Here's my attempt at giving you a flavor of what my race was like, how I was feeling at the time, and what my lessons learned were.
After experiencing many pre-race nights I know well that I should not expect to get a good night's sleep. Or much of any sleep for that matter. I don't try too hard, I just take what may come my way in the form of shut eye and I don't worry. I know that I will get some sleep, but more importantly I know that I have what it takes to complete my race. Of course sleep is important but not as crucial as a beginner thinks. I guess that I get about 3-4 hours of broken up sleep the night before a race and have learned that for my body, the thrill, excitement, and energy that will accompany me the next day is all I need to see me to the end.
I got out of bed at 5am and ate my regular pre-race meal; Grape Nuts Flakes, milk and half a banana. Although I am a big morning coffee drinker I do not drink coffee before a race because the extra liquid is not a good idea. My daughters and I started our 80 minute drive to Lansing around 5:30 and had a nice drive. Found parking in the same spot as last year, right down the block from packet pickup. Packet pick went smoothly although they did not have shirts for us. They were taking runner's address information to mail them at a later date. Oh well, it's not like I need another race shirt. I remember when I first started racing how important those shirts were, simply because I did own any decent running clothes. Now I'd just as soon save on the race price by foregoing the shirt.
With bibs in hand we could rest easy and relax our minds before the race, As if? As you sit in your car waiting to walk to the starting line your mind is itself racing with anxious thoughts about the 26.2 mile run your are about to embark on. Am I ready? Will I finish? Will I get injured? Will my known running issues rear up and destroy me? And on and on. Not much you can do about this except to meditate on the positives.
So how do you mentally prepare in the last moments? Most runners have put in a lot of time and effort preparing for their race. So this is what you tell yourself, " I'm ready, because I've done the work. My body is capable of this feat and my mind is focused. " that's it, now go run!
About half an hour before race start I eat a chocolate leben (kinda like yogurt, kinda) and a caffeine pill. Remember I am a a big coffee guy and appreciate my jolt of a legal stimulant. Caffeine also helps mask pain during endurance sports. Now it's off to the race. The National Anthem was sung (pretty nice job I might add), about 7 minutes before the gun and we stopped to pay our respects. It's gratifying to see everyone stop what their doing, bow their heads and meditate on country. We then walked to the starting chute and found what we thought would be our pace, 9:00. The runners of the half were the overwhelming majority of runners. I still find it quite amazing to be in the company of thousands of people who are just like you - where running is concerned. There's loads of excitement at the start and it's electrifying. Every so often you get that twinge of fear about what's ahead but it's quickly squashed by the hooting and jostling of runners.
Maybe there was a gun shot at the start or maybe there was not, in any case the mass of us surged forward. We were off on our 3rd marathon!
I run with my phone for the Runkeeper app and Amazon Prime music. A fitness client of mine gave me his PowerBeats earbuds to use and I really enjoyed being wireless. The most useful feature of Runkeeper is that it tells me what my average pace is. I have it set to announce this every 5 minutes and every .25 miles. I can then easily correct my speed. Probably the most common mistake that runners make is starting their race too fast. If you use too much precious energy early on you may not have enough late in the race. I'm a believer in maintaining a constant pace throughout.
Since my daughter had a scaled back training cycle I thought she would need encouragement from me during the race. So I would announce to her our running stats every half mile or so. She's a fast runner so I knew I would have to hold her back early on. She later told me that she could barely hear me over her music. Oh well, I had good intentions.
The first 5 miles are kinda boring for us because the course follows a major street. I much prefer quiet, closed in, tree lined bike paths to an urban environment. Also we were running due East right into the sun. We finally turned off and the next section was much nicer. The run is going great and we're averaging 8:40 - 8:45. We feel good and think we can sustain this pace. We ran together with the half marathon runners and this can pose a mental challenge to us. We need to remember that they have half the distance to run and and are probably going to do it much faster than we should be running. Know your pace - stay with your pace!
I remember running the Detroit marathon a few years back. At the half way point the runners of the Detroit US half marathon begin their race. Now, they are fresh having just started and full of vigor. You have to ignore what they are doing and do not follow them. The same is true in the reverse. I once ran the Detroit US half marathon and wanted to do my best so I had to ignore the runners of the full who were already tired and moving a lot slower than I who just started would be.
The sun was out and it was getting warmer. We bring our own Powerade and kept hydrating throughout. We bring 3 gels (I like the Clif Shot Double Espresso. It has 100mg of caffeine!) We eat our fuel every 6 miles starting at mile 6. You have to get the fuel in you before you need it. When we hit some farm country around mile 11 the scenery got pretty boring again. There were gentle rolling hills that still take extra energy to crest. At mile 15 I'm beginning to feel discomfort in my right hip. I'm afraid that I'm now in for another challenging 11 miles. I am right!
The pain in my hip caused a cascade of issues all the way down to my right foot and over to my left foot. Pain on one side can cause you to make changes in your gait and thus a problem elsewhere. I knew from past marathons that I was in for a difficult second half. We kept pushing mile after mile until 22.25 where I had to stop. I have never stopped during a race. We welcomed a short walk and started up again. We were a lot slower now but still looking to make good time. In the back of our minds we just could not see finishing in anything less than 9:00min/mile. We were struggling, there was no doubt about it. We had run out of Powerade so at the mile 24 water stop we took 4 cups of water each to fill our own water bottles. Then it was back to grind out 2.2 more miles.
The last mile was torture for me. At this point I'm telling my daughter to run ahead by herself so she can achieve better time. She refused to leave my side and instead encourages me to keep going. About .5 mile from the finish we can hear the music, announcer and the cheering. What wonderful sounds. It did not alleviate any of my pain but it lifted my heart. Up one small bridge, down the chute and across the finish line.
3:55:27 an average 9:00 minutes per mile
- A long run (preferably 2), of 18 miles is the longest you need to prepare for the marathon and those long runs are best run the day after a medium length run. This strategy teaches you to run long on tired legs.
- If you know that you have a specific muscle issue, (such as my self diagnosed HIRD - Hip Internal Rotation Deficit) don't ignore it during your training cycle. I got it under control for my last marathon and finished in 3:42 but did not give it the attention it needed this time around. I suffered for it!
- Even after a less than stellar training cycle you can still do well in your race. I finished in the top %25 of all finishers and 6th in my age group. My daughter finished 1st in her age group!
- Most people run and race solo. Be forever grateful if you have a partner in this endeavor and all the more so if you have someone like my daughter who sticks with you to the end!
After the Capital City River Run Marathon, September 18, 2016. All smiles but dying on the inside.