For the past three weeks, I've been grading my runs. I read that Dean Karnazes rates his runs, and if he has too many fairs or poors in a row, he knows that he's working too hard. I figured if it's good enough for Karno, it's good enough for me. Of course, being a professional educator, I give grades, rather than ratings. My highest grade so far has been an A-. My lowest: C-.
I'm giving today's run two grades. Physically, it was at best a C. I just wasn't as strong as I wanted to be, and I ended up with some really unexpected problems. But mentally, it was pure A. I had some tough moments, but I didn't curl up in a ball by the side of the road and wait for them to come scoop me up. Today, that was a victory.
Lets start from the beginning. I didn't sleep really well last night. That was the third rough night in a row, which certainly didn't help me to be at my physical best. I was up before the alarm. I ate a banana and a bagel, got dressed and headed out.
There was much more activity that one would normally expect at 6:00 on a Sunday morning. There were quite a few runners in my motel, and once I got out on the road, there was a fair amount of traffic. I was a little sorry that I hadn't scoped out the parking in advance, but I mostly just followed the traffic. I found a parking space not far from the shuttle bus stop, and I waited.
The half marathon started at 7:00, and the marathon at 8:00, so they were rushing the half marathoners onto the buses, and making us wait. I'm still not sure why it was a good idea to start the half before the full marathon, but hey, that was the plan. So, they finally let us on the bus, we shuttled to the start line, and I waited.
My plan took a hit right away, when I met the 4:30 pacer. He wasn't planning to run 10:20 miles. He was going to go out at a 9:45 pace, and walk through the rest stops. His plan was to average about 10 minute miles for the first 20, then coast home. It was probably a decent plan for him, but I have to wonder how many of his pace group were up to it. Anyway, I decided to stick with my plan of walking every mile. I saw the pacer's bright green cap a couple of times for the first three miles, and then never saw him again.
This first half of the marathon went pretty well. I was hitting my pace, walking every mile, and keeping hydrated. I felt good, although I felt that my legs weren't quite as strong as I wanted them to be. But I hit the halfway point at 2:10, just right where I wanted to be.
At about 15 miles, the wheels came off. It just hit me like a wave. I was tired. I was hot. It was one of the two lowest points of the run, and it was way too early. I just started walking and thinking "Eleven more miles? Eleven more miles? Eleven more miles?"
Eventually, I sucked it up and started running again, but within a few miles, I hit the really unexpected problem. I had a blister. I never get blisters. Occasionally, a new pair of shoes will give me a blister on top of my little toe, just until I get them broken in. But this was a veteran pair of shoes, and the blister was on the ball of my foot. This was the time when curling up in a ball was really tempting. I swear that if there had been a SAG wagon right there, I would have hopped on it and said, "Take me to the finish line."
The weirdest little thing kept me going; I hadn't gotten my t-shirt. Most races, including many marathons, give you your shirt when you check in. There's an unspoken (an not always observed) rule that you don't wear it until you finish the race, but you've got it. The Fox Cities actually does this for all of the shorter races of the weekend. But for the marathon, they have a "Finisher" shirt. You get it at the finish line. If you make it. You don't get it for planning to run. You don't get it for starting to run. And you don't get it if you drop out at 17 miles with a blister. I wanted that shirt.
So I kept going. The next two or three miles were rough. A lot of walking. A lot of cursing my fate. A lot of cursing myself for foolishly being out here. A lot of general cursing, to tell the truth.
But a funny thing happened at about 21 or 22 miles. I didn't start feeling better. I was still sore, hot, and blistered. But I somehow changed my attitude. I just decided I was out here, and I had paid my money, and I was going to run. I didn't run the whole way, but I definitely ran more than I had in the last four miles of my previous two marathons. And I managed to smile in between grimaces.
My time was 4:58:22, which was faster than Des Moines, but slower than the Quad Cities. It wasn't pretty. It was ugly, ugly, ugly. But I found something in myself that was, if not pretty, at least not bad to look at. Overall, I'm satisfied that I made the best of a bad day.
I think I've got one more good marathon in me. I'm thinking about running Madison in the spring, if I can get in shape. Get out to a good start, stay cool, and wear a pair of shoes I can trust, and I think I can run 4:30. We'll see. For right now, I'm just going to get some rest.
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