Saturday, March 27, 2010

In the Beginning

Whenever one is attempting to look to the future, it is always good to recount the past. So, with the dailymile theme of favorite race pictures the other day, I decided to choose one of my favorite pictures from my first marathon. It is somewhat revealing of my character that I chose a race that was not strong, but in fact my worst race. I believe the struggles we experience do more to shape us than the successes.

The race was the 2006 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. It was my first marathon after I had started running occasionally 2 years prior. My best race to date was a 40:30 5-mile race, and my plan was to run 4 hours at the marathon.

Training had been rocky at best. I followed a 16 week beginner training plan and slowly built my long runs up to the 20 mile mark. The plan involved hill work, but not much else and the weekly mileage tapped out at 35 miles. I remember the long runs being brutal! As it was only a 16 week program, the long runs were merciless in their advancement, after ramping up to 10 miles they increased every week by 2 miles to hit 20 four weeks before the race. Every run over 12 was longer than I had ever run before. Each week was worse than the last, but foolishly I convinced myself that the race would be better as I would have more energy after tapering.

The day before race day arrived and we spent most of the day walking around San Diego, it was 85 degrees and I remember being hot, tired and dehydrated by 4 o'clock. Having trained in Colorado springtime I had no hot weather experience and I was dreading the heat. I didn't even have a decent hat, just a baseball cap that I had used for training, so I bought a tech hat at the race expo. Pre-race nutrition was a disaster as we waited outside Buca di Beppo for hours for a table that never materialized. Apparently it was also grad night for many schools and after limo after limo pulled in we decided to hit TGI Fridays. By that time anything would have tasted good.

The early morning alarm arrived, I went through race preparations and got to the starting line alone as Melissa and Elijah slept. We had neglected to get a crib for the hotel room and Elijah, then 15 months old, had fallen out of the bed in the middle of the night making for a restless night for all of us. I had hoped to hit the port-a-potties before the race started, but so had 20,000 other overhydrated racers so I just made for the corrals. The strains of U2's "Beautiful Day" saw us on our way, I was about to run farther than I had ever run before!

As I have come to understand about the marathon, it all seems impossibly easy in the first miles. I eventually found a port-a-potty at mile 5 that had a fairly short line so I took advantage of it, and then picked up the pace to catch the 4 hour pace group. The morning was overcast, thankfully, and the temperatures stayed modest, but still felt hot with the high humidity. By the time I saw my family and friends cheering at mile 13 I was starting to hurt, and this would be the last time I was to see them before the finish. Ironically, Elijah was crying in his stroller and I felt like I wanted to cry as well but I pressed on.

Each mile became progressively more difficult and I found myself having to take more and more walk breaks. I struggled to make it to mile 17 where a gel station awaited, but I was finding more and more that there were just not enough sports drink stations. Water was not satisfying my thirst and I ended up dumping most of it on my head to keep cool. Mile 20 arrived and I was into unknown territory, I kept welling up emotionally thinking of Melissa and Elijah waiting for me at the finish. The thought of them waiting hours for me to arrive on a sag wagon was the only thing keeping me going, I knew I had to push through as they would be worried about me. Eventually I settled into a pattern of walking for a few minutes at every water stop, but I still found it in me to start running again each time. The Marine Corps recruitment depot arrived and I knew I was going to finish, I was so happy to see Elijah and Melissa cheering I couldn't help tearing up. I was done, and I had finished the biggest physical goal I had ever laid out for myself.

Four hours and forty-four minutes. Even today I have not run again for as much time as that day (that will change this year). In the three years following that race I took nearly an hour and a half off of that marathon time. The picture above summarizes well the pain and pride that I felt during that race, which is why I like it so much. The marathon is a goal that is achievable by anyone, and yet not everyone will strive to achieve it. It is less a test of what you can do on one day than it is a test of what you can do over months of training. It allows one a rare glimpse inside your own character, how will you persevere when things get difficult?


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