Intense, searing pain, on the side of my left knee. Like a rubber band stretched to the point of breaking, my IT band was screaming at me to stop. So I did.
4:30am- I am strangely calm as my wife drops me off in the cold, dark, pre-dawn morning, about a half-mile from the start line. I had been a little nervous over the last couple of weeks, as I felt a little undertrained. My left Achilles had developed some tendonitis over the last few weeks, so I hadn't been running as much as I felt I should have, even going into the taper. In addition, I have been in shoe hell for some time. I've ran in ASICS Gel Nimbus primarily since I began running. But the last model that actually felt usable to me were the 18's, and they are scarce. I did the RTP 20 in a brand-new pair of 19's, and wanted to go the last three miles barefoot, as I just. wanted. those. shoes. off. After a few more runs, they became liveable- but they are still not my favorites. My coaches say that undertrained is better than overtrained, so I keep repeating that mantra as I walk down to Gold Country Run and Sport in Folsom. Big thanks to them for giving us team members a nice warm place to hang out, and a bathroom line at least a tad shorter than the ones outside.
The calm before the sh!tstorm
So, I show up to the starting line in a pair of On Clouds that are well broken in and comfy, with my Achilles taped, and an old pair of Nimbus 18's in a bag with my wife who will meet me at the halfway point. My VDOT Marathon target after my sub 2 Urban Cow Half is 4:04- which I am not even going to try to hit. It's my first full, so I am going to take it a little easy and try to enjoy the experience. I choose the 4:37 pace group, and line up in the throng, excited that the day has finally come. Cue up Van Hagar's "Humans Being" for the start, throw my sweatshirt to the side to be picked up for donation, and we are off!
The 4:37 group is perfect. I am laughing and smiling, cruising along as we weave through traffic. Since there are two starting chutes, at one point the 5:07 pace group from the other chute is in front of us. That causes a bit of a fustercluck as they slow down and we speed up and kind of run through the middle of them, but we soon get sorted, traffic thins out a bit, and we can just motor. The weather is amazing, tunes are good, and I feel great. But, if you are feeling bad or good, give it a minute- it will change. At mile 8 or so, I feel my left knee just kind of buckle a little. This scares the crap out of me, and I take a little weight off of it and gingerly continue, but it immediately feels fine, so I resume normal running.
I feel good through 14, where I see my wife and daughter beside the road. My wife has a soft flask full of my secret weapon, Dr. Pepper, and asks if I want to change my shoes. The Clouds have been really comfy, but I have had really achy feet after long runs in them, so I decide to go ahead and throw my "lawn mowing" Nimbus 18's on, just in case. This might have been my undoing. As I stand up, my pace group comes by, and I kiss the girls, say goodbye, and chase the pacer down.
About 15, my left IT band just goes banjo-string tight. I walk for a bit- it doesn't hurt to walk. I start running again- soon I am in excruciating pain. I walk some more, try to put a patella strap on my knee. Soon I take it off. Then I put it back on. Then off again. I lay on the sidewalk and try to stretch out my hips. Nothing I do makes it feel better, except to walk. So, from about mile 17 on, that was what I did. Run until I wanted to scream, then walk a bit. Rinse, repeat as necessary. I would make deals with myself: "Just run until this song is over, and then you can walk". Sometimes that would work, sometimes I would just have to run to the next lamp post.
At one point, toward the end, I saw the 4:52 group go by, and decided that my new goal was to beat 5 hours.So, I just tried to keep pace with them. It was a really frustrating feeling to be walking at 18 and know that I still had eight miles left.. Knowing that my wife and daughter were sitting around waiting for me was weighing heavy on my mind. I didn't particularly mind running a six-hour marathon, but since they were expecting me about 4:30, I felt bad for making them wait for so long, especially after getting up so early in the first place. So I kept gutting it out. Run, walk.. Run, walk.. They surprised me again about mile 25, and it was just the lift I needed. They ran with me for just a couple hundred yards, but it was so uplifting. I may or may not have had a tear or two leak out under my sunglasses. The clock was running out on 5 hours, so I needed to "hustle", in the way that Frankenstein with shin splints might hustle.
I managed to keep a fairly decent hobble going for the last mile, and coming around into the finishing chute was something I will never forget. I finished in 4:56:07, which I am pretty damn happy with, for a first attempt. I once saw and printed an internet stat, that may or may not be accurate, that said "less than 1% of the world's population will ever run a marathon". I am finally a "1 percenter". I am a marathoner.
Conditioning: Less than optimal, but over the last year I built up enough of a base, that aerobically I was great. I don't ever remember being out of breath. Undercooked is indeed better than overcooked.
Shoes: Poor. Less than poor. I don't recommend running in your lawn mowing shoes. Trying Hoka's now, as well as continuing to try to get my Nimbus 19's broken in to where they feel ok. Note to shoe companies- if you really cared about us, you would quit jacking with our shoes. But the truth is, you want the "trendy's" to line up for your new model, like an iPhone- even if you have morphed it into a big steamy pile of crap. You don't really care about making your shoes better, you just want to sell more.
Nutrition: On point! I did something right! Brought my own Tailwind, maybe fifty ounces. Drank it all. Threw in a couple of gels at 45-60 minute intervals. Honeystinger Waffle before the start. And of course, 250 calories of Dr. Peppery goodness at the halfway point.