Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Looking Back: Marathons I

I've had a few people emailing me asking for information on running in Japan and some of my past race experience. Although I had an old running blog while living in Austin, I didn't think anyone would be interested in hearing my particular brand of racing narratives. Happy to be wrong.

Here's my account of the 2005 Austin Freelance Marathon, formerly the Motorola Marathon, now the AT&T Austin Marathon. You can view the results here. Sorry about the American standard of measurements - I still think in miles instead of kilometers.

One comment for the running cynics. I know you all wonder why people do this to themselves. The truth is every runner, at every marathon, in the history of time has questioned his sanity as the gun goes off.

...

Wow... how to start... not quite at the beginning of the race, although that was interesting. I guess the race really began for me about 6 AM, an hour before the start, while we were still driving and about to park, when the rain decides to pick up and start pouring down in gallons. Quite possibly the most disheartening thing I've ever had happen to me before the start of a race - obviously I didn't want to go through my first marathon completely soaked from mile 1. Nevertheless, the rain and lightning cleared up nicely around 6:40, leaving me in a prime position to start.

I positioned myself, quite insanely, at the top of the 3:00 pace group. It was my first marathon, and yet I still believed I could break three hours first time out. Quite mad, I know. No sooner than the national anthem was sung, Rick Perry said his thing, and we were off, towards one of the few uphill stretches on the course. I knew I went out way too fast even before I saw a clock, and I promised myself that I'd start at 7:00 minute/mile pace; instead, I was going about 6:50 minute/mile. Big mistake. To tell the truth, miles 1-6 in the Freescale were pretty simple. Still had my energy, didn't need to hydrate, and a nice steady downhill past mile 2... no problem. After that, though, big problems - the sun decided to come out and shine down directly into everyone's eyes from miles 6-8, not to mention the draining effect. This was the point where I lost all rational thought but to simply keep moving, keep breathing, one foot in front of the other. I said it for the 30K, and I'll say it again: when you're in a race that long, your mind will grasp onto any thought to avoid thinking about how far you have to go, how fast you're going, and how much pain you will soon be in. One foot in front of the other is probably the smartest thing I could think of over the course of 26.2 miles.

Mile 9. My parents came out at this point, just to cheer me on, and I barely caught a glimpse of them and just smiled. I'm feeling a little drained in my upper body and my stomach starts to feel very empty - a very bad sign. I didn't eat enough breakfast. Too late now, because there's nothing to be done; power gel packs, even taken regularly, can't make up for the nourishment of a solid meal before the race. I hydrate myself around mile 11, and grab some Poweraid to replace electrolytes. In actuality, I know that I'm not even halfway there, and even when I am, I know I won't feel good. On the plus side, I'm running side by side with my 3:00 pace leader, so I know I'm ok for the moment. How long that will last, no one can tell.

20 Kilometers. I'm expecting to see a friend from UT cheering me on, but she hasn't shown. Again, nothing to be done. Now's the time for power gel. I drain it quickly. Pain hasn't set in my legs yet, but the stiffness is there, and my shins feel a little worn due to the concrete. On the plus side, at least I'm headed in the right direction - towards downtown, towards the finish. By the time the half marathon finish rolls towards me, I know I'm not going to be able to keep up my pace; I'm doing extremely well at this point - 6:52 pace, and going strong, but I know my reserves are running out. I see the happy people going in to finish the half; if only the marathon could end there too... I'm still with the pace leader, nice and steady. One foot in front of the other.

Downtown. Down Congress. Huge fan scene. I can barely hear them, barely see them. I'm fairly winded by this point, and I know there's still 13 miles to go. The only thing I can do to keep my mind from falling apart is just to do a countdown - 13 miles to go, 12 miles to go... I'm still with the pace leader, but the crowd really isn't that motivating. What would be more motivating is breaking right across the Congress bridge and going to finish right now. U nfortunately, my legs have other plans. As I turn onto 6th Street, I pass my parents again. They can't do anything for me at this point. They offer me some more power gel, but I don't think it'll help yet... maybe at mile 20. As soon as I pass them, I see it - a steady, ever increasing uphill slope towards miles 16-17. That was really disappointing. There's still no pain, but something definitely doesn't feel right.

It happens at mile 16. I want to stop. I need to stop. I must have been insane. There's no point to any of this. Suicide might be preferable at this point, and probably less painful. I'm winded. I'm soaked. I'm sticky from sweat and spilled Poweraid. Yet for some reason I keep moving. Nothing on the side lines motivates me. I just keep going. Steady pace, one foot in front of the other.

The turnaround at mile 17. Even more disappointing - a LONG, steady uphill all the way back to Congress. And I know exactly how far that feels. I'm hydrating at every stop now, but it doesn't seem to help. Already I can feel like every last patch of water and energy is being sapped and depleted from the cells in my body. And I've still got 9 miles to go. I'm still with the pace leader, miraculously; I really don't know how. My legs do hurt now, hurt considerably. But in my mind, I know I can go at least to mile 20, because I've run that far before. Not at this pace, to be sure, but I think I can do it.

Mile 20. The uphill slope has stopped, thank God. I retrieve some power gel and down it in one gulp, almost gagging. It was worth it. I'm still with the pace leader, but I know I won't be for long. I hydrate with some more water and power aid, but it really doesn't help - I know I need the electrolytes, but all the sugar causes a sudden drain after I swallow, something that can't be helped. I can't see the finish as the lake comes into sight; probably a good thing, so I don't know exactly how far I have to go. But I do know... 6.2 miles. 10 kilometers left.

I stop thinking. My brain is mush. I hit the wall just before the 21st mile mark. I want to stop, I need to stop. My legs are on fire, feel like swollen protrusions of pain. I have no breath; my chest is being sapped of all its strength. Hydration doesn't help. Cheering doesn't help. Pace leaders sure don't help, because I lose them. I guess this is where the marathon really begins.

I miss the 22nd mile mark; I guess I was just blind to it. Nothing feels right, and I know it won't again. The only thing on my mind is how best to stop running, how to get over to the finish line with the food and the water as quickly as possible. Despite the pain, the logic is overwhelming, and it occurs to me at mile 23 - I have to keep breathing, stay alive, keep moving forward. There's nothing else to be done. I'm feeling the worst I have ever in my life. No exaggeration. Nothing left, no speed to release, just the eventual running until my legs snap in half.

I hated the spectators at mile 24. They knew it too - "just a little further, you're almost there, you can do it!"... yeah, right. They have no idea. They don't know what this feels like. I know exactly how far I have to go: 2.2 miles. I also know I'm incapable of going that far at any speed, might not be capable of walking that far. I can see the pace leader - he has about a 30 second lead over me. He tried to encourage me, but I just didn't have it in me. Everything aches. My legs, quite in pain, sore, and tired from the rigid movements, are now starting to cramp. And to top it off, I get a stitch. I haven't gotten a stitch from running in years, and yet it chooses to present itself now. That alone tells me I can't make it, I shouldn't be able to make it, I'm not meant to make it. But I keep going, I don't stop.

Just before mile 25, there is huge temptation placed right before my eyes: my apartment. Right here. Now! With its bed, its food, and its air conditioning, I know I have to go by it as quickly as possible before I yield to temptation. Even worse, I'm all too familiar with the hill I have to ascend to escape sight of my home; it's bad. It's really bad. My legs are cramping on all sides, and I don't know what a muscle tear feels like, but I was sure I was starting to develop one.

I know I can't keep going. I haven't been sure since mile 21. I'm running on the rightmost side of the street, on the hard concrete, because for some reason that feels slightly easier. There's only one thing on my mind: how far left to go. 1 mile. 0.6 miles. 0.5 miles... the 26 mile mark. This is the ONLY time I know for sure I can finish. That's it. I don't stop, I just keep myself moving, one foot in front of the other. 0.2 miles to go. I round the corner. More people are there, as well as a long, golden chute. My salvation, my reward.

Finish time 3:00:57

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