharing mine.
Skipping February for a moment, the 100 miles of March marks the start of sticking with the program. I had been working with a coach for about five months, and she had been hammering it in my head from the start, but this is the point where I actually start to consistently run. I'm not perfect, but by June it clicks, and now I start to feel guilty when I miss a run—like I'm letting myself down, or cheating myself of mileage. My fastest run happens when I'm out of town, at sea level, early in June.
My overall goal up to this point has been adding mileage, and going as far as I can—I wasn't concerned with speed. But at the start of July, since I was maintaining a consistent running schedule, I was bumped up to a 6 day a week schedule, with Mondays off. My coach gave me the choice of working on speed or trail running. I chose speed because I don't own a car, and getting to most trails requires one.
I didn't think speed training would show a pay off for awhile, but I was wrong. The most apt phrase to describe what I felt was I was firing on all cylinders. My mileage went up, my pace got faster. I felt stronger. My physical appearance changed yet again during my running career. I figured it is a combination of going long and short, slow and fast, that I'm getting more efficient at running. I'm finding the sweet-spot in the form.
My short-term goal over the summer was my first half marathon at the start of October. I started tapering in September, just after running the most miles in a week (43 miles), and my longest run to date (16.97 miles). I was getting excited about the race, and was feeling strong. But I made a huge mistake and failed to pickup the racing packet in time, so I missed the race. There wasn't another half marathon, close by, for another month and I was put into a taper hold. So, in October I was in a funk. I learned how emotionally involved I get with a race, and not having the release of a race hit me hard. I lost some enthusiasm for a short period.
However, October ended with a surprising 5k for me. I'm glad I decided to work on speed—not so much for the PR, but just to know that I'm really making progress. Sometimes I wonder if I'm spinning my wheels, but I get gentle reminders like these that I'm doing the right thing. When I finally did run my first half marathon, I was proud that I could stick with the race plan, and stayed progressively paced through out the race.
Rounding out the year, I was recovering strong, but ended up getting sick. I completely went off running, in hopes of recovering quicker, and came back a little fast. My immune system didn't have enough time to recover, and I got hit with a second bug. Again, completely off of running. When I started recovery in January I realized how much conditioning I lost. The lesson I learned is that even while I'm sick (however, not running a fever) I should do some short runs for maintenance.
February is not my favorite time of year for running. Winter is still going strong in Colorado, but this year I only missed one running day during the month. I was still slowed up by the weather, but it became less of an excuse. I spent some time today comparing February of last year to this year, and it shows a stark contrast in my training—I've come a long way. Last year, I was running 5 days a week, sometimes, and I was pushing my runs back by a day or two. My mileage was inconsistent from week to week. This year, the runs are roughly the same from week to week, and I'm hitting all of my targets. I feel like I'm back on track, and I'll be hitting September like numbers real soon.
It's amazing to see how much difference a year makes, even as tumultuous as this one. Looking at the last three months of the graph, I'm starting a pretty good mileage slope for 2012—I'm just curious as to what it's going to look like.