Monday, June 18, 2012

My First Marathon

So I initially didn’t think there would be much of a point in a blog post about my first marathon. And given the fact that I had shoulder surgery a couple of weeks after the marathon, I haven’t had a chance to really get anything updated until now. Compared to some of the other things I have done, a marathon sounds pretty boring and perhaps even unchallenging. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought as far as boredom goes and it was plenty challenging.

The Hogeye Marathon took place on April 15 in Fayetteville, AR. The weather called for heavy rain off and on all day with 20 M.P.H. winds. The weather coupled with a course that provided 1200 feet of elevation gain and drop with the last 6 miles being essentially all uphill made it plenty tough for an old guy like me.

So late on the Friday night before the Sunday race, I dared a friend of mine to sign up and join me. Only a crazy man or a fitness freak would decide to run 26.2 miles with a one day notice. He is both.

As far as the race goes, there isn’t much to tell. You run and run and run and run and run and it makes you tired. All of my training has a lot of hills (I actually struggle to find flat areas to run) so the hills seemed like any other run. I just couldn’t seem to figure out the right strategy to run them fast without burning myself out. I focused on my heart rate and keeping it under 160 but in hindsight I don’t know if that was the right way to go. I had the first experience in my life with “hitting the wall” at mile 18 which seemed a few miles earlier than it should have been but I didn’t do any carb loading or any other special dieting…maybe next time. I took a gel every three miles and alternated between water and Gatorade every water station (I think there were about 20 of them). I never had to use the bathroom and I never felt thirsty. My 18 mile training run a few weeks earlier was a breeze and while I was certainly running faster this time, I was really surprised it got me so quick. The experience itself wasn’t all that bad. I felt kind of dizzy and extremely tired and remember telling myself that “if I feel like this for the next 8 miles, this is going to really suck”. Five minutes later and my lightheadedness (not sure how else to describe it) went away but I just couldn’t seem to get my legs to move very fast. My speed slowed down, but again, I was now almost into the final uphill section for the final 6 miles. By then it started to pour rain…it was nice getting the salt washed off my face as it was getting in my eyes pretty bad. I told myself no matter what, I wasn’t going to be one of the walkers. No problem there but it sure was tempting. Towards the end, my focus turned on making sure I beat Oprah. My brother had mentioned that she had run a marathon and that nobody wants to get beat by Oprah (she ran the 1994 Marine Corps marathon in 4:29:15). I ended up “beating her” by a couple of minutes coming in at 4:26:25. My initial goal was around 4:07 which I based entirely off of a few online calculators that scaled up my half-marathon time. I wasn’t even close to my goal. Looking back, there was no way I was going to run a negative split on that course and fighting a strong wind all day seemed to take a toll on me as well. A 4:07 actually would have put me in the top 3 or 4 places in my age division so it was clearly an unrealistic goal. My buddy came in a minute or two behind me (he stopped to take a bathroom break otherwise he would have beat me)….pretty impressive for someone that did nothing to prepare other than his normal fitness routine!

So the bright side:

1. I finished my first marathon at a pace that was almost a minute faster than the pace of my very first 3 mile run almost a year ago (a 3 mile run that felt like it was going to kill me).

2. I beat Oprah. Phew!!!

3. I ran for a while with a guy that had done the Little Rock Marathon (much flatter) earlier in the year in 3:45 and I ended up ahead of him.

4. Overall, I think I am still making progress. I was exactly in the middle of the pack (126 of 253) for my half marathon among men but I finished the marathon with only 38% of the men ahead of me (52 of 137). In that way, I doubled the distance but I was still more competitive versus my peers. All told, I was 78th of 211 finishers. Certainly not impressive but I have to take what I can get!

5. I beat more than 25 marathon relay teams. The teams had four people to split the distance so it does feel good that I could beat several of them although I did get passed by several of them at the end.

What I don’t know:

1. How to be strategic in this type of race. We started the race with both the Marathon relay and half marathon competitors. It was hard to slow myself down in the beginning even though I knew this was going to happen and even though I was warned by a couple of experienced friends. There were a lot of hills in the beginning but the first several miles provided a large net elevation loss. I have no idea if I limited my speed too much or too little. Looking at my splits, I passed almost 50 people from the first split and was only passed by 3. Perhaps that means I started too slow?

2. If my performance would have been better if I had focused on my diet any. I have to admit, that I pretty much eat whatever I want, whenever I want (although I recently started drinking green shakes in the mornings) and don’t give it any thought. I burn so many calories I am constantly hungry during the week. When I bring my lunch to work, it is gone by 10:00 a.m. and I have to go out and eat again at noon! What if I actually paid attention to diet? Crossfit people say you can’t out-train your diet. I think you can but I am not sure that you should try?

3. How fast I could go if I just focused on training for a good marathon time. Too bad I don’t care.

I was pretty beat after the race. My joints were killing me for about a day or so afterwards. I won’t lie, I had a hard time sleeping the first night due to joint pain. My leg muscles themselves hurt pretty bad for about two hours after the race. Once the milk and protein shakes got into my system, my legs just felt like they had just gone through a wicked workout. I had minor muscle stiffness the next day. I ran a couple of miles with Anna a few days after the marathon but mostly took the week off afterwards to recover.

While I didn’t have a blast like I have doing Tough Mudders, I have to say it was very satisfying to be able to do this. Since it is local, I imagine I will do it again next year along with the local half marathon in December. I know I can go faster…I still don’t feel like I am in great shape even though I think the evidence would say I am probably in the best shape of my life overall. I can’t imagine traveling long distances for a marathon though unless it was something truly unique. I didn’t care for it that much.