"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Monday, June 7, 2010

Newport Marathon Recap

There will be a time to explore the Why and How questions of my first marathon at a later date. For now, let's stick with What and When issues. I'll try to keep it interesting (personally I don't find things like "the packet pickup area was really cool" very interesting or useful). For a good description of the actual course, I recommend Jeff McKay's guest post on the Run Oregon blog. Two notes on the pictures below: they're chronological according to the recap and I am an expert at shutting my eyes at the exact moment the shudder opens. Call it a gift. Anyway, onward...


I've read the experiences of many who say they struggle to get a good night sleep before a marathon. This was true for me. I wasn't overly anxious and nauseous, but I was staying less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, so trying to make a room dark was impossible. I planned to be up around 4:30am in time for a 5:15 departure, so I was in bed, eyes closed at 8pm. 8:30 rolled around, and then 9 and then 9:30, and I still wasn't tired. Can anyone else talk themselves into falling asleep? If so, this is a skill I would like to acquire.

Waking up at 4:30am wasn't a problem, I got myself ready to go, my dad drove with me to the starting line and I used the porta potty prior to the lines forming (as I heard one guy tell his buddy later, as he was darting into some nearby bushes, "don't bother bro, that's a 20 minute line for a 15 start time"). My dad and I took a few obligatory starting line pictures and noted the significant diversity of the participants. We said hello to my parents' neighbors, who were both running, as well as a family friend, who, after running her first marathon at age 26, was now back to do it again 14 years and four kids later. For purposes later in this recap, we'll call her "Nancy." The weather was absolutely perfect after a horrendous week of storms. Upper 40's, just a slight breeze from time to time and nothing but blue sky.


As stated in a previous post, one of my biggest concerns was starting too quickly. My dad waited at the start line, which also served as the 3-mile mark after running through the beach-front village shops of Newport. I came through at 26 minutes, which was just about perfect. It had been a nice easy warm-up, I was into the flow of things and I felt pretty good.

We ran under the Yaquina Bay Bridge and into the Downtown/Boardwalk area of Newport which eventually led to the finish line area. Here we encountered the first hill of the course at mile 4 1/2. I use the term "hill" loosely. Maybe a 1/4 mile. Nothing worse than the inclines I run whenever I leave my house, regardless of which direction I go. From this point on, the course was an out and back, with a turnaround at 15.3. You can take a look at the map, but there isn't a lot of access to the road we were on, so for the rest of the race spectators were minimal. There were small shuttle vans dropping off and picking up spectators at the aid stations on the out and back, but I'm not sure how successful or popular this was. A nice idea, but spectator support was pretty sparse.

At the top of the hill I found myself in a group of five other runners who were keeping a solid 8-minute pace. I lost four of them at the next aid station, but the one who remained looked like she knew what she was doing, so I kept close to her for the next few miles. At the 8-mile mark she sped up slightly, to about a 7:45 pace and though I tried, I couldn't keep up with her. This wouldn't have been such a problem if I wasn't exerting so much effort just to keep my 8-minute pace.

I knew then, at the 8-mile aid station, that something was wrong. A quick inventory of all my functioning parts revealed no injuries, pain, cramping or soreness. Something like this may have been easy to explain. Instead, it was something much more perplexing: I had no energy. My legs weren't turning over like I wanted them to. I quickly resorted to various mental strategies I had used in training runs. I focused on my breathing, my form, various internal and external associative thoughts and anything else I could think of, but not of these things seemed to be the problem. I just didn't have any energy. For the first time I can remember, I felt inexperienced. I've had bad days before but never during a race and never ever with 18 miles left to go. I knew it was going to be a struggle from then on.

I struggled to the 13.1 aid station in about 1:48. Not too terrible (8:15/mile). But I knew how hard I had had to work to get there and I knew the next 13.1 miles weren't going to get any easier. I walked through this aid station, tried to regroup and refocus and clear my mind, but by the time I got to the next aid station somewhere before the 15-mile mark, I was walking again. My body wasn't responding. I was in trouble and I knew it. The next 7 miles were a living hell.

Miles 16-22 consisted of walking a while, then shuffling to the next aid station or mile marker (whichever came first) and then walking again. I met up with two ladies who were also employing a run/walk strategy and joined them from miles 17-19 before one dropped back. The other lady and I ran together a little while longer before she continued on while I walked again. I was back by myself again.

I knew when I began to walk that there was no way I was making 3:30. The goal then became 4 hours. And when that was out of reach, 4:30. By this point in the race, all my pre-race strategies had gone out the window. . My music was more annoying than enjoyable so I jammed my headphones into my pocket. I should note that I was taking two and three cups of water at every aid station and doing a good job of getting some dates in my stomach every so often, so I never felt hungry or dehydrated the entire day, which may have been the lone bright spot to that point. Generally, though, I was disgusted with myself. My thoughts were everything except positive. And maybe worst of all, I knew my family (wife, son-age 4, daughter-age 20 months, mom, dad, sister, sister, dog) had positioned themselves at the finish line at around 10:15, hoping to see me run down the hill at around 10:30. I knew they would probably be worried about me. My wife in particular, who has had a front-row seat to all of my training, knew something must have been wrong. I learned later that when word started filtering through the finish area that an ambulance had taken someone off the course, she was so sure it was me that she frantically asked anyone official-looking the name of the person and what had happened.

Just past mile 22, during a period of walking, I glanced back and saw Nancy coming up behind me. She asked how I was and patiently listened to me gripe about it not being my day, no energy, blah, blah, blah, and then said something to the effect of, "you've done so awesome. C'mon now, let's go, we've got to finish." I was firmly in "yeah, right, you don't understand" mode, but we started to run together. She asked me all sorts of random questions, things she probably couldn't have cared less about, but kept offering encouragement as we went. She told me of her dad and how he had come back to run the final three miles with her in her first marathon, talking and encouraging her to the finish line. She continued to reiterate how awesome it was to finish a marathon and how great I had done to train and prepare myself for this.

A funny thing happened in those last four miles. I actually started to buy all of the positive stuff that Nancy was selling. I was going to finish. I was going to finish a freaking marathon. 12 months ago running even a mile was punishment. Now I was paying for the privilege run to 26.2 miles. And I was almost there. I knew Nancy wasn't going to let me stop again, and I knew she wasn't going to leave me to try to finish as fast as she may have been able to, so I really didn't have a choice: I had to keep going.

As we ran up the final hill and towards the 26-mile sign, a race official called out on his radio "we've got runners #438 (my number) and #147 coming towards you." I told him that he could tell the finish line that Nancy would be finishing before me. Nancy quickly offered her rebuttal that we would be finishing together.

As we ran down the hill, our families were waiting for us at the front of the finishing chute, cameras clicking. I'm not sure which family was more surprised that we were finishing together. As we ran the final few steps I tried to let up so that Nancy would finish first. After all she had done for me getting me through the final four miles, I wanted her to finish first. But she wouldn't have any of it. She stopped also, and made us cross the finish line together (though when they went to rip the tags off of our bibs, I made sure mine was taken second).

I had completed my first marathon. Not exactly how I had planned, but I finished. And after the 35 minute pep-talk from Nancy, I was alright with it. I did it. Officially in 4:34:23.

I think my wife was more upset about how I finished than I was. She was also still emotional from not knowing what had happened to me and if I was alright, but I tried to reassure her that everything was good, I wasn't injured and that the finish time didn't matter. Knowing how competitive I am, she must have thought I was nuts and I don't think she understood what I was saying at the moment, but after relaying to her my experience I think she got it.


The finisher's recovery area was nice and open and allowed runners to move freely without feeling like sardines. The medals were unique, made of glass by a local business. I also appreciated having to pick up my finisher's shirt after first securing the medal. I felt like I had earned it.

After taking some pictures and inhaling a fruit smoothie, multiple oranges, a few bananas and a handful of watermelon slices (the volunteer at the fruit table gave me an awkward look when I kept asking for more instead of going to the clam chowder, super-carb recovery drink, chips and salsa or beer and soda tables), I took my son to the beach for a little while and then we headed home. I was sore the rest of the day and Sunday morning, but nothing too bad.

I've thought about the race a lot since I crossed the finish line and as I said earlier, there will be a time to examine the Why and How questions. More than anything though, I'm grateful I finished.

I appreciate the support that I have received from everyone. First and foremost to my wife, who has put up with all of this and has sacrificed much by way of my taking time away from home while out training. She has never wavered in her support of my goals and seeing the way she reacted to how I finished, she may have wanted me to run well more than I wanted me to run well. A big thank you to her. She is currently training for her first half-marathon on June 26th at the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll event and is awesome just for attempting this.

My other family members have been just as supportive. I don't know how we ever became a running family, but in the last year my dad has run a few half-marathons, and my mom and multiple siblings have run various 5k, 10k and 15k races. Maybe we're just too competitive for our own good (I see your 5k and raise you a 10k), but we'll have a total of five entrants in Seattle in three weeks.

A special thank you goes to Nancy. At mile 22 she could have offered encouragement, ran with me a little ways, and then continued on. This was her race that she had trained for also. I wouldn't have had any negative feelings towards her if this is what she had done. Helping me get though those last four miles, though, is something I won't ever forget. I work closely with her husband in my church responsibilities and I let him know yesterday morning how much respect I had for her and what she had done for me.

Finally, a thank you to all of you who continue to read and occasionally comment, either directly on this blog or via email, Facebook or in person. I do appreciate it. Though I have now completed my goal of running a marathon, I plan to continue to use this space to talk about training and race strategies that hopefully will be of value to you. Up first will be a discussion of whether tapering is always necessary. Quickly, go try to find information suggesting that tapering is not necessary and possibly even detrimental to marathon preparation. Excluding online forums and message boards, I've found only one source so far. Fortunately, it's a good source, but it's the only one I've found. I'll share it with you soon.

19 days until Seattle. Time to regroup and refocus. Time to tinker with some changes and maybe readjust my race strategy. Definitely not the time to rest though. I'm anxious to get back on the road this afternoon.


Hksedwick said...

Congratulations on finishing. Sometimes I think back and still can't believe that I ACTUALLY DID IT! You should be proud. 26.2. Wow. That is great. Bummer about the lack of energy, but isn't it amazing what a good running buddy can do.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for months now. Not sure how I stumbled onto it!

I've signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon this fall, my first ever. Similar to you, I ran a half marathon last year and decided to step it up. I have 3 kids, a job, and plenty of other responsibilities so I know how difficult it is to set aside the time necessary for the training.

You should be proud of your accomplishment. I'm sure you will try to figure out what happened and why you didn't have the energy. I predict a much better race in Seattle.

Keep up the training and the blogging! Mike in WV

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the post! I also just ran Newport as my first marathon, and there's some similarities in our experiences. I also finished slower than expected (although not as extreme...I projected closer to 4 or 4:15, and finished in just under 4:30). But we finished, and with no injuries. And it just gives us room to improve next time, right?

I submitted a recap to RunOregon, though we'll see if/when it gets put up since there's one already there...

sixmoores said...

Those were my favorite 4 miles of the entire race Rychen! I am so glad we had the opportunity to run together. It's probably my only chance too because you are an incredibly strong runner with a great future ahead of you. Keep up the amazing work. I had a blast and we really did it! YEAH for 26.2! It's a great feeling to have accomplished that. I loved crossing the finish line together!

Darcy said...

Can't remember how I found you, either, but I wanted to let you know I enjoyed your honest recap so much. After running my first marathon in February, I can totally relate. I also was carried through the last few miles by a cousin who has earned my endless gratitude and respect. Nice job.

Michel said...

Congrats on finishing!

Marv said...

Enjoy your posts. I took up walking on July 4th of 2009. Walking became running eventually. Have run some 5Ks and a 10K. Was running, slipped and tore my meniscus and some other fun things. Recovering from surgery now I can only bike for the next 12 weeks.

Anyway, looking forward to hearing more about your training. I hope to start training for a half once I get the green light to run again.

You should be proud of the life change you've made and the accomplishment of finishing a marathon.

Kristin said...

I ran across your blog when I was looking for some info on Seattle R 'n' R (trying to find a hotel near the start in case I decide to do it this year), and saw that you ran the Newport Marathon also! (I did the half in Seattle last year.) There was something about that course in Newport...I saw many people suffering in the last few miles. Congratulations on your first marathon (then) and the others you've finished since! :)