Sunday, October 18, 2009
So where are all the great marathon posts...?
What's that? A cry of dissatisfaction and longing from all the IR's out there, desperately checking their RSS feeds every half hour on the off chance that the promised Marathon Blog Posts have arrived? Yes, yes, I hear a sound, faint but distinct. It may be just that, that I am hearing. Or I may be hallucinating.
My apologies to all our IR's for being so tardy in posting any of the Great Ideas that came to mind while I was running the last marathon. What happened is this: 1. I ran a marathon. 2. I came home. 3. I walked in to a sh*t storm at work. 4. my wife got sick. 5. our dog had surgery (neutered - poor guy - snip snip). 6. I'm still a little sick. As a result of these 6 factors, and a few other unmentionables, I haven't had much time or energy to post. And I don't have a whole lot right now, but I'm determined. Too long have ye waited. Too often have ye checked the blog. Now ye must be satisfied.
So, the first blog should be a little bit about the marathon. Whistlestop is a marathon that isn't exactly local for me but is reachable. It's known as a pretty marathon, and a relatively fast one, because it's down hill. It's in the north of Wisconsin and takes place just as the leaves are turning colors and usually it has nice weather. This year almost all of those things came true except for the nice weather part.
I really enjoyed driving up to Wisconsin and seeing all the trees with their truly vivid autumn colors. I mean colors with capital letters. And italics. I mean the leaves weren't yellow, they were Yellow, a kind of royal Yellow that takes your breath away. And the red leaves were Crimson, or something like that. If I was a more visual guy, who had more than 6 colors in his vocabulary, I could try to paint you a picture, made out of words, describing the things I saw on that drive. But I'm not, so all I can tell you is it was godd*mn beuatiful. So I got to the town it's held in (Ashland) the day before and picked up my race packet, then went and drove 90 minutes to the hotel I was staying in. Ashland is not a big town, and it doens't accomodate the few thousand runners who show up for this, plus other tourists wanting to see The Colors, easily. Normaly this wouldn't matter much - you don't sleep a lot the night before a big run anyway, so getting up a little early to drive in isn't a big deal. Unless there's a blizzard or something.
There was a blizzard.
No, I'm not kidding, I got up at 5 am the day of the marathon, looked out the window, and found my car covered in a few inches of snow. Snow that was still falling. Because I have brain damage, I didn't bring very good cold weather gear. I had a long sleeve shirt, a thin jacket for a windbreaking shell, shorts, running shoes, baseball cap. I was missing a few things you would normally want for running in a blizzard. Things like, I don't know, GLOVES. Gloves are great things to have in wet, freezing conditions. Especially as you are getting the snow off your car (socks work a bit, as it turns out). So I got the snow off my car and started driving to Ashland and right away I'm was driving in this really heavy snow that was making it very hard to see the road. I was worried about slush, I was worried about ice, I was worried about driving into a ditch. I was driving slow, slow, slow. Good thing to, some other guy did drive off the road. And as I was driving up to Ashland in my shorts and light jacket through the snow storm all I could think was "I can't believe I'm going to die on the way to a marathon. How F*'d up is this??"
Well I made it to the marathon, somehow, with plenty of time and no bodily or automotive damage. That was a big relief, until I realized I had 2 hours to wait before the race started and it was below freezing outside and I had my shorts and tiny jacket and baseball cap. It was Full. Of. Suckage. A frozen wait in line and a blessedly long (and heated) bus ride later I arrived at the start line and found a fishing/hunting bar that someone had opened up and that was, again, blessedly heated. I'm sure it had a capactiy of like 70 people and we had about 300 runners jammed in there. But we were the lucky ones. The other 900 runners couldn't fit inside and got to do jumping jacks or whatever to try to stay warm, waiting for the race to start. Normally I wouldn't like standing in a small room surrounded by Greenbay Packers posters and a large crowd of strangers in various states of excitment and frostbite, but having tasted the world outside of that room I didn't mind at all. I didn't leave that blessed, heated bar until 5 mintues before the race was supposed to start. It was just too damn cold.
Then, finally, the race starts. And within 5 minutes I'm totally not cold. That isn't as weird as it sounds. I, and most runners, really do generate a lot of heat during a run and the reason I didn't have a lot of cold weather gear with me was I didn't think I'd need it when I was running. And I didn't. I just needed it before and after. The one exception, of course, being the gloves.
The run itself was beautiful. It's on an old rail way that has been covered with gravel going through the woods. Autumn colors, as previously described, were all around. There was a lot of wind, but it came from behind to it didn't bite too much. It did, however, blow up snow sparkles and blow down leaves that were just beautiful to watch as I ran. From time to time I would try to catch leaves as they were falling, just to pass the time on the run. This was, hands down, the most gorgeous race I've been in. It was still cold, and my hands went numb, and I had to chew on some ice chips that had formed in the water and energy drink they handed out at the water stops, but I really didn't mind. It was all just fun, really.
So in terms of the running itself, that went well. I did not expect much from this race. As I've said, I was sick, I didn't get to train as much as I like for a lot of reasons, I didn't get to taper as long as I needed for similar reasons, and I had generally not been feeling my fittest for the past 3 months. So I was telling people I wanted "4-ish" or 4:10 from the race. And I was hoping, secretly, to get just under 4 hours. But I didn't expect it, to be honest. So at the start of the race I was taking it easy. I was doing 9 minute miles, sometimes a bit more. I actually stopped and waited a minute or so to use a port-a-potty, which I usually wouldn't do. (No, I wouldn't do anything drastic - I'd just keep running until I found one that was open rather than waiting). At the half way point I was just about at 2 hours, which I expected. What usually happens, though, is that the last 13 miles are much slower than the first because you get tired. And you hit it. The Wall.
The Wall pops up about mile 20 and is a psychological/physical event when your body and mind suddenly decide that f*ck you, this sucks, you're insane, and they want to walk. The Wall makes the last 6 miles of the race feel like 20, and take as long as 10. The Wall has made me want to cry. And will again. Now I know about the Wall, I've seen it many times, so I was just waiting for it to slam down in front of me, or on top of me, as soon as I hit mile 20. And that is why I figured when I was just under 2 hours for the halfway point that I was looking at a 4+ hour marathon.
But then the weirdest thing happened. The Wall never showed up. I hit mile 20 at about 3 hours, which is about usual for me. But I wasn't feeling tired, and I wasn't feeling like I was going to die. Both good signs, if unusual. No, I won't remind you again why I do this to myself. Then I hit mile 21 and was still feeling pretty good. In fact, I found myself speeding up a bit. Mile 22 came and went and still no Wall, still feeling good, wanting to speed up. Around Mile 22 I started to pass people. Usually you kind of settle in with a group of people who happen to be running the same pace as you and who will, for the most part, finish with you. They hit the Wall around when you do, some of them get through it better than others, but on the whole you finish up with the same people you had with you for a lot of the race. But not this time. Because the Wall didn't show, and because I had enough energy to actually increase my pace, I was passing just loads of people. I've never actually done that in the last miles of the race - it was fun. It wasn't really a competitive thing. At that point in a marathon, most of us are just racing against ourselves, trying to keep moving. In fact, a number of people would call out "good job!" when I ran past them and I'd yell back "thanks, you too!" At mile 24 I had figured out there was No Wall in this race and I started pushing hard. I did my last 2 miles at just over an 8 minute pace, which for me, for the last 2 miles of a marathon, is just freaking insane. Did it hurt? Hell yeah. Was it fun? Hell yeah! It was a blast. And it hurt. And it was a blast again.
So I crossed at about 3:53-3:54 and as soon as I crossed I felt just awful. My lungs were aching, I was incredibly cold, and all I wanted to do was get out of there. As I said, when you're running you generate a lot of body heat and can be in any weather no problem. When you stop, you're just a guy who's exhausted, soaked in sweat, wearing thin, wet clothes, in a moderately heavy wind with an air temperature of about 35 degrees. That was unpleasant. I grabbed my medal, got my shirt, picked up my sweats bag, and staggered back to my car. 90 minutes later I was in a warm shower, feeling awful, and feeling terrific. Knowing I had done far better than I had expected and that not one thing in the world could take that away from me or bring me down.
This race was dedicated to my brother and my wife, for reasons they both know. Thanks for reading about it.
So next I'll post some of the random thoughts I had during this experience. But that comes later.