Quick Summary: A super race for 24.5 miles!!! And, as always, the marathon is a profound teacher. On a beautiful day in central Indiana, it was a joy to run, smile, learn, be amazed, be challenged and to end the race contented.
In an award winning entry to the “Coincidences that are Weird but Make No Difference” category, I spent the Thursday night before this marathon just as I did on the Thursday night one year ago before the Portland Marathon; attending a concert by the bluegrass/acoustical group Nickel Creek. An added feature this year was that we wedged into the backroom of a bar in Bloomington, Indiana to see the band, standing on hard concrete for 3 hours, not moving. Just what I’ve read in many training guides for care of feet and legs before a marathon! Great concert, though, and a goofy link up.
Prerace: Race day had me up at 4:50am and out the door at 5:30, heading to Indy. Having run the half-marathon version of this event two years ago, I knew the parking/set up routine. I drove to the 12.5 mile mark and stashed 20oz of Accelerade and a dry towel behind a brick wall, then parked and registered. I was set before 7:00am, so, with the 8:30 start time I had plenty of time to relax and get set. The field of 4,500 began to assemble and what fun that was. I love the start of races…the energy is huge, the music is great, hope and optimism fills the entire group. With temperatures in the mid 50s, we were off on our journey.
The course looked (very roughly) like a figure 8 with a string hooked to the middle, where the start/finish line rested. The half marathon route covered both loops of the 8. The full marathon added a run out and back along the string. My plan was to run 11:03 miles, to end in 4:50.
The First Loop provided a way to just get started. About five miles long, it was simply cool and beautiful. My main focus was to hold back, stay relaxed and get into the rhythm of my run 3 minute, walk 1 minute approach to this race. That rhythm set in quickly and nicely and I hit the five mile mark 1:50 ahead of my projected pace.
The Second Loop was even more appealing visually. We ran on a bike trail for two miles through a city park under a cool, shady canopy of red and gold fall foliage set against a perfect blue fall sky. I also found some personal pleasure in this loop. At one point, an Army unit provided race directions and watched the intersections. Knowing I was ahead of pace, I paused, shook the hand of each person in uniform and thanked them for their service to our country. With two of my three sons in the Army at the moment; I have great appreciation for each one who serves. It didn’t slow me down that much; I hit the twelve mile mark 3:11 ahead of my pace. And I first spotted the Man in the Yellow Shirt.
Heading out. The half-marathoners split off at the 12.5 mile mark. I found my Accelerade and towel, undisturbed, refilled both of my belt-based bottles and moved off into a new phase of the race. With about a thousand of the 4,500 starters running the full marathon, the crowd slimmed considerably at this point. It got quiet and became an obviously different race. I find this the most enjoyable part of a marathon; the start is over, the struggles at the end remain in the future, one just starts knocking off the miles. Yesterday, it was even more enjoyable and truly a spiritual experience for me.
The out and back portion of the race opened into a beautiful state park and then onto city running paths. As I rounded one vista, I was swept away by the beauty of the tree-covered hills in their fall splendor. A phrase from an old hymn came to me:
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
The spread of nature before me brought a sense of awe at our world. As a follower of Christ, I considered it a gift to be part of God’s creation on such a beautiful day.
The miles clicked off in the high 10s to low 11s pace. I made the turn around at mile 19 a full 5:40 ahead of pace. And I was now playing tag in the run/walk pace with the Man in the Yellow Shirt.
Heading Back It was now time to plan the final few miles. In particular, I thought long about my stated “A” goal for this race: to run continuously from mile 23 to the end. My legs were not in pain but were getting heavy. I seriously thought about just keeping the 3/1 pace to the end. Yet, I truly had set the goal of running the end as part of the entire experiment I’m on this year. What do to?
The deciding factor came from a surprising source: Sarah's son. You see, sometime last year, she was questioning about trying a certain race. In his simple-yet-profound 10-year old wisdom, he just said to her “There’s no point in not trying.” This has become a tag-line for Sarah and, when I thought of it, I laughed out loud on the course. Of course…there’s no point in not trying to run it in from 23!! What if I don’t make it? So what?? I’ll learn something. And, if I do make it, then I’ve accomplished an important goal. There’s simply no point in not trying! I came to this around mile 22 so had a fun mile planning for the final push (in addition to having my first conversation with the Man in the Yellow Shirt). Fortuitously, there was an aid stating about 50m before the mile 23 marker, so I downed a cup of water, turned off the 3/1 beeper on my watch, smiled thinking of Sarah’s son and set out to run the final 3.2 miles. At mile 23, I was 4 minutes ahead of pace.
It felt good. Steadily running, paying attention to form, I just kept going. We climbed a long incline and I began to think it might work. I crested a hill and hit mile 24 with an 11:01 mile in my hip pocket. The course set back across the broad valley surrounded by trees, yet I was less cognizant of the beauty, concentrating on keeping moving. And, around 24.5, the legs were done. I simply had to walk.
It felt like some sort of a defeat. Yet there was no arguing with the sluggishness. No self-talk or positive chatter could overcome the fatigue. After a bit of consideration, I decided to go back to the 3/1 plan. I re-started the timer and set out to finish the course. And I chuckled and was grateful for Sarah’s son’s counsel…indeed, there was no point in not trying.
From the 24.5 mile mark, the course had a mild incline all the way to the 26 mile marker. The temperature was near 70 by this time and all of this conspired. Yet, I managed to keep the 3/1 ratio the rest of the way, even if a less-than-Kenyan running pace. I passed a number of folks who were hurting and tried to offer some encouragement.
We wound back to the starting area and I was going on fumes. Yet, when I hit the final right turn with 100 m to the finish line, I pushed it in, a big grin on my face, thrilled to have complete the third marathon of this running era, one minute and four seconds ahead of my target time.
Post Race I crossed the line, got de-chipped and was amazed at how good I felt compared my the immediate post-race feelings last year in both St Louis and Portland. I was fully lucid, actually exchanging philosophical comments with spectators and fellow runners, discussing race-histories and geography, wondering where the honey-bees around the Gatorade jugs sleep at night and staying on my feet. I had determined beforehand that I wanted to walk quite a bit after the race to see if that would avoid the cramping I had experienced before. So I walked…and it did. I looped back to the course, saw a fellow runner finishing her first marathon come in and cheered for her…she had tears streaming down her face, it was so emotional. Good for her.
I walked back to the gear check, got on a dry, cotton T shirt, went to the food tent and there he was, the Man in the Yellow Shirt. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes, giving me one of the most amazing and inspirational stories I’ve personally seen in running. So much so, it will be its own blog post soon.
A day later, I’m amazed at how good I feel. No blisters. No soreness. I’m up and down stairs with no discomfort at all. I’m set to do my usual Monday 5 miler tomorrow morning. It is astounding to me to feel this good. Three weeks from now, I’m scheduled to do a 28 mile training run…we’ll see how that goes.
For now though, I’m over the next ridge on the hike to the Rocket City Marathon. I have much to think about between now and then and I will enlist your input in so doing.