How Not to Run a Marathon
Last year, my Pittsburgh Marathon training was spotty at best. Winter training was almost non-existent due to lengthy chest colds. My mileage didn’t get very high. My longest run was only 16mi – and happened the week before the marathon. I started with the 4:45 pace group last year, and kept with it until about mile 15. The long hill into and through Oakland (miles 13 and 14) took too much out of me. I kept a fairly steady pace after that, though, and finished in 5:04.
This year, my marathon training was much better (though not perfect). Winter training still left something to be desired, but that was due more to inclement weather than illness. I gradually increased my mileage over the course of 11 weeks. My longest run was 22 miles, and I had time to taper to 16 and 12 after that. When race day came, I felt ready to aim for 4:30, with 4:45 as a backup plan. I missed both goals and finished in a dismal 5:44.
Well, the start of the race was less than ideal. I misjudged how quickly the corrals would fill up and failed to get a spot near the 4:30 pacer. Then, a minute or two into the race, I realized that I hadn’t used my asthma inhaler. So, I carefully navigated to the sidewalk from the middle of the pack and corrected that mistake. Between the slow-moving herd of humanity and my unscheduled stop, the ~11 min first mile is not surprising. On a side note, my lungs felt great for the whole race. Temps in the 70s and high humidity were perfect conditions for me. I could have done without the drenching rain, though.
The next few miles seemed to be going well as I settled into what I thought would be my pace for at least the uphill parts of the race. Unfortunately, my running buddy had to pee like a race horse. So, we stopped to empty our bladders during mile 8, finishing in 13+ minutes. Without the pit stop, miles 7-10, would have been about 11:15 each. That’s certainly not blazing fast, but it was comfortable and consistent.
I knew the long hill into/through Oakland for miles 13 and 14 would be rough, but I figured once I got over that topographical and psychological hump I’d be able to pick up the pace. For a while, I thought that might actually happen. I watched the 4:45 pace group pass me on the Birmingham Bridge, but I figured I’d catch them in Shadyside. As I ascended into Oakland, I was starting to feel pretty drained already, but I remained hopeful. Just before turning from Forbes Ave onto Craig St, I saw my wife and kids. I ran over to them, kissed them all and told them I loved them. My wife asked how the race was going. I told her I was behind pace but that I’d make up time on the downhills to come.
The “Great Downhill Speedup of 2010” never happened. Mile 15-17 are pretty flat. My pace was fairly consistent for those miles, but it was at my peak uphill pace. That’s not good. I never recovered from the hill. Miles 18-20 are mostly flat. My pace is somewhat consistent during those miles, but also very slow. Somewhere around mile 17, I hit a wall, and I hit it very hard. It didn’t take long to go from “behind my desired pace but feeling OK” to “running on empty”.
The last 8 miles were torturous. It was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The mile markers couldn’t arrive fast enough. At around mile 18 I discovered that the ibuprofen I’d stuffed in my key pocket had dissolved in the rain. I remember thinking at mile 19, “Oh God, I have 7 more miles to go. I don’t know if I can do this.” at several points I very nearly broke down into tears. By mile 21 I couldn’t run more than a few yards at time, so I walked instead. My hips and haunches ached. The balls of my feet felt badly bruised. Adding insult to injury, the Hash House Harriers beer stop at mile 24 had closed up shop long before I shambled by.
I had only two things keeping me going at that point, stubborn determination and my best friend. That buddy with the tiny bladder I mentioned earlier is a saint. He sacrificed a decent time to keep me company and support me. Words are inadequate to describe how indebted to him I am. You’re a good man, Kevin Hejna.
When I saw the finish line nearing, I mustered enough strength to pick up from a walk to a jog. I crossed the finish line at a pace I’d almost be willing to call running. As I reflected on the torture I’d just completed, a few thoughts cycled repeatedly through my mind.
- I’m truly blessed to have a best friend like Kevin.
- What happened? How could I train so much better and do so poorly?
- I will avenge myself next year. I will beat that course like a rented mule.
- I’ve let down my wife.
How did I let my wife down? Well, she had to suffer in order for me to train. Every time I left the house to run for hours at a time, I was leaving her with a toddler and an infant, usually after she’d already been exhausted by a full-time job. I didn’t feel so bad about her sacrifice of free time, energy, and sanity as long as I thought the training was worth it, that it would help me be a better runner. My training seems to have been for naught, though. I haven’t lost any weight, and I did abysmally in the marathon. If my training was for naught, so was her sacrifice. She’s told me she’s proud of me for even attempting, let alone finishing, a marathon, and that she isn’t resentful. I can’t shake the feeling that I let her down, though; I wasted her time and effort.
I guess all that brings me back to thoughts of next year. The marathon and I have a score to settle. It’ll be many months before training for that starts again. In the meantime, I’ll be focusing on losing weight and getting stronger. I intend to be leaner and meaner next year. The Pittsburgh Marathon won’t know what hit it.