Its finally over. I'm glad to say I finished the National Marathon in a very respectable time, especially for my first marathon. I learned a lot from this race, both good and bad. But mostly, I learned that despite being (very) under prepared given my recent knee injury 5 weeks out from the race, I mentally pulled through. For many, the mental part is the most difficult. I learned that my mental strength is probably one of my greatest attributes.
And now, for the race details. I'm not going to go split by split for all 26.2 miles, but I will describe the first half and second half, because they were two completely different stories. And for those of you who need pictures to be convinced this actually happened, my personal documentarian has taken some wonderful pictures - here, here, here, and here. And a short video of my waddle to the finish line. Once the official race photos are released, I'll share that as well.
Miles 1 - 13.1
They put the half marathoners and the full marathoners in the same corrals based on projected pace time. I was in the 4th corral, which was 7:45 - 8:30 per mile pace (my projected pace I had to enter when I registered). As the race began, everyone shuffled to the starting line. Some began jogging slowly, but I wanted to run a little as possible over the course of the 26.2 miles, so I chose to walk to the starting line. We crossed the mat, I hit my watch, and began to run. Despite being in assigned corrals, the usual cast of characters who put themselves at the front of the race were clogging up the roads. I navigated around them and settled into my pace. My first mile split was 7:43. Crap! Must slow down. So I slowed down to a pace that (at the time) I felt I could run forever at. This turned out to be right around 8 minute miles, which was my training pace for all my long runs, including my last run - a 20 miler. Everything was going really smoothly, except for one thing I noticed. The website had advertised that gels would be available at each of the water/Gatorade stops, which were every 2 miles. Not so much. The first time I was given any gels was at the half marathon point. Fortunately, being the planner than I am, I brought 2 emergency gels with me. By mile 6 (after the first 2 water stops) I figured there wasn't going to be many gel stations, if any at all. So I opened gels packet number 1, shortly before getting to the water stop at mile 7 to wash it down. I had my 2nd emergency gel at mile 11, figuring its better to go with my nutrition plan as long as I could, seeing as the lack of gel availability might render my plan useless the longer I waited if I didn't start taking in calories. I picked up a "plain" flavored gel at the half marathon point and kept that for a few miles later. My split at the half was 1:42. And this was my internal monologue: "Holy crap...I'm on pace for...oh no don't start thinking about it...but thats sub 3:30 if you keep it up". IF I KEEP IT UP. Right.......so, not running for 5 weeks and I ran a 1:42 half, and I'm supposed to keep that up. I guess that was my bad. I thought it felt good, and it did, for the first half and change of the race.
By the way, plain flavor tastes like a sugar packet. Just thought I'd let you know that in case you are ever faced with choosing between plain and something else.
Miles 13.1 - 26.2
As I passed that half way mark, I was still feeling ok, but starting to feel the pain. The next couple of miles, my pace started to slip into the mid 8 minute mile pace and slowly started creeping closer to 9 minutes. By mile 17, I passed Rebecca and the rest of my fan club as I made my way south to the rest of what would be a struggle fest for the next 9 miles. The unanimous reaction of everyone was that while I was still running at a good pace, I basely acknowledged them. The only thing I did do was toss my gloves since I didn't want them anymore. I kept plodding along, as we passed the new Nationals Park, and went over the South Capitol Street Bridge into Anacostia for all but the last mile of the race. Once passed the bridge, I hit the mile 20 marker. At approximately the same time, my right calf cramped up, thus beginning 6 miles of continuous cramping. This was the point when I realized that 5 weeks of not running was getting the best of me. Aerobically, I was fine. My muscles just hadn't been stressed enough lately to handle it. I'd run a little, cramp up and go into walk mode, then run until I cramped again. At first, I was going 5 minutes running, 2 minutes walking. That didn't last long. Before I knew it, I couldn't hold a steady jog for more than 2 minutes without cramping. The cramping moved from both calves to both hamstrings. It was frustrating, but I was moving as fast as my body would let me. Never did I think I wouldn't finish, I just knew it wasn't going to be as fast as I would have liked. Around mile 23, the 3:50 pace group passed me. I kept up with them for about a minute, but another cramp kept me from keeping pace. I finally got to the bridge that took us back to RFK Stadium, where the finish was and I knew I only had a mile left. I made my way toward the finish without cramping, which was nice, because I really thought I was going to embarrass myself by doing that in the finish chute. Thankfully, that did not happen.
Final time: 3:57
At the finish, I found my family and friends waiting for me. I was truly thankful that everyone came out despite the cold (for spectating) weather. I posed for cameras and decided it would be best to go home. I was feeling ok, but having some issues walking very well. Fortunately, my dad drove my car home and we enjoyed an excellent celebration brunch put together by Rebecca. The best egg/tater tot/sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms casserole ever and a couple of mimosas and I was feeling much improved.
In all, a fine experience for my first marathon. Knowing what I was able to do, I am definitely intrigued to find out what I could do with a healthy training buildup. The biggest thing I learned about this experience is that I need to continue lifting weights with my legs while training. I had read various conflicting articles - some in favor of and some not - of lifting. And since I was usually recovering early in the week from my long runs and by mid week I was doing interval runs, I chose not the lift because I feared that my muscles wouldn't have time to ever recover. I just need to lift lighter weights with higher reps to maintain the muscle in my legs. I now know that my body's running style incorporates more hamstring muscles than my quads. This was the reason why I was having knee pain. After doing consistent icing and strengthening exercises, it seemed to rehab my knee in time to run the marathon. I never felt any knee pain during the whole race, which made me appreciate what I was doing. My biggest worry going into the race turned out to be a non factor. More so, this allows me to confidently continue running once my legs are recovered. I've been doing a lot of swim/bike brick workouts during the past 5 weeks, but I really need to be doing bike/run bricks to prepare for my upcoming triathlon races.
So with that said, bring on triathlon season!