While I didn't have the marathon I wanted, at least I wasn't battling knee pain (like the Austin Marathon last year), nor had I just ridden my bicycle 112 miles after swimming 2.4 miles (like IronMan Louisville in August). I didn't even come close to my target time (ideally 3:30, but happy with anything under 3:59:59), but at least I set a big PR in my third race at the full marathon distance with 4:35:32. Considering how warm, humid, and most significantly, windy it was out there, I'm not too unhappy. Other than the weather, Beaumont's Gusher Marathon was very well organized, and I would certainly consider doing it again.
Being a triathlete and, to a larger extent, a dilettante, in addition to being my own coach (for the most part, I do get swim and run coaching, but nobody looks over my overall training), my marathon training hasn't been exactly conventional. I did the normal long runs, tempo runs, and speed work, but I didn't drop swimming, cycling, or climbing. For example, four weeks ago, I spent a week on Mt. Rainier. I say I did long runs, but not in the conventional way, but that's only because I'm not good at the traditional "goal pace + 1 minute" thing. Like the Rogue 30k last month, I tend to start out at or below MGP, then wind up walking a little somewhere after mile 10. I also wasn't so good about tapering. I cut my long run distance, but that was about it. This past week I did hold myself to shorter than normal Tuesday and Thursday morning runs, at least.
I took off of work Friday, due to the atypical Saturday race day and wanting an easy day beforehand (and it being 4 hours away). I went for a 20-minute run, then shoved a bunch of carbs in my face (aka sugar, since I'm not that good at nutrition either). I loaded up the car with gear, snacks, drinks, etc. (which doesn't amount to nearly as much for a run as it does for a tri). It took me just under 4 hours from Austin to downtown Beaumont for packet pickup, even with the nasty traffic in town. Packet pickup took no time at all, and then I went and checked into my hotel. I dropped my stuff and went nearby for a big pasta late lunch/early dinner. Back at the hotel, I went for a soak in the hot tub, hoping that since it was 6pm everyone would be out to dinner. No such luck, there were a bunch of kids and a few adults. I kind of played in the water, it being too small and me not having my goggles to really swim. When the kids shifted from the hot tub to the pool, I went into the tub to stretch. After getting my gear arranged, I spent the rest of the evening reading and watching TV, just relaxing. I did not sleep well, waking up several times, but at least I did get some rest.
Around 5am Saturday I got up for good. I started with a breakfast of two light pseudo-bagels with peanut butter, washed down with Dr Pepper. Then came the preventative measures. I had already taped my ankle as my doctor suggested for my tendinitis. I put tape on the rest of the bottom of my feet to help prevent blisters, along with vaseline in critical areas of my shoe insoles. A liberal dose of chamois cream, some sun screen, nipple protectors, and I was pretty much ready to go. To bury the lede: it all worked pretty well. I didn't find any chafe spots in the shower after the race, and other than blood blisters on the second toe of both feet, my feet ended in pretty much the same condition as they started, which is to say blistered and blackened (the black toenails being from Rainier and the blisters being mostly from training runs).
I got to the start area around 6:30 for the 7:30 start (which was rather prompt), or at least I would have if not for a road being blocked earlier than necessary and taking a detour. I parked, grabbed my gear, and wandered toward the start line. I ran into a college friend, Steve, who lives in the Houston area, along the way. We chatted, but obviously we both had things on our minds. He did introduce me to a friend of his, who was there as the 4-hour marathon pacer. I hoped not to see him again, but we already know how that turned out. I dropped off a bag with a few things and availed myself of the port-o-potties. The line wasn't terrible when I got on it, but it doubled almost immediately after. I didn't do much of any warmup, just to jog around a few hundred meters, swing my legs a little, and jump a few times. Steve and I exchanged a handshake and well wishes as he scooted up to the start line and I hung back a little.
The course is sort of a "dumbbell" shape, starting with a loop around Lamar University, northwest along 6-lane highway MLK, a loop through downtown, back along MLK, then another loop around Lamar. This race is more like a half marathon that you have the option of doing twice, rather than being a marathon with a half option like Austin. So after the first lap, it's "second verse, same as the first." At the start, it was around 60 degrees, heavily overcast, and high humidity. The wind was something like 10-15 mph off the Gulf (from the southeast), putting it directly in line with MLK.
At the start line, the wind was at our backs. "Okay, starting with a tail wind. Not too bad, maybe it will die down before the return," I thought to myself. After 1/3 mile, the course made a u-turn. Smack, wind in the face. That didn't last long, fortunately. Not that the wind lessened, the course just made lots of turns, so it went from headwind to crosswind to tailwind and around and around.
Like I always tend to do, I started too fast. I felt good. I passed people. When I realized I was probably going too hard, I didn't want to back down and have people passing me back. The first two miles were at 7:45 pace. After 2.5 miles, we were off the narrow roads around campus and onto big, wide MLK. Some of the mental need to run so fast backed off, and my pace slowed to just under 8 minutes for miles 3 and 4. Because of the humidity and exertion, my shirt was soaked with sweat by mile 3. Getting onto MLK actually made it feel worse. With the wind dead at my back, the air felt still and stagnant, giving no cooling. The air was cooler under the railroad bridge, so that was momentary respite.
The course turned to go downtown at mile 5, going up the steepest "hill" of the course. In reality, the "hills" of the course were really more or less underpasses and overpasses, gaining or losing about 30 feet of elevation. Really, the wind was more of an "uphill" battle than the rises and falls. My pace fell off a little through downtown; miles 5 through 8 were 8:05 to 8:25. I wasn't worried that I wasn't going fast enough. The turn back down MLK was at mile 8.5. Wham, headwind. Then what certainly felt like the longest hill, not steep, a gradual gain that psychologically seemed big, with the headwind and a crest in the distance. The wind was actually stronger at the crest for a double whammy. I finished mile 9 at 8:40 pace, but I put too much energy into it. I was fighting the wind too hard, and had to slow my pace to 9:00 to survive. I needed a break, mentally, so I walked the water stop on mile 10, but only briefly to resume a fair pace and average 9:25 for the full mile. I had promised myself not to walk at all on the first loop, but that was before the wind started eating into me. Back around the Lamar campus starting at mile 11. I picked up the pace slightly, but walked the water stop just past the 12-mile marker. From that point until just before the very end, I didn't go at a pace faster than 9:00. Finally, across the halfway point with a time of 1:50:51. Not quite what I had in mind beforehand, but not bad on the day.
"Oh boy, this again?" Even with a cheer from Steve, and word that he had placed fourth in the half marathon, I was not enthused to only be "halfway." Halfway in terms of distance, but not even close to the mental halfway point. There were not a lot of spectators for this event. Lots of volunteers and cops, it was a very well organized race, but not many general supporters. I swear I saw the same few spectators at several points along the course. I'm pretty sure they were moving around to watch a particular person, not some delusion of mine, but it's hard to be sure. Other than those few, the spectators were concentrated in the vicinity of the start/finish area. Half a mile into the second loop, it was getting a little lonely. This being a relatively small race, and most people doing the half, there were not that people going my way. The first "Lamar loop" of my second lap, there were plenty of people finishing up their half, but it was getting thinner.
I walked the first water stop of the second loop, but only briefly. At mile 14, I slowed down and walked for a while. Up to that point, I had done each mile sub-10 minutes (average for full mile). I walked the water stops at mile 15, 16, and 17, but only briefly. At the 18-mile mark was the "steep" uphill to downtown again. I had already given myself permission to walk up it, but I wound up walking about a half mile before picking up the pace again. I also took the opportunity to stretch a little. I was actually planning to take a longer walk after the mile-19 aid station, but there was a camera, so I figured I ought to at least look like I was running. In the minor victory department, each of the first 20 miles were under 15 minutes.
At mile 20, the various little niggles and aches went into full-on pain. My hamstrings had felt pretty tight before that point, but now they and my quads were screaming. I had ibuprofen with me, but I can't swallow pills without water on a good day, and wasn't about to try this day. So I walked for a while to the next station. Maybe it was psychological or maybe the ibuprofen acted fast, but my legs were feeling better by mile 21. Certainly not fresh, but more of a dull roar than a sharp scream. At that point I was on MLK, with a headwind even stronger than the first time through. My time goals were totally blown already, Steve's friend the 4-hour pacer had long passed me by. At least I didn't feel quite so alone in that stretch- quite a few people who had been behind me came past between miles 20 and 23. There was another pacer, I couldn't tell what target he was running to, but he had way too much energy. He was running backward, dancing around, it was kind of annoying, frankly. At the 23-mile mark, even though we were still facing the wind, I started shuffling my feet a little faster, and sure enough the old legs still worked. Kind of. My calves were firing, but that's why I wear compression sleeves. I was actually feeling okay, going a 10-ish minute pace. I thought I might be able to turn in a half-decent final 5k. That was, until I started getting side stitches at the 24-mile mark. I walked about a quarter mile, jogged a quarter, walked 0.2 miles, jogged 3/4 of a mile. I wanted to keep jogging to the finish, but the pain level was rising. I walked from 25.5 to 26. All pain fades away with the finish in sight. I made the final turn and pumped my legs for all they were worth, which turned out to be about an 8-minute pace. I threw my hands up for a "victorious" finish photo.
My state was not that bad. My feet hurt, but in a "walked all day" kind of a way, not a "more blister than foot" kind of way. I had some energy. My legs weren't cramping at any point. My legs hurt, such that stepping up on a curb felt like climbing a mountain, but not really any worse than expected. As I walked around to cool down, I was hoping to find an ice bath to sit in for a little while. I didn't find one and ended up sitting on a curb to eat my fruit and chicken wrap I was handed after finishing. Sitting down was something of a mistake, because getting up was brutal. My legs were stiffening up rapidly. I walked back to my car, and mostly just tried to keep anything from totally seizing up.
There were still a few half marathoners finishing around the time I finished the full. It was pretty inspiring, the level of dedication it must have taken them to stick with it and finish. Nobody was as inspirational as the winner of the full marathon, however. Iram Leon of Austin, whom I don't really know but have seen at races around town, pushed his daughter in a stroller the whole way. The race has a no stroller policy, but Iram has brain cancer and an inoperable tumor. He had been looking to do a marathon with his daughter and was turned down several times. That speaks highly of the organizers of this event to me. (You can read his take on the race on his blog.) It's also kind of dispiriting to know that someone can run pushing a child much faster than I can run just pushing my fat belly. I ran into Iram at a gas station on the drive back and congratulated him.
My post-race started with a stop at the gas station around the corner from the venue for Dr Pepper and cookies. I got back to the hotel and took a good, long shower (after I got my room key fixed, since it was past noon, even though I had requested a late checkout [grumble]). For the drive home I chose the highly fashionable look of compression socks, gym shorts, and an IronMan finisher t-shirt. I was thinking I would go down the road a ways before getting lunch, but the cajun-style restaurant across the street looked pretty good to me as I was pulling out. I figured as long as I was in bayou country, I may as well have some mud bugs. I ate until there wasn't a cubic centimeter of space left in my stomach, then poured in a little more soda to fill any voids. I didn't have any particular agenda for the rest of the day, to allow for the possibility of complete exhaustion. Other than the aforementioned stop at a gas station, I drove straight home, arrive at 6:30.
My legs have been pretty sore today. Enough that it's not pleasant going between sitting and standing positions, but not so bad that I've had to confine myself to one floor or the other of my house. I ate a lot of food today. When I woke up at 4, I ate a bowl of cereal. When I woke up again at 8, I went out and had French toast, bacon, and eggs. I had a big greasy cheeseburger for lunch. My appetite calmed down, and I only had snacks for dinner.