Race Report: Inland Trail Marathon, Elyria (First Marathon!) (Read 304 times)

    On November 6th, 2011, I finished my first marathon! It was a small one, in Elyria, Ohio, with under a hundred people completing the full. I hadn’t run a race longer than ten miles--ever--until this one.


    That ten mile race was about ten years ago, to boot, in high school. It was one of the last times I ran for almost a decade, the Run Through Hell in Michigan. High school cross country saw me hobbled by injuries--stress fractures, actual breaks from a bad encounter with a rock, shin splints, and tendonitis. I wasn’t able to ramp up my mileage beyond around 25 miles a week without significantly hurting myself. At the end of high school, I gave up. For years, I tried to start running again only to hurt myself, get frustrated and give up.


    This May, I tried again. This time, I decided I was going to learn how to run the right way--better form, better turnover, softer landing, and all that. I wore FiveFingers for a while, running sandals now and then, and found out that a lower drop heel made things easier for me (less pain!).


    By the time school got started (I’m a teacher), I was up to 50-ish miles per week, pain free, and was doing 17-20 mile long runs on the weekends. I had no intention of running a race anytime soon, but one of my coworkers, a marathoner, asked about the running I was doing and told me I was basically in the “end stages” of marathon training. Another one of my coworkers was signing up for his first marathon and hoping to get people to come and do the 5K or half, so I basically said, “What the heck, I’ll do the whole thing!”


    On Committing to It


    Well, I had been running without a plan since I started, and preparing for the marathon was barely an exception. I tried gels on my long runs, even though I felt I didn’t need them, because I knew I would in the marathon. I decided I’d keep increasing my mileage so long as I felt good, and I had a stellar, 81-mile-week. Around this time, I decided I’d be breaking four hours in the marathon.


    Based on my desire to run every day I felt good, I knew I needed a plan to taper or was afraid that I wouldn’t, and I put one in place. I was travelling the weekend before the marathon, which ended up resulting in me running my last long run, a thirteen miler, way too fast--without my Garmin/heart rate monitor, excitement got the best of me.


    The Day of the Race


    I slept surprisingly well the night before the race, but I turned into a giant pile of nerves the moment I woke up. I tried to eat--Pop Tarts and a banana, which was my normal long run pre-meal--and almost threw up. I managed about three-fourths of a Pop Tart and half the banana. Forced myself to drink a liter of Gatorade, then proceeded to crawl out of my own skin for a little over two hours.


    I had used the MARCO calculator to spit out negative splits for me that I would attempt to run. I recited the numbers of each section in my head over and over, ignoring just about everything until the horn blared.


    Took off entirely too fast at the start of mile one. About a quarter mile in, I finally regained my senses--looked at my Garmin and saw that I was moving about two minutes a mile faster than I’d planned. My heart rate was showing it.


    I was shooting for around 3:45 as a finish time, and that first quarter mile was at around 6:50/mile! I cooled it down enough to put my first mile at closer to my goal pace, about 8:36. I got passed by a TON of people for the next mile, since I slowed down so much. My coworker Chad, who was running the marathon, caught up with me at this point, and we ran together for almost a mile before I pulled away from him.


    Mile two was a little bit faster, and I kept having to rein myself in to keep from speeding up. At this point, I decided to shoot for 3:40 instead of 3:45 (I’d memorized those splits, too). I sped up to 8:30/mile in mile three, where I’d stay through mile nine. Around this time, I noticed that I’d found a decidedly empty spot in the marathon. Sure, it was a small marathon, but I’d expected to be at least running by someone! I’d later realize that mile three was the last time I’d be passed by anyone.


    I spent most of this time inside my own head, checking my heart rate (which was pretty level during these miles), and counting my meditation beads. I can’t run with music without ruining my cadence, but these had been a lifesaver for me on many a long run. I was really, really glad that I had them. I remember repeating my mantra (yes, I’m one of those people) two or three times, feeling my mind start to empty...and my last thought for a couple miles being that it was unbelievably easy for me to empty my mind. If only the whole race could go like that! Saw my “fan club” a few times, passed a couple of people, but I remember very little of this part of the race!


    Over the course of the next six miles, I slowly gained on a guy in front of me--Bob, from Pittsburgh, PA. I finally caught up with him in mile ten or eleven, when I had sped up to around 8:22/mile. This is around the point that I snapped out of my own head--the increased effort of having sped up made it harder for me to focus on anything other than keeping my pace on track. My effort and heart rate, I reminded myself, were right where they were supposed to be--but the 170s feels hard!


    Bob and I talked a bit on and off. He was an awesome, inspirational person--and he sped up to match pace with me until around mile 14. In 2006, he’d had throat cancer--surgery, radiation, the whole deal. Afterwards, he decided to change his life. This year, he’s 63. Elyria was his TENTH marathon in 2011! He was shooting for a PR and a BQ (3:55 would get him to Boston). We ran together towards the freaking TERRIBLE turnaround.


    The race was an out-and-back, and the turnaround was awful. Not only was most of the elevation change at around this point, but it was about ten feet wide--half for each side, only about ten feet deep. I swear I almost tripped, and I definitely slipped pace (but only by a couple seconds).

    The way back out past the halfway point was worse than the way in. The cobblestones at this point almost sent me tripping! I took a gel at this point, as I’d planned on, but felt like I didn’t need it. I also almost dropped my Garmin in a stupid attempt to remove my arm warmers (which I threw at one of my friends who was cheering at mile 14--the picture of this is hilarious).


    Miles 15 through 18, I tried to find my place in my head again. I tried to relax, to hold a steady pace, and to keep my heart rate from rising. I took a second gel at mile 17. When I got to the next water station, I almost spilled all of it on myself. This drove me crazy! I couldn’t do anything but smack my lips, curse myself for not carrying water--and accept that the pace and distance was taking a toll on me and my coordination. I kept reminding myself that I’d see my friends at mile 19. They had my hand bottle. I would get it from them then.


    Mile 19 turned out to be my hardest mile. I fought with myself mentally like crazy. There was a big, big part of me arguing that there was no way I could speed up to 8:14/mile. The 8:20s were hard enough. I might not even finish if I tried that...


    Then the Garmin beeped for mile 18’s end, and something clicked...I sped up without even intending to. I passed two people. I screamed at myself a little, and I held on. I think I managed a semi-incoherent “WATER BOTTLE” to my friends near the 19 mark, and they kindly handed it off to me. They looked worried...but, then, I sounded rough!


    Miles 20 through 23, I fought myself the whole time. I wanted to slow down for every, single, foot of those miles. Very little stands out aside from the sheer effort of will it took to convince my body to keep going. My heart rate was in the 180s (which was according to plan--my max is 205).


    Something from the MARCO race plan, a comment it had on mile 21, kept me going:


    “More and more runners are starting to walk on the left and right of you. Some of them are doing stretching exercises on sidewalks, against walls of houses, trees, etc. But you maintain your speed.”


    I told myself that I was not going to walk, I was not going to slow down, and I was going to hold my pace. I’d collapse if I had to.

    I didn’t know where that toughness came from until I thought back on the year. I thought back to May--when I started running. I thought to my second timed run--3.1 miles at over 15:00/mile. I thought about the nearly 60 pounds I’d lost since January.


    I told myself I could do this, over and over. I took another gel, and it helped a lot more--since I had water much more easily accessible!


    During mile 23, I was gaining on a woman who was breathing hard. Around the start of mile 24, I caught up to her. We chatted a little--in the labored way an average heart rate of 184 (for me) allows. She was trying to hold pace, shooting for 3:40 as well (BQ speed for her). I remember trying to play cheerleader, saying something about there being just a 5K left--I asked her how many times she’d run a 5K in training.

    I pulled away from her, but I was moving a little ahead of schedule--and still fighting with myself every mile.


    Mile 25, I couldn’t remember what my heart rate was supposed to be any longer. This made me nervous until I realized something I’d been excited about for days: THIS WAS MY 1000th MILE! I had smashed that pace bunny for the year, despite my late start!


    Mile 26, the wind shifted and was hitting me hard in the face. Adrenaline finally came, though! I knew that it would be hard for me to blow it at this point, and I was finally done being afraid of hitting the wall! This was my best full mile--8:01! At the end of it, I sped up again.


    I could see the school! I could see the finish chute! I lost my mind at this point, and things went a little fuzzy. Found out later the last little bit was at 6:41/mile.


    I say later because I couldn’t even SPEAK when I crossed the finish line. The volunteers tried to get me to sit down so they could take off my chip, but I paced around and couldn’t really talk. It took about ten minutes and two bottles of water before I could manage conversation again.


    Official time: 3:39:35!


    Diana (the woman I passed at the 24-ish mile point) finished right after me, just over 3:41! She didn’t get her BQ, but she PRed by a few minutes. She seemed a little dissappointed--but I pointed out to her that she was way, WAY closer to Boston than I was!  She'll get it the next time, I'm sure.


    Bob from PA came in at 3:52-something. He got his BQ!


    My friends took me out to the greasiest, best burger joint (according to the internet) in the area--Oh Boy Burger or something like that. I felt wobbly for the rest of the day. My legs came back to me really quickly, though, and I’ve run (slowly) every day this week.


    Next year, it’s sub-3:30 on my radar, I hope!


    I am incredibly glad I found this forum--the logs, the threads, and everything about it have helped push me on this journey. Special thanks to Eric for the site--but thanks to ALL of you: even those of you whose logs inspired me without you ever knowing it!

    "When a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself to do a thing a hundred or a thousand times, then he certainly has developed in more ways than physical. Is it raining? That doesn't matter. Am I tired? That doesn't matter, either. Then willpower will be no problem." 
    Emil Zatopek