After more than 3 and a half years of run training, over 4,100 miles pounding the pavement, and 10 half marathon finishes, I've completed my first full marathon. I ran the Detroit Free Press marathon. My stats were a 3 hours 55 minutes 40 seconds finish time - averaging 8 minute 59 seconds per mile. There are more stats like where I placed but you can look that up if you're curious :>)
I want to share something that I think might be useful to you. My time goal was 3:45 and was based on my recent half marathon finishes and my general running fitness level. In retrospect I believe it was an appropriate goal and I want to explain why I think I did not reach it.
My training plan included three very long runs, two 18 milers and one 20 miler. I ran all three of these runs with minimal muscle and joint discomfort during the runs and was able to continue with my training plan on subsequent days. I had no injuries during this training cycle and I felt strong and confident on race morning. So what happened?
Experienced endurance runners will warn you that 'you never know what will happen during a race'. What you need to do is to strengthen your resolve and prepare you psyche for whatever happens during the race that you may have not prepared for. Expect the unexpected. At about mile 4 of yesterday's foot race, runners must traverse the Ambassador Bridge that spans the Detroit river on into Canada. It is basically a huge hill with a climb that is not steep but it is steady and it never lets up. I estimate that the climb is about a half a mile long. Of course, the back end has an equally long down hill. My intention was not to loose valuable time on the long up hill and found that I had to constantly maneuver around other runners to keep my pace. This was a tactical error. The stress that this put on my right hip joint and musculature was beyond what I had trained for and a series of overuse/misuse injuries were started in motion.
By mile 12 I was feeling marked discomfort in my right hip. As the pain persisted the injured muscles began to inhibit other muscles down the kinetic chain. My knee, calf, shin and instep began to bother me. The pain, muscle inhibition and psychological challenge called for a new race strategy. So at the half way mark of this 26.2 mile race I started a new race with an entirely new goal. FINISH. Although I was still using the same body that I had worked hard to adapt to an endurance race, the most important skill that I needed to enlist was my brain power. How I had prepared my mind to overcome challenges would assist me in reaching the finish line. Mental flexibility was now my key to race success. With every stride painful, every minute change in the road surface an added stress and danger, it was imperative to keep my mind sharp and attentive. I could not allow any thought to lead me astray. I had to think about every foot placement and every hip movement. This new race was absolutely mind over matter.
It's always been my contention that any race where you cross the finish line is a win or a goal attained. Goals are arbitrary, so if you have to tactically modify a goal mid race and you finish, then you have reached your goal. I am very pleased that I've run a marathon and the times I attained, but I am most pleased with the fact that I finished and that I had the mental strength to overcome a significant physical challenge to do so.