Sunday morning I lined up to compete in my first marathon. I’d talked to people about what to expect, and read about the experience, but I really didn’t know how it would turn out.
While talking to people, one thing everybody told me was not to go out too fast. I’ve heard you should try to negative split, that the race is a 20 mile jog followed by a 6 mile run, and that you can’t go out too slow. My first goal is to run 3:15, my second goal is 3:10, and my ultimate goal is 3:00-6:53 pace.
So I go out in 6:33. That gets me a little nervous-I suddenly get visions of a nightmare last 6 miles. But I’m feeling great-it doesn’t seem like I am running that hard at all. I settle down a bit on the second mile and go through in 6:51. The first mile must just have been adrenaline.
Soon I come up to the first water station. Now I’ve taken water on my long training runs, but I’ve used a belt with squeeze bottles. I’ve never tried to run and drink from a Dixie cup before. I proceed to get half of the contents of the cup on my singlet, a quarter of it in my mouth, and toss the rest aside. This would be a common occurrence at future water stops.
As it turned out, the fact that I spilled liquid all over me like a drunken fratboy tossing back cheap pitchers of Busch did not really matter. I wasn’t going to stay dry anyway. The second 2/3s of the race was run in a steady rain. It didn’t really bother me and the temperatures were actually good running weather-mid 50s or so.
I run the first 15 miles or so at a fairly even pace-around 6:50 a mile over slightly rolling hills. I’m running relaxed and am still on target for 3:00 with 11 miles to go. I also discover that miles in a marathon come and go quickly, but there are a lot of them. Since the field is not huge, I’m running pretty much by myself after the half-marathon people finish up. I pass a guy at mile 14.5 or so but otherwise I am alone except for a couple of relay runners till I get passed by a marathoner at mile 20.
After mile 16, the terrain starts to get hillier. At first I try to convince myself that these hills won’t be a big deal-after all, I hiked the Appalachian Trail, where I climbed up lots of steep mountains with 35 pounds on my back. How difficult can some hills be?
The answer is pretty difficult. We gain about 200 feet in 3 miles. I’m not able to keep up my 6:50 pace any more. Mile 16 is 7:13, followed by a 7:09, 7:13, 7:35, and a 7:03. At the 20 mile mark the terrain seems to be leveling out. I’m at 2:20 on the clock and think to myself that I have a Boston qualifier in the bag-I don’t see myself running a 55 minute last 10k. Might as well throw down for the last 6.2 and see how close to 3:00 I can come.
This plan survives about a mile (6:55) and then I hit some more hills. I’m not too tired but my legs are heavy and I they don’t seem to have any get up and go. It becomes apparent that I won’t run 3:02 or 3:03 and I had to come up with a new goal. I decided that I need to beat Matt Ernst’s best marathon time. I’m pretty sure he ran a 3:06. I tried to motivate myself by thinking bad thoughts about Matt, but all I could come up with is that he retired at an early age and his life apparently consists of running and drinking beer. Since this lifestyle sounds pretty good to me I am left with only the desire to acquire bragging rights to fuel my last push.
And that was not enough to run faster than 3:06. I finish in 3:07:08, good for 18th place overall out of 824 finishers and second in the 30-34 age group.
I had a very positive first marathon experience. People stood out in the rain to cheer the runners, on, the course had some scenic parts (and some not so scenic parts), and I now know that I can run a quality marathon. I did not meet my ultimate goal, but I did achieve my first two goals and overall I am pleased with my performance. While I faded a bit in the last 10 miles I did not blow up-no 8 or 9 minute miles.
I’m looking forward to running some track meets and shorter road races over the summer and could very well see myself doing another marathon in the fall.