I was disappointed at the Mohawk-Hudson Rivers Marathon on Sunday (10/7/12) but not with the weather. Weathermen had threatened rain for a few days in the forecasts but we had a beautiful day to run – 46° and overcast; prime conditions for endurance running.
All the preparations went well. My support team (Brian & Kim, Susan, Tim & Cheri, Mark, and of course Linda) was ready to meet me at specified spots about every 4-5 miles along the course with a GU and a bottle of water. They were prepared with maps and knowledge of the general time I would be coming by them. No disappointment here! All were so encouraging and helpful in every way. You guys were FANTASTIC! Thank you!
I laid out all my gear the night before – shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, pace chart, Garmin Forerunner 305, etc. along with anything else I could think of that I might need including arm warmers, gloves, hat, sunglasses, and a change of clothes for after the race.
I went to bed relatively early for me on Saturday night and slept reasonably well considering the morrow would bring my first attempt at running 26.2 miles. I planned to get up at 4:00 am to eat and get ready since start time was at 8:30 am, we had a 1 and ½ hour drive to get there, and I wanted time have my food digest, and did not want to be rushed. I was awake by 3:30 am and soon realized there was no more sleep so got up a little early. Breakfast consisted of some granola, half a banana and one slice of toast with some peanut butter.
We got in the car just about 6:00 am, shared a few minutes of prayer and headed out. Linda drove so I was able to rest. When we arrived at Central Park in Schenectady a just a few cars were in the lot so we got a good spot. Within minutes buses and scores of cars were threading their way in. the next hour was filled with the normal stuff – scoping out the starting area, using the porta-potty, talking with friends who showed up to see me off and take a few photos, etc. This is where the first glitch showed up in my carefully laid plans. My Garmin Forerunner 305, a gift from my son and daughter-in-law when I started running three years ago refused to turn on – the battery was totally dead. I must have not seated it properly on the cradle since it is now working fine. This was a major blow. I had meticulously planned a pacing strategy (see previous post) and the Garmin made that possible. I made a decision to run with the 3:35 pace group and joined them at the start area.
The countdown went off without a hitch. We all sang the Star – Spangled Banner. The horn sounded and we were off. By the way let me say I had no disappointment with the organization of the race. Everything was well done. Plenty of water tables and friendly volunteers, all the road crossings were staffed with traffic guards, etc. The course itself was beautiful. The majority of miles followed a smoothly paved bike path meandering beside the rivers. At times there were spectacular views. At other times we ran for long stretches through forest glades clad in green and gold of changing leaves.
The first couple of miles went pretty smoothly. I hung on the shoulder of our group leader. The 8:12 pace felt very comfortable. At mile 2 we came to the first water station and it was here I made my critical mistake. The group slowed to allow everyone to get water. The water stop coincided with a change in the terrain. The first couple of miles had been a little uphill but the next few miles would be a gradual descent. I knew that I would be comfortable and well within my capabilities running the downhills a little faster all the while figuring that the pace group would catch me on the uphill section to come later. I cruised on leaving the pace group behind.
In retrospect this was foolish. I knew the danger. It is the single most common mistake that first-time marathoners make – going out too fast the first 20 miles. I had read numerous article warning about it and had vowed I wouldn’t fall into the trap hence all the time spent planning my pace every mile. The loss of my Garmin, coupled with overconfidence was going to cost me a lot of pain and disappointment.
Meanwhile, life was good. God’s love was sweet. It was a beautiful day and my legs felt strong. I ran. Two other men (both in their 40’s) were running about the same pace. One of them, John from Queensbury, and I would wind up covering over 20 miles together. We struck up a conversation as we ran and encouraged each other (We have since connected via email).
It wasn’t until about mile 13 as I finished a 3 mile uphill stretch that a warning bell rang in my mind. Everything still felt great but the 3:35 pace group had never caught up. I knew that the 8:12 per mile pace was probably within my capability but not much faster. I thought the group was probably not far behind. At this point I should have slowed and waited for them although the damage was undoubtedly already done. Looking at the results page for the race they list three splits as well as the finishing time for each runner. Mine were:
1st half 1:43:38
17.5 miles (2/3rd) 2:21:17
2nd half 2:27:25
Analyzing these times reveals my lunacy (and my improved fitness). The first figure is for a half marathon. It is a personal best for me over the previous four halfs I have run by 2 minutes and 39 seconds! It represents a pace of better than 7:55 per mile. By the 2/3 mark I had begun to slow coming through at an 8:04 pace – still way faster than my planned pace. The last figure really reveals the pain I experienced in the last 5 miles – it took me 43 minutes and 47 seconds MORE to run the second half than it did the first half.
I picked up my last GU and water bottle from Mark at the 21 mile point as we crossed under 787 on 4th Street in Watervliet and picked up the bike path again by the river. I was feeling some pain but within a hundred yards of making that corner it got a lot worse. My legs didn’t want to work very well so I slowed to a walk for the first time since the starting line. I thought “I’ll just give them a little rest.” My new friend, John (who was also bonking), and I began to alternately walk and run. We lasted a few cycles that got us to about the 23 mile mark. At that point both of us were experiencing debilitating leg cramps. Then waves of nausea began to assault me. At mile 25 the nausea necessitated a visit to the bushes lining the cart path. I encouraged John to walk on without me which he did finishing almost 13 minutes ahead of me.
I am grateful Susan wasn’t there at that point. She had been taking video at various points along the course. Unbeknownst to me she had set up a Skype connection with the church I pastor and during the morning service they had seen me running earlier in the race on the big screen in front! LOL! Good thing she wasn’t there with the camera at mile 25! Staggering back to the bike path I walked on drained of energy, glad to see Brian and Mark who accompanied me to the finish line from about the ½ mile point. I gathered enough strength to jog the last 50 yards crossing the line in 4:10:53.
It was a disappointing end to a great day. On the good side the Lord Jesus continues to be my joy. He walks with me every step of my life. My family and friends have been wonderfully supportive. I did set a new half marathon PR. I learned a huge lesson and realized again that overconfidence can lead to a humbling experience. I have a new friend – John. I think our paths will cross again. On the bad side is the pain of those last 5 miles (already fading in my memory), the disappointment of falling short of the Boston Qualifying times. I needed to run 3:55 to get in next Aprils race. To add insult to injury I missed the 4:10 time I need to qualify as a 65 year old in 2014.
I am glad to report that I am feeling well. As of today, 4 days later, I can walk normally.
Hmmmmm, I see there is a marathon in Burlington in May.