26.2 Miles, 3hrs, 50min, 51.25sec

26.2 Miles, 3hrs, 50min, 51.25sec September 23, 2009

A Marathon. I’ve read that only 1 percent of humanity will ever run one.

The funny thing is, in my experience at least, once you start training for one and talking about it, you find that about 20% of the people you talk to have done one or are planning one. I suppose it’s like most things, your attention goes to something and picks out things that are similar and ignores non-confirming data. I’m sure that in fact about 95% of people I’ve talked to lately have never run and have no plan of running a marathon, but those odd 5% that do share this strange topic of conversation with me stick foremost in my memory.

Leading up to the run:

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have run the 1/2 marathon in Whitefish on the 13th, or I at least should have taken it much easier. Instead, I pushed myself, finishing very fast, winning an award, and pounding the heck out of my knees.

So most of the week leading up to the marathon was spent resting and recuperating. Finally on Friday I decided to do a short, 6 mile, run to see how my knees were holding up. Pain. After a mile into the run, I knew something was off. I tried adjusting this way and that, hoping to work it out, but nothing quite worked. The pounding of the 1/2 marathon was still not completely healed. I talked to people, soaking up the advice from many wise runners, bought a knee brace and lots of anti-inflammatory ointments, and hoped for the best.

The night before the race in Billings I still wasn’t sure. The pain and soreness were 90% gone, but I had no idea how they’d stand up to 26.2 miles of running.

Sunday morning, 4:45 am, wake-up time. Big smiles. My knees -for the first time in a week- felt great. I still slid on the knee brace and an icy-hot patch as Julie and I made our way to coffee and the starting line.

Minutes before the start, the sun just beginning to show through the dense clouds. Note the location of the bib: wear it lower if you run (the little metal pins do rub against your body and that particular height is quite sensitive – see below).

The Run:

At 7am the horn sounded the begin of the race, 200 or so bodies began moving in unison. I decided early to set an easy pace, to let my body do the choosing. Even in the car-ride up, I told Julie that I might not make it. Feeling good for a few hours after a week of soreness didn’t instill a great deal of confidence in me that my knees would be okay. And, as many people advised me: there will be other marathons, you only have one set of knees.

So I ran what to me was a slow pace, around 7:30/7:45 a mile for the first five miles. In the first mile I caught up with a young woman named Helen and we began chatting. She, it turned out, had done two previous marathons: Portland and Boston (for those who don’t know, the Boston Marathon is the holy grail for most runners and can only be run by those who qualify in other races).

We talked about all kinds of things (this tends to happen with long runs), including our goals for the day, and before long she was vowing to qualify me – that is, encourage me along – for Boston. She was under the impression that the time needed for me would be 3hrs 25 minutes (it’s actually 3hrs 10 min), and we were pretty well on pace for that.

Of course, being on pace after 5 miles doesn’t mean you’ll be on pace after 20.

At about 6 miles I noticed that I was hungry of all things. Not much you can do about that. On I ran. At about 12 a big downhill reawakened the dragons in my knees. Little dragons at this point, but dragons nonetheless. By about 14 I was needing to slow up a bit and Helen was just beginning her stride so we planned to meet up at the finish line and she sped off.

At this point I just wanted to finish injury free. At mile 17 I took a long rest for a bathroom break and a stretch. All of that felt so great that it was hard to get going again. Then at 18 I paused again at the aid station for extra hydration. Shortly after that I stopped again to retie my shoe (they can become loose on up and down hills). I hadn’t exactly hit ‘the wall’ that so many runners dread, but I knew my body was drained. My pace slowed dramatically, to about 10min miles after mile 20.

Those last 6 miles were interesting. It was a mine-field of burnt out racers. One woman would race by me every so often and then walk in visible pain as I passed her again. Others just walked. And others still, like Helen, found a stride and smoothly passed by me. At my new pace I felt great. My legs were rubber, but they still lumbered along. I traded leads with another guy about my age for several miles until about mile 23 when he edged out far ahead of me. Then around mile 25 I found him again: walking, grimacing, and rubbing his legs.

Then I got passed by some really old guys (in their 70s I thought – turns out they were both in their 50s) and I tried to keep pace. One just powered forward, never to be seen again, and the other I managed to keep up with and overtake in the final 200 meters. My goal, all should know, is always to at least beat the nearest old guy in the race. And… the finish line:

Oh, the agony. Oh, the relief!

At this point I was spent. Everything below my waste was rubbery. I didn’t want to sit or even stop walking though for fear of cramps, so I just walked, slowly, around the field until enough strength returned to stretch out a bit.

My final pace was 8:49, much slower than the 7:35/mile pace of my half marathon a week earlier. To qualify for Boston I’ll need to run the full in a 7:15 minute/mile pace. Yikes... It’s doable.

Post-run stretch, knees of rubber, face of agony, blood of nipples…

The best-looking runner (and a woman in pink), j/k.

Huge thanks to everyone who encouraged and helped and pushed along the way, from my sister who got me running 15 years ago to that old guy at the end who I just had to pass. There’s no way I could have done it without you! Thanks especially to Dave W, who ran his first marathon this spring in England at the ripe old-man age of 40 (great job!), to Lori for some extra help in the days before the run, to Matt for the horse liniment, and Julie for her encouragement, support, driving, and so much more!

Now I’m happily resting at home and plotting my next challenge… Oh, and maybe working a bit on my thesis…

Complete mens results (me right between the 50yr olds).
Awesome photos by Julie; more photos.

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